Inventing the Middle Ages


Our images of the Middle Ages--of wars, tournaments, and plagues, of kings and saints, of knights and ladies--are so vivid that it might be difficult to imagine them as modern conventions. In this ground-breaking work, medieval scholar Norman F. Cantor explores the lives, works, and "conjurings" of the great medievalists of the early 20th century.
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Our images of the Middle Ages--of wars, tournaments, and plagues, of kings and saints, of knights and ladies--are so vivid that it might be difficult to imagine them as modern conventions. In this ground-breaking work, medieval scholar Norman F. Cantor explores the lives, works, and "conjurings" of the great medievalists of the early 20th century.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
To 19th-century romantics, the Middle Ages were a justification for aesthetic passion and communal feeling. In contrast, the 20th century's picture of the Middle Ages stresses its synthesis of faith and reason, charismatic leadership of saints and heroes, formalist attitude to art and literature, and ideas of divine and human love. These constructs, argues New York University medievalist Cantor, are the product of such influential medievalists as Frederic Maitland, Erwin Panofsky, C. S. Lewis and Richard Southern. His sometimes provocative study combines intimate profiles of 20 medievalists with an assessment of the impact of their ideas on our image of the Middle Ages. Cantor unravels the ``common man's ethos'' in J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and discusses Eileen Power's searing indictment of the Middle Ages' marginalization of women. He invents his own Middle Ages: one that tells us to reject the ``regulatory and welfare state'' and reassert the values of civil society and ``tough love.'' (Dec.)
Library Journal
This book is much broader in scope than the title would imply. Part historiography, part biographical sketches, and part personal memoir, it explores the lives of the 20 scholars (19 men and one woman) whom Cantor perceives as ``the great medievalists'' of the period 1895-1965. His thesis is that Wilsonian idealism, World War II, the Nazi Holocaust, and the Cold War shaped the world views and the interpretations of the European and American scholars studying the Middle Ages. The book is based on Cantor's frequently brilliant, sometimes fanciful (he knew seven personally) analysis of the scholars' works; their obituary notices; and his memory of conversations that took place 40 or more years ago. Strong on the historians (predictably, since Cantor is a historian), respectable on the literary scholars, weak on the art historians, the book contains a mine of information, much of it anecdotal, about those discussed. Bristling with prejudices, judgments (in many cases wrongheaded), and predictions, clever and witty in style, it will command a wide audience in both academia and the informed reading public. For research and general collections. History Book Club selection. -- Bennett D. Hill, George town Univ., Washington, D.C.
Kirkus Reviews
Tracing the "quest" for the Middle Ages, Cantor (History, Sociology, Comparative Lit./N.Y.U.; Perspectives on the European Past, 1971, etc.) has drafted a riveting chapter of 20th-century intellectual history. In this penetrating, opinionated, colorful study, Cantor paints sharp portraits of 20 modern medievalists—some heroes, some "authoritarian egoists"—whose research has formed our vision of the Middle Ages. Delving into their psyches and explaining their brilliance and influence, Cantor shows that the writing of history is inextricably bound to the present, that historians like C.S. Lewis, Joseph Strayer (Eisenhower-era Princeton professor who worked for the CIA), or French Resistance hero Marc Bloch projected their personalities and the wider sociopolitical context onto their work. Percy Ernst Schramm and Ernst Kantorowicz's studies of medieval "kingship," written in 1920's Heidelberg, reflect their elitism (Cantor calls them "The Nazi Twins") and the anxieties of the unstable Weimar Republic, just as Frederic Maitland's work on English law breathes the modernism of Eliot and Kandinsky. Passionately involved in the field, Cantor confesses his biases and disappointments—e.g., that his Oxford don Richard Southern (The Making of the Middle Ages) failed to attain the pervasive influence of Marc Bloch, whose Feudal Society was the last half-century's other "most influential" book on medieval history. Never shy to label or judge, or to discuss the dark side of human motivation, Cantor claims that Bloch's "heritage of sanctity....was exploited to build a power-base for his Annalist colleagues and disciples." The Middle Ages, Cantor convincingly contends, has deep affinitiesto the 20th century not only in heritage (church, university, Anglo-American law, etc.) but as "the secret sharer of our dreams and anxieties." His final, fiery call for a "retromedievalism" that "reasserts the freedom of civil society" is extreme but provocative. Engrossing, insightful, and bound to ruffle in its characterizations and its claim for the Middle Ages as central to the struggle to understand the spiritual and intellectual crises of our own age.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786106998
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/28/1994
  • Format: Cassette
  • Edition description: 14 Cassettes
  • Product dimensions: 6.84 (w) x 9.65 (h) x 2.59 (d)

Meet the Author

Norman F. Cantor (1929–2004) was emeritus professor of history, sociology, and comparative literature at New York University. His academic honors included appointments as a Rhodes Scholar, Porter Ogden Jacobus Fellow at Princeton University, and Fulbright professor at Tel Aviv University. His earlier books include Inventing the Middle Ages, nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award, and The Civilization of the Middle Ages, one of the most widely read narratives of the Middle Ages in the English language.

Frederick Davidson (1932–2005), also known as David Case, was one of the most prolific readers in the audiobook industry, recording more than eight hundred audiobooks in his lifetime, including over two hundred for Blackstone Audio. Born in London, he trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and performed for many years in radio plays for the British Broadcasting Company before coming to America in 1976. He received AudioFile's Golden Voice Award and numerous Earphones Awards and was nominated for a Grammy for his readings.

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