Nowadays, the importance of studying the ancient literature becomes an actual question. From year to year, an amount of worth studying contemporary literary works increases and a lot of students complain that they do not want to read and analyze literary works of the ancient authors. However, they forget that the ancient literary works were the first examples of literature in the history of humankind. They contain information about life and environment in the preceded days and inspire a lot of young writers. The aim of this paper is to prove that the ancient literature is a basis for the contemporary literature and has a significant impact on it. The research is based on the interviews with seven modern authors. It provides a better understanding of the role of the ancient literary works in the modern writings and proves that the problems covered by literature remain similar at all times.
Key words: ancient literature, modern literature, contemporary literature, interview, modern writers.
The beginning of literature has roots deep in the times of Ancient Egypt and Bronze Age Mesopotamia and the invention of writing. First literary works were written on manuscripts and date back to the 3rd Millennium BC. Since then, literature has been an essential part of people’s lives. With the course of time, it underwent significant changes and started to be characterized by new genres, literary styles, mass publications, and eased population access. However, extant masterpieces of the ancient literature are still widely known and well recognized. They often go through multiple printings and are an important part of the university literary studies.
This paper gives a literature review on the works related to the problem of the ancient literature studies and their importance. It concentrates on the impact of the ancient literature on the modern literature based on the interviews with seven writers. Then, the significance of the research, its major questions, and methodology are discussed. Ethical considerations, limitation of the study, and expected results are provided.
A lot of researchers and scholars carry out studies to discover the role of the ancient literature and its impact on the modern writings. For instance, Parkinson tries to explain the importance of the Ancient Egyptian Literature in the modern world. He states that the scholars read Old Egyptian poems only for their academic training, and the main problem in understanding of the ancient works lies in “little evidence of the original context” (Parkinson 63). According to Parkinson, it is worth remembering that the poems might not be a source of truthful historical information; rather, they show an experience of their authors as inhabitants of those times. The poems remind that everything is shifting and every time period is just a stage in the endless history. In turn, Schenkers who studies Ancient Greece Literature argues, “The best of ancient Greek literature retains a freshness and immediacy that reaches far beyond its time and place of creation and speaks to readers and audience members today” (Schenkers 1). Ancient Greek literature questions problems that are challenging at all times and suggest their solutions. McCarter views the ancient literature as the source of the information about the life “of ancient peoples from many parts of the world” (McCarter 4). The ancient literature gives the historical background of its times and provides a better understanding of social and cultural traditions together with feels people experienced during one or another event. McCarter states that history is written, and it can be retrieved from biography and memoir that are essential parts of the ancient writings (McCarter 5).
Despite the fact modern scholars have different views on the ancient literature and reliability of the provided by the ancient literary works information, they agree that the ancient writings make a figure in shaping the views of the contemporary society. However, a better understanding of the role of the ancient literature requires analyzing the opinions of people who are close to literature but do not conduct scientific researches at the same time. The following overview provides information about several interviews with the modern writers and their opinion about importance and impact of the ancient literature in the modern society.
The first interview to be analyzed in this research is the interview with Mohsin Hamid, a Pakistan novelist and writer famous for his The Reluctant Fundamentalist, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, and Moth Smoke. He talks about the impact of the Ancient Eastern poetry on the literature of Pakistan. Hamid states that while creating his works he was inspired by the works of Sufi poets, such as Rumi, Ghalib, Attal, etc. Moth Smoke, his first novel, was “in a sense a post-modern riff on the Sufi theme of the love of a moth for a candle flame” (“An Interview with Mohsin Hamid”). The ideas of Sufi originate from the Muslim traditions but can be easily applied to any religious group, and that makes them interesting and humane in many ways. Hamid also talks about adoring one of the major Sufi notions, “love enables transcendence” (“An Interview with Mohsin Hamid”). Modern Pakistan literature is religious even if it does not seem so for Western readers. In Pakistan, the Sufi thoughts are still well known and highly popular; they form a significant part of the culture, and this part, in turn, finds its reflection in the literary works of the modern Pakistan writers.
