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The Greeks thought of history as one of the seven arts, inspired by a goddess, the muse Clio.
All of the worlds classic surveys of history can stand as noble examples of the art of literature, but most historical works and studies today are not written primarily with literary excellence in mind, though they may possess it, as it were, by accident.
The nature of artistic merit is less easy to define than to recognize. On the contrary, a scientific exposition might be of great literary value and a pedestrian poem of none at all.
The purest (or, at least, the most intense) literary form is the lyric poem, and after it comes elegiac, epic, dramatic, narrative, and expository verse.
Oratory, the art of persuasion, was long considered a great literary art.
The oratory of the American Indian, for instance, is famous, while in classical Greece, Polymnia was the muse sacred to poetry and oratory.
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.
Those writings that are primarily informative technical, scholarly, journalistic would be excluded from the rank of literature by most, though not all, critics.
Definitions of the word literature tend to be circular.
The Concise Oxford Dictionary says it is writings whose value lies in the beauty of form or emotional effect. The nineteenth-century critic Walter Pater referred to the matter of imaginative or artistic literature as a transcript, not of mere fact, but of fact in its infinitely varied forms. But such definitions really assume that the reader already knows what literature is.
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Certain scientific works endure as literature long after their scientific content has become outdated.
Many novels certainly all the worlds great novels are literature, but there are thousands that are not so considered.