The Middle Ages

Today I was listening to a radio programme where various talking heads were chatting about the Middle Ages.

It got me thinking that the “Middle Ages” is rather an odd term. Created by nineteenth-century academics and historians, it more or less means the “middle” period between the fall of Western Rome (in the fifth century) and the “rebirth” of classical learning that began in Italy in the fourteenth century and was in full swing by the fifteenth century. In other words, it was seen as the dark middle period between ancient Greco-Roman greatness and our own obvious modern greatness. Apparently nothing much existed in those thousand years except Viking raids, plagues, unwashed peasants, heretic burnings, knights slaughtering infidels, and monks—oh, so many monks.

People back then didn’t think that they were living in the “middle” of anything. In fact, given that many lived in fear of the impending apocalypse, they would have been more likely to see themselves as living in the “End Ages.”

If you’ve ever stood in a gothic cathedral, read an Arthurian romance, or viewed a stunning illuminated manuscript, you have seen that the people of the time weren’t exactly uncivilized or uncultured; their music was pretty amazing, too. We need to be a little careful about proclaiming our superiority. Who knows? Maybe by the thirty-first century, they’ll be classifying our era as the “late” Middle Ages—remember when people used to believe that reality TV was entertaining, the obsession with Facebook, and Donald Trump was a great president ? They will also probably think ” What a bunch of tossers!”

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