Obtaining an understanding and appreciation of successful literature opens the door to learning about the author, the author’s culture, and the necessary elements to emulate the techniques to produce such a masterpiece. Exposure to literary masterpieces began in my high school years. Ontario educational standards required every student to take classes in Greek, Roman, and Norse literature. Learning ancient Greek and Latin enriched my education and understanding of the value of their literature, and studies of the techniques and styles of each genre.
Comprehending the nuances of their languages enhanced the comprehension of these masterpieces. Also I learned illiteracy of the general populous was the reason for early writings written in poetic format so it could be sung. Hesiod, Homer, and Virgil were the master-storytellers who used elements such as personification, metaphors, onomatopoeia, and similes to make their stories come alive to the listener; for example, “The fertile earth being burnt, roared out…” provides an auditory picture of the viciousness of the battle (2008, p. 59). The Theogony”, “Iliad,” and “Aeneid” describe the hierarchy and intrigue of the immortals, including their interaction among themselves and with mortals. The style and techniques applied in literary masterpieces should reflect the religion, culture, or historical influences of the author’s life experiences. These elements contribute to the substance of the author’s presentation. For example, it would be extremely difficult for the Book of Genesis to be as effective in teaching the creation of mankind if it were written by a person whose religion was polytheistic.
One of the key theme’s of Genesis is monotheism and that the Supreme Being created all things. Plato’s “The Apology” could have been incoherent and less effective without his knowledge of the knack of rhetoric learned from such teachers as Socrates. Sophocles understood the suffering of violence from living through the Peloponnesian Wars. Also his setting for “Oedipus the King” was Colonus, the same town he grew up in. Of note, he is acknowledged as the creator of skenographia---scene painting helping to define better the setting for his play. Finally, Sophocles used symbolism for the name of the hero---“Oidipous” means swollen foot.
This name emphasizes the angst of Oedipus who was taunted in his youth. (2008, p. 501). The authenticity of the author’s writing must reflect the author’s life. The reader’s expectation of the author’s purpose for writing the literary masterpiece should not be a determinant for the reader’s expectations of its content. The purpose should become evident upon reading the entire piece. For example, the biblical story of Daniel in the lions’ den inspires courage and faith. The graphic violence in “Oedipus the King” is disturbing; however, it is thought-provoking.
Some literary masterpieces can be painful. For example, reading the Apostle Luke’s description of Jesus’ crucifixion is emotionally painful and haunting; however, it spiritually enlightens the reader. Understanding literary masterpieces may be difficult to comprehend but not boring. Predetermined expectations of the purpose or proper reactions from literary pieces prejudice the reader and should, therefore, be avoided. Enthusiastic high school English teachers and talented Ancient Greek and Latin teachers encouraged my understanding and appreciation of literary masterpieces.
Sometimes, it is hard for a teenager to believe the word “modern” is not always the best, and the word “ancient” is not always unpalatable. From these encounters, my understanding of cultures, religions, and writing skills expanded. I learned the effectiveness of literary devices such as irony, allegory, onomatopoeia, and satire. The historical time frame of the writing, the cultural aspects of the writer, and historical events within the piece are important aspects in evaluating the quality of literature.
If possible, reading literature in its original language helps to increase the appreciation of the quality of its excellence. Finally, reading a piece of literature more than once may enlighten a reader concerning its qualities. Important characteristics of literary masterpieces must focus on artistic excellence, intellectual value, spiritual value, permanence, universal appeal, style, and be thought provoking. No literary piece can stand the test-of-time without these attribu tes. Consider the Torah and the Christian Bible. Their spiritual appeal affects millions of lives.
Both have existed throughout the ages. They are thought provoking and have unique styles. The Psalms are well-known and possess all these attributes. For example, Psalms 23 is sung in both Jewish and Christian places of worship. The value of literary masterpieces to the world is immeasurable. There are some important influences of literary masterpieces on modern society. Freud based some of his concepts of psychoanalysis on Sophocles’ character of Oedipus. The Twelve Commandments from the Torah are the basis for civil laws prohibiting murder and theft.
Concepts of human kindness and acts of charity are based on Jesus’ teaching in the Four Gospels. Charitable and religious groups practice acts of kindness based on these writings. The aforementioned examples demonstrate the importance of literary masterpieces on modern society. Literature is a window allowing readers to see the personality of a civilization. It is a window to the mores, ideals, creativity, and spiritual heart of a civilization. There is immeasurable cultural and spiritual wealth in literary masterpieces.
Although some literary masterpieces are difficult to understand, they are a spring of enlightenment to those who strive to grasp their value. The comprehension and admiration of literary masterpieces is a key to obtaining awareness and comprehension of the value of the writings. This key provides a portal to the world of the author, the civilization, and the tools to create such a work of art. Reference Damrosch, D. , Alliston, A. , Brown, M. , duBois, P. , Hafez, S. , Heise, U. K. , et al (2008). The Longman Anthology of World Literature. New York, NY: Pearson Education Inc.