Friday, September 18, 2009

Guest Post by Jeri Westerson: Don't Call 'Em Dark Ages

I'm pleased to be part of Jeri Westerson's 2009 fall blog tour for her new novel, Serpent in the Thorns, which will be released on September 29. As part of it, here's a guest post from Jeri:

Don’t Call ‘Em Dark Ages

By Jeri Westerson

Continuing my blog tour to promote my newest Crispin Guest Medieval Noir novel, SERPENT IN THE THORNS, I’ve been discussing the various erroneous thoughts people seem to harbor about this most interesting period, the Middle Ages.

One mistaken idea was that this period in time was “Dark” as in “Dark Ages.” Everyone was just waiting around for the Renaissance. It must have been so tedious being in the dark and waiting to be enlightened!

Scholars of any repute do not refer to the Middle Ages as the “Dark Ages.” This usually means the period between 500 and 800 AD. We call this the “Early Middle Ages.” The Early Middle Ages has also been called the “Gothic Period,” but this is also an insult, although an acceptable one. The Italians in the first throes of the Renaissance referred to some of the old, outdated architecture from this early period as “Gothic,” in other words, created by uncivilized barbarians like the Goths who hacked their way through Europe from Germany. (No, they weren’t wearing black lipstick and nail polish with a cynical take on the world.) These were some of the original barbarians (along with the Vandals of Spain. Ain’t history fun?) The Visigoths were the fellows who sacked Rome in 410 and cut a swath in the Empire, tolling its death knell.

The period from 900 to 1100 is referred to as the “High Middle Ages,” and the period between 1200 and 1500 is considered the “Late Middle Ages,” just in case you wondered.

The notion that the Middle Ages was a stopping point in man’s creativity and scientific exploration is ridiculous. The medieval period—a period roughly between 500 and 1500 AD—was coined by the Victorians. “Medieval” means “middle ages,” that is, the period between the classical period of Greece and Rome and the modern (Victorian) era.

One thousand years is a long time. And in that period, there were many innovations, not the least of which is the button and the button hole. There was also the growing science of optics, begun in earnest in the Muslim world around 800 AD, including the notion that the speed of light was finite. The discussion of optics didn’t reach medieval Europe till about the twelfth century and between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, monks were using “reading stones,” crystal orbs cut in half for magnifying tiny writing.

Optics for glasses didn’t come about till the sixteenth century and lenses for microscopes and telescopes a bit later.

Paper was created in the 1200s, which was handy for all that printing that was about to happen on those printing presses with moveable type, invented in 1440 or so, by the German goldsmtih Johannes Gutenburg.

The hourglass and then the clock were also medieval inventions. The first tower clock in London got to ticking in 1288. Time pieces were first created so that monks and nuns could follow the Divine Office, a series of prayers done in set times throughout the day. Bells were rung to let the populace know when these hours of prayers arrived. Eventually these time pieces became more and more sophisticated.

But before that, there was the sundial, invented in this time period, along with astrolabes for figuring latitudes, and compasses for naval navigation.

Yup, as you can see, they were just sitting around twiddling their thumbs. In the dark. Do you ever get the feeling you were cheated in school all those years ago?


Jeri tries not to cheat in her medieval noir novels. You can read more about her latest release, SERPENT IN THE THORNS, on her website

Thanks for stopping by, Jeri!


Meghan said...

I realized that I'd been cheated in school when I hit college and discovered this fascinating period no one had bothered to tell me about! Wonderful guest post! I get so annoyed when people talk about the Dark Ages because they are not called that anymore. I must read Jeri's books now.

Barbara Martin said...

People today tend to think of themselves as being enlightened over those who lived a thousand or more years ago. A shame really.

By providing a fresh look into the Middle Ages from historical texts assists in the creativity of writers.

An excellent post.

Jeri Westerson said...

Meghan and Barbara, thanks for leaving a comment. And Susan, thanks for having me (I was camping this weekend without internet access. And yes, it was lovely.)