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Ten Famous Writers


Homer is a legendary ancient Greek writer, who is believed to have lived around the 8th century BC. He allegedly wrote The Iliad and The Odyssey – the oldest works of Western literature.

The Iliad describes the final weeks of the Trojan War – the Greek siege of the city of Troy. The Trojan War began when Paris abducted Helen (c. 1194 BC) and ended with the fall of Troy (c. 1184 BC).

The Odyssey is a sequel to The Iliad. The poem tells the story of the Greek hero Odysseus and his ten-year journey home after the fall of Troy. The word “odyssey” now means an epic voyage.


Dante Alighieri was born in Florence (c. 1265). When he was nine years old, he fell in love with a girl called Beatrice, whom he often saw in the street, but never spoke to. After she died, he took refuge in literature (1290).

When the White Guelphs were overthrown by the Black Guelphs (1301), Dante was forced to leave Florence forever. He died and was buried in Ravenna (1321).

The Divine Comedy (1321) describes Dante’s journey through hell, purgatory and paradise. He is guided first by the Roman poet Virgil and then by Beatrice.


William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon (1564). After moving to London to work as an actor (1592), he joined the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (1594), who built the Globe Theatre (1599). He died in Stratford (1616).

Shakespeare wrote 38 plays and 154 sonnets. He first wrote historical dramas and comedies (1590s), before concentrating on tragedies (1600s). In his final period, he wrote romances (1610–13).

Hamlet (1601) is the story of the Prince of Denmark and his attempts to avenge the murder of his father by his uncle, who has married his mother and taken his throne.


Miguel de Cervantes was born in Alcalá de Henares near Madrid (1547) and joined the Spanish naval corps (1570). He was captured and enslaved by Algerian pirates (1575), but was freed when his family paid a ransom (1580).

Cervantes worked as a purchasing agent for the Spanish Armada and a tax collector (1580–1600), before devoting himself to writing. He lived in Seville (1596–1600) and Madrid (1606–16), where he died on the same day as William Shakespeare (23 April 1616).

Published in two volumes (1605–15), Don Quixote is regarded as the first modern novel. It describes the adventures of Don Quixote, a noble-minded knight, and his lowly companion Sancho Panza.


Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born in Frankfurt (1749). He studied law in Leipzig (1765–68) and Strasbourg (1770–71), but preferred writing to practising law.

Goethe gained enormous fame after the publication of The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774). The Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach invited him to his court (1775). He stayed in Weimar until his death (1832).

Faust is a play written in two parts (1808–32). Heinrich Faust is a scholar who signs a pact with Mephistopheles (the devil). The devil will do everything that Faust wants while he is on earth; in exchange, Faust will serve the devil in hell.


Victor-Marie Hugo was born in Besançon (1802) and lived in France for most of his life. When Napoleon III seized power (1851), he moved to Brussels (1851), Jersey (1852–55) and Guernsey (1855–70), where he wrote Les Misérables (1862).

Hugo returned home and survived the siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War by eating animals from the zoo (1870). He died in Paris and was buried in the Panthéon (1885).

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831) is the story of Quasimodo, the deformed bell ringer of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, and his tragic love for Esmeralda, a beautiful young Gypsy dancer.


Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth (1812) and moved to London (1822). When his father was imprisoned for debts, he was sent to work in a boot-blacking factory (1824).

Dickens wrote his first book (1836) and published a total of twenty novels (1837–65). He was injured in a rail crash (1865) and died at his home in London (1870).

A Christmas Carol (1843) is the story of an old miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, whose life is changed after he is visited by four ghosts on Christmas Eve.


Franz Kafka was born to a middle-class Jewish family in Prague (1883). After graduating with a degree in law from the University of Prague (1906), he worked for various companies, writing in German in his spare time.

During his lifetime, Kafka only published a few short stories and never finished any novels. He contracted tuberculosis (1917), which eventually grew so bad that he could not eat and died of starvation (1924).

The Metamorphosis (1915) is a short story about a travelling salesman, who wakes one morning to find that he has turned into an insect.


Ernest Miller Hemingway was born in Illinois (1899). He served as an ambulance driver in the First World War (1918) and a war correspondent during the Spanish Civil War (1936–37) and World War II (1944–45).

Hemingway lived in Paris (1921–28), where he was a member of a group of American expatriate writers known as the “Lost Generation.” He befriended F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896–1940), who wrote The Great Gatsby (1925) about the millionaires of Long Beach during the Jazz Age (1920s).

Hemingway spent much of his life in Cuba (1932–60), where he wrote The Old Man and the Sea (1952), which won the Nobel Prize (1954). He shot himself at his home in Idaho (1961).


Eric Arthur Blair was born in India (1903) and educated at Eton College (1917–21). He served with the British police in Burma (1922–27), but resigned to become a writer, publishing under the pen name of George Orwell.

Orwell was wounded fighting for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War (1936–37). During World War II, he worked for the BBC (1941–43) and wrote Animal Farm (1945). Living on the Scottish island of Jura (1946–49), he contracted tuberculosis and died in London (1950).

Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) is the story of a totalitarian state where the government controls every thought, word and deed. Winston Smith rebels against the system, but is captured and brainwashed by the Thought Police.

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