Five new books about the Middle Ages!
By Christopher de Hamel
Excerpt: The most celebrated illuminated manuscript in the world are, to most of us, as inaccessible in reality as very famous people. To a large extent, anyone with stamina and a travel budget can get to see many of the great paintings and architectural monuments, and may stand today in the presence of the Great Wall of China or Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. But try – just try – to have the Book of Kells removed from its glass case in Dublin so that you can turn the pages. It won’t happen. The majority of the greatest medieval manuscripts are now almost never on public exhibition at all, even in the darkened display cases, and if they are, you can only see a single opening. They are too fragile and too precious. It is easier to meet the Pope or the President of the United States than it is to touch the Tres Riches Heures of Duc de Berry. Access gets harder, year by year. The idea of this book, then, is to invite the reader to accompany the author on a private journey to see, handle and interview some of the finest illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages.
By Martin Carver
Boydell and Brewer
Excerpt: There are many Sutton Hoo stories to tell, but they can be marshalled into two: what happened here, and how we know. Chapters 1-3 tell the story of how Sutton Hoo was discovered and explored, taking the three great campaigns in turn. Chapters 4-6 attempt a summary evocation of the life and times of this little piece of England over some 5,000 years and turn them into a narrative. And in Chapter 7 I discuss current perceptions of what it all means, inspired by Sutton Hoo’s broad community of critical friends.
By Kirsten Thomson
There is the fleeting glamour of Baghdad’s capture and the Cutting of the Canal ceremony, followed by the desperation within and outside the palaces as Cairo fell into anarchy and starvation. The political capability of the wazir al-Jarjarai contrasts powerfully with the furious egotism of al-Yazuri, the graspong of the Tustaris and the all-encompassing might of Badr al-Jamali. At times events verge on the comic – such as when the squabbling Coptic bishops are ordered sent to Abyssinia to build mosques – the outrageous, as with Sayyida Rasad and her astonishingly violent approach to politics, and the tragic. In the middle of it all, al-Mustansir offers a surprisingly rounded picture of a man who simply was not equal to all the tasks he had been set in life.
By James Paz
Manchester University Press
Excerpt: Things could talk in Anglo-Saxon literature and material culture. Many of these Anglo-Saxon things are still with us today and are still talkative. Nonhuman voices leap out from the Exeter Book riddles, telling us where they came from, how they were made, how they do or do not act. In The Husband’s Message, runic letters are borne and a first-person speech is delivered by some kind of wooden artefact. Readers of The Dream of the Rood in the Vercelli Book will come across a tree possessing the voice of a dreaming human in order to talk about its own history as a gallows and a rood. In Andreas, in the same manuscript, we read about stone angels emerging from the wall into which they have been carved, speaking and walking and raising the dead.
By Albrecht Classen
Excerpt: Recent years have experienced a growing interest in ecocritical approaches also in Medieval Studies, offering innovative perspectives on literature, the visual arts, historical documents, the history of medicine, etc., and this directly on the heels of ecocritical research regarding the postmodern world. The relationship between humans and their natural environment has always mattered significantly, but it is not so easy to gain good insights into how people have viewed that relationship in the past, as much as it has impacted all aspects of life both today and in the previous world.