The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the earliest known literary works. This Babylonian epic poem arises from stories in the Sumerian language. Although the Sumerian stories are older (probably dating to at least 2100 B.C.), it was probably composed around 1900 BC. The epic deals with themes of heroism, friendship, loss, and the quest for eternal life.
Different historical periods are reflected in literature. National and tribal sagas, accounts of the origin of the world and of customs, and myths which sometimes carry moral or spiritual messages predominate in the preurban eras. The epics of Homer, dating from the early to middle Iron age, and the great Indian epics of a slightly later period, have more evidence of deliberate literary authorship, surviving like the older myths through oral tradition for long periods before being written down.
As a more urban culture developed, academies provided a means of ...view middle of the document...
Over a long period, the poetry of popular pre-literate balladry and song interpenetrated and eventually influenced poetry in the literary medium.
In ancient China, early literature was primarily focused on philosophy, historiography, military science, agriculture, and poetry. China, the origin of modern paper making and woodblock printing, produced one of the world's first print cultures. Much of Chinese literature originates with the Hundred Schools of Thought period that occurred during the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770-256 BCE). The most important of these include the Classics of Confucianism, of Daoism, of Mohism, of Legalism, as well as works of military science (e.g. Sun Tzu's The Art of War) and Chinese history (e.g. Sima Qian's Records of the Grand Historian). Ancient Chinese literature had a heavy emphasis on historiography. The Chinese kept consistent and accurate court records after the year 841 BCE, with the beginning of the Gonghe regency of the Western Zhou Dynasty. An exemplary piece of narrative history of ancient China was the Zuo Zhuan, which was compiled no later than 389 BCE, and attributed to the blind 5th century BCE historian Zuo Qiuming.
In ancient India, literature originated from stories that were originally orally transmitted. Early genres included drama, fables, sutras and epic poetry. Sanskrit literature begins with the Vedas, dating back to 1500–1000 BCE, and continues with the Sanskrit Epics of Iron Age India. The Vedas are among the oldest sacred texts. The Samhitas (vedic collections) date to roughly 1500–1000 BCE, and the "circum-Vedic" texts, as well as the redaction of the Samhitas, date to c. 1000-500 BCE, resulting in a Vedic period, spanning the mid 2nd to mid 1st millennium BCE, or the Late Bronze Age and the Iron Age. The period between approximately the 6th to 1st centuries BC saw the composition and redaction of the two most influential Indian epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, with subsequent redaction progressing down to the 4th century AD.