2 Why learn about ancient literature? For the most part, mythical and religious literature from ancient times express the ideals of the society that created these works. These writings were treasured and preserved, revered and worshipped, often at the expense of the lives of the people to whom they were sacred. They are works that answer the basic questions of existence, provide common laws and beliefs, and offer transporting and eloquent poetry to help comfort humans in strife and hardship.The documents form a “historical credo” that binds a community and civilization; they express the language that allowed a culture to spread through time and space, and passing down the knowledge that was sacred and binding along with it.
3 Why learn about ancient literature? Language itself is a powerful cultural tool, and those cultures whose language was strongest, were the ones to survive through the ages.In many ways, religion serves the same purpose as philosophy, and binds a culture together as laws and nations do today.A belief in a supreme or supernatural force exists among all human cultures. These belief systems help explain very basic questions: Who are we? Why are we here? Where did we come from? What is our goal in life? What happens to us after we die? A belief in supernatural forces helps humans cope with mortality, memory, imagination, and helps us unify the division between our physical existence and our metaphysical, or spiritual existence.
4 Why learn about ancient literature? Our human minds can remember people we loved, who have died. We remember when we were young, and a time before deep questions about existence plagued us. We can imagine a future. We can imagine a past before we existed, based on stories told to us by our parents. We can imagine something that doesn’t exist, and then create it.
5 Why learn about ancient literature? We use language, a purely symbolic medium, to talk about things that do not exist in our present physical world, such as the animals that will migrate to the lake, or the spring that will arrive, or love.All of these very human traits convey the existence of a spiritual, or metaphysical side of us, that however invisible, is very real. It allows for a belief in a deity. According to the philosopher Carl Jung, all humans also share a “collective subconscious” that is full of common symbols, including a belief in gods, or God.
6 Why learn about ancient literature? In our reading of ancient literature, we will be looking for some of these common symbols, and allusions that permeate our culture.Some common symbols in our collective subconscious:red, sun, dark, winter, journey, moon, dawn, sky, blue, light, language, innocence, breath, water, fire, mother, child, father,the sound of birds, the sound of storms
7 Stories of OriginStories of Origin are ancient tales people told about the creation of the universe and the people in it. They were preserved carefully through thousands of years, often spoken and memorized before written language existed.In general, they answer the basic questions about life, explaining why we are here, what we are looking for, and why we must die.Stories of origin unify people who share the same religious background and heritage, offer comfort and consolation in times of despair, and form the basis for laws today.
8 Stories of OriginMany common symbols are formed in these stories and they become a historical credo for the societies that form them.Genesis originated about 1000 BCE, but was written down between BCE. This is the creation story for Jews, Christians and Muslims, who all look to the biblical prophet Abraham as the originator of the idea of monotheism. In the polytheistic world of ancient Mesopotamia, the singular, male paternalist god of Abraham was revolutionary.As we begin with Genesis, we will be looking for origins of how our Western society sees itself: How do we relate to each other, to other nations, and to God? What do we seek in our lives? What is taboo? What is noble?
9 Before Common Era: B.C.E. 3000 B.C.E. 2000-1500 1500-1000 1200 1193 Gilgamesh ToldHindu UpanishadEgyptian DynastiesTime of AbrahamTime of MosesPentateuch or Torah created orallyGilgamesh writtenTroy Destroyed
10 Before Common Era: B.C.E. 1000-900 900-700 700-600 Hebrew and Greek languages writtenKingdom of Israel, later, Israel and Judah.Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey composedHesiod’s works composedParts of Pentateuch written downBabylonian Captivity: Much of the Old Testament written.
11 Before Common Era: B.C.E. 700-500 500-400 400-100 100-1 Latin Language and the founding of RomeGolden Age of Greek LiteratureBuddhaHindu MahabharataRise of Rome, fall of Greece Virgil and Ovid
12 Common Era: C.E. Rise of Christianity End of Roman Empire’s vast reign 1-300 C.E. (There is no year zero…)570Rise of ChristianityEnd of Roman Empire’s vast reignByzantium createdCreation of Holy Roman EmpireThe Prophet Muhammad bornIslamic world emerges as center of culture and learning. European nations emerge in the Dark Ages.