Books Features

New Medieval Books: From Venice to Valhalla

Five new books about the Middle Ages that should be on your picnic table.

Sansovino’s Venice: A Translation of Francesco Tatti da Sansovino’s Guidebook to Venice of 1561

By Vaughn Hart and Peter Hicks

Yale University Press

This is the first English translation of Francesco Sansovino’s (1521–1586) celebrated guide to Venice, which was first published in 1561. One of the earliest books to describe the monuments of Venice for inquisitive travelers, Sansovino’s guide was written at a time when St. Mark’s Piazza was in the process of taking the form we see today.

Excerpt: A Venetian and a Foreigner

V.[enetian]: Tell me please, kind sir, what do you think of this city?

F.[oreigner]:If I were to tell you the truth, you would not believe me/

V.: No, please tell me, for by saying it you will be praising God.

F.: She (as far as I can tell) can only be the work of the divinity, whether because of her site via which the city receives everything she needs, or because of her marvellous buildings and the great congregation of peoples here. Indeed, I have just read that when the Pope asked Mariano Sozzino the Elder, a great jurist in his time, what he thought of the city on seeing it, the latter replied: ‘It seems to me a extraordinary thing because I have seen the impossible within the impossible’.

V.: What did he mean by this?

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The Norse Myths: A Guide to the Gods and Heroes 

By Carolyne Larrington

Thames and Hudson

Excerpt: Who were the Norse gods? Migrants from the Near East, journeying up through Germany to reach the promised Scandinavian homeland: humans like you and me, but smarter, handsomer, more civilized. Or so claimed one Christian writer, a medieval Icelander who recorded may of the myths and legends that have survived from the Scandinavian north. Medieval Christian scholars needed to explain why their ancestors worshipped false gods, and thus one widespread theory was that the pre-Christian gods were demons, wicked spirits sent by Satan to tempt humans into sin and error. But another very effective theory was the one put forward by Snorri Sturluson…

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The Holy Land in the Middle Ages: Six Travelers’ Accounts

Italica Press

This completely revised and updated edition presents texts written by medieval Christian, Muslim and Jewish travelers to the Holy Land, including:

  • St. Jerome, The Pilgrimage of Holy Paula, c.382 CE
  • Paula & Eustochium, Letter to Marcella on the  Holy Places, 386
  • Mukaddasi of Jerusalem, Description of Palestine, 985
  • Nâsir-i-Khusrau, Diary of a Journey through Syria and Palestine, 1047
  • Theoderich of Würzburg, Guide to the Holy Land, c.1172
  • Benjamin of Tudela, Description of the Holy Land, from his Itinerary, c.1173

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Medieval Urban Planning: The Monastery and Beyond

Edited by Mickey Abel

Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Excerpt: “Can We Call it Medieval Urban Planning?” was the title of a session presented at the 2014 meeting of the Society of Architectural Historians, which posited the notion of medieval urban planning against the modern job description of an Urban Planner. Distilling modern definitions of these concepts, the session adopted the foundational stance that urban planning is therefore half design and half social engineering. It is a process that evolves over time and considers not only the aesthetic and visual product, but also the economic, political and social implications, as well as the underlying or over-arching environmental impact of any given plan. In other words, it is multifaceted, dynamic, and quite resistant to static codification.

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Streams of Gold, Rivers of Blood: The Rise and Fall of Byzantium, 955 A.D. to the First Crusade

By Anthony Kaldellis

Oxford University Press

Excerpt: By following all the sources in detail and in tandem, I saw clearly for the first time patterns of imperial behavior that shaped both domestic and foreign policy. I also came to surprising conclusions, sometimes the opposite of what I expected to find. This was especially the case regarding the imperial collapse of the eleventh-century. For example, I was forced, against a Psellos-induced bias, to rehabilitate the military leadership of Konstantinos IX Monomachos. I also came to a completely different understanding of the behavior of the patriarch Michael Keroularios during the fateful summer of 1054. But more importantly, beyond the actions of specific individuals, I came to question a particular model of socioeconomic transformation that some sought to impose on this period.

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