• Literary Timeline

    Ancient Civilizations and Early Literature: 3000 BC – AD 500

    A time of profound foundational texts, where the earliest forms of written expression emerged. Literature from this period, such as the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Rigveda, delves into themes of divinity, morality, and human existence, reflecting the complex societies from which they sprang. These works laid the groundwork for literary and religious thought, encapsulating the myths, histories, and beliefs of ancient civilizations.
    2500 BCThe Epic of Gilgamesh (Mesopotamia, currently in Iraq)
    Beginnings of Sumerian Cuneiform, this is the earliest form of writing, highlighting themes of heroism, mortality, and the quest for eternal life. Gilgamesh was the more than capable ruler of the ancient town of Uruk; his strength and physical beauty were unmatched by any in the land, and his subjects adored him. Although he possessed so much, Gilgamesh wanted desperately to live forever like a god. He was two-thirds god and one-third human, but he refused to accept his destiny to die. If it were his lot to die, he wanted to perform great deeds so that his name would never be forgotten.
    1700 BCThe Rigveda (India)
    One of the oldest known religious texts, central to the Vedic scriptures of Hinduism. It is a collection of early Sanskrit hymns composed around 1500-1200 BC. These hymns are dedicated to various deities and are meant for recitation at rituals and ceremonies. The Rigveda holds significant historical and spiritual value, reflecting the beliefs, practices, and societal structure of early Vedic civilization.
    1300-1200 BCThe Torah (Palestine)
    Central text to Jewish religious traditions, comprising the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, detailing law, history, and moral principles.

    The Classics: 800-400 BC

    Western and Eastern civilizations experienced a remarkable flourish in critical thinking, literature, and philosophy. In the West, ancient Greece heralded this era with Homer’s epic tales, Aesop’s fables, and the philosophical discourses of Plato and Aristotle, setting the foundations for Western literary and philosophical traditions. Simultaneously, the East saw significant religious and philosophical advancements with the emergence of Buddhism in India and Confucianism in China.
    8th Century BCHomer: The Iliad and the Odyssey (Greece)
    The Iliad celebrates the heroic deeds of warriors during the Trojan Wars, notably Hector of Troy.
    The Odyssey concerns the adventures of Odysseus and his use of wits and trickery to defeat the Trojans.
    6th Century BCAesop’s Fables (Greece)
    Collection of fables credited to Aesop, a slave and story-teller living in Ancient Greece. Aesop’s Fables has also become a blanket term for collections of brief fables, usually involving personified animals. The fables remain a popular choice for moral education of children today. Many stories included in Aesop’s Fables, such as The Fox and the Grapes, The Tortoise and the Hare and The Boy Who Cried Wolf, are well-known throughout the world.
    6th Century BCBuddhist scriptures (India)
    The life of Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha) and the subsequent oral traditions lead to Buddhist scriptures, with written texts emerging around the 1st century AD.
    5th Century BCThe Analects (China)
    Ancient Chinese philosophical text composed of sayings and ideas attributed to Confucius and his contemporaries, traditionally believed to have been compiled by his followers by Confucius, laying the foundation for Chinese moral and social philosophy.
    4th Century BCPlato: The Republic (Greece)
    A utopia made of 3 classes: merchants maintaining the economic structure, military minding security, and philosopher-kings providing political leadership.
    4th Century BCAristotle: Rhetorics & Poetics (Greece)
    Problematic theory that breaks the world into part, analyzing each part separately. His analysis of tragedy provided significant concepts to literary studies, such as catharsis and hamartia, in addition to analyses of plot and character that is still significant today.

    Roman Classics & Christianity: 250 BC-AD 150

    Marked not only by the Roman Empire’s flourishing cultural and literary achievements but also by significant developments in the East, including the pivotal emergence of Christianity. In Rome, the period saw the refinement of Greek intellectual traditions, with works like Virgil’s Aeneid symbolizing the integration of Roman myth and history, thereby cementing Rome’s cultural identity. Concurrently, the East witnessed the compilation and spread of Christian texts, leading to the formation of the New Testament, which laid the foundational beliefs and practices of Christianity.
    400-100Celts over-run Western Europe.
    c. 85 ADRomans over-run Britain.
    Julius Caesar invades Britain in 55 BC.
    70-19 BCVirgil: Aeneid
    A mythological epic in 12 books describing the seven-year wanderings of the hero Aeneas from the fall of Troy to his military victory in Italy.
    1st Century ADThe New Testament
    The life and teachings of Jesus Christ, the central figure of Christianity, lead to the writing of the New Testament, comprising the Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Revelation. This was written almost 4 centuries after the birth of Jesus Christ, which is estimated at 6-4 BC (BC, meaning before Christ, is now seen as a miscalculation in dates).
    4th-5th CenturyThe Bible
    The development of Christian biblical canon, including the New Testament, shapes Christian doctrine and influences medieval European literature.The formation of the Christian biblical canon, including the finalization of the New Testament, at councils such as those of Nicaea (325 AD) and Carthage (397 AD).

