The “Not so dark Ages”
Literature and nonfiction about the early medieval era.
The dark ages, a hole in history from antiquity till the medieval era. A time when most think civilization stagnated and the western world reverted to its base instincts. This thinking could not be more wrong, as this era from the 4th to the 11th century was one of the most influential eras in the history of western civilization. It was a time of migration, change, exploration and a time that saw the creation of some of our greatest works of art and literature. I’ve always had a great academic interest in this time, and here are some books to introduce you to the era.
Anglo-Saxon art : a new history / Leslie Webster – Anglo-Saxon culture is one of the bedrocks of western civilization, and this book gives a glimpse at their extraordinary art. The book was written after the discovery of the “Staffordshire Hoard”, a a huge collection of coins and other objects, and hence offers a very up to date look at the art of the Germanic Anglo Saxons and the Celtic and Roman influences that all melded to create what we know as “England”.
Beowulf : a new verse translation / Seamus Heaney – Beowulf is one of the only surviving examples of Germanic “epic poetry”. Thought to have been written down in Christan Anglo Saxon England, the poem shows many signs of coming from an older Norse/Germanic pagan and oral traditions. The story itself is a wonderful read, and its influences on the “hero” can be seen in stories written even today.
How the Irish Saved Civilization / Thomas Cahill – Cahill is a prolific author of popular nonfiction that is both informative and easy to read for those wanting an introduction to a topic, and How the Irish Saved Civilization is no different. The book focuses on the contributions of Irish monastics between the fall of Rome and high middle ages in the preservation and translation of classical works of literature, philosophy, and science that wouldn’t rise to prominence in the Christian world until the renaissance.
Vikings! / Magnus Magnunson – Magnunson’s book is a classic starting point for understanding who the vikings
where and their enormous impact on European history. Magnuson creates a portrait of a dynamic people with great contradictions. Warriors who also set the stage for modern trade and some of the greatest explorers and seaman in history who literally left their marks from Russia to Iceland to Canada.
God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215 / David Levering Lewis – This book explores the
situation that gave rise to Islam, namely the weaknesses of the Persian and Eastern Roman empires and how the great cosmopolitan cities of Muslim Spain (Al-Andalus) produced such great minds as Ibn Rushd and Musa ibn Maymun, preserving classical civilization in a society where Muslims, Jews and Christians lived in relative harmony for centuries.
Lewis Parsons is a Librarian at the Sawyer Free Library