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The Norton Anthology
Many of these ancient world texts concern themselves with the definition of a hero, as well as the (often separate) definition of a leader: A leader can be a hero, but a hero is not always a leader.
Love for one’s family drives the actions of the majority of the characters in this section; romantic love has its place in the stories as well, although it is discussed less.
Both societal and religious expectations play key roles in the behavior of these characters, so it will be necessary to understand a few details about those beliefs.
The chapter introductions will address some basic religious beliefs for each region. As with all the time periods in world literature, different events mark the end of the ancient world in different cultures.
If the fall of Rome in 476 C.E. marks the end of an era in Europe, it is clearly an irrelevant date to cultures such as China and India.
The unification of China under the Qin Dynasty in 221 B.C.E. marks the end of Ancient China and the beginning of the Dynastic Period.
Classical India ends somewhere between 550 C.E. (with the fall of the Gupta Empire) and 1206 C.E. (with the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate following hundreds of years of Islamic invasions).
While poetry is found in all of the ancient cultures included, a commonality across most of those cultures is epic poetry.
Epic heroes often have some kind of supernatural ability or are demigods, and/or have the help of the gods.
In Gilgamesh, the title character is two-thirds god and one-third human (an interesting exercise for a modern-day geneticist), while Achilles is the son of a goddess and a mortal man in the Iliad, as is Aeneas in the Aeneid.
If Odysseus is not a demigod, he certainly is loved by the goddess Athena, who protects him through his journeys.
In the Mahabharata, the main warriors of the story are all demigods, and in the Ramayana, the main character is a god: an avatar of the god Vishnu, sent down to earth in human form to fight evil.
The Metamorphoses is the anti-epic of the group, arguing that there are no real heroes: just gods and humans who make mistakes, forming history along the way. Many of the works in this section have another commonality: They are foundational texts for their respective societies.
Western literature would not exist in its present form without the influence of Greek and Roman epics or ancient Greek drama.
References to the Trojan War, Ovid, and Oedipus (among many others) are found in media from literature (in the Middle Ages to the present day) to newspaper comic strips.
Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is still taught around the world. In present-day India, the characters in the Mahabharata and the Ramayana are referenced in everyday conversations.
Confucian ethics influenced Chinese thought for well over two thousand years.
The works in this section are meant to be compared and contrasted. Consider the following questions while reading:
• Compare the definition of a hero in Gilgamesh, the Iliad, the Mahabharata, and the Aeneid. What does a hero have to do to be admired by his own society? What can’t he do?
• How are Gilgamesh and Achilles similar? How is Hector both similar and different to them
• How are the expectations for a gentleman in the Analects similar to the expectations for the sons of Pandu in the Mahabharata? What makes Aeneas both similar and different to them?
• What view of the gods do the characters have? What does their pantheon of gods expect from the characters, and what do they expect of the gods?
• How do characters in this section deal with authority/authority figures? Why?
|No. of Pages||906|
|PDF Size||40 MB|
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