    Dark Ages (Anglo-Saxon Period): 450-1066

    The term “Dark Ages” is often used to describe the historical period characterized by significant challenges and disruptions. During this era, oral literature played a vital role in uniting diverse cultures and their mythologies. Poetry, renowned for its unique verse forms, conveyed themes of fate, the juxtaposition of Christian and pagan beliefs, and the valor of heroic warriors. This literature also served as a means of expressing religious faith and moral teachings. Social life centered around self-governing ancestral tribes or clans. The term “Dark Ages” reflects the limited written records and the challenges faced during this time, although it’s important to note that significant literary developments occurred globally, including the influence of the Quran in the Islamic world and the emergence of The Tale of Genji in Japan.
    410Romans abandon Britain.
    449Anglo-Saxons invade Britain.
    475Fall of Roman Empire.
    c. 600Beowulf
    English Epic: An Anglo-Saxon epic poem about a Scandinavian prince named Beowulf who rids the Danes of the monster Grendel and his mother.  Later as king he dies while killing a dragon who has devastated his people.
    656Holy Quran
    The Quran is revealed to Prophet Muhammad, founding the Islamic faith and providing its core spiritual and legal teachings.
    1000Murasaki Shibiku: Tale of Genji (Japanese)

    Medieval Period: 1066-1500

    This period represents a complex tapestry of history, culture, and literature. It was a time of chivalry, where plays and oral traditions served as vehicles for moral and religious instruction. Monarchs like William the Conqueror and Henry III introduced judicial systems and chivalric ideals, while the Crusades brought economic change and global exploration. Key literary works, such as Le Morte d’Arthur and The Canterbury Tales, reflected the period’s fascination with heroic narratives and religious devotion. Additionally, significant events like the Black Death and the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg left indelible marks on this era, shaping the course of history and culture.
    1095-1271The Crusades:
    A series of wars by Western European Christians to recapture the Holy Land from the Muslims.
    1307-1321Dante: The Divine Comedy (Italian)
    1387-1400Geoffrey Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales
    A collection of stories set within a framing story of a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral. The poet joins a band of pilgrims on a journey to Canterbury.
    1347-1451Black Death/ The Plague:
    An outbreak of bubonic plague causing a decline of about one-third of the population of Europe.
    1450Gutenberg – Printing in Germany: Beginning of modern printing.
    1453Turks Capture Constantinople.
    End of Eastern Empire.
    1469-1470Malory: Death of Arthur
    The first English prose epic telling the story of King Arthur and his legendary knights of the round table.
    1492Columbus discovers America.
    While on a voyage for Spain in search of a direct sea route from Europe to Asia, Christopher Columbus unintentionally discovered the Americas.

