Skip to main content

Ancient Mesopotamian Literate Culture

By Stephen J. Tinney

From the first stirrings of writing in the late fourth millennium BCE to the latest dated cuneiform texts in the 1stcentury CE, the phenomenon of cuneiform culture raises an array of questions which touch on all aspects of literature, beginning with the definition of “literary.” Assyriologists generally approach this strategically, separating quotidian administrative and legal texts from the long traditions of word lists (“lexical texts”), “royal inscriptions”, of the corpora of religious experts which might be termed “scientific and technical”, and the relatively small group of

Phoenician and Punic Civilizations

By Josephine Crawley Quinn

The Phoenician cities lived between literatures, both in space and time: the dramatic myth and epic of Bronze Age Ugarit and the rich literatures of the Iron Age Greeks and Israelites create expectations of the inhabitants of the Northern Levant that are not fulfilled until the Hellenistic period, and even then only in Greek.

The Invention of Greek "Literature"

By Ruth Scodel

Ancient Greek has no word for “literature” (“μουσικήwithout a requirement for music or the main content of παιδεία?). Yet Greeks created institutions, public and private, Panhellenic and local, supporting the creation and transmission of literature, including rhapsodic competitions, dramatic festivals, and symposia. Schools taught both performance and reading; with further literacy, there were libraries, a book trade, and the apparatus of auxiliary texts— glossaries, commentary, epitomies.

Epigraphic Egocentrism and Ancient Literary Invention

By Seth Larkin Sanders

What sorts of things can the broad comparison of ancient literatures conceal? In what ways might cross-cultural analysis open up new possibilities for obfuscation even as it sets other things in illuminating new perspective? In this talk I will examine one fundamental pattern that cross-cultural literary analysis seems not only poorly suited to see but perhaps systemically to miss. The talk covers three points: 1.

Writing in the Achaemenid Empire

By Elspeth Dusinberre

Writing in the Achaemenid Empire was not necessarily used for the same purposes as in contemporary Greece. Herodotus famously mentions “the learned men of the Persians” and implies a rich tradition and practice of oral history, and the similarities in the stories of Cyrus preserved in Herodotus and Xenophon suggest such histories might be widely known even if not written down. Instead, writing in the Empire filled a wide range of particular functions that were at least sometimes distinct from the literatures of contemporary Greece.