circa 425 BCE
The Western concept of history can trace much of its parentage to this book and this man.
It is however far from dry history of dates and locations.
“Great deeds are usually wrought at great risks”
Here are reports of exotic culture, the recounting of wars and attempts to understand the world which was largely a mystery to the Greeks at the time. Some of my favorite tidbits include the details on the Scythians, the Batte of Thermopylae and some of the oldest reports of India from an outsider.
See also My Portable Poetry Library
There is a blank period in my mind when it comes to northern Europe and England between the fall of Rome and the rise of the Vikings, eight hundred years later. Eight hundred years is a long time to know nothing about.
This is what reading this account of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes of Britain was great for.
Here is an excerpt:
"Such,' he said,'O King, seems to me the present life of men on earth, in comparison with that time which to us is uncertain, as if when on a winter's night you sit feasting with your ealdormen and thegnsö a single sparrow should fly swiftly into the hall, and coming in at one door, instantly fly out through another. In that time in which it is indoors it is indeed not touched by the fury of the winter, and yet, this smallest space of calmness being passed almost in a flash, from winter going into winter again, it is lost to your eyes. Somewhat like this appears the life of man; but of what follows or what went before, we are utterly ignorant.”
Myth, history, tales, stories of heroic people; Geoffrey of Monmouth, a bishop in Wales, chronicled the legends of Merlin, King Arthur, Brutus and the founding of Britain. His detailed histories have influenced all of the English writers than came after him in one way or another.
circa c.e. 1250
"The Prose Edda contains a wide variety of lore which a Skald (poet) of the time would need to know and contains consistent narratives of many of the plot lines of Norse mythology."
Much of the creation myth, as in this excerpt:"The sun knew not where she had housing;
The moon knew not what Might he had;
The stars knew not where stood their places.
Thus was it ere the earth was fashioned."
The Malleus Maleficarum, which translates as the Hammer of the Witches, was the standard medieval text on witchcraft up to the early modern period. The depiction of the evil of witches and how to eradicate them continue to contribute to our knowledge of early modern law, religion and society.
I personally have used its often incantatory and fantastic (in both senses of the word) language as prompts for poems (see my poem Witness for example).
"For there are three things in man: will, understanding, and body. The first is ruled by God (for, The heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord); the second is enlightened by an Angel; and the body is governed by the motions of the stars."