See also African literature#Oral literature
Oratory or the art of public speaking “was for long considered a literary art”. From Ancient Greece to the late 19th century, rhetoric played a central role in Western education in training orators, lawyers, counselors, historians, statesmen, and poets.[note 1]
Further information: History of writing
Limestone Kish tablet from Sumer with pictographic writing; may be the earliest known writing, 3500 BC. Ashmolean Museum
Around the 4th millennium BC, the complexity of trade and administration in Mesopotamia outgrew human memory, and writing became a more dependable method of recording and presenting transactions in a permanent form. Though in both ancient Egypt and Mesoamerica, writing may have already emerged because of the need to record historical and environmental events. Subsequent innovations included more uniform, predictable, legal systems, sacred texts, and the origins of modern practices of scientific inquiry and knowledge-consolidation, all largely reliant on portable and easily reproducible forms of writing.
works of early periods, even in narrative form, had a covert moral or didactic purpose, such as the Sanskrit Panchatantra.200 BC – 300 AD, based on older oral tradition. Drama and satire also developed as urban culture provided a larger public audience, and later readership, for literary production. Lyric poetry (as opposed to epic poetry) was often the speciality of courts and aristocratic circles, particularly in East Asia where songs were collected by the Chinese aristocracy as poems, the most notable being the Shijing or Book of Songs (1046–c.600 BC).
Inscribed hieroglyphics cover an obelisk in foreground. A stone statue is in background.
Egyptian hieroglyphs with cartouches for the name “Ramesses II”, from the Luxor Temple, New Kingdom
In ancient China, early literature was primarily focused on philosophy, historiography, military science, agriculture, and poetry. China, the origin of modern paper making and woodblock printing, produced the world’s first print cultures. Much of Chinese literature originates with the Hundred Schools of Thought period that occurred during the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (769‒269 BC). The most important of these include the Classics of Confucianism, of Daoism, of Mohism, of Legalism, as well as works of military science (e.g. Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, c.5th century BC)) and Chinese history (e.g. Sima Qian’s Records of the Grand Historian, c.94 BC). Ancient Chinese literature had a heavy emphasis on historiography, with often very detailed court records. An exemplary piece of narrative history of ancient China was the Zuo Zhuan, which was compiled no later than 389 BC, and attributed to the blind 5th-century BC historian Zuo Qiuming.
In ancient India, literature originated from stories that were originally orally transmitted. Early genres included drama, fables, sutras and epic poetry. Sanskrit literature begins with the Vedas, dating back to 1500–1000 BC, and continues with the Sanskrit Epics of Iron Age India. The Vedas are among the oldest sacred texts. The Samhitas (vedic collections) date to roughly 1500–1000 BC, and the “circum-Vedic” texts, as well as the redaction of the Samhitas, date to c. 1000‒500 BC, resulting in a Vedic period, spanning the mid-2nd to mid 1st millennium BC, or the Late Bronze Age and the Iron Age. The period between approximately the 6th to 1st centuries BC saw the composition and redaction of the two most influential Indian epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, with subsequent redaction progressing down to the 4th century AD. Other major literary works are Ramcharitmanas & Krishnacharitmanas.