The Terror of History: On the Uncertainties of Life in Western Civilization

By Teofilo F. Ruiz | Go to book overview

PREFACE

IN EARLY FALL 2005 with throngs of tourists still in oppressive display and warmed by a shimmering Tuscan sun, I meandered through the streets of Florence, seeking, in the Oltrarno piazza di Santo Spirito, some relief from the crowds. Thinking already of this book, I tried to imagine what it would have been like to walk through the city in 1348. Though reliving the past is not always advisable or even desirable, to a present-day visitor 1348 Florence would have been both uncannily familiar and unfamiliar. For one, the smells, noise, and activity of a medieval city, especially one as large as Florence which had around 100,000 inhabitants early that year, would have shaken the modern sensibilities of most Westerners. Yet, the significant landmarks that twentieth-first-century tourists seek so devoutly and in such appalling numbers— the Duomo, the Palazzo Vecchio, the piazza de la Signoria, the Ponte Vecchio, or the Franciscan church of Santa Croce— already dominated the city’s landscape in the mid-fourteenth century. Nothing however would have prepared the modern traveler for the horror that beset Florence and other parts of Europe later that year.

Although we may know—thanks to the works of many historians that provide comprehensive accounts of the Black Death and its impact—far better than Florentines did in 1348 all the social, economic, cultural, and demographic consequences of the plague, we have unwittingly reduced the historicizing of these events to mere scholarship. In doing so, we

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The Terror of History: On the Uncertainties of Life in Western Civilization
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • I - The Terror of History 1
  • II - Religion and the World to Come 35
  • III - The World of Matter and the Senses 83
  • IV - The Lure of Beauty and Knowledge 129
  • Conclusion 167
  • Index 173
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