Alexander the Great learned to read and write by studying Homer's Iliad. Thanks to his teacher, the philosopher Aristotle, he had done so with unusual intensity. When Alexander embarked on his conquests, a copy of the Iliad accompanied him.
Homer's Iliad helped to shape an entire society and its ethics. The story revealed the kind of effect moral choices could have on the general public.
Chinese literature is based on the Book of Songs, a collection of simple poems that have accrued much interpretation and commentary.
The Book of Songs enshrined poetry as the most important form of literature across East Asia.
As more and more parts of the world became literate, new technologies such as paper and print increased the reach and influence of written stories. More readers meant new stories started to appear.
When Dante Alighieri wrote his Comedy in the spoken dialect of Tuscany, it helped to turn the dialect into a legitimate language we now call Italian.
The era of mass production and mass literacy we have today is the result of the invention of print in northern Europe by Johannes Gutenburg.
Novels didn't have the baggage associated with ancient forms of literature. They allowed new types of authors and readers, especially women who used novels to engage with the most pressing questions of modern society.
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is at the forefront of what would come to be known as science fiction, revealing the promise of science and its destructive potential.
Similarly, novels were used by emerging countries to assert their independence. Political independence needed cultural independence, and novels proved the best way of gaining it.
The printing press also made it easier to control and censor literature. It became a problem for authors living in regimes such as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union.
Today, we are living through another revolution in writing technologies. The internet is changing how we read and write, how literature spreads, and who has access to it.
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