    Renaissance: 1500-1660

    World view shifts from religion and after life to one stressing the human life on earth. Development of human potential is a popular theme. Many aspects of love explored: unrequited, constant, timeless, courtly and love subject to change. Sonnet is the dominant poetic from. Metaphysical poetry is elaborate with unexpected metaphors called conceits. Drama (tragedies, comedies and histories) is written in verse and supported by royalty. Commoners are welcomed at some play productions (like ones at the Globe) while conservatives try to close the theaters on grounds that they promote brazen behaviors. Not all middle-class embrace the metaphysical poets and their abstract conceits. War of Roses ends in 1485 and political stability arrives. Printing press helps stabilize English as a language and allows more people to read a variety of literature. Economy changes from farm-based to one of international trade. Key literature: William Shakespeare, John Donne, Cavalier Poets, Metaphysical Poets, Christopher Marlowe, Andrew Marvell.
    1554-1586Sir Philip Sidney
    1564-1593Christopher Marlowe: Dr. Faustus
    1558-1603The Elizabethan Age:
    The reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England was a period of cultural and artistic flourishing known for its literature, theater, and exploration, including the works of William Shakespeare and the voyages of Sir Francis Drake. It marked a golden era in English history.
    1563-1616William Shakespeare
    1588Spanish Armada defeated by Q. Elizabeth:
    The King of Spain declared war on Britain, sending his troops on board the Spanish Armada, this was defeated by Queen Elizabeth’s fleet.
    1589Edmund Spencer: The Faerie Queen
    1599Globe Theatre built:
    Primary venue for performance of Shakespeare’s plays.
    1603-1625Jacobean Age:
    a period known for its flourishing literature, including the works of William Shakespeare and the translation of the King James Bible, as well as complex political and religious dynamics, including the Gunpowder Plot and tensions with Parliament.
    1605-1616Cervantes: Don Quixote
    The first Western novel narrates the adventures of the main character, an aging man named Don Quixote, who is from a region of central Spain called La Mancha.
    1625-1649Caroline Age:
    The reign of King Charles I of England, marked by political tensions, religious conflicts, and the English Civil War.
    1642-1649English Civil War:
    Presbyterian Scots rioted when King Charles imposed the Anglican liturgy in Scotland.
    Theatres closed.
    1646Irish Revolution:
    Irish Catholic Confederation achieved a significant victory against Parliamentarian forces at the Battle of Benburb, a notable episode within the broader context of the conflict, as Irish Catholics sought to defend their interests and resist English domination during a turbulent period in Irish history.
    A republican government established after the execution of King Charles I during the English Civil War. Led by Oliver Cromwell, it marked a period of parliamentary rule and republican governance, ending with the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II in 1660.

    Enlightenment & Neoclassical Age: 1660-1785

    Emphasis on reason and logic. Harmony, stability and wisdom are stressed. A social contract exists between the government and the people. The government governs guaranteeing “natural rights” of life, liberty, and property. Satire uses irony and exaggeration to poke fun at human faults and foolishness in order to correct human behavior. Other genres are poetry, essays, letters, diaries, biographies and novels. Emphasis on the individual. Belief that man is basically evil. 50% of the men are functionally literate (a dramatic rise). Fenced enclosures of land cause demise of traditional village life. Factories begin to spring up as industrial revolution begins. Impoverished masses begin to grow as farming life declines and factories build. Coffee houses—where educated men spend evenings with literary and political associates. Key literature: Alexander Pope, Daniel Defoe, Jonathan Swift, Samuel Johnson, John Bunyan,
    17th-18th CenturyEnlightenment:
    Intellectual awakening in Europe and North America. It championed reason, individualism, and the pursuit of knowledge, leading to significant advancements in philosophy, science, politics, and culture that continue to shape modern thought.
    The return of the monarchy under King Charles II, characterized by a revival of the arts and the reestablishment of a stable political order after the English Civil War.
    1664The Plague:
    A devastating epidemic that caused significant loss of life and had profound social and economic impacts on the city.
    1650-1750Puritan/Colonial USA:
    Puritan settlers established their colonies in New England and laid the foundations for religious and cultural developments in the American colonies, including the Salem witch trials and the expansion of colonial society.
    1665Great Fire of London
    1667John Milton: Paradise Lost
    1678Lord Bunyan: Pilgrim’s Progress
    1700-1745Augustan Age (Age of Pope)
    1702-1714Q. Anne rules England
    1719Daniel Defoe: Robinson Crusoe
    1726Jonathan Swift: Gulliver’s Travels
    1750-1800Age of Reason (USA):
    Enlightenment’s influence lead to spread of rational thought, and pursuit of intellectual and political ideals that underpinned the American Revolution and the drafting of the U.S. Constitution.
    1750American War of Independence
    1776American Declaration of Independence
    18th-19th CenturyRenaissance:
    artistic and intellectual movement that drew inspiration from classical antiquity, particularly ancient Greece and Rome. It emphasized clarity, rationality, and order in various forms of art, including literature, architecture, and visual arts, and it was characterized by a return to classical aesthetics and values.

