A literary tradition refers to some common features or characteristics that define literature of a group of people at a certain period of time. These features relate to form and meaning of the literature of the given place or time period.
Literary tradition can also be referred to the passing down of stories which give meaning to human experience, according to literary articles. It may be also a sharing of stories between generations. Every linguistic group has a literary tradition which is transmitted either orally or through writing.
European literary traditions are the literature written in the context of Western culture in the languages of Europe, including the ones belonging to the family as well as several geographically or historically related languages such as Basque and Hungarian. Western literature is considered one of the defining elements of Western civilization.
A literary text from one literary tradition will differ in themes and features from a text of a different literary tradition. Literary traditions differ from one place to another and they keep on changing across time. For example: Rwandan literature is different in themes from Ugandan literature; African literature is different from European literature, Asian literary traditions are different from American literary traditions. African literature was primarily oral while European was mainly written.
Scholars of European literary traditions divided them in six different periods corresponding to specific types of literature: Classical ancient Greek and Latin literature, Medieval literature, Renaissance literature, Baroque literature, Classical literature, and Enlightenment literature.
The European literary traditions have their origins in the East rather than in the West. They originated from 4500 B.C to 2000 B.C in Sumeria, Egypt, Babylonia and Assyria as well as in China and India, all of which have been considered by westerners as Eastern countries. The main stream of Western civilization is not as old as of that Eastern civilization. European literary tradition is said to have their sources in Palestine and in Greece.
Classical ancient Greek and Latin literature
Ancient Greek literature refers to literature written in the Ancient Greek language from the earliest texts until the time of the Byzantine Empire.
The earliest surviving works of ancient Greek literature are the two epic poems of Homer: The Iliad and The Odyssey, set in the Mycenaean era along with the Homeric Hymns and the two poems of Hesiod,Theogony and Works and Days, comprised the major foundations of the Greek literary tradition that would continue into the Classical.
Sophocles is famous for his tragedies about Oedipus, particularly Oedipus the King and Antigone. Euripides is known for his plays which often pushed the boundaries of the tragic genre. The comedic playwright Aristophanes wrote in the genre of Old Comedy, while the later playwright Menander was an early pioneer of New Comedy. The philosopher Plato wrote dialogues, usually centered around his teacher Socrates, dealing with various philosophical subjects, whereas his student Aristotle wrote numerous treatises, which later became highly influential. Homer is regarded as the greatest of all the Greek writers. This period is divided into the Pre-classical, Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods.
Ancient Latin literature began as translation from the Greek. Latin authors used earlier writers as sources of stock themes and motifs, at their best using their relationship to tradition to produce a new species of originality. They were more distinguished as verbal artists than as thinkers; the finest of them have concrete detail and vivid illustration. Latin literature includes the essays, histories, poems, plays, and other writings written in the Latin language. Beginning around the 3rd century BC, it took two centuries to become a dominant literature of ancient Rome with many educated Romans still reading and writing in Ancient Greek.
Generally, Latin literature refers to the body of writings in Latin, primarily produced during the Roman Empire when Latin was a spoken language. Latin Literature includes not only Roman authors like Cicero, Virgil,Ovid and Horace but also includes European writers after the fall of Empire, like Aquinas, Francis, Baruch Spinoza…
Cicero has traditionally been considered the master of Latin prose. Cicero’s many works can be divided into four groups: letters, rhetorical treatises, philosophical works, and orations. His letters provide a vivid picture of the public and private life among the Roman governing class. Cicero’s works on oratory are our most valuable Latin sources for ancient theories on education and rhetoric. His philosophical works were the basis of moral philosophy during the Middle Ages. His speeches inspired many European political leaders and the founders of the United States.
Medieval (Middle Ages) literature
The Medieval Period, or the Middle Ages, extends roughly from the 5th to the 15th Century. The early part of this period is sometimes referred to as the Dark Ages because of the scarcity of achievements in culture and learning. The Western countries produced a large quantity of verse and prose during this period of time.
Medieval literature is a broad subject encompassing all written works available in Europe and beyond during the Middle ages. The literature of this time was composed of religious writings as well as well as secular works and Latin language was a common language for medieval writings.