Talking about the impact of the Ancient Greek literature on her writings, Madeline Miller, the author of The Song of Achilles, the novel that messages the question of gay rights, remembers her first reading of Homer’s The Iliad. She states, "I thought, 'Wow, this is what real life is like' . . . the emotions, the striving, the grief. It was so engaging" (“The Saturday Interview: Madeline Miller, Orange Prize Winner”). Being obsessed with the story of Achilles for the whole life, Miller continues, “this terrible, grief-stricken, devastated reaction to losing Patroclus . . . who is this man who means so much to Achilles?” (“The Saturday Interview: Madeline Miller, Orange Prize Winner”). The Iliad became a basis of the first and yet only Miller’s book that won the last-ever Orange Prize. Its plot takes place before the Trojan War and concentrates on the relations between Achilles and Patroculus. The Song of Achilles underlines gay message that is challenging for the modern world. Miller had written her novel for ten years studying classical Greek literature and mythology and learning Latin. Giving the opinion about a popularity of her book, Miller talks about international conflicts and says, “We have soldiers who are coming back with post-traumatic stress disorder, which is something Homer and the ancients understood intimately: the experience of soldiers and their suffering” (“The Saturday Interview: Madeline Miller, Orange Prize Winner”).
One more modern writer, Jhumpa Lahiri, remembers that reading of the early literary works helped her to master fear of writing. She states, “When I started to study Latin and Greek and I felt that there was so much for me to learn from earlier centuries of writing . . . I had this tiny, imperceptible, secret desire to do some of my own writing, but I was very terrified to admit that even to myself” (Leyda 68). While most of her classmates studied contemporary literature and practiced contemporary writing, Lahiri read Greek and Latin literary masterpieces, was interested in Medieval and Renaissance Literature. She says, “I didn’t turn to contemporary writing until later, when I was more serious about my own writing, and then I began to have a very different relationship to it” (Leyda 68). Nowadays, Jhumpa Lahiri is the author of two novels and two short story collections for the first of which, Interpreter of Maladies, she won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
The famous American writer Rick Riordan known for creating the series of books with the title Percy Jackson and the Olympians used to be a schoolteacher in English and Social Studies. He created the books about Percy Jackson as a way to keep his dyslexic son interested in school and learning. Riordan based his stories on the Greek and Roman myths he learned while reading masterpieces of ancient writers. For Riordan, his literature is not just the way to give children basic mythological knowledge; it also helps them to form a versatile mind. Talking about this, he states, “You have to know Greek myths to understand where our modern culture came from. It’s part of being an educated member of society” (“An Interview with Rick.”).
Neil Gaiman in his conversation with Kazuo Ishiguro says, “for me, one of the best things about being a reader, let alone a writer, is being able to read ancient Greek stories, ancient Egyptian stories, Norse stories – to be able to feel like one is getting the long view” (“Let's talk about genre”). It is a question of short human lifespan and imagination, the feeling that the book in your hands is three or four centuries older than you, its reader. According to Gaiman, the real interest lies not in living 80, 100, or 120 years but 1000, and books give people real chance to do so. And it is also worth noting that the ancient works make their readers to think about future. Books written a lot of time ago make wondering how significantly the world around has changed and how it could change in the next couple of centuries. Arguing about this, Gaiman continues, “I’ve always loved the idea of making things longer, changing perspective. And part of looking at things in the long term is also, I think, in a weird way, worry about the future” (“Let's talk about genre”).
In his interview for The Guardian, famous Irish poet and Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney talks about his translation of Beowulf and admiration of the Old English poems. For him, the Old English poems were a start for his love and interest of the Anglo-Saxon language. Heaney says, “’The Wanderer’ and ‘The Seafarer’ were the ones [poems] that gave me a feel for the language, voices shaken by the North Sea wind, as it were, voices crying under the ness” (“Seamus Heaney: ’To set the Darkness echoing.’”). A feel for language is essential for every writer and even to a greater extent for every poet. Often, it is a thing that makes one to start writing, evokes imagination, and symbolizes love to literature and historical roots.
