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A History of European LiteratureThe West and the World from Antiquity to the Present$
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Walter Cohen

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780198732679

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2017

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198732679.001.0001

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The Old World Literary System

The Old World Literary System

(p.17) 2 The Old World Literary System
A History of European Literature

Walter Cohen

Oxford University Press

World literature is a systematic category from the start—in antiquity referring to an Old World literary system. Three stages of that system can be discerned in the ancient world. The first, 3000–1200 BCE, turns on the invention and diffusion of literature in the ancient Near East. The second, 1200–550 BCE, sees the emergence of three literatures that, unlike their predecessors, do not die out, instead going on to become crucial to world civilization—Chinese, Greek, and Hebrew. The third, 550 BCE–750 CE, is the age of the ancient empires, which, beginning with the Persian Empire in the Axial Age, binds together Afro-Eurasia, including its culture, in unprecedented fashion. European literature is eventually the heir of this Old World system.

Keywords:   world literature, Old World, antiquity, ancient Near East, ancient Chinese, ancient Greek, ancient Hebrew, Persian Empire, Axial Age

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