Ancient literatures allow us to see past civilizations through the eyes of those who were part of them or who observed them firsthand as living societies. Archaeological sites, artifacts, and art come down to us as static illustrations of the material environments within which past peoples lived and acted. Their literatures in the form of myths and stories, poetry and prayers, reports and journals, histories and letters, or even just commercial inventories and legal codes give us a peek into how they thought and what they valued; what their beliefs and dreams and fears were; what they thought about their own civilization and others around them; how they felt about themselves and others, about right and wrong, death and dying, the cosmos and our place in it; what they found funny and tragic, noble and contemptible—in short, all those aspects of living societies that archaeology and art can only hint at.
This volume provides a sampling of original readings drawn from the earliest civilizations or their firsthand observers from throughout the ancient Old World. It is intended to give the student a sense of how ancient peoples actually saw and thought about themselves and their world to complement the interpretations of their lifeways created by archaeologists and art historians. The particular selections included have been carefully chosen for intelligibility, readability, and topical diversity.