    Romantic: 1785-1830

    Literature shows that human knowledge consists of impressions and ideas formed in the individual’s mind, and that in nature one can find comfort and peace that the man-made urbanized towns and factory environments cannot offer. Introduction of gothic elements and terror/horror stories and novels. Lyrical ballads appear in poetry. Evil attributed to society not to human nature. Human beings are basically good. Movement of protest: a desire for personal freedom. Children seen as hapless victims of poverty and exploitation.Napoleon rises to power in France and opposes England militarily and economically. Gas lamps developed. Tory philosophy that government should NOT interfere with private enterprise. Middle class gains representation in the British parliament. Railroads begin to run. Key literature: novelistsJane Austen, Mary Shelley; poets Robert Burns, William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, John Keats.
    1789-1799French Revolution:
    Major transformation of the society and political system of France as the Old Regime was replaced with a series of different governments, enhancing the drafting of several bills of rights and constitutions.
    1814William Wordsworth & Samuel Coleridge: Lyrical Ballads
    A book of poetry attempting to use language of everyday speech, thus launching the Romantic movement in Britain.
    1792-1815Napoleonic War
    1800Ireland becomes part of Britain.
    1809-1849Edgar Allan Poe
    1816Jane Austen: Emma
    1818Mary Shelley: Frankenstein
    1826James Fenimore Cooper: The Last of the Mohicans

    Victorian: 1832-1901

    Conflict between those in power and the common masses of laborers and the poor. Shocking life of sweatshops and urban poor is highlighted in literature to insist on reform. Literature covers country versus city life, sexual discretion (or lack of it), strained coincidences, romantic triangles, heroines in physical danger, aristocratic villains, misdirected letters, bigamous marriages. Novel becomes popular for first time; mass produced for the first time: bildungsroman “coming of age”, political novels, detective novels (Sherlock Holmes), serialized novels. Elegies are common. Poetry is easier to understand. dramatic monologues are common. Comedies of manners appear in drama. Magazines offer stories to the masses. Paper becomes cheap; magazines and novels cheap to mass produce. Unprecedented growth of industry and business in Britain. Unparalleled dominance of nations, economies and trade abroad. Key literature: Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis Stevenson, George Eliot, Oscar Wilde, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Darwin, Charlotte Bronte, Robert Browning.
    1830-1886Emily Dickinson
    1833-1834Emancipation Act: UK:
    The Slavery Abolition Act 1833, played a pivotal role in the abolition of slavery in most British colonies, including the Caribbean and Canada, and came into effect on August 1, 1834.
    1837Q. Victoria rules England
    1845Frederick Douglass: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave
    Ralph Emerson, Margaret Fuller and others formed the Transcendentalist Club in Boston, influenced by romantic values of self-examination, celebration of individualism, and extolling of beauties of nature and humankind.
    1847Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre
    1848 Emily Bronte: Wuthering Height
    A group of English artists and poets who rejected the academic art conventions of their time, drawing inspiration from pre-Renaissance art and emphasizing vivid colors, detailed realism, and a focus on nature and medieval themes.
    1850Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Scarlet Letter
    1851Herman Melville: Moby Dick
    1857Gustave Flaubert: Madame Bovary (French)
    1858Darwin’s theory of evolution
    1860Charles Dickens: Great Expectations
    1861-1865American Civil War
    1862Victor Hugo: Les Miserable (French)
    1865Abolition of slavery. USA
    1879Henrik Ibsen: A Doll’s House
    1895George Wells: The Time Machine
    1899Kate Chopin: The Awakening
    1900Walt Whitman: Leaves of Grass

    Modernism: 1901-1950

    A reaction to the enlightenment, modern literature portrays lonely individual fighting to find peace and comfort in a world that has lost its absolute values and traditions. Man is nothing except what he makes of himself. A belief in situational ethics—no absolute values. Decisions are based on the situation one is involved in at the moment. Mixing of fantasy with nonfiction; blurs lines of reality for reader. Loss of the hero in literature. Destruction made possible by technology. Free verse is common in poetry. Epiphanies begin to appear in literature so do speeches and memoir. In novels stream of consciousness appear. Detached, unemotional, humorless, present tense and magic realism distinguish modern novels. Approach to life: “Seize life for the moment and get all you can out of it.” British Empire loses 1 million soldiers to World War I. Winston Churchill leads Britain through WW II, and the Germans bomb England directly. British colonies demand independence. Key literature:James Joyce, Joseph Conrad, D.H. Lawrence, Graham Greene, Dylan Thomas, Nadine Gordimer, George Orwell, William Butler Yeats, Bernard Shaw.
    1901-1914Edwardian Period (UK)
    Naturalism (USA)
    1901Q. Victoria dies
    1902Joseph Conrad: Heart of Darkness
    1914-1918World War I:
    Global conflict major involving major powers such as France, the United Kingdom, Russia, and later the United States, among others, against the Central Powers, including Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire. The Allied Powers, led by the United Kingdom, France, and the United States, emerged victorious.
    1916James Joyce: Portrait of an Artist
    1920Women’s Emancipation USA
    1925F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby
    1932Aldous Huxley: Brave New World
    1939-1945World War II:
    The second conflict of the century between the Allies (led by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union) and the Axis Powers (primarily Germany, Japan, and Italy). The Allies emerged victorious in World War II.
    1945George Orwell: Animal Farm
    1945Atomic Bomb: Hiroshima & Nagasaki
    1945Eastern Bloc:
    Many countries in Eastern Europe, including East Germany, Poland, and Hungary, were under communist rule during the Cold War, which lasted from the late 1940s to the early 1990s.
    1946Albert Camus: The Stranger

