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I'm not sure I would equate ancient literature with Renaissance literature, though I agree both are old. There is, as other editors have mentioned, a mere handful of work from what you call ancient times which has survived and is still read and appreciated today. The same is true for works after the Renaissance, and the same will be true hundreds of years from now regarding today's "modern" writing--the best will live on and stand the test of time.
By reading the classics, a reader finds much more in some of the moderns, for they learned from the ancient writers. When one learns to draw, does he not study the masters even if he wishes to be a commercial artist? Do not modern musicians study the works of their predecessors? There is always reason to read and learn from the masters of all the fine arts.
So much of contemporary writing is simply written to sell that it is difficult to find truly worthy books. And, as another editor has mentioned, often literature must first stand the test of time. Still, when Saul Bellow, renowned author of the late twentieth century was once interviewed, he was asked why there are no great writers in our times. "Because there are no great readers," he replied. Reading the classics makes for a great reader.
Like classic art, literature often is not popular at the time it is published, or even while the author is alive. The study of literature, therefore, is a slow moving and fairly conservative field of study. So is the educational curriculum with regards to most literature as well, as it moves very slowly towards more contemporary or multicultural topics. So, unfortunately from my view, its Beowulf til the cows come home.
Great literature is both timely and timeless. When we study ancient literature or that from other cultures, we learn much about the context surrounding the work--in other words "timely." But great works are also timeless. They appeal to all generations. They have an universal appeal. Shakespeare, for instance, deals with love, corruption, jealously, war, prejudice, ambition--all topics that are relevant to people of today.
One quick look at the Anglo Saxon "The Seafarer" and the Victorian "Dover Beach" shows the idea of timely and timelessness. Both concern the sea, suffering, and spiritual faith and a world perspective. The events that surrounded these two poems are vastly different--the decline of a warrior society versus the publication of Darwin's Origin of the Species. Yet, we can see through each work the struggle of the author to come to terms with his world and his faith while viewing the awesomeness of the sea.
Studying both ancient literature and more contemporary works provides us a better understanding of our own world and those elements that link us together as humans.
Speaking from a general point of view, part of the reason why modern examples of literature might not be as appreciated much could have to do with time. I believe the argument that a significant work of literature must endure the perils of time in order to be fully appreciated. Works of literature that are written in the modern setting have to age a bit, be set against other contemporary works and past works in order to be fully appreciated. In this light, I think that a work from Sophocles and Homer are classical works, worthy of praise, because they have endured through different eras and time periods and still proven to be quite valuable to the discourse. Renaissance literature and ideas are in the same boat. When we examine works by Machiavelli, for example, we see a type of quality that makes them relevant to today's setting, almost as meaningful as they were of the time period. I see your point, to an extent, suggesting that there might be some glorification of the past, but I also feel that this is done so because what has been of the past has endured. The test of what is in the present is the same in terms of will it endure and prove as meaningful centuries down the road as it might appear in the contingent context of the present.
we dont neglect it. you've heard of twilight right?
I am definitely not in favour of too much of ancient literature at the cost of neglecting the current literature. However, it is important to note that the ancient literature that is still liked and appreciated by people represents something that has established its worth over a long period of time. This does not mean that current literature is less valuable or inferior to the ancient one. It only means that the the best of the current literature has not been around long enough to establish its superiority among general public.
If we insist on reading only the current literature, we may end up reading all the worthless part of the current literature, without coming across the real good part. This is because less than 1 percent of the literature of any time, including that of the present time, is really good literature. As a matter of fact because the reduction in cost and difficulty in publishing a book, the percentage of really good literature published these days has fallen much below the 1 percent range. Because of this a person may read hundreds of the latest published books, without coming across even one real good one. In a situation like this reading of ancient literature ensures that you read at least some real good literature.
It all depends on what you take from literature as you read it. When you see theme after theme in ancient literature that seems familiar to you, you know that years ago, people experienced the same feelings as you do, one of doubt, one of apprehension, one of anxiety, and the fears, hopes and dreams that one carries with them. Only when you read with an open mind do you find comfort that people long ago were just like you, and that you can learn something from them as you find out how they handled the same problems and situations that you have now. Nothing like literature brings this to the surface. Most students spend an equal time on all periods of literature, not just one in particular.
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