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Before A.D. 500 (Classical)
Regrettably, many of the oldest classics such as The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Bible (Well, sections of the Bible, especially the Old Testament) are essentially anonymous works. For the purposes of this page, "Classical" refers to all writers before the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century AD. These authors are arranged chronologically, divided by place of origin.
- Laozi (Lao Tse, Lao-Tsu; traditionally, he is said to have lived from 600 BC to 470 BC): Early Chinese philosopher; author of Daodejing (Tao Te Ching)
- Kong Qiu (Confucius; traditionally, September 28, 551 BC - 479 BC): The most influential philosopher in the history of China; author of his Analects.
- Zhuangzi (Chuang Tsu, Master Chuang; believed to have lived c. 370 BC to c. 301 BC): Another founding figure of Taoism along with Laozi; author of Zhuangzi. Probably best known in the West for what is probably the ur-example of Schrödinger's Butterfly:
Once Zhuangzi dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn't know he was Zhuangzi. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuangzi. But he didn't know if he was Zhuangzi who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuangzi.
- Sunzi (Sun Tzu; believed to have lived sometime between 476 BC and 221 BC): Author of The Art of War (there are others by this title, but this one's the most famous out of them).
- Shang Yang (d. 338 BC): Author of The Book of Lord Shang, foundational treatise of Legalism.
- Homer (c. 800 BC - c. 750 BC): Author/collector of The Iliad and The Odyssey, the oldest written examples of many tropes. Homer himself was blind and illiterate, so his works were transmitted by oral tradition.
- Hesiod: Rough contemporary of Homer whose Theogony set down the relationships between the gods and other beings of Classical Mythology.
- Sappho (c. 620 BC - c. 570 BC): The only surviving female poet from antiquity, she was a native of Lesbos and the reason modern-day lesbians are called lesbians.
- Aeschylus (c. 525 BC - c. 456 BC): a Greek playwright who adapted many myths and legends.
- Sophocles (c. 496 BC - c. 406 BC): a Greek playwright who adapted many myths and legends.
- Euripides (c. 480 BC - c. 406 BC): a Greek playwright who adapted many myths and legends.
- Aristophanes: Comic playwright, contemporary with Euripides and Sophocles, as well as Socrates. The Modern Major General knows his "Croaking Frogs". The opening lines of The Frogs contain what may be the earliest reference to Dead Horse Tropes, as one character beseeches another to do whatever comedy bits he pleases, but not [long list of bits apparently already considered over-used].
- Herodotus: "The Father of History", he compiled a history — aptly titled Histories — of the known world (Greeks, Persians, and Egyptians, mostly, with Scythians and barbarians around the edges) that sought to explain the causes of the Persian Wars.
- Thucydides: What Herodotus did for the Persian Wars, Thucydides did for the Peloponnesian War (but with fewer digressions, more analysis and some awesome speeches). Considered to be the first materialist with respect to history: he completely disregarded supernatural explanations for the events of the war. The result is sad, includes elements of proto-realism, and includes one of the earliest expressions of the sentiment that Might Makes Right.
- Xenophon: A slightly less famous historian, whose most famous writings cover events he experienced himself. He can be thought of as the first war correspondent. Most famous for the Anabasis, the trek of 10000 Greek mercenaries from Mesopotamia through Armenia to the Black Sea. It has inspired quite a lot of fictional knockoffs.
- Socrates: Greek philosopher. Left no writings, but was of great influence because of his effect on Plato.
- Plato: The first Greek philosopher from whom we have complete works with great influence on later thought.
- Aristotle: one of Plato's students, also a Greek philosopher; author of Poetics, oldest existing work of literary criticism, in which he identified quite a few tropes.
- Aesop: The author, or at least attributed author, of Aesop's Fables. May never have existed.
- Plutarch (46 AD - 120): Late Greek biographer living under the Roman Empire who wrote parallel Lives of prominent Greeks and Romans, ranging from the legendary Theseus and Romulus to Gaius Julius Caesar, Cicero, and Alexander the Great.
- Lucian of Samosata (120 AD - 200): Wrote among other works Ἀληθῆ διηγήματα (True History, or True Story), which is often called "the first known text that could be called science fiction".
- Plautus: Roman comic playwright, the author of Miles Gloriosus and thus namer of the corresponding trope.
- Publius Terentius Afer: Roman comic playwright, and the only ancient dramatist to have no Missing Episodes whatsoever nowadays.
- Julius Caesar: Roman general, politician, and dictatorm, but also one of the great Roman authors, writing in a deceptively simple style. His Commentaries on the Gallic War and The Civil War are the only surviving descriptions of a Roman general's campaigns written in his own hand. Still widely read, and often the first books studied by Latin students.
