Words can begin and end wars; they can lift a nation from the ashes and right into its shining rebirth. Even with the rise and fall of several civilizations through thousands of years’ worth of history, words remain and carefully preserve otherwise forgotten cultures.
This is a list of 19 written works that became timeless due to the monumental impact they held –and continue to have in our modern civilization.
1. The Epic of Gilgamesh translated by Andrew George
One of the oldest texts of literature ever recorded–with the earliest scrolls dating as far back as before 2000 B.C.– The Epic of Gilgamesh is an irreplaceable archaeological of the remains of ancient Sumerian culture.
2. The Code of Hammurabi by King Hammurabi, translated by L.W. King
Although it is technically not the oldest set of codes created, it is still deemed one of the most influential that was adopted by later civilizations after it spread from Mesopotamia.
3. The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls translated by Geza Vermes
Despite the often-limited information on ancient civilizations and their religious and political shifts with the periodic rise of a new leader, The Dead Sea Scrolls reveal increasingly fascinating details regarding our understanding of the history behind Judaism and Christianity.
4. The Qur’an translated by M. A. S. Abdel Haleem
The Qur’an is the central core of Islam, along with the recognition of being one of the finest pieces of literature in the Arabic language.
5. The Torah: The Five Books of Moses by Jewish Publication Society Inc.
It is believed that God himself gave Moses the Torah–otherwise known as the Jewish Written Law–when the latter was on Mount Sinai. Another belief consists on the Torah being one of the six (sometimes seven) first objects created before the existence of the world.
6. The Analects by Confucius
Confucius and his ethical and philosophical values shaped East Asian culture before spreading to the Western civilizations across the sea.
To this day, Chinese society continues to value Confucianism and The Analects.
7. The Republic by Plato
Covering both moral and political theories, Plato brought forth the question of what is the definition of justice, and whether it related to personal or societal views.
8. The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
Aside from inspiring hundreds of art pieces and subsequent works of literature, The Divine Comedy also illustrates an extraordinary fictional universe, earning its title as one of the greatest works of world literature.
9. Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses and Selected Sermons by Martin Luther
In 1517, Martin Luther sparked the Protestant Reformation after becoming enraged at the Catholic Church’s decision to sell sin-absolving “indulgences” to the people. The resulting, Ninety-Five Theses, split the Church into two branches.
10. The Holy Bible: King James Version published by Zondervan
Derived from several of the original translated manuscripts in Greek and Hebrew, this was one of the first English versions of the Catholic Bible, which made it far more accessible.
11. Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems by Galileo Galilei
Galileo discussed both the Copernican theory (all planets revolve around the sun) and the Ptolemaic theory (the universe revolves around the Earth) in this book. He heavily implied that the Copernican theory was the more accurate of the two–in a rather unsubtle way–which led to a couple of heated discussions with the Catholic Church.
12. Common Sense, The Rights of Man Other Essential Writings by Thomas Paine
In a nutshell, this pamphlet – written by an Englishman, as one can see – explained to the Thirteen Colonies exactly why they should separate from Great Britain and create a ‘democratic republic.’
Now you can proceed to celebrate the 4th of July all over again.
13. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft
Feminism, ladies and gentlemen.
Published in 1792, A Vindication took it upon itself to become the (theoretically) first published document that explained why men and women were equal; not a war on gender superiority, but rather a statement of equality in the purest, raw definition of the word.
14. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
The Communist Manifesto did more than call oppressed workers into action; it sparked the revolutions of 1848 and became the outline for the Communist League as well as the Communist party.
15. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
This book greatly helped mobilize the masses in the United States to stand against slavery by divulging the brutal treatment African American slaves were subjected to.
16. The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
The Origin of Species could be considered the foundation of evolutionary biology that drastically contributed in changing the course of science – as well as creating worldwide controversy and fiery debates.
17. Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche
Nietzsche had a tendency to fiercely challenge moral principles by arguing that a man (or woman) ought to constantly seek knowledge, question imposed beliefs, and establish their own definitions of ‘good and evil.’
18. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
Two main factors, such as fictional narrative and its characterization, are partly why Don Quixote is considered one of the first modern novels; the main character’s interpretation of the world due to his mental state introduced a perspective that had yet to be seen in previous published works of the early 19th century.
19. Memories, Dreams, Reflections by C.G. Jung
Carl Jung’s autobiography allows the reader to thoroughly sink into the life experiences and the train of thought Jung engaged as he developed the work that made him the founder of analytical psychology.
What changes would our civilization have if none of these texts – and many others that I excluded from the list – had existed? Food for thought.
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Featured image via Clifford Beal