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The Characteristics of Civilization

Writing
by

Yamini Polcum

on 1 June 2013

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Transcript of The Characteristics of Civilization

The Characteristics of Civilization: Writing Yamini Polcum Sumer/Mesopotamia Ancient Egypt Ancient India Ancient Hebrews Ancient Greece Ancient China Ancient Rome The Sumerians developed Cuneiform. Cuneiform is the world's first system of writing. Sumerians used the stylus to write and clay tablets to write on. Today we use pencil and paper. Earlier written communication used pictographs or picture symbols. Cuneiform was first used to keep business records. A scribe (writer) would keep track of the items people traded. The Sumerians used their writing in; history, law, grammar and math. They created songs and stories. Some stories are called epics, stories about heroes. The greatest of these Sanskrit writings are two religious epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Still popular in India, the Mahabharata is one of the world’s longest literary works. It is a story about the struggle between two families for control of a kingdom. Included within the story are many long passages about Hindu beliefs. The most famous is called the Bhagavad Gita. Writers in the Gupta period also created plays, poetry, and other types of literature. One famous writer of this time was Kalidasa . His work was so brilliant that Chandra Gupta II hired him to write plays for the royal court.Sometime before 500, Indian writers also produced a book of stories called the Panchatantra. The stories in this collection were intended to teach lessons. They praise people for cleverness and quick thinking. Each story ends with a message about winning friends, losing property, waging war, or some other idea. For example, the message below warns listeners to think about what they are doing before they act. In literature, Han China is known for its poetry. Poets developed new styles of verse, including the fu style which was the most popular. Fu poets combined prose and poetry to create long works of literature. Another style, called shi, featured short lines of verse that could be sung. Han rulers hired poets known for the beauty of their verse.Han writers also produced important works of history. One historian by the name of Sima Qian wrote a complete history of all the dynasties through the early Han. His format and style became the model for later historical writings. The ancient Jews recorded most of their laws in five books. Together these books are called the Torah, the most sacred text, of Judaism. In addition to laws, the Torah includes a history of the Jews until the death of Moses.Readings from the Torah are central to Jewish religious services today. Nearly every synagogue, or Jewish house of worship, has at least one Torah. Out of respect for the Torah, readers do not touch it. They use special pointers to mark their places in the text.The Torah is the first of three parts of a group of writings called the Hebrew Bible, or Tanach (tah-NAHK). The second part is made up of eight books that describe the messages of Hebrew prophets. Prophets are people who are said to receive messages from God to be taught to others.The final part of the Hebrew Bible is 11 books of poetry, songs, stories, lessons, and history. For example, the Book of Daniel tells about a prophet named Daniel, who lived during the Babylonian Captivity. According to the book, Daniel angered the king who held the Hebrews as slaves. As punishment, the king had Daniel thrown into a den of lions. The story tells that Daniel’s faith in God kept the lions from killing him, and he was released. Jews tell this story to show the power of faith.Also in the final part of the Hebrew Bible are the Proverbs, short expressions of Hebrew wisdom. Many of these sayings are attributed to Hebrew leaders, especially King Solomon. For example, Solomon is supposed to have said, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches.” In other words, it is better to be seen as a good person than to be rich and not respected.The third part of the Hebrew Bible also includes the Book of Psalms. Psalms are poems or songs of praise to God. Many of these are attributed to King David. You can see the influence of Latin in many of the words we use today. For example, our calendar comes from the one adopted by the Roman ruler Julius Caesar. The names of several months come from Latin. August honors Caesar Augustus. September comes from Latin words meaning “the seventh month.” (The Roman year started in March, so September was the seventh month.) October means “the eighth month.” Can you guess the meanings of the words November and December? Latin also remains very important in the subjects of the law, medicine, and religion, as well.Many English words start with Latin prefixes. A prefix is a word part placed at the beginning of a word that carries its own meaning. Attaching a prefix to a root word creates a new word with a new meaning. In fact, the word prefix was formed this way. It comes from pre- (“in front of”) and -fix (“fasten” or “attach”). As you can see from the chart, other English words come from Latin root words. For instance, the words manual and manipulate are derived from the Latin word manus, meaning “hand.”Even Latin proverbs are still in use. For example, look at the reverse side of a U.S. penny. There you’ll see the U.S. motto E pluribus unum (“Out of many, one”). Finally, we still use Roman numerals. The Romans used a system of letters to write numbers. In the Roman numeral system, the letters I, V, X, L, C, D, and M represent 1, 5, 10, 50, 100, 500, and 1,000. You may have seen Roman numerals used on clocks, sundials, and the first pages of books. You might also spot Roman numerals on buildings and in some movie and television credits to show the year in which they were made. The Egyptian writing system was called hieroglyphics. The Egyptian writing system was one of the first to be invented. The earliest known examples of Egyptian writing are from around 3300 BC. These writings were carved in stone or any other hard material. Later, the Egyptians invented papyrus, a paper-like material made from reeds. Scribes wrote on papyrus using brushes and ink.Because papyrus did not decay in Egypt’s dry climate, many Egyptian texts survive. Historians today can read Egyptian government and historical records, science texts, and medical manuals. Literary works have also survived. We can read stories, poems, and mythological tales. Some texts, such as The Book of the Dead, tell about the afterlife. Others include love poems and stories about gods and kings. Among the earliest Greek writings are two great epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey, by a poet namedHomer. Like most epics, both