Thursday, September 30, 2010

Evolution of the Written Word

We've come a long way, baby! While I have no intention of going into a full blown history lesson here, lol, I'd like to reflect on some of the highlights of the storytelling transition.

Long before the written word, people sat around campfires handing down intriguing tales and often flavoring with their own special spices. Amongst a multitude of 'firsts', the Sumerians are credited with the oldest known writings around 2600 B.C., though they didn't use books or paper.

The Epic of Gilgamesh (pictured below, left), a Sumerian epic poem, is proclaimed to be the first official written book and was written around 2150-2000 B.C. (of course, this could change at any time with one golden archaeological dig!). Many a storyteller borrowed from this particular tome. The oldest version we have to date is from the 7th century B.C. (though the oral tradition certainly goes back MUCH farther; remember, literacy among the masses wouldn't see its birth for many centuries) and written on clay tablets.
The first form of writing is known as Cuneform (pictured below, right), consisting of different patterns chiseled into rock, clay, or stone.

The Derveni papyrus (analyzed/comments on a poem about the Greek Gods; pictured below, right) is the oldest surviving tome in the Western tradition, dating from about 340 B.C.

Most written works were intended for royalty &/or religious figures, scholars, monks, & some wealthy people. Being 'literate' might have meant nothing more than a person being able to sign there name in those times. Ancient Rome is considered the first society with a comparably high literacy rate. By 2nd century C.E., libraries and bookshops were fairly common in Rome. This same time period gave birth to the romance genre with Chaireas and Callirhoe, and Daphnes and Chloe.

Movable type was first invented in Korea around 1230, though not widely used due to labor intensity. Woodblock printing was done even earlier in China.

It wasn't until the 19th century that books became available to the masses. The demand to produce lots of books at a fair price has seen production deteriorate. A book printed in the fifteenth century from wood pulp is much more durable than those from the 19th century on.
Prefer the old way? Audio books allow you to listen as someone else reads the story.
The 21st century has paved the way to the paperless electronic or e-book and hand held devices for reading and storing hundreds, even thousands of books. Makes one wonder what the people will be reading in another hundred years!

You can find books and information on the web (where I found some of my content) if you'd like to know more.
Until next time, happy reading/writing!
available now via :
Amulet of Fate
Corsair Cove
Once A Rebel (book 1 in the Orphan Train series)
Adrian's Angel
coming 2011...
A Question of Honor


Big Mike said...

Interesting. Actually have a vignette in a novel I just completed that deals with the evolution of the written word and includes reference to the Library of Alexandria and the Dead Sea scrolls.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year, (2008 & 2009)

Rhobin said...

I talk about this topic to my students at the beginning of each term, and end by telling them that 'with every capital you write, you use the same letters as Julius Caesar, and with each lowercase letter, those of Charlemagne.' The never fail to look surprised.

Thanks for posting this, I often think we fail to appreciate the history involved in our daily tasks.

Angela said...

Glad you enjoyed it. I like your style, Rhobin, and I agree! =)