Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Suicide in the Middle Ages, Vol. II: The Curse on Self-Murder

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Suicide in the Middle Ages, Vol. II: The Curse on Self-Murder

Article excerpt

Alexander Murray, Suicide in the Middle Ages, Vol. II: The Curse on Self-Murder (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000). xxiv + 620 pp. ISBN 0-19-- 820731-X. L30.00/$50.00.

Volume I of Alexander Murray's already monumental Suicide in the Middle Ages was reviewed in these pages by Mary Carruthers (vol. 69 (2000), 171-2), who justly paid tribute to the remarkable learning, energy, and acumen which lies behind this extraordinary project, one which not very long ago might have been thought either illusory or at least impossible of academic examination. Murray's studies indicate that, in spite of the lack of a general pattern of acceptance or condemnation by which to organize his topic, it is generally true to say that, depending on the culture, the intellectual reaction to suicide was different in the late Middle Ages from in the early in an extraordinary number of ways. This volume is concerned hardly at all, unlike the first, with the physical fact of suicide (which does, however, sometimes intrude), but rather with the intellectual and other constructions from which it sprang, or (more often) to which it gave birth. Still, it is not too much to say that, at least in the post-classical period, as organization increased, whether actually or intellectually, sympathy with suicide decreased. Thus when, following Diocletian's persecution, Christianity gained position and power, it did so in no small part because of the reorganization of Empire which Diocletian had put in hand, a reorganization without which Christianity would have been hard-pressed to spread as rapidly as it did. So understood, Constantine's conversion pointed the way towards Augustine's finally influential (if often modified) treatment of suicide, and the ideological program which made it possible to address the practice more critically, and apart from the usual resources which Roman Law and Roman Philosophy supplied. …

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