There are four (or five) periods here:
- The Ancient Greeks - Starting with Aeschylus and involving the two heavies in philosophy, Plato and Aristotle. You could argue that the second half of this, post-Aristotle, deserves it's own period. The later writers were scientists and mathematicians.
- The Roman Period - This one starts with Plutarch in the first century and runs into the third century, ending with Plotinus. Augustine was later by about 70 years but could be considered as part of this group. Probably should be.
- The Renaissance - Our first writer here is Machiavelli (May's reading!), born in 1469. This one runs into the 1600's and I'm not sure how to define the end of it, or if any such definition is really meaningful.
- The Enlightenment - Picks up where the Renaissance left off, somewhere late in the 17th century. The high water mark of the project is here. There were more Great writers alive between 1750 and 1775 than any other period.
- Great writers need durable and plentiful materials in order for their writings to survive and spread. Oral tradition can work, but it's obviously not as good. Also, even the most brilliant writer is effectively erased if all of their works are destroyed.
- I want to say that a culture has to have a sufficient excess to support non-productive work, like writing and thinking. But I'm not so sure how true that is. During the glory years of Athens, there was often war and brutality. Plenty of other writers on this list wrote during fairly violent times. In other words, I like the theory but I'm not sure that reality agrees with it.
- I don't know how to categorize the 19th century writers, or even if there is a need to do so. Is Melville part of the Enlightenment? How about Freud? And while we're talking about the 1800's, how confident are we that these are the right authors? We are so close to that era. Do we really know who will still be read in 1000 years? In contrast, I'm very confident that we don't know who the most important writers of the 20th century are yet.