Introduction

This short literature course, based on the first half of the Masterpieces of World Literature edX MOOC, examines how civilizations and cultures of the ancient world defined themselves through literature and how that literature has continued to contribute to our understanding of those civilizations and cultures today.

Cities, nations, and empires from antiquity through the middle ages drew on foundational histories and myths for their identities, relating these narratives through generations by means of oral-storytelling and new writing technologies. These epics, story collections, and novels, which take a keen interest in heroic travelers, would eventually travel themselves, finding new global audiences as the first works of world literature.

Tracing developments in language, writing, and literary genre, this course also travels in time, from legendary accounts of ancient kings to histories of medieval courts and early-modern exploration. We will stop to consider how all of these texts affected the history of their own eras, but also how they have continued to find new prominence and significance in ours.

What you'll learn:

  • The early history of World Literature
  • How literary works are transformed by cultural transmission and modern recovery
  • How to critically analyze literary works
  • The significance of major technological advances in writing

Meet The Faculty

David Damrosch

David Damrosch

Ernest Bernbaum Professor of Literature, Harvard University

David Damrosch is Ernest Bernbaum Professor of Literature and Chair of the Department of Comparative Literature at Harvard University. He is a past president of the American Comparative Literature Association, and is the founder of the Institute for World Literature (www.iwl.fas.harvard.edu). He was trained at Yale and then taught at Columbia from 1980 until he moved to Harvard in 2009. He has written widely on issues in comparative and world literature, and is the author of The Narrative Covenant: Transformations of Genre in the Growth of Biblical Literature (1987), We Scholars: Changing the Culture of the University (1995), Meetings of the Mind (2000), What Is World Literature?(2003), The Buried Book: The Loss and Rediscovery of the Great Epic of Gilgamesh (2007), and How to Read World Literature (2009). He is the founding general editor of the six-volume Longman Anthology of World Literature (2004) and of The Longman Anthology of British Literature (4th ed. 2009), editor of Teaching World Literature (2009) and of World Literature in Theory (2014), and co-editor of The Princeton Sourcebook in Comparative Literature (2009). His work has been translated into an eclectic variety of languages, including Arabic, Hungarian, Polish, Turkish, and Vietnamese.

Martin Puchner

Martin Puchner

Byron and Anita Wien Professor of Drama and of English and Comparative Literature, Harvard University

Martin Puchner holds the Byron and Anita Wien Chair in Drama and in English and Comparative Literature at Harvard University, where he also serves as the founding director of the Mellon School of Theater and Performance Research. He is the author of Stage Fright: Modernism, Anti-Theatricality, and Drama (Hopkins, 2002), Poetry of the Revolution: Marx, Manifestos, and the Avant-Gardes (Princeton, 2006; winner of the MLA's James Russell Lowell Award) and The Drama of Ideas: Platonic Provocations in Theater and Philosophy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010). He has published essays in the London Review of Books, Raritan Review, N+1, Yale Journal of Criticism, The Drama Review, The Journal of the History of Ideas, New Literary History, Theatre Research International, and Theatre Journal among others. His edited books and introductions include Six Plays by Henrik Ibsen (Barnes and Noble, 2003), Lionel Abel's Tragedy and Metatheatre (Holmes and Meier, 2003), The Communist Manifesto and Other Writings (Barnes and Noble, 2005), and Modern Drama: Critical Concepts (Routledge, 2007). He is the co-editor of Against Theatre: Creative Destructions on the Modernist Stage (Palgrave, 2006) and The Norton Anthology of Drama (2009) and the new general editor of the Norton Anthology of World Literature.

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