Tuesday, 9 March 2004

The making of the Middle Ages

Listening to:

Schubert, symphony no. 5 in D flat major, D485. The Staatskapelle Dresden, conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch, recorded in 1967. (Philips 446 539-2, another cheap 2CD set.)

Just read:

R. W. Southern, The making of the Middle Ages.

This book is an interesting and well-written successor to the two earlier books on the Middle Ages (The birth of the Middle Ages, and The crucible of Europe), covering the 11th and 12th centuries, finishing with the fall of Constantinople to the Fourth Crusade in 1204. Though Southern provides a good narrative description of that crusade, most of his book avoids high-level political and military stories. Instead, he talks about Church politics (the Popes began to get a firmer grip of the European church in this period), politics at the local level (the counts of Anjou are an interesting case study), social history (the development of the institution of serfdom is particularly fascinating) and intellectual history.

The latter provides lots of interesting material. It was in this period that European intellectuals came out of their shells and felt that they were once more part of a wider community. Students from all over Europe journeyed to France (Paris and Reims are mentioned in particular) just to study logic. New monastic orders, such as the Cistercians, played a part in this, as they tended to allow their monks more time away from the full day's rites of the Benedictines. But, knowledge was still seriously limited. I was particularly struck by Southern’s story about two top French scholars of the day arguing over what was meant by “internal angles” in Boethius’ claim that “the internal angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles”. They still had an incredible amount to learn, and their access to original sources (Aristotle in Greek, rather than limited Aristotle via Boethius) was still poor.

It makes me quite appreciative of the enormous distance education and knowledge have come in the last 900 years.



Thank you very much for suggessting me an idea !

Posted by: Gandalf at March 19, 2004 01:43 AM