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Tony Grist

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Just Trying To Get This Clear In My Head [Feb. 10th, 2016|10:26 am]
Tony Grist
The Middle Ages are an invention of the Renaissance. The phrase first occurs in the work the mid 15th century Italian historians Leonardo Bruno and Flavio Biondi. For Bruno and Biondi history came in three parts- ancient, medieval and modern- an idea we've lived and worked with ever since.

Did medieval people think of themselves as existing in the middle times? Of course they didn't. It's an Italo-centric idea- based on the belief that Imperial Rome represented a high point of civilisation from which there was subsequently a great falling off. The stigmatization of that post Roman period as the Dark Ages is something we owe to Petrarch- who put the phrase into print in 1330.

There was a reaction in favour of the Middle Ages around the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries- and the chivalric code and gothic architecture were thereafter recognised as the peaks of civilisation that they are.

Time flows or- if we're being really esoteric- doesn't actually exist at all. It certainly doesn't come in great chunks. And yet we still talk about The Ancient World, the Middle Ages and the Modern Era as if they had walls around them.

How hard it is to get rid of these memes.

[User Picture]From: huskyteer
2016-02-10 11:08 am (UTC)
That reminds me of the old joke:

"Dear Diary, Today the Hundred Years War started."
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-02-10 03:43 pm (UTC)
I like that. :)
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From: cmcmck
2016-02-10 11:40 am (UTC)
As I've said before, where people live is always 'now'.

As a historian, trying to box an area of study so it doesn't sprawl too much is a nightmare- as it is, my 'Early modern' already sprawls from the mid sixteenth century to the mid eighteenth (from the Henrician reformation to the start of the industrial revolution).
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[User Picture]From: negothick
2016-02-10 03:32 pm (UTC)
I'm only an amateur historian, as one must be to deal with literature of any period, but especially the Gothic, which is all about imagining the Medieval. I believe that the evolving concept of "the modern" is of parallel interest. For Petrarch and the Italian Renaissance, nothing "modern" could possibly rival the achievements of Rome, yet in his rejection of "The Middle Ages," he managed to innovate, even as he claimed to be rediscovering. In addition to the sonnet, a decidedly non-Classical form that he perfected, he claimed to be the first to climb a mountain for the fun of it, to be inspired by this view of Nature. By your period, the Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns is full-blown, yet to our eyes (and even more so, the eyes of our students), both sides seem to draw on the Classics and require Latin to understand.

But you knew all that. . .not trying to lecture YOU, just musing. . .
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From: cmcmck
2016-02-10 05:16 pm (UTC)
Thankfully, pretty much the only Latin I've ever had to deal with is the very dogged stuff in probate inventories! :o)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-02-10 03:46 pm (UTC)
Life would be so much easier if- say- all the Victorians had died on the same day as Queen Victoria.
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[User Picture]From: lblanchard
2016-02-10 07:47 pm (UTC)
I'm okay with there being different eras, with permeable borders. The middle ages didn't end on 22 August 1485, even in England. It's convenient to group things into the Dark Ages, c 600-1100, the high middle ages, c 1100-1350, the later middle ages c. 1350-1500 with the understanding that these are place specific. The Renaissance was well under way when England was just leaving the high middle ages, and it also slopped around the edges of the later middle ages in England. I cannot speak for other places. (Edited to add, not only are my groupings for England only, I also just tweaked the numbers and would entertain proposals for any of the dates to shift 50-100 years in either direction.

Edited at 2016-02-10 07:49 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-02-10 08:40 pm (UTC)
I wish we could find a less dismissive name for the Middle Ages- one that didn't imply it was just a hiatus between two periods of high civilisation. I think we are too much in awe of the Renaissance- and of the classical culture it revered.
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[User Picture]From: davesmusictank
2016-02-12 04:04 pm (UTC)
I tend to go for a more holistic idea of holistic rather than set periods.
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