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The oratory of the American Indian, for instance, is famous, while in Classical Greece, Polymnia was the muse sacred to poetry and oratory.

Rome’s great orator Cicero was to have a decisive influence on the development of English prose style.

Yet both are classed as literature, while the speculations of other philosophers, ancient and modern, are not.

Certain scientific works endure as literature long after their scientific content has become outdated.

Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is known to every American schoolchild.

Today, however, oratory is more usually thought of as a craft than as an art.

Literature also functions more broadly in society as a means of both criticizing and affirming cultural values.

Deriving from the Latin , “a letter of the alphabet,” literature is first and foremost humankind’s entire body of writing; after that it is the body of writing belonging to a given language or people; then it is individual pieces of writing.

But already it is necessary to qualify these statements.

Certain forms of writing, however, are universally regarded as belonging to literature as an art.

Individual attempts within these forms are said to succeed if they possess something called artistic merit and to fail if they do not.

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To use the word when describing literature is itself misleading, for one may speak of “oral literature” or “the literature of preliterate peoples.” The art of literature is not reducible to the words on the page; they are there solely because of the craft of writing.

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