Literature

With the development of language, the human imagination has found a way to create and communicate through the written word. A literary work can transport us into a fictional, fantastic new world, describe a fleeting feeling, or simply give us a picture of the past through novels, poems, tragedies, epic works, and other genres. Through literature, communication becomes an art, and it can bridge and bond people and cultures of different languages and backgrounds.
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Featured content, June 01, 2020

Why Do Languages Die?
How does someone become the last known speaker of a language?
Demystified / Literature
Portion of the Aleppo Codex, a manuscript of the Hebrew Bible written in the Hebrew language in the 10th century CE; in the Shrine of the Book, Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
Diagnosing 9 of Charles Dickens’s Most Famous Characters
Dickens had a knack for expertly portraying human diseases.
#WTFact / Literature
Scene from "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens, 1843. The irascible, curmudgeonly Ebenezer Scrooge with the Ghost of Christmas Present, the third of the four apparitions that visit him on Christmjas Eve. From "A Christmas Carol" by...
What did Sir Walter Scott write?
What did Sir Walter Scott write?
Companion / Literature
Sir Walter Scott, 1st Baronet, Scottish historical novelist and poet, 1870. Portrait of Scott author of Ivanhoe. Scotland
The Last Book of the Harlem Renaissance
Arna Bontemps’s first novel, God Sends Sunday, was the last book of an era.
Spotlight / Literature
Arna Bontemps, photograph by Carl Van Vechten.
12 Novels Considered the “Greatest Book Ever Written”
How many of these great novels have you read?
List / Literature
Close up of books. Stack of books, pile of books, literature, reading. Homepage 2010, arts and entertainment, history and society
Greek literature
Greek literature, body of writings in the Greek language, with a continuous history extending from the 1st millennium bc…
Encyclopedia / Literature
Kazantzákis, Níkos
Latin American literature
Latin American literature, the national literatures of the Spanish-speaking countries of the Western Hemisphere. Historically,…
Encyclopedia / Literature
Eugenio de Santa Cruz y Espejo, Francisco Javier
Arabic literature
Arabic literature, the body of written works produced in the Arabic language. The tradition of Arabic literature stretches…
Encyclopedia / Literature
World distribution of Islam.

Literature Quizzes

"The Feast of Sada", folio 22v from the Shah-nameh Book of Kings) of Shah Tahmasp, by Ferdowsi; painting attributed to Sultan Muhammad, c. 1525; made in Tabriz, Iran. (Shahnama, poems, poetry)
Poets and Poetry (Part One) Quiz
Do you know who wrote “The Wild Swans at Coole”? What’s the title of the first known play in blank verse? Take a tour of…
Encyclopaedia Britannica thistle graphic to be used with a Mendel/Consumer quiz in place of a photograph.
Literary Terms (Part Two) Quiz
Do you know what an oxymoron is? How about the name of a line or lines that are repeated in a poem? Test what you know about…
Beginning of the old English poem, Beowulf, believed to have been composed between 700 and 750. (Old English literature)
Poets and Poetry (Part Two) Quiz
Do you know which ancient Roman poet wrote Metamorphoses? Who wrote poetry to a woman named Laura? Test the outer…
Japanese poet Kakinomoto no Hitomaro (Kakinomoto Hitomaro), woodblock print by Yashima Gakutei, c. 1820; in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Japanese Literature: A Pop Quiz
Here’s an extremely short quiz about the long history of Japanese literature. (Hint: It’s mostly about renga.) How…
French author Honore de Balzac; undated portrait. (Honore Balzac)
Literary Terms (Part Three) Quiz
Do you know what figure of speech relies on the words like or as to compare two things? If you do, take…
Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881) in 1876. Russian novelist and short-story writer. Also spelled Dostoevsky
Another Russian Literature Quiz
Who wrote Dead Souls? Which character is the protagonist in Crime and Punishment? Test what you know about…
Handscroll is one of a set that illustrates the 305 poems in the Shijing (The Book of Odes), a work traditionally believed to have been compiled by Confucius, by Ma Hezhi and assistants, Southern Song dynasty, mid-12th century.
Chinese Literature Quiz
How much do you know about the history of Chinese literature? Find out with this quiz.
Encyclopaedia Britannica thistle graphic to be used with a Mendel/Consumer quiz in place of a photograph.
Ancient Greek Literature Quiz
How well do you know Old Comedy? Who wrote Oedipus the King? Figure out what you know about ancient Greek literature…
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) only confirmed photograph of Emily Dickinson. Daguerreotype. ca. 1847; in the Amherst College Archives. American poet
Poets of America Quiz
Poetry derived from European traditions dates to the early 17th century in the Americas. How much of that history do you…
Colorized engraving of English author Samuel Johnson; undated portrait.
Literary Terms and More Quiz
This quiz will test your knowledge of literary terms—and a few other stray facts about writers whose work gave rise to literary…
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Literature Subcategories

