See histories by F. Riedl (tr. 1906, repr. 1968), T. Kloniczay and H. H. Remak (1982), and L. Czigány (1984); J. Reményi, Hungarian Writers and Literature (1965); L. Degh, ed., Folktales of Hungary (tr. 1965); M. Vajda, ed., Modern Hungarian Poetry (1977); T. Kloniczay, ed., Old Hungarian Literary Reader (tr. 1985).
The beginning of the history of Hungarian language as such (and so the proto-Hungarian period) is set to 1000 B.C., when – according to current scientific understanding – it separated from its closest relatives, the Ob-Ugric languages.
In the earliest times Hungarian language was written in a runic-like script (although it was not used for literature purposes in the modern interpretation). The country switched to the Latin alphabet after being Christianized under the reign of Stephen I (1000–1038). There are no existing documents from the pre-11th century era.
The Old Hungarian counted from 896 A.D., when the Hungarians occupied the Carpathian Basin, settled down and started to build their own state. Not long after followed the creation of the first written extant records.
The oldest written record in Hungarian is a fragment in the founding document of the Abbey of Tihany (1055) which contains several Hungarian terms, among them the words feheruuaru rea meneh hodu utu rea, "up the military road to Fehérvár" (referring to the place where the abbey was built). (This text is probably to be read as Fehérü váru reá meneü hodu utu reá with today's spelling and it would sound as a Fehérvárra menő had[i] útra in today's Hungarian.) The rest of the document was written in Latin.
Both the Funeral Sermon and the Lamentations are hard to read and not quite comprehensible for modern-day Hungarians, mostly because the 26-letter Latin alphabet was not fit to represent all the sounds in Hungarian language, as diacritic marks and double letters had not been developed yet.
During the Middle Ages and well into the Renaissace the language of writing was mostly Latin. Important Latin-language documents include the Admonitions of St. Stephen, which includes the king's admonitions to his son, Prince Imre.
Among the first chronicles about Hungarian history were Gesta Hungarorum ("Deeds of the Hungarians") by the unknown author usually called Anonymus, and Gesta Hunnorum et Hungarorum ("Deeds of the Huns and the Hungarians") by Simon Kézai. Both are in Latin. These chronicles mix history with legends, so historically they are not always authentic. Another chronicle is the Képes krónika (Illustrated Chronicle), which was written for Louis the Great.
Renaissance literature flourished under the reign of King Matthias (1458–1490). Janus Pannonius, although wrote in Latin, counts as one of the most important persons in Hungarian literature, being the only significant Hungarian Humanist poet of the period. The first printing house was also founded during Matthias' reign, by András Hess, in Buda. The first book printed in Hungary was the Chronica Hungarorum.
The most important poets of the period was Bálint Balassi (1554–1594) and Miklós Zrínyi (1620–1664). Balassi's poetry shows Mediaeval influences, his poems can be divided into three sections: love poems, war poems and religious poems. Zrínyi's most significant work, the epic Szigeti veszedelem ("Peril of Sziget", written in 1648/49) is written in a fashion similar to The Iliad, and recounts the heroic Battle of Szigetvár, where his great-grandfather died while defending the castle of Szigetvár.
Among the religious literary works the most important is the Bible translation by Gáspár Károli, the Protestant pastor of Gönc, in 1590. The translation is called the Bible of Vizsoly, after the town where it was first published. (See Hungarian Bible translations for more details.) Another important religious work is the Legend of Saint Margaret, copied by Lea Ráskai around 1510 from an earlier work that didn't survive.
The greatest figure of the language reform was Ferenc Kazinczy. The Hungarian language became feasible for scientific explanations this time, farther a lot of new words were coined for describing new inventions (for example, mozdony, which means locomotive. Previously the term lokomotív was used.)