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ENG 251- Western World Literature: Welcome

A guide to help RCCC students find resources for World Literature.

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Western World Literature

This course provides a survey of selected European works from the Classical period through the Renaissance.  Emphasis is placed on historical background, cultural context, and literary analysis of selected prose, poetry, and drama.  Upon completion, students should be able to interpret, analyze, and respond to selected works.  This course has been approved to satisfy the Comprehensive Articulation Agreement general education core requirement in humanities/fine arts.

Origins of Literature

"The foundational classics of literature come to us from the past. Even within a single national tradition, we need to develop skills in reading across time: students of English literaure encounter distant worldviews in Beowulf and thickets of strange-looking words in The Canturbury Tales. Indeed, the English language itself didn't yet exist when an Anglo-Saxon poet composed Beowulf more than a thousand years ago, and we no longer speak the Middle English of Chaucer's pilgrims." [Excerpt taken from How to Read World Literature by David Damrosch]


[Exceprt takent from Hutchinson Encyclopedia of Literature.] During the classical period (c. 480– 323 BC) lyric poetry reached its perfection with Pindar and Bacchylides. New literary genres appeared, especially in Athens, which for 150 years after the Persian Wars was the intellectual and artistic capital of the Greek world. Drama reached unsurpassed heights: tragedy with Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, and comedy with Eupolis, Cratinus, and Aristophanes. In the second half of the 5th and most of the 4th centuries BC prose flowered in several forms, including history, philosophy, and speeches (Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Plato, Aristotle, Isocrates, and Demosthenes).

Medieval Literature

[Exceprt takent from The Norton Anthology of English Literature Online] The literary culture of the Middle Ages was far more international than national and was divided more by lines of class and audience than by language. Latin was the language of the Church and of learning. After the eleventh century, French became the dominant language of secular European literary culture. Edward, the Prince of Wales, who took the king of France prisoner at the battle of Poitiers in 1356, had culturally more in common with his royal captive than with the common people of England. And the legendary King Arthur was an international figure. Stories about him and his knights originated in Celtic poems and tales and were adapted and greatly expanded in Latin chronicles and French romances even before Arthur became an English hero.


[Exceprt takent from Annenberg Learner - Renaissance] In the Middle Ages, books had been costly and education rare; only the clergy had been regular readers and owners of books. Most books had been written in Latin, considered the language of scholarship. In the Renaissance, the educated middle classes, who could now afford books, demanded works in their own languages. Furthermore, readers wanted a greater variety of books. Almanacs, travel books, chivalry romances, and poetry were all published at this time. Simultaneously, a means of printing music was also invented, making music available at a reasonable cost. As the demand for books grew, the book trade began to flourish throughout Europe, and industries related to it, such as papermaking, thrived as well. The result of all of this was a more literate populace and a stronger economy.

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