Literature Through History

For thousands of years, writing has been an extremely important part of our history, mapping our cultural development as a species and our understanding of our place in the world. Knowing how literature has grown and changed diachronically is an important part of understanding where we have come from and perhaps even where we are going.

The first extent writing survives in stone carvings in ancient civilizations, where they tell the stories of the local myths and legends. Some of these are written with letters, but more often than not the oldest texts use pictographs and other drawings. We can only partially understand and decipher these. Later, however, when writing had been invented and distributed throughout the world, these stories were written down in the form of the literature we know today and that many of us still read.

Amongst some of the most famous ancient examples of literature are those of the Greek and Roman civilizations. Epic poems such as Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad are still read and enjoyed today. However, before these were written down, they were sung. So the very oldest written stories, legends, and myths have their roots in poems that were sung rather than written down. From there, however, literature was born, and from the Greek poems and plays, Rome took the art of writing and further used it for prose - a later form of writing than poetry and plays - all throughout the rise and fall of the empire.

These writings gave inspiration to the rest of the writing in the modern Western world. The forms that literature now took, of plays, poems and general prose - novellas and novels, for example - were taken up in Britain, France and Germany to name just a few. It became a very popular way to record history and other aspects of cultural relevance. Even now, traces of the oldest writings in the world can be found in different stories and the way they are written. Often, self-conscious references are made to some of the oldest writers from Greece and Rome, for example.

The history of literature is a long and interesting one, with many twists and turns and developments that are now obscured by the many thousands of years that separate us from its birth. Nevertheless, mapping is diachronic development is a very interesting study that can help us understand ourselves and our development as a species.

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