- Cicero: Roman politician, lawyer, and philosopher. Contemporary of Julius Caesar. Cicero's Cataline Orations, legal and other speeches, letters, philosophical works, and rhetorical treatises are still widely read.
- Virgil: Roman poet, contemporary of Augustus, who composed The Aeneid, setting out how Trojan refugees founded the greatest city in the world. Or, rather, founded the tribe that would later give birth to the founders.
- Ovid: Poet, contemporary of Virgil, who wrote The Metamorphoses, a large collection of myths dealing with love and transformations, and much other material, including a makeup manual.
- Livy: Roman historian who wrote an account of the city's history from its founding by Romulus and Remus on down to his own time (Augustus's reign).
- Petronius: Roman senator and Nero's "Arbiter of Elegance," traditionally credited with the Satyricon, a bawdy and satirical proto-novel that lampoons the nouveau-riche and lower orders alike.
- Juvenal: Roman satirist writing in the early second century AD. Treated greed, sexual immorality, and the generally terrible quality of urban life.
- Horace: Another poet active around the time of Augustus, wrote a variety of material, including satire and odes. Coined several phrases still in current use, including Carpe diem.
- Martial: The epigrammist who wrote pithy little verses about the life of the upper class around the time Juvenal was active.
- Suetonius: Contemporary of Juvenal and Martial who is best known for his biographies of the Emperors from Julius Caesar to Domitian. They can be described as a mixture of official record and tabloid journalism.
- Tacitus: Contemporary of Juvenal and Martial who recorded events from the death of Augustus up to the assassination of Domitian; most of his work has been lost. He and Suetonius were friends of the younger Pliny and their work form much of the basis for I, Claudius.
- Pliny: Father and (adoptive) Son, known as Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger, respectively; both historians. Among many other works, the Elder Pliny undertook a work on Natural History, which is now mostly lost. Pliny the Younger is mostly known through his letters, but his description of the explosion of Mt. Vesuvius and subsequent destruction of Pompeii in 79AD (and his uncle and later adoptive father's death there) in a letter to Tacitus is considered the standard reference work on the subject.
- Vegetius: Late Roman writer, mostly known for his treatise on military matters.
- King David: Warrior Poet and author of almost a hundred Psalms (including "The Lord is my Shepherd" and "Have Mercy on Me, O God").
- Ezra The Scribe: Ezra is credited with compiling the Torah in its final form, as well as writing (what else?) the Book of Ezra.
- Matthew bar-Alpheus, Mark, Luke, and John bar-Zebedee: Wrote the the four canonical Gospels, accounts of Jesus' life and ministry. Luke also wrote The Acts of the Apostles.
- Paul Of Tarsus: Writer (in Greek) of most of the New Testament, in the form of his Epistles.
- Josephus: Jewish writer active around 100AD. Chronicled Jewish history, in particular the Jewish Revolt of 66-70AD, which resulted in the destruction of the Second Temple. His own part in the war was not particularly creditable, as he surrendered to Vespasian early on after fast-talked his way out of a Suicide Pact. Claimed to have been the first to pour boiling oil on top of a besieging army.
- Valmiki (c. 400 BC) author of Ramayana, and attributed with establishing the form for Sanskrit poetry.
- Vyasa: Author of Mahabharata.
- Kalidasa (c. 4th/5th century AD): Founder of the classical Indian theater, writing all manner of plays.
- Enheduanna (c. 2285-2250 BC), Akkadian high priestess, poet and composer, possibly the earliest known author in any genre and also possibly the earliest known woman in human history.
500 AD to 1400 AD (Medieval)
These are the writers between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance, loosely dated as between the fifth and fourteenth centuries AD. A number of pieces from this period are also anonymous, including Beowulf and The Song of Roland. These are listed in chronological order and divided by geographic area.
- Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343 - 25 October 1400): English. Author and poet. Best known for The Canterbury Tales, even though it's an unfinished work. Credited with being the first to regularly use vernacular English rather than Latin or French.
- Geoffrey Of Monmouth (c. 1100 - c. 1155): Author of the Historia Regum Britanniae, which includes one of the earliest accounts of King Arthur, as well as much of William Shakespeare's source material. Mixed fiction/legend with history quite freely.
- Shi Nai'an (c. 1296 - c. 1372): wrote The Water Margin, one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese Literature. Some believe him to be Luo Guanzhong or one of his teachers.
- Luo Guanzhong (c. 1330 - 1400): wrote Romance of the Three Kingdoms, one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese Literature.
