Lecture Notes:  Medieval Synthesis


Germanic culture:  “Party-hardy”—action oriented, fight, drink, make love, seek power, restless.  Norsemen:  Comitatus:  Group of men serve leader in exchange for plunder.  Optimism in this life, pessimism in the next life (mythology).

Classical/Christian:  Detached from this life, more discussion-oriented, rational, even if mystical, thinking, contemplative, seeking repose, mental peace.  Pessimism in this life, optimistic in next.


Germanic mythology pessimistic, only case known of belief that the good gods lose, not win.  Gotterdamerung, the death of the gods, vs. party-hardy spirit now.

Thor—thunder; Wotan—king; Balder—beauty, springtime, Loki—trickster. Vahalla, like heaven, Valkries take fallen soldiers there.


*Augustine:  Christian mother, pagan father.  Became a Manichaean—Mani—Persian prophet, born 215—elect group, celibate, strong dualism, like Zoroastrianism:  Wisdom gives release of soul from the darkness of the world.  Dualism not complete, since God the Creator.

Mistress, had son Adeodatus, robbed orchard of pears incident, fun in destruction particularly bad.  Fideism issue:  Not full-blooded in this regard.

Had puritanical side, especially on sexual morality. 

Neoplatonic influence—eternal principles vs. transitory physical objects.

City of God—pagan city vs. believing, ultimate resolution in judgment.


Use reading vs. p. 377 in text, cf. pp. 347, 240 also.


*Boethius:  Was Roman consul 50 years after it ended!  While in prison waiting to be executed for treason wrote Consolation of Philosophy.  Preserved by his translations Aristotle’s ideas on logic in the west.  Presents a man troubled by his fate talking to a stately woman who is philosophy personified.  Discusses fortune, chance, happiness, etc.

Eternal Now idea.


*Feudalism:  Central authority weak, delegate power of govt. to individuals, reduces taxes to central authority; instead nobles owes military service in exchange for land of the king’s.

Lord’s relationship with vassal, later gains land (fief) if supplies fighting men when king calls.  Demesne, di-man:  A village and farmland nearby run by a knight.


*Manorialism:  Isolated, self-sufficient, subsistence farming vs. commercial farming, tied to market.  All daily life in an area of about 1000 aces, including church and lord’s house, village.  Half of land the Lord’s own, farmed for so many days in week by peasants, gave so much produce to lord, each serf got so much land.  Commons for grazing, fuel.  No formal education, little news from outside, fairly secure, but poverty stricken, isolated.

Client-patron:  Paternalism, sacrifice freedom for security, sacrifice land, ability to change jobs for protection.


*Charlemagne:  First Holy Roman Emperor (800 A.D.).  A key church/state entanglement here begins, ultimately damages German and Italian national unity.  Ruled much of France, Germany, Northern Italy, Low Countries.  Aachen chapel looks somewhat like church of San Vitale (text, pp. 327, 347), but it appears the two are overall different despite contrary claims made in the past.  His culture used wood normally, but imported stone masonry here.  Salvaged classical columns from ruins, symbolic of oriented towards past.  Barely literate himself, but appreciated classical teaching:  Brought Alcuin in from England to teach at palace school.  Encouraged collecting and copying manuscripts.


*Beowulf:  Southern Swedish warrior,  goes to uncle’s court in Denmark to kill monster Grendel.   Carries home monster’s arm and shoulder. Victory celebration, men sleep on floor afterwards, monster’s mother kills some men, takes back trophy. 

Beowulf goes to cave in swamp—kills the hag monster.  Later, as chief in tribe, fights dragon, mortally wounded.  Funeral pyre—ship/tomb to be landmark for Viking ships at sea. 

Warrior Code Values:  Adventure, courage, revenge, death, honor; never tender, kind, sympathetic; doesn’t weep for fallen comrades, but vows revenge. 

Text, p. 352 (quote).  Compare Homer?


Chieftan’s balancing act as landlord:  Warrior code vs. being good administrator.  Tamed warriors some.  Norsemen increasingly settle down.


*Song of Roland:  Superficially Christianized, but still fierce.  Written in French in 1090’s, during first Crusade.  Legendarily about Muslims ambushing Charlemagne’s army’s rearguard at Pyrenees pass by Roncevaux.  Ganelon:  arranged ambush vs. Roland.  All killed ultimately.  Roland, Oliver, and Archbishop Turpin, last ones left.  Roland belatedly blows horn of ivory, called an oliphant, after refusing to do so earlier, but it’s too late.  Charlemagne does return, chaptures Ganelon, puts him on trial.  Roland’s sould goes to heaven with angels Michael & Gabriel.

Poem:  vigorous, active, restless spirit of Germanic soldier, brave in face of high odds, devoted to God, loyal to friends.  Still militaristic, savage, Christian aspect an overlay.

Archbishop Turpin:  still kills, uses mace/morningstar instead of sword, since shouldn’t draw blood.  God is a sovereign lord, with Roland offering glove at death as vassal, a way to pledge loyalty as one. 


*Crusades:  1099—Took Jerusalem:  1st one only successful one.  Muslims see as unprovoked, bad reputation since.  Saladin & 3rd Crusade.

Increase trade, booty taken home increases taste for luxurious living:  Sugar, rice, citrus fruits, melons, cotton, silk. 


*Eleanor of Aquitaine:  Went with 1st husband, Louis VII of France on 2nd Crusade in 1147.  Shows influence of aristocratic women.  Adopted ideas from sophisticated culture of Constantinople.  Courts of love:  daughter, Marie of Champagne and granddaughter Blanche of Castile, also developed.  Wrote legal-sounding codes of etiquette written.  Lyrical love songs composed and sung by aristocratic troubadours.  Replaces epic tales of warriors in bloody battles.  Real beginning of romantic love ideas between individuals vs. arranged marriages made by parents.  Values of kindness, love, humility.


Chivalry helps to recivilize Europe even when broken often, this code.  What are the difference in values from the Germanic Warrior Code, and the similarities?


Rise of Marioltry, Mary as kind intercessor with God, not Jesus as Protestants might say in past 200 years.