    Postmodernism: 1950-1980

    A reaction to, and rejection of the grand narratives of modernism, seeing knowledge as always a product of socio-political discourses. Relies heavily on theory, specially deconstruction and poststructuralism in their rejection of the ability of language to provide meaning. Key thinkers: Jacques Derrida, Jean Baudrillard, Ihab Hasan,
    1954William Golding: Lord of the Flies
    1957Jack Kerouac: On the Road
    1957-1975War in Vietnam
    1961Berlin Wall built separating Berlin into east and west.
    1963Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar
    The novel is semi-autobiographical. After Plath’s suicide, the novel was published under her real name, and the novel did cause great offense. This resulted in a successful lawsuit by one individual (who is portrayed as “Joan” in the book), where the court ruled that the novel unfairly branded her as homosexual.
    1970Maya Angelou: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
    Autobiographical journey of the early life of the author exploring the isolation and loneliness and how she coped with that. This book is about the very graphic life of Maya Angelou, involving her rape, growing up, and her travels through racism and sexism.
    1970Toni Morrison: The Bluest Eye
    Details a year in the life of a young black girl, Pecola. The story is told from four perspectives, Pecola’s, her friend’s, Soaphead Church, and her parents’. Because of the controversial nature of the book, dealing with racism and child molestation, there have been numerous attempts to ban it.

    Contemporary: 1980-present

    Literature shows concern with connections between people, exploring interpretations of the past, open-mindedness and  courage that comes from being an outsider, escaping those ways of living that blind and dull the human spirit. All genres are represented. Fictional confessional/diaries (50% of contemporary fiction is written in the first person). Narratives: both fiction and nonfiction, emotion-provoking, humorous irony, storytelling emphasized, autobiographical essays, mixing of fantasy with nonfiction; blurs lines of reality for reader. World growing smaller due to ease of communications between societies, A new beginning of a century and a millennium. Media culture interprets values and events for individuals. Key literature: Seamus Heaney, Doris Lessing, Louis de Bernieres, Kazuo Ishiguro, Tom Stoppard, Salman Rushdie. John Le Carre, Ken Follett.
    1982Salman Rushdie: Midnight’s Children
    Blends magical realism with historical fiction, exploring India’s transition from British colonialism to independence.
    1985Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale
    A seminal work in feminist dystopian literature.
    1989Berlin Wall dismantled
    1991Communist rule ends in USSR
    1996Chuck Palahniuk: Fight Club
    Delves into themes of consumerism, identity, and societal disconnect, mirroring the decade’s unease with the status quo.
    Early 2000sThe Age of Globalization and the Internet:
    The turn of the millennium sees literature grappling with the realities of globalization, the internet, and the aftermath of 9/11.
    2001Ian McEwan: Atonement
    Examines the complexities of truth and the impact of individual actions across time.
    2003Khaled Hosseini: The Kite Runner
    Offers a poignant exploration of friendship, guilt, and redemption against the backdrop of Afghanistan’s turbulent history.
    2010sDigital Narratives and Environmental Awareness:
    The rise of digital literature and eco-criticism marks this decade, with authors experimenting with new media and exploring themes of environmentalism and sustainability.
    2010Jennifer Egan: A Visit from the Goon Squad
    Employs an innovative narrative structure, akin to a music album, reflecting the digital era’s influence on storytelling.
    2018Richard Powers: The Overstory
    Intertwines the lives of diverse characters with the existential plight of trees, emphasizing humanity’s connection to the natural world.
    2020Brit Bennett: The Vanishing Half
    Explores the nuances of race, identity, and family in America.
    2020Emma Donoghue: The Pull of the Stars
    Pandemic literature reflecting on themes of resilience, loss, and the human capacity for compassion in times of crisis.
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