E ARLY PERIODS OF LITERATURE
These periods are spans of time in which literature shared intellectual, linguistic, religious, and artistic influences. In the
Western tradition, the early periods of literary history are roughly as follows below:
A . THE CLASS ICAL PERIOD (1200 BCE - 455 CE)
I. HOMERIC or HEROIC PERIOD (1200-800 BCE) Greek legends are passed along orally, including Homer'sThe Iliad and The Odyssey. This is a chaotic period of warrior-princes, wandering sea-traders, and fierce pirates.
II. CLASSICAL GREEK PERIOD (800-200 BCE) Greek writers, playwrights, and philosophers such as Gorgias,
Aesop, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Euripides, and Sophocles. The fifth century (499-400 BCE) in particular is
renowned as The Golden Age of Greece. This is the sophisticated periodof the polis, or individual City-State, and
early democracy. Some of the world's finest art, poetry, drama, architecture, and philosophy originate in Athens.
III. CLASSICAL ROMAN PERIOD (200 BCE-455 CE) Greece's culture gives way to Roman power when Rome
conquers Greece in 146 CE. The Roman Republic was traditionally founded in 509 BCE, but it is limited in size
until later. Playwrights ofthis time include Plautus and Terence. After nearly 500 years as a Republic, Rome slides
into dictatorship under Julius Caesar and finally into a monarchial empire under Caesar Augustus in 27 CE. This
later period is known as the Roman Imperial period. Roman writers include Ovid, Horace, and Virgil. Roman
philosophers include Marcus Aurelius and Lucretius. Roman rhetoricians include Cicero andQuintilian.
IV. PATRISTIC PERIOD (c. 70 CE-455 CE) Early Christian writings appear such as Saint Augustine, Tertullian,
Saint Cyprian, Saint Ambrose and Saint Jerome. This is the period in which Saint Jerome first compiles the Bible,
when Christianity spreads across Europe, and the Roman Empire suffers its dying convulsions. In this period,
barbarians attack Rome in 410 CE and the city finallyfalls to them completely in 455 CE.
B . THE MEDIEVAL PERIOD (455 CE-1485 CE)
I. THE OLD ENGLISH (ANGLO-SAXON) PERIOD (428-1066)
The so-called "Dark Ages" (455 CE -799 CE) occur when Rome falls and barbarian tribes move into Europe. Franks,
Ostrogoths, Lombards, and Goths settle in the ruins of Europe and the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes migrate to
Britain, displacing native Celts into Scotland,Ireland, and Wales. Early Old English poems such as Beowulf, The
Wanderer, and The Seafarer originate sometime late in the Anglo-Saxon period.
The Carolingian Renaissance (800- 850 CE) emerges in Europe. In central Europe, texts include early medieval
grammars, encyclopedias, etc. In northern Europe, this time period marks the setting of Viking sagas.
II. THE MIDDLE ENGLISH PERIOD (c.1066-1450 CE)
In 1066, Norman French armies invade and conquer England under William I. This marks the end of the AngloSaxon hierarchy and the emergence of the Twelfth Century Renaissance (c. 1100-1200 CE). French chivalric
romances--such as works by Chretien de Troyes--and French fables--such as the works of Marie de France and
Jeun de Meun--spread in popularity. Abelard and other humanists producegreat scholastic and theological
Late or "High" Medieval Period (c. 1200-1485 CE): This often tumultuous period is marked by the Middle English
writings of Geoffrey Chaucer, the "Gawain" or "Pearl" Poet, the Wakefield Master, and William Langland. Other
writers include Italian and French authors like Boccaccio, Petrarch, Dante, and Christine de Pisan.
C . THE RENAISSANCE ANDREFORMATION (c. 1485-1660 CE)
(The Renaissance takes place in the late 15th, 16th, and early 17th century in Britain, but somewhat earlier in Italy
and southern Europe, somewhat later in northern Europe.)
I. Early Tudor Period (1485-1558): The War of the Roses ends in England with Henry Tudor (Henry VII) claiming
the throne. Martin Luther's split with Rome marks the emergence of Protestantism,...
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