The collapse of the classical empires opens the way to the rise of the vernacular, arguably the turning point in the history of European and world literature. The replacement of one spoken vernacular by another is the result of conquest, but, almost always, only if the invaders represent a large enough percentage of the resulting population to prevail. Though the emergence of written vernaculars exhibits recurrent causes and characteristics across Eurasia, systematic differences result in multiple vernaculars in some regions, no more than one in others. On this basis, a distinctive feature of medieval European literature emerges—the importance of intra-vernacular literary leadership. That literature is best understood through the tension between Latin Christendom’s restrictive self-definition and a more expansive definition of Europe based on the present-day contours of the continent.
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