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A History Of European Literature : The West And...

The period known as classical antiquity began with the emergence of the city-states of ancient Greece. Some of the earliest examples of literature, history, and philosophy come from the writings of the ancient Greeks, such as Homer, Herodotus, and Plato. Later, the Roman Empire came to dominate the entire Mediterranean basin. The Migration Period of the Germanic people began in the late 4th century AD and made gradual incursions into various parts of the Roman Empire. As these migratory people settled down and formed state societies of their own, this marked the transition period out of the classical era.

A history of European literature : the West and...


The Renaissance was a cultural movement that profoundly affected European intellectual life in the early modern period. Beginning in Italy, and spreading to the north, west and middle Europe during a cultural lag of some two and a half centuries, its influence affected literature, philosophy, art, politics, science, history, religion, and other aspects of intellectual inquiry.

Over the next year the tide was turned and the Germans started to suffer a series of defeats, for example in the siege of Stalingrad and at Kursk. Meanwhile, Japan (allied to Germany and Italy since September 1940) attacked Britain and the United States on 7 December 1941; Germany then completed its over-extension by declaring war on the United States. War raged between the Axis Powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan) and the Allied Forces (British Empire, Soviet Union, and the United States). The Allied Forces won in North Africa, invaded Italy in 1943, and recaptured France in 1944. In the spring of 1945 Germany itself was invaded from the east by the Soviet Union and from the west by the other Allies. As the Red Army conquered the Reichstag in the Battle of Berlin, Hitler committed suicide and Germany surrendered in early May.[190] World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, causing between 50 and 80 million deaths, the majority of whom were civilians (approximately 38 to 55 million).[191]

Walter Cohen is Professor of English at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, after having taught from 1980 to 2014 in Comparative Literature at Cornell University, where he received a distinguished teaching award and held various college and university administrative posts for two decades. He is the author of Drama of a Nation: Public Theater in Renaissance England and Spain, and of numerous articles on Renaissance literature, literary criticism, the history of the novel, and world literature. He is also one of the editors of The Norton Shakespeare.

Western literature, also known as European literature,[1] is the literature written in the context of Western culture in the languages of Europe, and is shaped by the periods in which they were conceived, with each period containing prominent western authors, poets, and pieces of literature.

The best of Western literature is considered to be the Western canon. The list of works in the Western canon varies according to the critic's opinions on Western culture and the relative importance of its defining characteristics. Different literary periods held great influence on the literature of Western and European countries, with movements and political changes impacting the prose and poetry of the period. The 16th Century is known for the creation of Renaissance literature,[2] while the 17th century was influenced by both Baroque and Jacobean forms.[3] The 18th century progressed into a period known as the Enlightenment Era for many western countries.[4] This period of military and political advancement influenced the style of literature created by French, Russian and Spanish literary figures.[4] The 19th century was known as the Romantic era, in which the style of writing was influence by the political issues of the century, and differed from the previous classicist form.[5]

Prose and poetic literature within western regions, most prominently in England during the early modern era, had a distinct Biblical influence[3] which only began to be rejected during the Enlightenment period of the 18th century.[15] European poetry during the 17th century tended to meditate on or reference the scriptures and teachings of the Bible, an example being orator George Herbert's "The Holy Scriptures (II)", in which Herbert relies heavily on biblical ligatures to create his sonnets.[3]

The Romantic era for literature was at its pinnacle during the 19th century and was a period which influenced western literature. Italian writers of the 19th century, including the likes of Leopardi and Alessandro Manzoni, detested being grouped into a "category" of writing.[27] Therefore, Italy was home to many isolated literary figures, with no unambiguous meaning for the term "Romanticism" itself. This was explained in the writings of Pietro Borsieri, in which he depicted the term Romanticism as being a literary movement that was self-defined by the writers.[27] Contrastingly, it was noted by writers of the time, including Giuseppe Acerbi, how Italian Romantics were merely mimicking the trends seen in foreign nations in a hasty way which lacked the depth of foreign writers. Authors including Ludovico di Breme, Ermes Visconti [it] and Giovanni Berchet did classify themselves as Romantics, however they were critiqued by others, including Gina Martegiani, who wrote in her essay "Il Romanticismo Italiano Non Esiste" of 1908 that the authors who considered themselves Romantics only created two-dimensional imitations of the works of German Romantic authors.[27]

The history of Western literature begins with the Classical Age around 500 BCE. It continues through the English Renaissance, which in the 16th century produced the most influential writer in Western literature, William Shakespeare. The following centuries were characterized by a number of different literary movements that eventually led to present-day Post-modernism.

Other than the three characteristics listed above, it is difficult to identify any characteristics that all of Western literature has in common. To understand the scope of western literature, it is necessary to look chronologically at the different Western literary periods.

The period of history covered by the Greeks and the Romans is called both the Classical Age and the Graeco-Roman Period. This period shaped Western culture as we know it today. While one Graeco-Roman tradition, the belief in multiple gods (polytheism) has not survived, Western philosophy, science, art, architecture, and politics all show the influence of the Greeks and the Romans. The Greeks, in particular, introduced theatre, poetry, the epic, philosophical writing, scientific writing, and the writing of history. Their literary focus on the human condition, how we live and respond to our surroundings, is the foundation upon which all later Western literature depends.

Western literature of the Renaissance first emerged in Italy. Giovanni Boccaccio's Decameron used the format of a collection of tales within a framework to produce what could be called the first prose short stories in the western canon. Nicolo Machiavelli's The Prince is one of the most cynical views of politics ever written.

This lesson introduced you to the concept of the western literary canon, which is an important concept that comes up constantly in the study of literature. Use the following prompts to explore this idea further.

Western literature is written in one of the Indo-European languages. It comes from Graeco-Roman origins, includes the influence of the spread of Christianity, and reflects the values and beliefs of the western world.

Moreover, some of the newly discovered people, while physically human, had apparently no equivalent forms of economic organization, political authority or religion. They were nomads, gatherers, hunters, fishers, or were at best herdsmen or simple cultivators of the soil. They lived in small, often temporary villages and had few domesticated animals. They did not possess iron tools. They had no formal religions equivalent to the monotheistic religions of the Old World. To Europeans, their social life seemed to lack rules and conventions for regulating sexual intercourse and family relationships. Those who lived in the more sophisticated urban societies and state structures of the great Mesoamerican empires were viewed as being not much more advanced technologically and culturally than the "savages" and were frequently referred to as "barbarians" to distinguish them from the "savages". These European impressions and observations were recorded in a vast historical, juridical, religious and philosophical literature. Its rapid growth accompanied the process of European expansion in the New World, providing the educated European public with an opportunity to familiarize itself with phenomena from the other side of the Atlantic. At least three major problems emerged during these discoveries. They related to the origins and nature, the history, and the future of the Native American peoples.

Rivi Handler-Spitz studies and teaches Chinese literature and intellectual history as well as comparative literature. Her book Symptoms of an Unruly Age: Li Zhi and Cultures of Early Modernity (University of Washington Press, 2017) compares writings by the late Ming dynasty radical intellectual Li Zhi to works by several of his best-known European contemporaries including Shakespeare, Montaigne, and Cervantes. Although these authors wrote independently on opposite ends of Eurasia, their works grapple with remarkably similar questions, among them how to differentiate between truth and falsehood, genuine articles and fakes. By examining the historical context in which these questions arose, as well as the culturally specific responses they generated, Symptoms of an Unruly Age highlights correspondences between early modern Chinese and European literature. 041b061a72


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