Europe, cradle of (western) civilization, a relatively small but still diverse continent, suffisticated and old. According to some modern literature, all (older) societies in Europe have people walking around in oversized dresses and riding horseback while talking with an English accent as if they have hot potatoes in their mouth. It might suprise some that the upperclass-language in the Netherlands, and even England was nothing other than French. So a lot of older literature is translated and rewritten.

European literary tradtions seem to have originated mostly in Greece, if we don’t count the Germanic, Gaelic, and Eastern European traditions of oral storytelling. Ancient Greece gave sources that have outlived all of their writers, and will outlive all of their readers.

As on other continents, most of European stories find their origin in the tradition of oral storytelling. A tradition still held into practice by telling stories to children. But where the oral stories still have great influence on the African poetry and prose, and on cultural heritage in North America, the practice has mostly disappeared on the European continent. The biggest remaining influencse in European literary traditions are the ancient Greek practices, as well as the (isolated) monastisc communities of the Dark Ages and the Renaissance.

The Greeks were a tad different from other ancient civilizations, mostly in that they at some point started to write down their oral stories. This gave us epic tales such as Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey, as well as famous tragedies. Both these forms of writing have evolved during thousands of years, as epic tales resulted in our modern novel, and the tragedy was rediscovered during the Renaissance as theater and plays became accessible to more and more people.
But none of that would have become common, were it not for the monastic communities that spend ages collecting, copying, and spreading works of literature, philosophy, math, and theology as much as was possible. The value of such institutes was proven when the Western Roman Empire fell, and many libraries were lost. Several documents only survived the hordes that plundered the Roman cities because scholars and monks saved the documents, to smuggle them to the Byzantine Empire and other parts of Eastern Europe, where they were stored, kept safe, and eventually had their own effect on the minds of future writers. Centuries later some of these works of great philosophers, theologists, historians, and mathematicians are available to the mass public thanks to the modern printing presses.

Europe’s literature is as diverse as the many cultures and peoples on its limited territory. In my own country, which was mostly sea in the time of the Greeks and Romans, there is as much bad literature as good. People have tried to develop their language by experimenting with it in poetry and novels, and therefore literature is a constant factor when it comes to the awareness that resolves around language. So choose the country, and see from which country you can learn so more by travelling from the comfort of your couch.







To read about other continents, and find out about different countries, return to Read Around the World.

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