Aladdin Folk Literature & Fable
Step into the world of folklore, fables, legends, and epics, in which heroes are known to undertake arduous journeys and dragons, fairies, and giants abound. Stories such as these circulated long before systems of writing were developed; ballads, folktales, poems, and the like were transmitted exclusively by word of mouth before written languages took over, and they continue to captivate readers and listeners to this day.
Articles
  • Folk literature
  • Guslar
    Balkan singers
  • Erasmus
    Dutch humanist
  • Benedict Cumberbatch in Doctor Strange Fictional Characters
    Here you'll find some of your favorite fictional characters from literature, film, television, and the like, whether it's the analytical mastermind Sherlock Holmes and his endearing associate Dr. Watson or the menacing and helmeted Darth Vader, the ill-tempered Donald Duck or the teenage sleuth Nancy Drew.
    Articles
  • Don Quixote
    fictional character
  • Wonder Woman
    fictional character
  • Harry Potter
    fictional character
  • Dorothy Thompson, 1934. Journalism
    Extra, extra! Although the content and style of journalism and the medium through which it is delivered have varied significantly over the years, journalism has always given us a way to keep up with current events, so that we always have our fingers on the pulse.
    Articles
  • Dorothy Thompson
    American journalist and writer
  • Christiane Amanpour
    journalist
  • Ida B. Wells-Barnett
    American journalist and social reformer
  • subcategory placeholder Libraries & Reference Works
    Looking to impress your friends with your expansive knowledge of historical events, philosophical concepts, obscure words, and more? We may be biased, but it seems fair enough to say that reference works such as dictionaries, encyclopedias, and textbooks have provided such a service for years (in some cases, hundreds or even thousands of years). You can look for them at your local public library, which likely stores books, manuscripts, journals, CDs, movies, and other sources of information and entertainment.
    Articles
  • Almanac
    book
  • Edward O. Wilson
    American biologist
  • Benjamin Spock
    American pediatrician
  • Copernicus, Nicolaus: heliocentric system Literatures of the World
    Literature knows no geographical bounds; authors can be found in nearly all corners of the globe (except, perhaps, on the open sea). Find out more about regional literary styles and forms.
    Articles
    subcategory placeholder Literary Criticism
    Everyone's a critic. But not all literary criticism involves judging the quality of a text; it can also focus on interpreting the meaning of a work or evaluating an author's place in literary history.
    Articles
  • Harold Bloom
    American literary critic and author
  • George Bernard Shaw
    Irish dramatist and critic
  • Helen Archibald Clarke and Charlotte Endymion Porter
    American writers
  • subcategory placeholder Literary Terms
    This general category includes a selection of more specific topics.
    Articles
  • Nonfictional prose
  • Tragedy
    literature
  • Epic
    literary genre
  • epitaph Nonfiction
    The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth! Nonfiction works are all about facts and real events. Although there is some debate about which kinds of literature qualify as nonfiction, the genre typically includes books in the categories of biography, memoir, science, history, self-help, cooking, health and fitness, business, and more.
    Articles
  • Silent Spring
    work by Carson
  • Federalist papers
    American political essays
  • Diary
    literature
  • Hill, Lawrence: The Book of Negroes Novels & Short Stories
    Whether it's "Don Quixote," "Pride and Prejudice," "The Great Gatsby," or "The Fall of the House of Usher," novels and short stories have been enchanting and transporting readers for a great many years. There's a little something for everyone: within these two genres of literature, a wealth of types and styles can be found, including historical, epistolary, romantic, Gothic, and realist works, along with many more.
    Articles
  • Dracula
    novel by Stoker
  • Novel
    literature
  • The Catcher in the Rye
    novel by Salinger
  • subcategory placeholder Oratory
    "I have a dream..." "Four score and seven years ago..." It's not a fluke that these phrases came to be so widely known and remembered. Truly great and persuasive speeches elicit strong emotional reactions in their audiences and may have broad historical repercussions. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech and Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, quoted above, are two iconic examples of successful oratory, as are Elizabeth I's speech to the troops at Tilbury and Winston Churchill's first speech as prime minister to the House of Commons.
    Articles
  • John Donne
    English poet
  • Winston Churchill
    prime minister of United Kingdom
  • Demosthenes
    Greek statesman and orator
  • Falstaff and Prince Hal in Henry IV, Part 1. Plays
    All the world's a stage, as Shakespeare put it in "As You Like It"; and the stage is where you'll find performances of works by such famed playwrights as Anton Chekhov, Eugene O'Neill, and the Bard himself, among many others.
    Articles
  • Henry IV, Part 1
    work by Shakespeare
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream
    work by Shakespeare
  • Waiting for Godot
    play by Beckett
  • The Poor Fisherman, oil on canvas by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, 1881; in the Louvre, Paris. Poetry
    Poetry is a vast subject that encompasses much more than just your average "Roses are red, violets are blue" poem. Delve into the category of literature that Percy Bysshe Shelley called "a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted," and which includes sonnets, haikus, nursery rhymes, epics, and more.
    Articles
  • Rondeau
    poetry and music
  • Futurism
    the arts
  • Epic
    literary genre
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