Europe, cradle of Western civilization, is a relatively small continent with over 40 countries and while it only has 24 officially recognized languages there are over 200 dialects considered so different and diverse that they are their own language -of which many claim to be the oldest to the point that it can’t be determined. And while the continent is extremely diverse and often extremely divided, most modern media seems to think 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 most of Western Europe -including the Netherlands, and England- was nothing other than French. So a lot of older literature has been translated and rewritten over the years.
Europe follows two paths regarding storytelling which can be strongly divided by the cultural division betwheen the south and the north part of the continent. 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 fairytales to children. These folkstories seem to have focused on smaller regions, with local differences between the tales as well as mystic outlines depending on the language and cultural region. For northern Europe where languages were Germanic, Gaelic, or Slavic based these oral traditions lasted up to centuries longer than the tradition held its importance in the southern countries.
The southern countries, Greek and Roman-language based, have not only -through conquest and trade- had an incredibly important influence on Europe but also on how Europeans still live with their literary traditions. Because 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 as the Greek tradition of writing down their literature eventually became much more dominant. In this regard the Greeks were a tad different from many other ancient civilizations, in that they at some point started to write down all their ancient oral stories. Because of this the tales of Aesop, the epics of Homer, famous tragedies, and even many philosophical conondrums have survived time and are still accessible forming and molding minds as they did thousands of years ago. Eventually epic tales evolved in the modern novel, and the tragedy was rediscovered during the Renaissance as theater and plays became accessible to the masses.
Through the writing ways of the Greeks and Romans, and the monastic communities and mentality to collect documents and study these practices survived the Dark Ages. As it was common at the time, monastic communities spend countless hours collecting, copying, and spreading works of literature, philosophy, math, and theology. The value of these religious institutes was mostly proven when the Western Roman Empire fell, and many European libraries were lost. Several documents only survived the sacking of Rome and the fall of the Roman Empire because scholars and monks saved them, smuggled them to the Byzantine Empire and stored them for safekeeping. Eventually these tales were copied and printed to have 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.