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Middle Ages (500-1500)

Developments: bestiary - black death - courtly love - fabliau - gothic art - gothic architecture - inquisition - penitential books - Chivalric romance (literary genre) - Gothic tribes

Chivalry romance: In the later medieval and early Renaissance period, there was an important European trend towards fantastic fiction. Works such as Le Morte d'Arthur (1485) and Amadis of Gaul (eC14) spawned a large number of imitators. By 1600, the poor quality of many of the romances had led to them being seen as harmful distractions. Don Quixote is the story of an elderly man driven insane by reading too many romances of chivalry.

These stories generally feature a heroic knight with super-human abilities who fights monsters and giants to win the favour of a beautiful, but ungrateful, princess while strictly following chivalric codes. The main story does not focus on love, but on the adventure. Modern comic books and sci-fi can be seen as the modern successors to these romances. [Apr 2006]

Preceded by: Ancient history

Followed by: Renaissance - Modernity

Gargoyle decorating the Cathedral de Notre Dame (1163- 1345) in Paris, France.

The Middle Ages

The Middle Ages was the middle period in a schematic division of European history into three 'ages': Ancient history, the Middle Ages, and Modern civilization.

It is commonly considered as having lasted from the end of the Western Roman Empire (476 AD (5th century)) until the rise of national monarchies and the beginnings of demographic and economic renewal after the Black Death, European overseas exploration and the cultural revival known as the Renaissance around the 15th century as well as the Protestant Reformation starting 1517.

(The corresponding adjective is spelt medieval in American English and sometimes mediaeval or mediŠval in British English. It is sometimes misspelled as "mid-evil.")

See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medieval

The Name of the Rose (1986) - Jean-Jacques Annaud

The Name of the Rose (1986) - Jean-Jacques Annaud [Amazon.com]

The Name of the Rose, a 1980 novel by Umberto Eco, is a murder mystery set in an Italian monastery in the year 1327 during the papacy of Pope John XXII. The book was also made into a film in 1986, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud and starring Sean Connery as the intrepid Franciscan monk, William of Baskerville.

Along with his apprentice Adso of Melk (named after the Benedictine abbey Stift Melk and played by Christian Slater), William journeys to an abbey where a murder has been committed. As the plot unfolds, several other people mysteriously die. Our heroes explore a medieval library, the subversive power of laughter and come face to face with the Medieval Inquisition.

The name of the central character, William of Baskerville, alludes both to the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes and to William of Ockham, who first put forward the principle known as "Ockham's Razor": that one should always accept the simplest explanation that covers the facts. The name of the narrator, his sidekick Adso, is among other things a pun on Simplicio from Galileo Galilei's Dialogue; Adso = ad Simplicio ("to Simplicio"). It is also a play on Holmes' friend Dr. Watson.

On one level, the book is an excellent exposition of the scholastic method which was very popular in the 14th Century. William demonstrates the power of deductive reasoning. He refuses to accept the diagnosis of simple demonic possession despite demonology being the traditional monastic explanation. He keeps an open mind, collecting facts and observations, following even pure intuition as to what he should investigate, exactly as a scholastic would do. The story also demonstrates the crucial importance of chance in any investigative endeavour. Nevertheless, William could not have solved the cases if he had not properly prepared a framework of facts and interconnections, which the chance discovery then made meaningful.

The book meticulously describes monastic life in the 14th century. The action takes place at a Benedictine abbey during the controversy between branches of Franciscans. The spirituals abhor wealth, bordering on the Dulcinian heresy.

As usual in Eco's novels, there is a display of erudition. The blind librarian Jorge from Burgos is a pun on Jorge Luis Borges. Borges wrote a short story, "The Library of Babel," which inspired the secret library in Eco's book. Throughout the book, there are Latin quotes, authentic and apocryphal. There are also discussions of the philosophy of Aristotle and of a variety of heresies, especially those associated with the fraticelli.

