What does it mean to call something "classic"? At once, the term implies age or antiquity, but the word also implies the material is somehow valuable. It somehow shapes what comes in later time periods. When traditional literary scholars refer to classical literature, they usually mean that this literature is widely acknowledged as having outstanding or enduring qualities. Often, Shakespeare's King Lear is considered a classic of English literature and The Scarlet Letter in American literature.
The History of literature begins with the history of writing, in Bronze Age Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt, although the oldest literary texts that have come down to us date to a full millennium after the invention of writing, to the late 3rd millennium BC. The earliest literary authors known by name are Ptahhotep and Enheduanna, dating to the 24th and 23rd centuries BC, respectively . Introduction
Texts handed down by oral tradition may predate their fixation in written form by several centuries, or, in extreme cases, even millennia. Classical Antiquity is usually considered to begin with Homer, in the 8th century BC. Many older literary texts are known, but often difficult to date. This includes the texts in the Hebrew Bible, the Pentateuch being traditionally dated to the 15th century BC, while modern scholars put it to the 10th century BC at the very earliest. An early example is the so called Egyptian Book of the Dead which was eventually written down in the Papyrus of Ani around 250 BC but probably dates from about the 18th century
Introduction The origin of Egyptian civilization is hidden in antiquity; the earliest writing began nearly 5000 years before the birth of Christ. Intensely religious and passionately eager for permanence, the Egyptians built edifices and monuments which would stand as symbols of immortality for a people deeply rooted in religion. Their religion, however was an impersonal relationship between the gods and the mortals, who stood before their deities. Nevertheless one cannot say that they are less religious because of such attitudes, in fact, they were the first people who express belief in personal immortality. Their principal deity is Osiris, the god of the Nile. He became the symbol f immortality, the god of after life and the judge of the dead. Reflections on life were the subjects of their works.
The Precepts of Ptahhotep , the world’s oldest book is a collection of shrewd and homely reflections on life, its conduct and its meaning.
The Book of the Dead , the most significant Egyptian writing containing prayers charms, hymns, formulas , confessions and the like. Its purpose is to tell men how to attain eternal life , and at the same time giving rules for the conduct of souls after death.
To Whom Shall Speak Today To whom should I speak today? Brothers are evil The friends of today love not. To whom should I speak today ? Hearts are covetous Every man plundereth the goods of his fellow To whom should I speak today Yesterday is perished And violence is come upon all men.
To whom should I speak today The peaceful man is in evil case Good is cast aside everywhere. To whom should I speak today? Yesterday is forgotten Men do not as they were done by nowadays. To whom should I speak today The righteous are no more The land is given over to evil – doers. .
To whom should I speak today? There is a lack of confidants men have recourse to a stranger to tell their troubles To whom should I speak today I am heavily laden with misery An am without a comforter
The Epic of Panta – Our - tells about the victory of Remises over the Hittites
The oldest text in the ancient literature which expresses, in excellent literary style, the rules of good conduct is “The Proverbs of Ptah Hutep”. Ptah Hutep was an ancient Egyptian minister under King Asisi of the Fifth Dynasty (2670 BC) He wrote it to educate the ignorant and to teach him styles of wisdom and wise sayings. Glory be to those who follow these teachings and shame be on those who neglect them.”
Ptah Hutep addresses his son saying: “ Do not be arrogant of your knowledge. Consult with all: with the educated as well as the uneducated, as knowledge has no limits and no one can acquire all kinds of learning. If you hear someone, who is older and wiser than you, talking, listen carefully and bow to him. If he says something wrong, do not be angry: people will say “what an ignorant!”.
Somewhere else, Ptah Hutep advises his son saying, “ If you were a leader of a group of people, treat them well. Do not treat them unjustly; justice is something great.”
Concerning table etiquette, Ptah Hutep teaches his son saying, "When you sit to the table of a dignitary, take, when he asks you, from what is immediately before you. Do not look at what is before him. Do not look too much at him. Do not look at him unless he salutes you. Do not talk unless he salutes you. Laugh when he laughs. This will make him delighted and satisfied with you because man does not know the reality of the heart.”
Regarding destiny and divine decree and how to be satisfied with the god’s judgment, Ptah Hutep tells his son, “ Let not a man with no children envy you. Do not step away from him making him sad and grieved. A father with many children may be worried in spite of his high rank. Similarly, the mother of many children may have less time for rest. God creates man and predestines his share in life”.
