200-800 CE

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Lu Chi

Lu Chi— or Lu Ji, or Lu Ki (261-303 CE) wrote an essay in rhyming prose about poetry and literature. The essay deals with the personal imagination and its activity in the process of composition, treating literature as a calling, as a craft, and as a means to truth. Lu Chi comments that in writing the feeling is constantly present of regret that the meaning apprehended does not represent the objects observed, and that the words fail to convey the meaning. Lu Chi concluded that it is not so hard to know as it is to do. In this period of almost continuous factional wars, Lu Chi barely escaped with his life on several occasions. Ultimately he was blamed for a military defeat and executed.



Aurelius Augustine (354-430 CE), more widely known as St Augustine, was born in Thagaste in North Africa. His father had him trained as a rhetorician, which led to an extensive acquaintance with Latin literature. He converted to Christianity at age 32, keeping an interest in the Platonists and in the relationship between philosophy of a logical cast and religion. The extracts here concern his thoughts on memory and on time. Augustine was amazed that men should admire the heights of mountains, the expanse of the ocean, and the circuits of the stars, yet pass over the mystery inside themselves—memory—without a thought.



Flavius Anicius Iustinianus (483-565 CE), otherwise known as Justinian, reigned as Roman Emperor at Constantinople from 527 until his death. Finding Roman law in a state of confusion, he commissioned a group of scholars to come up with an imperial constitution free of contradictions and then to bring order into the rest of Roman law. The president of the commission, Tribonian, drew up an outline of the laws so that future lawyers could learn their first lessons from the new vantage point of legal learning, rather than from ancient fables. This summary of Roman law in the sixth century provides an insight into the type of humanistic principles that had established themselves in Roman society at this late period of the empire. Noteworthy are the sentiments to live honestly, to injure no one, and to give every man his due.



Muhammad al Mustafa (571-632) was born in Mecca. In his thirties, he began to spend a month each year practicing religious exercises on Mount Hira, outside Mecca. During a night vigil, Muhammad had a vision that compelled him to recite verses describing a monotheistic religion, although he considered such an endeavor impossible. Subsequently he propounded many messages of this type, which he described as coming from Allah (Arabic for God) as relayed by the angel Gabriel. These messages are collected in the Koran, which was written down some time after Muhammed died. Mahmoud Muhammad Taha, a Sudanese theologian (1909-85), has described the initial verses Muhammad propounded during 13 years in Mecca as the ultimate message of the Koran, addressed to humanity at large, preaching freedom and tolerance, treating women as equals, and not condemning other religions.



Kakinomoto no Asomi Hitomaro (about 660- 708 CE) may have held court offices, but nothing is clearly known about them, although it appears that he functioned as a court poet. He traveled widely in Japan, composing poems on each place he visited. He lived in Ihami  at the close of his life and died there. He is one of the four principal poets of the earliest anthology of Japanese poetry, the Manyoshu. Hitomaro is a lyric poet with a deep feeling for the beauty of mountains—celebrating their streams and flowers—and for the beauty of seascapes and sea shores. He also expresses with great poetic skill the intensity of feeling that comes with loss of a loved one.


Li Po

Li Po (701-762 CE) was a native of Sezchaun, China. He left home to live in the mountains with a religious recluse and then took up the occupation of wandering poet. Throughout his life he produced an abundance of poems on nature, wine, friendship, solitude, and the passage of time. He has since become recognized by many as the greatest of the highly talented array of Tang poets. In 742 his poetry found great favor at the imperial court. However, accusations of malicious satire caused him to retire to the mountains. He later becoming involved in a major revolt and was imprisoned under sentence of death, commuted to perpetual banishment. He was a poet who caught the nuances of the human experience of nature and of human friendship.


Du Fu

Du Fu (about 712-770 CE) was born in China and raised as a Confucian but failed to gain the government post he sought. He subsequently traveled throughout China, observing the conditions of the people and commenting on his impressions in poems. He was a friend of Li Po, and the Confucianism in his poetry sometimes complements the Taoism in Li Po’s. He was an outspoken critic of the bloodshed in border wars and in the rebellions that often followed them, expressing in poems his concern for the lives of peasants who were pressed into military service. 


Po Chu i

Po Chü-i (772-846 CE), a Chinese poet and a government official, was one of the great writers of the Tang dynasty.  The government posts he occupied included palace librarian, provincial governorships, and mayor of Lo-yang, the eastern capital, which was his position when he retired. Although he comes across in his poetry as easy-going and casual, he had a sharp eye for government’s effects on the lives of ordinary people. In his serious works he used satire and humor to excoriate the rapacity of  minor officials and to draw attention to social problems. He also argued strongly against war.