Czech lands (Greater Moravia, Duchy of Bohemia, Bohemian Kingdom)
- Chrétien de Troyes (mid- to late-1100's): French troubadour who made great contributions to the Arthurian canon, including the quest for the Holy Grail and possibly Sir Launcelot.
- Hildegard von Bingen: Benedictine Abbess and visionary. Best known in Germany for her works on herbology, notable philosophical works include Liber Divinorum Operum (The Book of Divine Works).
- Snorri Sturluson (1178 - September 23, 1241): Icelandic poet, lawyer, and lawspeaker who composed the Prose Edda, setting out many of the elements of Norse Mythology. Sturluson also wrote the Heimskringla, a history; and may be the author of Egil's Saga.
- Dante Alighieri (c. 1265 - September 14, 1321): Poet best known for his The Divine Comedy. He did for Italian what Chaucer did for vernacular English, to the point that the French sometimes call Italian la langue de Dante. He's the Trope Namer for Word of Dante, and the Inferno section of the Divine Comedy is both the Trope Codifier and Trope Namer for Circles of Hell.
- Petrarch (1304 - 1374): Poet and scholar, who, while disdaining the Italian language, ended up being one of its greatest writers. Credited with the invention of Humanism and the revival of Classical letters.
- Giovanni Boccaccio (1313 - 21 December 1375): Influenced such greats as William Shakespeare and Geoffrey Chaucer. And by "influenced", we mean, "They just rewrote his stories". He, like Dante before him, wrote in Italian rather than Latin.
- Murasaki Shikibu (c. 973 - c. 1014 or 1025): Author of The Tale of Genji, Japanese noblewoman, novelist and poet. Her real name is unknown.
- Sei Shonagon (c. 966 - 1017): Author of The Pillow Book. A lady-in-waiting of Empress Sadako, her real name is not known for certain, but most scholars believe it is Kiyohara Nagiko.
1400- 1650 AD (Renaissance)
These writers wrote between the fifteenth and mid-seventeenth centuries—a very broad span of time, which includes the Reformation and the beginnings of modern thought. The Renaissance began in Italy, but its influence spread slowly to the rest of Europe. These authors are listed in chronological order, divided by area.
- Niccolò Machiavelli (May 3, 1469 - June 21, 1527): Author of another Art of War, The Prince, and The Discourses; Italian political thinker whose influence is still felt.
- Sir Thomas Mallory (c. 1405 - March 14, 1471): English. Compiler or author of Le Morte d'Arthur, generally regarded as the foundation of modern Arthurian tales.
- Sir Thomas More (February 7, 1478 - July 6, 1535): English. Author of Utopia.
- Christopher Marlowe (baptised February 26, 1564 - May 30, 1593): English. Poet, dramatist, and translator, he is probably best known for The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, The Jew of Malta, and Tamburlaine. He was one of the first to write English drama in blank verse.
- William Shakespeare (baptized April 26, 1564 - April 23, 1616): English. 38 plays, 154 sonnets and other works. He is the inventor or best-known source of many tropes, phrases and words; generally well-quoted and well-recognized even outside the English-speaking world.
- John Milton (December 9, 1608 - November 8, 1674): English. Poet and pamphleteer, his most seminal works are Areopagitica and Paradise Lost.
- Wu Cheng'en (c. 1500 - c. 1582): wrote Journey to the West, one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese Literature. Unlike most serious literature in China at the time, it was written in the vernacular.
Czech lands (Bohemian Kingdom)
- Nostradamus: French physician, author of the Prophecies, a series of predictions of future historical events that may have been accurate or is mostly nonsense.
- Francois Rabelais (c. 1494 - April 9, 1553): Author of Gargantua and Pantagruel, an extravagantly comic Humanist satire.
- Martin Luther (November 10, 1483 - February 18, 1546): A teacher, a monk for a time, a minister, social and political critic and a religious reformer. Writer of the Ninety-Five Theses, which inspired many different factions within the Catholic church to break away and form their own denominations. Also wrote many hymns, several socio-political commentaries on both Turkish Islamic and European Jewish communities. Also wrote Luther's Large and Small Catechisms. His works would later inspire many other Protestant reformers, such as Ulrich Zwingli in Switzerland and John Calvin in France, as they formed their own churches and separated from Roman Catholicism.
- Philipp Melanchthon (February 16, 1497 - April 19, 1560): Another Protestant reformer and a contemporary of Luther. Considered the primary (but not sole) author of the Augsburg Confession, a treatise on Lutheran Church doctrines.