As for modesty, Ptah Hutep advises his son saying, “ When you rise from mean ranks to higher positions, grow rich after being poor, forget not your past. Do not be proud of your wealth and do not be arrogant but remember you are no better than your mates who had relapsed into poverty.”
By 2000 B.C, the fertile area between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers have reached a high state of intellectual and manual activities with various tribes who contributed their bits to civilization. The golden age of Assyro – Babylonian literature was the middle of the seventeenth century B.C. The Assyro – Babylonians were great worshippers of nature and gods and objects. Unlike the Egyptians, they had no clear idea of death or of life after death. For them, the after life was a hazy blur which gained importance as the people tried to reject the ideas of death
Great Work The Gilgamesh epic , composed 2000 B.C. The epic recounts the exploits of the hero Gilgamesh, on the other hand, the epic has an allegorical significance. It depicts man’s quest for the meaning of life and his futile struggle to avoid death Gilgamesh want to have a name for himself, he also search for everlasting life and discovered that that there is no permanence. Its philosophical conclusion is that since death is inevitable and the after life usually gloomy, man should try to enjoy life and make the best of his earthly lot.
The Literature of Persia During the old Iranian period , literature was dominated by religious writings and the most significant was the AVESTA . The bible of Zoroastrianism. The new Period was ushered by the Mohammedan conquest. Pervading the literature, like a somber web was a perceptible preoccupation with the wherefore of life and the outcome of it.
Great Writers Omar Khayyam – Rubaiyat- a collection of verses which was translated by Edward Fitzgerald he poem which consists of quatrains concerns with the uncertainty and fleeting character of life and the advisability of making the most pleasurable possible use of it. It is believed that Fortune’s wheel is ever revolving
Sa’di - Bustan ( The Scented garden) and the Gulistan ( The Rose garden)
The epic of Persia is the Shah – nameh or the Epic of the Kings . It was written by Firdausi and considered a national treasure of Iran. It is presented as a history of Persia from the beginning of the world until the conquest of Iran by the Arabs. Sohrab and Rustum . It tells the exploits of a mighty warrior named Rustum. One of the episodes relates the story of Rustum’s son, Sohrab who has never seen his father and whose greatest longing is to meet the great hero.
In addition to reviving the Persian language, this text is considered to be a literary masterpiece that reflects Iranian history, cultural values, ancient religions, and nationalism . Although the focus is on Iran, it is important to all Persian peoples, including those of Afghanistan.
Indian Literature Vedic Period with the Vedas – The Book of Knowledge
Epic Period Mahabharata – the longest epic in the whole world. Ramayana – The exploits of Rama with his wife Sita. They are the representation of a perfect man and woman. The man for his duty and obligations . The woman for her compassion and self – sacrifice.
Sanskrit Literature – the most productive which have drama and lyric poems. Great Writers Kalidasa He wrote Sakoontala Tagore – Gitanjali where the concepts of Maya , Karma and nirvana are seen.
The Literature of China The literature of China is extensive . A peaceful and contemplative people cutoff from the rest of her neighbors by mountain range, desert and sea, the Chinese developed their own tradition.
Confucius, the founder of Chinese literature. He attributed the Five Classics and the Analects. Which covers every aspect of human life.Confucius emphasized the importance of moral conduct. Laotse is credited for “ the way of life” which forms the basis of Taoism. His works concern the perpetual struggle of the human conscience to discover peace.
Reasons to Study Ancient Greek Literature They laid the foundation of Western Civilization They established a system of government known as the rule of the people or Democracy In their literature, they discussed and weighed out the issues of war, role of women, and humanity’s obligations to the divine. In a very real sense, they struggled with the same concerns we do in the contemporary era. Greek language and Greek thought is the root metaphor of Western thought. Their art and architecture are still the basis of High Classical Art in the West.
Classical and Pre-Classical Antiquity This period of Greek literature stretches from Homer until the 4th century BC and the rise of Alexander the Great. Alfred North Whitehead once claimed that all of philosophy is but a footnote to Plato. To suggest that all of Western literature is no more than a footnote to the writings of ancient Greece is an exaggeration, but it is nevertheless true that the Greek world of thought was so far-ranging that there is scarcely an idea discussed today not already debated by the ancient writers.
