Chapter Three is the first of a number of chapters on the period known as the ‘Middle Ages’. I’m uneasy with that label, as are most of the people who work on the times between the sack of Rome in the fifth century and the fall of Constantinople/’discovery’ of the new world in the fifteenth. But the problem of naming obviously doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be discussed.
I’d made a decision early on with this book that I didn’t want to move from Aristotle to Descartes (which often happens in philosophy) or to Machiavelli or Hobbes (as often happens in political theory). There are nearly two millennia between the death of Aristotle and those figures. Chapter Two looks at Rome, so that covers some of that period, but there is much more to be said. Nor did I want to simply take Augustine and Aquinas as two representatives. In time I came to realise that the roots of much of so-called ‘modern’ thought can be traced back to this time. ‘We are much less Greek than we believe’, as Foucault suggested.
Chapter Three begins with Augustine, and in particular ‘The City of God’, and reads him, along with Jerome and Paulus Orosius, in the context of the barbarian invasions. It then moves to readings of Boethius and Isidore of Seville and what they tried to preserve of the classical inheritance. The work of Boethius translating Greek thought into Latin is particularly important. Because so few people after him in the Latin west could read Greek, those texts that were not translated were effectively, if not literally, lost. Aristotle’s political works – the Politics, Ethics and Rhetoric – were unknown for centuries. That gets picked up in Chapter Five.
The chapter also tries to understand the different histories of the Germanic tribes within Western Europe – making use of Gregory of Tours on the Franks; Bede on the English; Isidore on the Goths; but also Paul the Deacon, Saxo Grammaticus, Jordanes and some others. It moves to a discussion of the Beowulf poem, looking at its land politics, both in terms of the economics of exchange, gifting and inheritance, but also a more ’geopolitical’ sense of conflict over land. This section draws heavily on a piece I published in Cultural Geographies last year, though that piece also discussed the other geographies of the poem.
The final part of the chapter – and the one that needed most work – was a discussion concerning property in land more generally. This touched on feudalism and the Domesday book. But I’ve decided to move that to Chapter Four, where it fits better thematically and chronologically. It also helps a bit with word count issues. It seems an obvious move now, but the division of material between these two chapters has caused me a lot of uncertainty. At one point they were a single chapter but even given the epic scale of this book and some of its chapters that was too much.
As with the previous chapters there were various stylistic things to resolve, some more recent references to add in – particularly Francis Oakley’s book Empty Bottles of Gentilism - and a need to tighten up the thematic links across chapters. This chapter has been sometime in the making too – I first drafted the material on Augustine in Tasmania in January 2006; the Beowulf discussion dates from early 2008; and much of the rest of the chapter was written later that year in Singapore.
The rearrangment of material makes for more work in Chapter Four, of course, and that was a chapter that already needed some new discussion around the Crusades. That’s for next week. I’m in Vancouver for the weekend.