Eco, being a famous semiotician, is hailed by semiotics students who like to apply this movie to explain their relatively arcane discipline. Eco also spent some time at the University of Toronto while writing the book. The stairs in the monastery's library bear a striking resemblance to those in Robarts Library. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Name_of_the_Rose [Mar 2005]

see also: grotesque

Pulp Fictions of Medieval England: Essays in Popular Romance (2004) - Nicola McDonald


Pulp Fictions of Medieval England: Essays in Popular Romance (2004) - Nicola McDonald [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Pulp fictions of medieval England comprises ten essays on individual popular romances; with a focus on romances that, while enormously popular in the Middle Ages, have been neglected by modern scholarship. Each essay provides valuable introductory material, and there is a sustained argument across the contributions that the romances invite innovative, exacting and theoretically charged analysis. However, the essays do not support a single, homogenous reading of popular romance: the authors work with assumptions and come to conclusions about issues as fundamental as the genre's aesthetic codes, its political and cultural ideologies, and its historical consciousness that are different and sometimes opposed. Nicola McDonald's collection and the romances it investigates, are crucial to our understanding of the aesthetics of medieval narrative and to the ideologies of gender and sexuality, race, religion, political formations, social class, ethics, morality and national identity with which those narratives engage. --via Amazon.com

Nicola McDonald's collection and the romances it investigates are crucial to our understanding of the aesthetics of medieval narrative and to the ideologies of gender and sexuality, race, religion, political formations, social class, ethics, morality and national identity with which those narratives emerge. It should be valuable reading for specialists of medieval English literature and for theorists of medieval and modern popular culture; yet its inclusion of detailed introductory material makes it equally accessible to students, both undergraduate and postgraduate, taking courses in medieval literature. --via Amazon.co.uk

The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages (1957) - Norman Cohn

The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages (1957) - Norman Cohn [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Amazon.com
At the end of the first millennium A.D., itinerant preachers crisscrossed Europe warning that the end of the world was nigh. Hundreds of thousands of people took heed, joining religious cults and anti-governmental militias in preparation for the coming war between good and evil. (If this sounds familiar, it is proof only that history is cyclical.) During this heady time, Europe exploded in religious war, peasant revolts and sectarian strife, marked by the first large-scale massacres of Jews and gypsies, the first inklings of inquisitions and holy crusades. Norman Cohn, a masterful writer and interpreter, carefully explores this extraordinary period in European history in a book that bears rereading as our own millennium approaches its end.

Product Description:
The end of the millennium has always held the world in fear of earthquakes, plague, and the catastrophic destruction of the world. Now with the year 1999 approaching, the world is again experiencing these anxieties, as seen by the onslaught of fantasies of renewal, doomsday predictions, and New Age prophecies.

This fascinating book explores the millenarianism that flourished in western Europe between the eleventh and sixteenth centuries. Covering the full range of revolutionary and anarchic sects and movements in medieval Europe, Cohn demonstrates how prophecies of a final struggle between the hosts of Christ and Antichrist melded with the rootless poor's desire to improve their own material conditions, resulting in a flourishing of millenarian fantasies. The only overall study of medieval millenarian movements, The Pursuit of the Millennium offers an excellent interpretation of how, again and again, in situations of anxiety and unrest, traditional beliefs come to serve as vehicles for social aspirations and animosities. --via Amazon.com

see also: free - middle ages - heretics
from the bibliography of Lipstick Traces by Greil Marcus

The Heresy of the Free Spirit in the Later Middle Ages (1972) - Robert E. Lerner

The Heresy of the Free Spirit in the Later Middle Ages (1972) - Robert E. Lerner [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

The heresy of the Free Spirit is often considered to have been the most important continental European heresy of the fourteenth century. Many historians have described its membership as a league of anarchistic deviants who fomented sexual license and subversion of authority. Free Spirits are supposed to have justified nihilism and megalomania and to have been remote precursors of Bakunin and Nietzsche and twentieth-century bohemians and hippies. This volume examines the Free-Spirit movement as it appeared in its own age, and concludes that it was not a tightly-organized sect, but rather a spectrum of belief that emphasized voluntary poverty and quietistic mysticism. Overall, the movement was far more typical of the late-medieval search for God and godliness that is commonly supposed. --via Amazon.com

see also: free - middle ages - heretics - 1300s
from the bibliography of Lipstick Traces by Greil Marcus

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