Many medieval works are anonymous. Medieval Europe became the cradle of new developing genres. It brought ballads, allegorical poetry, Latin hymns, sacred songs, lullabies, fabliaux, debates, court epics, popular epics, beast epics, tale cycles, chivalric romances, mystery plays, miracle plays, and morality plays. As many of these literary types suggest, a great deal of medieval literature is folk literature. Such literature is linkable to the oral tradition of bards, jongleurs and troubadours.
Main writers of this period are Christina de Pizan, Geoffrey Chauser, John Anthony Burrow, Margery Kempe, Julian of Norwich, Chretien de Troyes, Marie de France, Jacobus de Voragine, William Langland, Thomas Aquinas, Francis of Assisi, …
Renaissance basically means rebirth or revival. Renaissance literature is the revival of European art and literature under the influence of classical models in the 14th–16th centuries. Renaissance literature refers to European literature which was influenced by intellectual and cultural tendencies associated with Renaissance. It was written during the general movement of the Renaissance which arose in 14th century in the Italy and continued until the 16th century.
The characteristics of Renaissance were humanism, nationalism, a new approach to life, and a new spirit in art, architecture, literature and learning, the growth of the vernaculars, and scientific investigation. Renaissance was a time of rediscovery. More Europeans had access to ancient Greek and Roman learning. Another thing that accelerated this learning was the fall of Constantinople in 1453. As more Greek and Roman scholars moved to West, more people were curious to learn about ancient’s times.
The influential writer of Renaissance was Willian Shakespeare. Other main writers include Geoffrey Chaucer, Nicholas Machiavelli, Miguel de Cervantes, Edmund Spenser, Giovanni Boccaccio, Francesco Petrarch, John Milton, Sir Thomas More, Sir Francis Bacon…
The era of literature known as the Baroque period in Spain occurred during a particularly difficult time in the country’s history. Most works during this period, the 17th Century, dealt with human struggle and the reality of the miserable conditions many were enduring. At the time, Spain was dealing with many issues surrounding their economy and political system, such as their loss of control over owned land and territories and poor leadership from the country’s rulers.
Spanish baroque coincides with the Golden Age of Spanish literature, called that way because of the great number of excellent literary productions that appeared in the period. Miguel de Cervantes is without doubt, the ultimate Baroque author.
His masterpiece, the adventures of the mad knight Don Quixote, is considered the most important book of the Spanish literature.
Baroque literature is the 17th Century prose that is known for its dramatic elements and use of Allegory (a story in which people, things or happenings have the symbolic meaning. Aesop’s fables are an example of Allegory).
Literature in Baroque period was full of metaphor, emblem, symbols and hyperbole. Some baroque writers include Lope de Vega, Luis de Gongora, Andreas Gryphius and Paul Fleming.
Classicism is a specific genre of philosophy, expressing itself in literature, architecture, art, and music, which has Ancient Greek and Roman sources and an emphasis on society. It was particularly expressed in the Neoclassicism of the Age of Enlightenment with the classicism. Literary critics of this period influenced in upholding classical standards both in French and English literature. A book on classical principles, Longinus constitutes the key source of aesthetic of romanticism.
The Age of Enlightenment identified itself with a vision of antiquity which, while continuous of the previous century, was shaken by the Physics of Sir Isaac Newton, the improvements in machinery and measurement, and a sense of liberation which they saw as being present in the Greek civilization.
Some of the writers of classicism include Nicolas Boileau-Despéaux, Molière, Nicolas Poussin…
Enlightenment was an intellectual and philosophical movement that dominated the world of ideas in Europe during 18th century. It was characterized by reason, nature, happiness, progress and liberty.
Enlightenment is referred to as the Age of Reason. It was a confluence of ideas and activities that took place throughout the 18th Century. Scientific rationalism and use of scientific method were the hallmark of everything related to the Enlightenment. Enlightenment thinkers believed in advances of science, egalitarianism and the progress of humankind.
Middle class had more money and free time to spend on reading.
Shift towards prose and realistic experiences – Rise of Journalism
Neoclassic literature aimed at elite; often used sarcasm and satire. Example: Franklin in Loseleon by David Martin.
The main writers of Enlightenment include Jean Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, John Locke, Denis Diderot, Montesquieu (1689-1755), Immanuel Kant, Adam Smith, Francis Bacon, Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, Isaac Newton (1642-1727), Alexander Hamilton, Antoine Lavoisier, Voltaire…