poems describe the deeds of great heroes. The heroes in Homer’s poems fought in the Trojan War. In this war, the Mycenaean Greeks fought the Trojans, people of the city called Troy.The Iliad tells the story of the last years of the Trojan War. It focuses on the deeds of the Greeks, especially Achilles (uh-KIL-eez), the greatest of all Greek warriors. It describes in great detail the battles between the Greeks and their Trojan enemies.The Odyssey describes the challenges that the Greek hero Odysseus (oh-DI-see-uhs) faced on his way home from the war. For 10 years after the war ends, Odysseus tries to get home, but many obstacles stand in his way. He has to fight his way past terrible monsters, powerful magicians, and even angry gods.Both the Iliad and the Odyssey are great tales of adventure. But to the Greeks Homer’s poems were much more than just entertainment. They were central to the ancient Greek education system. People memorized long passages of the poems as part of their lessons. They admired Homer’s poems and the heroes described in them as symbols of Greece’s great history.Homer’s poems influenced later writers. They copied his writing styles and borrowed some of the stories and ideas he wrote about in his works. Homer’s poems are considered some of the greatest literary works ever produced.Other poets wrote poems that were often set to music. During a performance, the poet played a stringed instrument called a lyre while reading a poem. These poets were called lyric poets after their instrument, the lyre. Today, the words of songs are called lyrics after these ancient Greek poets.Most poets in Greece were men, but the most famous lyric poet was a woman named Sappho(SAF-oh). Her poems were beautiful and emotional. Most of her poems were about love and relationships with her friends and family.Other Greeks told stories to teach people important lessons.Aesop(EE-sahp), for example, is famous for his fables. Fables are short stories that teach the reader lessons bout life or give advice on how to live.In most of Aesop’s fables, animals are the main characters. The animals talk and act like humans.Greek myths have inspired artists for centuries. Great painters and sculptors have used gods and heroes as the subjects of their works. Writers have retold ancient stories, sometimes set in modern times. Moviemakers have also borrowed stories from ancient myths. Hercules, for example, has been the subject of dozens of films. These films range from early classics to a Walt Disney cartoon.Mythological references are also common in today’s popular culture. Many sports teams have adopted the names of powerful figures from myths, like Titans or Trojans. Ancient Islamic Empires Literature, especially poetry, was popular in the Muslim world. Much poetry was influenced by Sufism. Sufi poets often wrote about their loyalty to God. One of the most famous Sufi poets was Omar Khayyám (OH-mahr ky-AHM). Muslims also enjoyed reading short stories. One famous collection of short stories is The Thousand and One Nights. It includes tales about legendary characters such as Sinbad, Aladdin, and Ali Baba. Ancient African Empires Some of the griot poems are epics—long poems about kingdoms and heroes. Many of these epic poems are collected in the Dausi (DAW-zee) and the Sundiata.The Dausi tells the history of Ghana. Intertwined with historical events, though, are myths and legends. One story is about a seven-headed snake god named Bida. This god promised that Ghana would prosper if the people sacrificed a young woman to him every year. One year a mighty warrior killed Bida. As the god died, he cursed Ghana. The griots say that this curse caused the empire of Ghana to fall.The Sundiata is about Mali’s great ruler. According to the epic, when Sundiata was still a boy, a conqueror captured Mali and killed Sundiata’s father and 11 brothers.In addition to the oral histories told about West Africa, visitors wrote about the region. In fact, much of what we know about early West Africa comes from the writings of travelers and scholars from Muslim lands such as Spain and Arabia.Ibn Battutah was the most famous Muslim visitor to write about West Africa. From 1353 to 1354 he traveled through the region. Ibn Battutah’s account of this journey describes the political and cultural lives of West Africans in great detail. Ancient Early Americas The Maya The Aztecs The Incas The Maya also developed a writing system. In a way, it was similar to Egyptian hieroglyphics, because symbols represented both objects and sounds. The Maya carved series of these symbols into large stone tablets to record their history and the achievements of their kings. They also wrote in bark paper books and passed down stories and poems orally. They took pride in their history and kept detailed written records. They also had a strong oral tradition. Stories about ancestors and the gods were passed from one generation to the next. Indeed, the Incas had no writing system. Instead, they kept records with knotted cords called quipus (KEE-pooz). Knots in the cords represented numbers. Different colors stood for information about crops, land, and other important topics.The Incas also passed down their history orally. People sang songs and told stories about daily life and military victories. Official “memorizers” learned long poems about Inca legends and history. Eventually, after the conquistadors came, records were written in Spanish and Quechua. We know about the Incas from these records and from the stories that survive in the songs, dances, and religious practices of the people in the region today. The Middle Ages The Renaissance Writers tried to inspire people. The Knights had a code of conduct called the Chivalry. For example, they had to be generous when dealing with people especially women. Many Italian writers contributed great works of literature to the Renaissance. The earliest was the politician and poetDante Alighieri (DAHN-tay ahl-eeg-YEH-ree). Before Dante, most medieval authors had written in Latin, the language of the church. Dante wrote in Italian, which was the common language of the people. This showed that he considered Italian, the people’s language, to be as good as Latin.A later Italian writer,Niccolo Machiavelli (neek-koh-LOH mahk-yah-VEL-lee), was also a politician. In 1513 he wrote a short book called The Prince. It gave leaders advice on how they should rule.Machiavelli didn’t care about theories or what should work. He was only interested in what really happened in war and peace. He argued that to be successful, rulers had to focus on the “here and now,” not on theories. Machiavelli thought that rulers sometimes had to be ruthless to keep order. In this way, Machiavelli serves as a good example of Renaissance interest in human behavior and society.
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