New York Magazine

The History of Plot

Let’s start from the beginning (the Western beginning, anyway).


PREHISTORY TO 500 BCE: The Creation Story (the Hebrew Bible, Sumerian tablets). How we first started to explain the world, relying mostly on supernatural explanations. 2100–400 BCE: The Epic Poem (the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Iliad). Episodic narratives in which the gods interact with people, with man at the center of the story. 500–400 BCE: Classical Tragedy (The Oresteia, Oedipus the King, Medea). Murder, incest, revenge, and the tragic flaw. Aristotle wrote in Poetics that they ideally preserved “the three unities”—of action (one

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