Although the biblical myth of the Tower of Babel illustrates linguistic and cultural diversity, productive mutual influences marked the ancient civilizations of the Tigris-Euphrates and Nile valleys. China's 3,000-year-long uninterrupted literary history influenced the cultural traditions of other Asian countries. Ancient India extended itself into foreign countries under Emperor Asoka “of benevolent aspect, ” who served as an effective proselytizer of Buddhism in the third century B.C.E.
Powerfully forwarding the process of reintegration and consolidation in the West were the conquests of Alexander the Great and of successive Roman generals. They managed to impose a kind of unity on the entire Western world and thus made possible a proliferation of contact and cross-fertilization among what had hitherto been relatively isolated and self-sufficient ethnic and cultural groupings.
During the aftermath of Rome's decline, within a little more than a century after the prophet Muhammad's death in 632, Arabic control extended from Spain to the Indus River. The Arabic language, penetrating India, the Indies, and central Asia as well, became the language of law and culture even as the interplay between Islam and the West produced fascinating medieval artistic, architectonic, and scientific interactions.
The unity of Europe and parts of Asia, Africa, and later the Americas, consolidated by the influence of the Roman Church, was called in question by the Protestant Reformation and the rise of competing national states and ideologies from the sixteenth century onward, but these divisive tendencies in their turn triggered exploration, commerce, and technology. In Russia Czar Peter the Great (1682-1725), borrowing from the West, brought into his land multicultural mixtures that combined refusal and resentment with respect and admiration for the richness of other cultures. These paradoxes were reflected in Russian literature even as the migration of people, politics, art, and ideas between Russia,