In 1983, British writer Joy Chant created The High Kings, the novel based on the famous Old English legend about King Arthur. In her interview with Raymond H. Thompson, she talks about the reasons that motivated her to write the story and the impact the Old English literature had on her work. She states, “I think it's a story that must obsess many writers--anybody whose imagination is an important part of his or her makeup, and who is particularly interested, as I think most fantasy writers are, in legendary material. In that case Arthur is very likely to be a figure who absorbs you, as he certainly did me, from a very early age” (“Interview with Joy Chant.”). Chant has always been fascinated with the stories about King Arthur, Norse and Celtic readings. She says that the first tellers of the legend about King Arthur were people who understood that the good could not last forever and “the brightness and magnificence are only an interlude” (“Interview with Joy Chant.”). Celtics were a smart nation. They understood life and had rather modern cultural traditions. And their knowledge has been extant to the present day through literature.
Significance of Research
Nowadays, the extent of the contemporary literary works provides wider choice and makes ancient literature less and less important. From year to year, a number of works worth reading and studying increases. Under such conditions, students often think that studying of the ancient literary works is not important and it just gives additional information to learn and analyze. However, it is necessary to understand that the ancient literary works not only provide the information about the history and culture of its times but form a basis of the contemporary literature people love and read now.
The paper aims to prove the significance of the ancient literary works for the modern literature and the importance of studying the ancient literary works nowadays.
The research was based on analysis of the interviews with seven modern writers of literature. The data were collected through publicly available Internet resources. The data included the writers’ attitude towards the ancient literary works and the impact the ancient literature had on their writings. The interviews were analyzed and the conclusions about the importance of the ancient literature and its impact on the modern literature were made.
The research is based on the interviews provided by third sources and available publicly. The permission to use the provided information is not required.
Limitation of the Study
The study is limited by the number of the interviewed writers and the number of publicly available Internet sources. The interviews are not divided by genre and targeted audience. The statistics that shows the attitude of different writers towards the importance of the ancient literature in percentage correlation is not provided.
The paper is expected to show an impact of the ancient literature on the contemporary literary works and to prove an importance of the ancient literary studies. The analysis of the interviews with the modern writers shows that the ancient literary works played a critical role in shaping their literary style and provided a lot of information for their inspiration and historical background of their writings. According to the writers, the ancient literary works contain the historical heritage of the nation and provide love and feel for the language. They inspire young writers and at the same time prove that the global problems of those times do not substantially differ from the problems experienced by the modern society. Ancient literary studies are necessary for becoming educated and developing a supple mind. The ancient literature shows how short the human life actually is and how much or little a person can do during the time of his or her existence.
“An Interview with Rick.” RickRiordan.com. Rick Riordan, n.d. Web. Accessed 23 Mar 2016.
Cochrane, K. “The Saturday Interview: Madeline Miller, Orange Prize Winner.” TheGuardian. The Guardian, 2 Jun 2012. Web. Accessed 23 Mar 2016.
Geiman, N., and Ishiguro, K. “‘Let's talk about genre’: Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro in conversation.” NewStatesMan. New States Man, 15 Jun 2015. Web. Accessed 23 Mar 2016.
Leyda, J. “An Interview with Jhumpa Lahiri.” Contemporary Women’s Writing 5.1 (2011): 66-83. PDF.
McCarter, J. P. Ancient Literature, Ancient Chronicles. Volume 2: Europe. Jenison, MI: The Puritans’ Home School Curriculum, 2005. PDF.
O’Driscoll, D. “Seamus Heaney: ’To set the Darkness echoing.’” TheGuardian. The Guardian, 8 Nov 2008. Web. Accessed 23 Mar 2016.
Parkinson, R. “Why do we read Ancient Egyptian Literature?” JES III (2010): 62-66. PDF.
Repino, R. “An Interview with Mohsin Hamid.” OUPblog. Oxford University Press blog, 30 Nov 2013. Web. Accessed 23 Mar 2016.
Schenker, D. J. “Masterpieces of Ancient Greek Literature. Part I.” The Teaching Company, 2007. PDF.
Thompson, R. H. “Interview with Joy Chant.” The University of Rochester: The Camelot Project. The University of Rochester, 1999. Web. Accessed 23 Mar 2016.
Why do we study the ancient literature?
What is the impact of the ancient literature on the modern literature?
How are the ancient and the modern literature similar?