What Is the History of World Literature?

World literature is a vast and diverse topic that encompasses a wide range of literary works from different cultures, languages, and time periods. It is a reflection of human civilization and its evolution over time. In this article, we will explore the history of world literature, its origins, and how it has evolved over time.

The Origins of World Literature

The history of world literature can be traced back to ancient times when oral storytelling was the primary mode of communication. The earliest literary works were myths and legends that were passed down from generation to generation through oral traditions.

It was not until the invention of writing that literature began to take on a more permanent form. The first written works date back to 3000 BCE and were created by the Sumerians in Mesopotamia. These works were primarily administrative records and religious texts.

However, it was the ancient Greeks who are credited with laying the foundation for what we now consider world literature. Their epic poems, such as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, have been translated into countless languages and are still read today.

The Evolution of World Literature

Over time, literature continued to evolve as new cultures developed their own literary traditions. The Roman Empire produced great poets such as Virgil and Ovid, while in China, poets like Li Bai and Du Fu wrote some of the most beautiful verses in world literature.

During the Middle Ages, European writers began to emerge with their own unique styles. Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy is considered one of the greatest works in Italian literature while Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is an important work in English literature.

The Renaissance brought about a renewed interest in classical Greek and Roman literature which led to the development of Humanism. This movement emphasized individualism and rational thought which had a profound impact on European literature.

In the 19th century, Europe experienced a literary explosion with writers like Victor Hugo, Charles Dickens, and Leo Tolstoy producing some of the most iconic works in world literature. Meanwhile, in America, writers like Edgar Allan Poe and Mark Twain were making their mark.

In the 20th century, literature continued to evolve with the emergence of modernism and postmodernism. Writers like James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Franz Kafka experimented with new forms of storytelling while others such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Chinua Achebe brought new perspectives to world literature.

The Importance of World Literature

World literature is not only important for its cultural significance but also for its ability to promote empathy and understanding. By reading works from different cultures and time periods, we are able to gain a deeper understanding of the human experience.

Through literature, we can explore the struggles and triumphs of people from different backgrounds which can help us develop a greater appreciation for diversity. It is this ability to transcend borders that makes world literature such a powerful force in promoting cross-cultural communication.


The history of world literature is a testament to humanity’s ongoing search for meaning and self-expression. From ancient myths to modern novels, it has served as a reflection of our collective consciousness and has helped us better understand ourselves and each other.

As we continue to move forward into the future, it is important that we continue to embrace the diversity that world literature offers. By doing so, we can create a more compassionate and interconnected global community.