The Making of the Middle Ages

The Making of the Middle Ages

The Making of the Middle Ages

The Making of the Middle Ages

Excerpt

The formation of western Europe from the late tenth to the early thirteenth century is the subject of this book. The two dates within which it could most conveniently be framed are 972 and 1204. In these years there occurred two events, of very unequal importance in the public eye but not so unequally matched in their suggestion of new opportunities in thought and politics. It was in the first of these years in all probability that the scholar Gerbert, a young man at the height of his powers and bursting with intellectual life, having absorbed the scientific learning of Italy and the Spanish March, felt himself called to the study of logic and moved from Rome to Rheims for that purpose. The works which he wrote, the methods of teaching he devised and the pupils he taught at Rheims became the most important factor in the advancement of learning in northern Europe during the next two generations--particularly in enlarging the scope of the study of logic and in forwarding that reconquest of Greek thought which was the foundation of the medieval intellectual achievement. The later date, 1204, the year of the physical conquest of the Greek Empire of Constantinople, discloses through all the confusion of events the trend and limitations of western political thinking, and throws a dramatic light on the commercial domination of the Mediterranean, which had seemed so infinitely remote from the land-locked Europe of the tenth century and was now an accomplished fact. The restoration of the Mediterranean in European politics--its partial restoration as Europe's centre of gravity after a long decline--is one of the main influences in later medieval civilization. The intellectual conquest of Greek thought was much less complete by 1204 than most contemporaries would have believed: scholars were only on the edge of the natural science and metaphysics which so profoundly affected the thinking of the thirteenth century, and they were mostly quite ignorant of the Greek language and literature which only made their influence felt much later. Yet it may be questioned whether any of these later developments could compete in permanent importance with the embracing of Aristotelian logic in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

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