Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Other Middle Ages: Witnesses at the Margins of Medieval Society

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Other Middle Ages: Witnesses at the Margins of Medieval Society

Article excerpt

Other Middle Ages: Witnesses at the Margins of Medieval Society. Edited by Michael Goodich. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 1998. Pp. viii, 265. $39.95 cloth; $18.50 paperback.)

Medieval Europeans, like people in even age and region, found it difficult, often distasteful, to deal equitably with persons who ostentatiously deviated from the norms by which mainstream elements in their society defined proper belief and behavior. One consequence of this was that people on the fringes of medieval society were apt to be ignored, in which case they left scant trace in the historical record. Those who attracted attention were apt to be pursued, isolated, or persecuted, in order to force them to conform to mainstream behavior or, failing that, to eliminate them from the community altogether.

In Other Middle Ages Michael Goodich has assembled six sets of texts in English translation to illustrate the problems that medieval minority groups faced. The first set deals with Jews whose lot, Goodich notes, worsened substantially after the middle of the twelfth century. From being a tolerated minority during the earlier Middle Ages,Jews were increasingly cast as enemies of the Christian faith and traitors to civil society, with the usual unpleasant consequences. The second group of texts deals with Jewish converts who subsequently apostatized from their adopted faith. A third and much larger deviant group comprised those who flouted medieval sexual conventions, with whom Goodich rather oddly classes those who suffered from leprosy Fourth in this catalogue of the despised we find mentally unstable persons thought to be possessed hy the devil and his minions, including those unfortunate souls whose derangement led them to suicide. …

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