Thought and Letters in Western Europe, A.D. 500 to 900

Thought and Letters in Western Europe, A.D. 500 to 900

Thought and Letters in Western Europe, A.D. 500 to 900

Thought and Letters in Western Europe, A.D. 500 to 900

Excerpt

A book in English, which, within the moderate compass of a single volume, essays to describe and estimate thought and literature in Western Europe during the four centuries following the final collapse of the Roman Empire, should need no apology. For the period and the subject have been rather neglected as a whole by English scholars, although excellent studies have been made of special topics or authors, and there exist also some useful surveys of a more general character in works devoted to the whole medieval era. Nevertheless, it must be confessed that even good medievalists are at times prone to be somewhat cavalier towards anything prior to the eleventh century or to the rise of the universities. No reasonably informed person, it is true, any longer believes in the 'Dark Ages' -- a prolonged period of hopeless barbarism succeeding on the fall of the Western Empire. But in the English-speaking countries at least, where so much has been published, whether of specialized research or of broader interpretation, on the later Middle Ages, the early centuries have attracted little attention. And yet, apart from the immense and obvious debt that we owe to the Carolingian Age for the preservation of classical and post-classical Latin literature, that era and the centuries that preceded it were a formative period without which it is impossible either to understand or to explain the full achievement of medieval culture at its zenith.

As to the arrangement of this book -- the first three chapters do not pretend to be more than a brief survey to introduce the main subject which begins with Chapter IV. The literature and thought of the period beginning with Boethius and ending with Bede and Boniface have been treated regionally. In no other way would it have been possible to bring out the contrast between different areas of culture and the alternations of brilliance and obscurity that characterized them, nor yet to trace the evolution . . .

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