Other Middle Ages: Witnesses at the Margins of Medieval Society

Other Middle Ages: Witnesses at the Margins of Medieval Society

Other Middle Ages: Witnesses at the Margins of Medieval Society

Other Middle Ages: Witnesses at the Margins of Medieval Society

Synopsis

Seldom heard from in modern times, those on the margins of Medieval Europe have much to tell us about the society that defined them. More than just a fascinating cast of characters, the visionaries and sexual dissidents, the suicidal and psychologically unbalanced, the lepers and converts of Medieval times reveal the fears of a people for whom life was made both meaningful and terrifying by the sacred.

After centuries of historical silence, these and other disenfranchised members of the medieval public have been given voice by Michael Goodich in a unique collection of texts from the mid-eleventh through the fourteenth century. Translated from their original Latin, Hebrew, and Arabic, these texts, many of them first person narratives or testimonies, give insight into those figures who made Medieval society uneasy.

The book is divided into chapters dealing with the Jewish community, apostates and converts, sexual nonconformists, victims of the Devil, Christian heretics, and the liminal and temporarily marginalized. The texts included both give spiritual voice to such groups, and illuminate the more mundane affairs of their daily lives—child rearing, social life, economic difficulties, sexuality, dreams, emotional instability, and gender relations among them.

Michael Goodich is Associate Professor of History at the University of Haifa, Israel.

Excerpt

The aim of this volume is to provide a voice to those persons and groups in medieval society who have often been ignored in traditional sourcebooks of medieval history. in the past, economic, institutional, and ecclesiastical history had largely been presented through documents and literary sources produced by the official agents of church and state and reflected the ideology of the dominant classes, that is, the clergy and nobility. Charters, papal bulls, conciliar decisions, philosophical tracts, and royal law codes, for example, have remained the focus of most source collections, and those interested in the lives, aspirations, and problems of the unlettered classes and members of minority groups have often had to be satisfied with sources produced by others or turn to works devoted exclusively to such groups as the Jews, heretics, or women. All the texts included in this volume, however, deal with persons excluded, either permanently or temporarily, from full participation in civil society, and an effort has been made to include material that was probably written or attested to by such persons themselves.

This book has been divided into chapters dealing with: (1) the Jewish community; (2) apostates and converts; (3) sexual nonconformists; (4) victims of the Devil; (5) Christian heretics; and (6) the liminal and temporarily marginalized. Each chapter is introduced by a brief essay on the particular group involved. Although most of these texts were written for spiritual reasons, there is nevertheless much concerning the more mundane affairs of daily life.

A close reading of these texts will allow the reader to experience vicari0us contact with medieval people. the lives of persons drawn from a variety of backgrounds come into relief. Among the speakers are the daughter of a sheriff (Joan of Marden), a Jewish merchant (Baruch of Languedoc), and a notary (Berardo Appillaterre). Such themes as child rearing, social life, economic difficulties, sexuality, family life, dreams, emotional instability, and gender relations appear in these sources. Testimony concerning Giacomuccio Fatteboni of Belforte, for example, describes the reactions of village folk to his attempted suicide. the recollections of a resident of a village near Hereford, Joan of Marden, recounting her resuscitation after drowning in a . . .

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