Epic Age Epic poetry At the beginning of Greek literature stand the two monumental works of Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey . The figure of Homer is shrouded in mystery. Although the works as they now stand are credited to him, it is certain that their roots reach far back before his time .Iliad is the famous story about the Trojan War. It centers on the person of Achilles, who embodied the Greek heroic ideal.
While the Iliad is pure tragedy, the Odyssey is a mixture of tragedy and comedy. It is the story of Odysseus, one of the warriors at Troy. After ten years fighting the war, he spends another ten years sailing back home to his wife and family. During his ten-year voyage, he loses all of his comrades and ships and makes his way home to Ithaca disguised as a beggar. Both of these works were based on ancient legends. The stories are told in language that is simple, direct, and eloquent. Both are as fascinatingly readable today as they were in ancient Greece.
The other great poet of the preclassical period was Hesiod. Unlike Homer, Hesiod speaks of himself in his poetry; it remains true that nothing is known about him from any external source. His two works were Works and Days and Theogony. The first is a faithful depiction of the poverty-stricken country life he knew so well, and it sets forth principles and rules for farmers. Theogony is a systematic account of creation and of the gods. It vividly describes the ages of mankind, beginning with a long-past Golden Age. Together the works of Homer and Hesiod made a kind of bible for the Greeks. Homer told the story of a heroic past, and Hesiod dealt with the practical realities of daily life.
Lyric Age Lyric poetry The type of poetry called lyric got its name from the fact that it was originally sung by individuals or a chorus accompanied by the instrument called the lyre. The two major poets were Sappho and Pindar . Sappho, who lived in the period from 610 BC to 580 BC, has always been admired for the beauty of her writing. Her themes were personal. They dealt with her friendships with and dislikes of other women, though her brother Charaxus was the subject of several poems. Unfortunately, only fragments of her poems remain. With Pindar the transition has been made from the preclassical to the classical age. He was born about 518 BC and is considered the greatest of the Greek lyricists. His masterpieces were the poems that celebrated athletic victories in the games at Olympia, Delphi, Nemea, and the Isthmus of Corinth.
Drama Tragedy The Greeks invented the epic and lyric forms and used them skillfully. They also invented drama and produced masterpieces that are still reckoned as drama's crowning achievement. In the age that followed the Greco-Persian Wars, the awakened national spirit of Athens was expressed in hundreds of superb tragedies based on heroic and legendary themes of the past. The tragic plays grew out of simple choral songs and dialogues performed at festivals of the god Dionysus. Wealthy citizens were chosen to bear the expense of costuming and training the chorus as a public and religious duty. Attendance at the festival performances was regarded as an act of worship. Performances were held in the great open-air theater of Dionysus in Athens. All of the greatest poets competed for the prizes offered for the best plays.
Of the hundreds of dramas written and performed during the classical age, only a limited number of plays by three authors have survived: Aeschylus , Sophocles , and Euripides. The earliest of the three was Aeschylus, who was born in 525 BC. He wrote between 70 and 90 plays, of which only seven remain. Many of his dramas were arranged as trilogies, groups of three plays on a single theme. The Oresteia consisting of Agamemnon, Choephoroi (The Libation Bearers), and Eumenides is the only surviving trilogy. The Persai (The Persians) is a song of triumph for the defeat of the Persians. Prometheus Bound is a retelling of the legend of the Titan Prometheus, a superhuman who stole fire from heaven and gave it to mankind.
The third of the great tragic writers was Euripides. He wrote at least 92 plays. Sixty-seven of these are known in the 20th century some just in part or by name only. Only 19 still exist in full. One of these is Rhesus, which is believed by some scholars not to have been written by Euripides. His tragedies are about real men and women instead of idealized figures. . His dramas are performed on the modern stage more often than those of any other ancient poet. His best-known work is probably the powerful Medea, but his Alcestis, Hippolytus, Trojan Women, Orestes, and Electra are no less brilliant.
For about 16 years, between 484 and 468 BC, Aeschylus carried off prize after prize. But in 468 his place was taken by a new favorite, Sophocles. Sophocles' life covered nearly the whole period of Athens' "golden age." He won more than 20 victories at the Dionysian festivals and produced more than 100 plays, only seven of which remain. His drama Antigone is typical of his work: its heroine is a model of womanly self-sacrifice. He is probably better known, though, for Oedipus the King and its sequel, Oedipus at Colonus .
