If a certain idea of the Middle Ages – gloomy, immobile and backward – is behind us, if we have freed ourselves from the stereotype of a barbarous middle age good only to make the Renaissance shine even more, the credit goes in particular to a curious French. , with an open mind, often portrayed with a pipe in his hand, a lover of music and good food: Jacques Le Goff (Toulon 1924 – Paris 2014). It was he, pillar of the glorious group of “Annals– called to be part of it by another legend, Fernand Braudel – to clarify the many faces of the Middle Ages from his earliest works, to underline the links between culture and economy, between sociology and anthropology, between individual attitudes and collective mentality. “For me, research is pure joy,” he said. He proved this in his books. Starting from The civilization of the medieval West, second issue in the Corriere series.
“I felt like I was a diver who has discovered a treasure in the depths of the sea or a mountaineer who has climbed a peak from which the world appears to him in its entirety “, said Le Goff in an interview with the Corriere in 1999. He was talking about that book, which was first published in 1964: the essay by a scholar who courageously revolutionized the image of Europe between the 10th and 13th centuries, a period that he defines «the choice of an open world against a closed world, the option for growth in a broader perspective. A decisive moment in the evolution of the West “(from the preface of the 1981 edition).
The perspective, in fact. Temporal and anthropological. Le Goff observes, studies, analyzes, compares. He removes the chains of the Middle Ages and illuminates it with his humanism that distinguishes the “time of the Church” and the “time of the merchant”, which probes the common imagination, identifies the new “space” (and with him a new vision of the world ) of Purgatory, reviews works and professions, tells the story of the farmer, the merchant and the soldier, the struggle for survival and the great architectural feats, the city and the village. It brings back a free and vital season because – unlike what happens now – it does not fear death (if ever it is of the night that is terrified). It is the author himself who writes it: “Do you think the reader that all the people of the Middle Ages for their part thought only of escaping their time, of reaching the afterlife, Heaven, and that, among the many fears that have made to tremble, the weakest was the fear of dying: death, the great absent from medieval iconography before the 14th century ».
Necessary warning: Le Goff is not the cantor of a Middle Ages idealized, shiny, clean and well organized. It does not lend itself to bucolic nostalgia, or easy passatisms. Not even the central centuries, those he defines as “the true beginning of the present West”, are described as immune from violence, from cruelty, from the constant terror of famine and disease, from a “restless” Church that controls the faithful by frightening them. The French historian faces the time span from the year 1000 to the Black Death without hiding its “primitive” aspects. But he insists on one point: his undeniable creative power. The impetus for change.
The study of space and time, «disputed between the bells of the clerics and the cry of secular schools “, of material culture and mentality, social realities and structures of power, the Church and religion, discoveries: it is no coincidence that Umberto Eco recommended reading The civilization of the medieval West to those who really want to know the Middle Ages in all its forms. And not only for the many shades that today seem so “normal” to us when it comes to the “middle age” and that Le Goff illuminates with his vivid brushstrokes. But also for his clear and passionate writing – which does not detract from scientific rigor. Le Goff-Eco: again it is no coincidence that the two greatest sponsors of the Middle Ages were linked by chance. And even if the layman Le Goff was able to criticize the “bloodthirsty” portrait of the inquisitor Bernardo Gui del Name of the rose, defending instead the guarantor nature of the tribunal of heretics, in the same way fu always the historian to act as a consultant for the cinematographic transposition of Eco’s bestseller in the version of Jean-Jacques Annaud (with a superb Sean Connery in the role of Guglielmo da Baskerville).
Madonna Poverty, God and Satan, the pilgrim, the cleric, the crusader, the citizen. Le Goff embraces the “beautiful” Middle Ages of growth (which, however, ingeniously inserts into a “long” Middle Ages: a millennium and a half from the third century to the mid-nineteenth “whose essential system is constituted by feudalism”) with his deep knowledge, he expresses a concept and adds a legend, a poem, a quote. It “shows” the Middle Ages, makes it concrete and alive. Falling in love with history with him is easy.
The New Title: The Deepest Structures of Western Civilization
The book by the French historian Jacques Le Goff (1924-2014) is out on newsstands on 12 February with the “Corriere della Sera” The civilization of the medieval West, on sale at the price of € 8.90 plus the cost of the newspaper. After his debut with Johan Huizinga’s masterpiece (The autumn of the Middle Ages), this is the second issue of the new series “Middle Ages” edited by the historian Franco Cardini, professor emeritus at the Institute of Human and Social Sciences. Le Goff belonged to the “Annales” school (he was still co-editor of the magazine, founded in 1929 by Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre, which gives the name to that line of studies), so his attention is not directed to single events (treatises, battles, invasions, elections of popes, ascent of sovereigns), but to the so-called “long duration”, the economic, technological, demographic, cultural, spiritual, but also climatic changes, which affect the overall life of an historical epoch, both for as regards the ruling classes, both in reference to the humblest strata of the population. So this book tells «the Middle Ages of the depths, of the foundations, of the structures», as Le Goff himself writes. The result is a vivid portrait of “a rural society which is changing very slowly, which thrives on its long persistence and which expresses itself better in folklore than in history”. The third volume of the series, out on Friday 19 February, is The Papacy. Antiquity, Middle Ages, Renaissanceof Bernhard Schimmelpfennig, (19 febbraio). Seguirà: Julius von Schlosser, The art of the Middle Ages(February 26).
February 11, 2021 (change February 11, 2021 | 20:56)