- Gil Vicente: Often considered the father of Portuguese drama, although he wrote in Spanish as well.
1650 - 1800 (Enlightenment)
These are listed chronologically, divided by geographic area
- Alexander Hamilton: Co-author of The Federalist Papers and the United States Constitution.
- James Madison: Primary author of the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and one of the authors of the Federalist Papers.
- Thomas Jefferson: The Declaration of Independence (principal author), Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.
- "Publius": a pen name used by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison in writing The Federalist Papers, American political philosophy.
- Thomas Paine: Common Sense, The Rights of Man, and The Age of Reason, among other works. Famous for involvement in The American Revolution.
- Benjamin Franklin: Epigrammist and author/publisher of Poor Richard's Alamanack. He's credited with such pithy sayings as "A penny saved is a penny earned.", "Certainty? In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes. ", and "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." He was also the publisher of several newspapers over the years.
- Samuel Pepys: English civil servant famous for his diary of the years 1660 to 1669.
- Jonathan Swift (1667 - 1745): Irish. Gulliver's Travels, "A Modest Proposal", and other works. His merit as a satirist can be summed up by his description of lawyers: "A society of men among us, bred from their youth in the art of proving, by words multiplied for the purpose, that white is black, and black white, according as they are paid."
- Colley Cibber (1671 - 1757): English. Poet Laureate from 1730. Actor and playwright, adapter of Shakespeare, and object of Pope's heroic-couplet satire The Dunciad.
- Alexander Pope (1688 - 1744): English. Penned numerous poems, among them An Essay on Criticism, An Essay on Man, An Epistle to Arbuthnot, The Dunciad, and The Rape of the Lock.
- Edmund Burke (1729 - 1797): Anglo-Irish. Political figure who wrote Reflections on the Revolution in France and many others. Considered by many as the father of modern political conservatism (having supported The American Revolution but not the The French Revolution, supporting freedom but not complete systemic overhauls based strictly on ideas).
- Samuel Johnson: English. First compiler of an English Dictionary.
- Thomas Hobbes (5 April 1588 – 4 December 1679): An English philosopher whose best known work, Leviathan, argued for a strong state to control a destructive human nature he perceived. Without it, he felt existence was "nasty, brutish, and short."
- Cao Xueqin: (c. 1715 - c. 1764); Dream of the Red Chamber, one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. It is believed by many to be the greatest novel written in the Chinese language.
Czech lands (Bohemian Kingdom)
- Marquis de Sade (1740-1814)
- Molière (Jean-Baptiste Poquelin; January 15, 1622 - February 17, 1673): Playwright and actor, considered by many to have written some of the most brilliant comedies in the Western theatre. Best known for Tartuffe, The Misanthrope, The School for Wives, and The Imaginary Invalid. Les Fourberies de Scapin (literally, "Scapin's Deceits") was adapted for the Broadway stage as Scapino!.
- François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680), renowned to this day for his Maxims. Perhaps the first to dispense advice and observation a sentence at a time.
- Charles Perrault (January 12, 1628 - May 16, 1703): Credited creating the genre of Fairy Tale when he published Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals (Histoires ou Contes du Temps passe) in 1697 with the subtitle Tales of Mother Goose (Les Contes de ma Mere l'Oie).
- Voltaire (Francois Marie Arouet; 1694 - 1778): Prolific author of over 20,000 works ranging from pamphlets to treatises to novels. Best known for Candide and the short story Micromegas (one of the earliest works depicting aliens visiting Earth).
- Rene Descartes (31 March 1596 – 11 February 1650): Mathematician and philosopher famed for his theory of dualism, in which he held the soul met the body at the pineal gland, and for the saying which summed up the proof he offered of self-existence: "I think, therefore I am."
- Bettina von Arnim (1785 - 1859): An important writer in the German Romantic era.
- Annette von Droste-Hülshoff (1797 - 1848): Well-known German author, most famous works include The Jew's Beech and the poem The Lad on the Moor.
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 - 1832): Often claimed to be most important German language author. Wrote many poems, The Sorrows of Young Werther and an important adaptation of Faust. Many phrases originating in his works found their way into everyday German language.
- Friedrich Schiller (1759 - 1805): Best buddy (so to speak) of Goethe. Wrote plays like William Tell, Maria Stuart and The Robbers. Wrote an ode "To Joy" that was famously set to music by Ludwig van Beethoven.
- Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778): Genevan philosopher, writer, and composer of French expression. His political philosophy influenced the The French Revolution as well as the overall development of modern political, sociological, and educational thought. Discourse on the Origin of Inequality and On the Social Contract are cornerstones in modern political and social thought.