The Axe and the Oath: Ordinary Life in the Middle Ages

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2012-03-25
  • Publisher: Princeton Univ Pr

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In The Axe and the Oath, one of the world's leading medieval historians presents a compelling picture of daily life in the Middle Ages as it was experienced by ordinary people. Writing for general readers, Robert Fossier vividly describes how these vulnerable people confronted life, from birth to death, including childhood, marriage, work, sex, food, illness, religion, and the natural world. While most histories of the period focus on the ideas and actions of the few who wielded power and stress how different medieval people were from us, Fossier concentrates on the other nine-tenths of humanity in the period and concludes that "medieval man is us." Drawing on a broad range of evidence, Fossier describes how medieval men and women encountered, coped with, and understood the basic material facts of their lives. We learn how people related to agriculture, animals, the weather, the forest, and the sea; how they used alcohol and drugs; and how they buried their dead. But The Axe and the Oathis about much more than simply the material demands of life. We also learn how ordinary people experienced the social, cultural, intellectual, and spiritual aspects of medieval life, from memory and imagination to writing and the Church. The result is a sweeping new vision of the Middle Ages that will entertain and enlighten readers.

Author Biography

Robert Fossier is professor emeritus of medieval history at the Sorbonne. He is the author of many books on medieval history and the editor of The Cambridge History of the Middle Ages.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Man and the World
Naked Manp. 3
A Fragile Creaturep. 3
An Ungainly Beingp. 3
Fairly Content with Himselfp. 5
But Are There Nonetheless Nuances?p. 8
But a Threatened Creaturep. 11
Does Man Really Know Himself?p. 11
"Abnormal" Assaults on Manp. 16
The Illness That Lies in Waitp. 19
The Black Deathp. 23
Can Those Men Be Counted?p. 27
The Ages of Lifep. 37
From the Child to the Manp. 38
Expecting a Babyp. 38
When the Child Arrivesp. 41
"Childhoods"p. 44
The Child in the Midst of the Familyp. 48
Man in His Private Lifep. 51
As Time Goes Byp. 52
Nourishing the Bodyp. 59
The Shaping of Tastep. 67
Adorning the Bodyp. 69
Man, Woman, and the Othersp. 77
The Two Sexes Face-to-Facep. 78
Sexual Concernsp. 82
Living by the Fire and by the Potp. 87
The Chains of Marriagep. 91
… And Their Locksp. 96
Kinp. 102
… And "Relations"p. 107
The Workplacep. 108
The Housep. 109
… And What Was Found in the Housep. 115
Man Is Born to Toilp. 117
But What Work?p. 121
And Tools?p. 127
The End of Lifep. 131
The Elderlyp. 132
The "Passage"p. 136
After Deathp. 139
Naturep. 145
The Weatherp. 145
The Paleo-Environmentp. 146
What Did They See or Feel?p. 149
Fire and Waterp. 154
Fire, the Symbol of Life and Deathp. 154
Saving and Beneficent Waterp. 157
The Sea, Horrible and a Temptressp. 160
The Products of the Earthp. 164
Mastering the Soilp. 165
Making the Earth Renderp. 168
Grasses and Vinesp. 171
The Trees and the Forestp. 175
The Forest, Overwhelming and Sacredp. 175
The Forest, Necessary and Nourishingp. 180
And the People of the Forest?p. 183
And the Animals?p. 186
Man and Beastp. 187
Fear and Disgustp. 187
Respect and Affectionp. 189
Knowing and Understandingp. 194
What Are the Beasts?p. 195
Penetrating This Worldp. 198
Utilize and Destroyp. 202
The Services of the Beastp. 203
Killing: Man's Jobp. 208
A Contrasting Balance Sheetp. 215
Man in Himselfp. 223
Living in a Groupp. 224
Why Come Together?p. 225
How to Assemble?p. 229
Where to Gather?p. 235
Laughter and Gamesp. 246
Precautions and Deviationsp. 252
Order and the "Orders"p. 254
Peace and Honorp. 260
Law and Powerp. 265
Gapsp. 276
And People from Elsewherep. 285
Knowledgep. 292
The Innatep. 293
Memoryp. 293
The Imaginaryp. 298
Measurementp. 303
Acquisitionsp. 310
Act, Image, Wordp. 312
Writingp. 317
What to Learn?p. 323
And Where?p. 329
Expressionp. 335
Who Wrote and What Did They Write?p. 336
For Whom and Why Did Authors Write?p. 341
The Artist's Partp. 343
And the Soulp. 348
Good and Evilp. 350
The End of Dualismp. 351
Virtue and Temptationp. 356
Sin and Pardonp. 362
Faith and Salvationp. 365
Dogma and the Rites of Medieval Christian Faithp. 366
The Churchp. 371
The Other Worldp. 376
Conclusionp. 382
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