Comedy Like tragedy, comedy arose from a ritual in honor of Dionysus, but in this case the plays were full of frank obscenity, abuse, and insult. Of the works of earlier writers, only some plays by Aristophanes exist. These are a treasure trove of comic presentation. He poked fun at everyone and every institution. For boldness of fantasy, for merciless insult, for unqualified indecency, and for outrageous and free political criticism, there is nothing to compare to the comedies of Aristophanes. In The Birds he held up Athenian democracy to ridicule. In The Clouds he attacked the philosopher Socrates.
In Greek mythology, twelve gods and goddesses ruled the universe from atop Greece's Mount Olympus. These Olympians had come to power after their leader, Zeus, overthrew his father, Cronus, leader of the Titans. All the Olympians are related to one another. The Romans adopted most of these Greek gods and goddesses, but with new names.
Zeus (Roman name: Jupiter ) The most powerful of all, Zeus was god of the sky and the king of Olympus. His temper affected the weather, and he threw thunderbolts when he was unhappy. He was married to Hera but had many other lovers. His symbols include the oak and the thunderbolt. Hera (Roman name: Juno) Hera was goddess of marriage and the queen of Olympus. She was Zeus's wife and sister; many myths tell of how she sought revenge when Zeus betrayed her with his lovers. Her symbols include the peacock and the cow.
Poseidon (Roman name: Neptune) Poseidon was god of the sea. He was the most powerful god except for his brother, Zeus. He lived in a beautiful palace under the sea and caused earthquakes when he was in a temper. His symbols include the horse and the trident (a three-pronged pitchfork).
Aphrodite (Roman name: Venus) Aphrodite was the goddess of love and beauty, and the protector of sailors. She may have been the daughter of Zeus and the Titan Dione, or she may have risen from the sea on a shell. Her symbols include the myrtle tree and the dove. Apollo Apollo was the god of music and healing. He was also an archer, and hunted with a silver bow. Apollo was the son of Zeus and the Titan Leto, and the twin of Artemis. His symbols include the laurel tree, the crow, and the dolphin.
Ares (Roman name: Mars) Ares was the god of war. He was both cruel and a coward. Ares was the son of Zeus and Hera, but neither of his parents liked him. His symbols include the vulture and the dog, and he often carried a bloody spear. Artemis (Roman name: Diana) Artemis was the goddess of the hunt and the protector of women in childbirth. She hunted with silver arrows and loved all wild animals. Artemis was the daughter of Zeus and Leto, and the twin of Apollo. Her symbols include the cypress tree and the deer.
Athena (Roman name: Minerva) Athena was the goddess of wisdom. She was also skilled in the art of war, and helped heroes such as Odysseus and Hercules. Athena sprang full-grown from the forehead of Zeus, and became his favorite child. Her symbols include the owl and the olive tree. Hephaestus (Roman name: Vulcan) Hephaestus was the god of fire and the forge (a furnace in which metal is heated). Although he made armor and weapons for the gods, he loved peace. He was the son of Zeus and Hera and married Aphrodite. His symbols include the anvil and the forge.
Hestia (Roman name: Vesta) Hestia was the goddess of the hearth (a fireplace at the center of the home). She was the most gentle of the gods, and does not play a role in many myths. Hestia was the sister of Zeus and the oldest of the Olympians. Fire is among her symbols. Hades (VULCAN) god of the underworld Hermes ( Mercury ) the messenger of the Gods
Roman Literature It has been common mistake to evaluate Roman literature on the basis of the Greek literary achievement. The Athenian concept placed the stress on the individual while the Roman or Spartan concept considered the state as the center of activity. The Romans emphasized leadership not so much in the field of humanities, but in the field of military conquest. Rome considered the family as an important and integral part of the society; it was the center and basis of government. This belief gave rise to the Roman virtues of duty, responsibility and manliness.
Great Writers Virgil – Aenid – the story of the founding of Rome or in short Rome itself Ovid – Metamorphoses - an account of the transformation of men and inanimate objects from the beginning of the creation. Cicero – the great orator Horace – the famous poet