Around the year 940 A.D., a Chinese poet, Zhao Chongzuo, contributed to an anthology of lyric verse called Huajian ji, for which he also wrote a preface. This work, translated into English by P. P. Thoms in 1824 under the title Chinese Courtship: In Verse, found its way into the hands of Goethe and was the occasion for his celebrated conversation with Johann Peter Eckermann in 1827, in which the sage of Weimar claimed that the age of national literatures was drawing to a close, and that “the epoch of world literature [Weltliteratur] is coming.” As Martin Puchner, a professor at Harvard and the general editor of the six-volume Norton Anthology of World Literature, explains in an article of 2017 for the digital magazine Aeon, in making this...


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