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Lunch » Tags » Book » Reviews » Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science, and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe » User review

Greek matrix populated by Judeo-Christian content

  • Aug 14, 2008
Rating:
+3
This book is greatly readable as are all of Cahill's "Hinge of History" series (this the fifth), but less satisfying to me than the others. In this entry Cahill ties together the roots of history from

--Judaism (The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels (Hinges of History)),

--Jesus (Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus (Hinges of History))

and

--Greece (Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter)

as preserved by the Irish (How the Irish Saved Civilization (Hinges of History).

As Cahill summarizes in conclusion, Western civilization is a Greek matrix populated by Judeo-Christian content.

In the leap from Roman times to the High Middle Ages of the 12th and 13th Century, Cahill must cover so much territory that this books feels more like a rushed survey than the deeper but still accessible studies of the earlier books. In addition, because the sequence of the books has not been strictly chronological, Cahill must (especially early on) make frequent footnote references to the earlier books, a technique as confusing and potentially distracting as a movie told in out-of-sequence flashbacks.

But this book is like the others well and purposefully illustrated, and Cahill's ability to phrase old events and idea in living language enables fresh light to dawn on long-dark events. My favorite bit from this book is an English Carol (uncertain of date, but probably from the time period of this book)) called "My Dancing Day", as Cahill writes

"a love story in which Christ the Lord seeks out Mankind his Beloved in order to welcome human beings back into 'the general dance', the fantastic, if hidden, harmony of creation. In a searching theological exposition, such a thought might not appear simple, but here it is presented as if in a child's picture book."

1. Tomorrow shall be my dancing day;
I would my true love did so chance
To see the legend of my play,
To call my true love to my dance;

Chorus
Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love1

2. Then was I born of a virgin pure
Of her I took fleshly substance
Thus was I knit to man's nature
To call my true love to my dance. Chorus

3. In a manger laid, and wrapped I was
So very poor, this was my chance
Betwixt an ox and a silly poor ass
To call my true love to my dance. Chorus

4. Then afterwards baptized I was;
The Holy Ghost on me did glance,
My Father's voice heard from above,
To call my true love to my dance. Chorus

5. Into the desert I was led,
Where I fasted without substance;
The Devil bade me make stones my bread,
To have me break my true love's dance. Chorus

6. The Jews on me they made great suit,
And with me made great variance,
Because they loved darkness rather than light,
To call my true love to my dance. Chorus

7. For thirty pence Judas me sold,
His covetousness for to advance:
Mark whom I kiss, the same do hold!
The same is he shall lead the dance. Chorus

8. Before Pilate the Jews me brought,
Where Barabbas had deliverance;
They scourged me and set me at nought,
Judged me to die to lead the dance. Chorus

9. Then on the cross hanged I was,
Where a spear my heart did glance;
There issued forth both water and blood,
To call my true love to my dance. Chorus

10. Then down to hell I took my way
For my true love's deliverance,
And rose again on the third day,
Up to my true love and the dance. Chorus

11. Then up to heaven I did ascend,
Where now I dwell in sure substance
On the right hand of God, that man
May come unto the general dance. Chorus

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More Mysteries of the Middle Ages: ... reviews
review by . July 14, 2007
Though an engaging writer, Cahill is an appallingly bad historian. He compares the medieval nun Hildegard of Bingen to blues singer Bessie Smith (Hildegard's lyrics display a spiritualized eroticism) and the woman in bondage in The Story of O and refers to Desperate Housewives and Sex and the City in the same passage. ("This was one loose sister," is his characterization of Hildegard.) He compares Dante to James Joyce on the grounds that both were exiles infatuated with their mother cities. He characterizes …
review by . July 14, 2007
Though an engaging writer, Cahill is an appallingly bad historian. He compares the medieval nun Hildegard of Bingen to blues singer Bessie Smith (Hildegard's lyrics display a spiritualized eroticism) and the woman in bondage in The Story of O and refers to Desperate Housewives and Sex and the City in the same passage. ("This was one loose sister," is his characterization of Hildegard.) He compares Dante to James Joyce on the grounds that both were exiles infatuated with their mother cities. He characterizes …
review by . December 27, 2006
Ahhh, politics and religion, those perennial topics of heated debate. I enjoyed Mysteries with its lovely "illuminations" and thought provoking juxtaposition of ideas. As in most works of its type, Mysteries is the presentation of one man's interpretations of certain historical personalities, movements and events, and their impact upon future events. Because this involves a heavy injection of personal opinion and, inevitably, because the author is human, bias, it is not surprising that this book …
About the reviewer
Todd Stockslager ()
Ranked #38
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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Cahill's latest engaging romp through pop intellectual history (afterSailing the Wine-Dark Sea) focuses, despite the subtitle, not on fringe cults, but on the mainstream of medieval Roman Catholic thought. Instead of obscurantist dogma, he finds a ferment of implicitly progressive ideas that laid the groundwork for modernity. The veneration of the Virgin Mary, he contends, prompted a boost in women's status, exemplified by the mystic nun Hildegard of Bingen, who gained public status and power as a spiritual figure. The papacy's claim of spiritual authority independent from temporal power contained the seeds of modern notions about the separation of church and state, democracy and the legitimacy of political dissent. And the perennial head scratching over the doctrine of transubstantiation, he argues, stimulated the beginnings of both empirical science and artistic realism. Cahill's treatment is more impressionistic than systematic, and built around lively profiles of iconic medievals like Abelard and Héloïse, Francis of Assisi and Giotto, whose paintings get a long, lavishly illustrated exegesis. The author wears his erudition lightly and leavens his writing with reader-friendly anachronisms, likening Hildegard to blues chanteuse Bessie Smith and calling the Franciscans "the world's first hippies." The result is a fresh, provocative look at an epoch that's both strange and tantalizingly familiar. Photos. Color illus. throughout.(Oct. 24)
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ISBN-10: 0385495552
ISBN-13: 978-0385495554
Author: Thomas Cahill
Genre: History
Publisher: Nan A. Talese
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