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The Middle Ages: Darkness or Light

Queen Crown on Old Book

Joseph von Keller firstly introduced the term «Middle Ages» in the seventeenth century. Actually, this cultural epoch lasted for ten centuries, from the fifth till the fifteenth. Nevertheless, the attitude to this phenomenon was very different through the ages. For quite a long period people called those times «Dark» as the barbarism flourished. Only at the beginning of the twentieth-century cultural scientists started to look over that epoch and have decided that it is a unique phenomenon (the time when Sorbonne was opened, the development of the culture, science, literature). Even now the interest for that epoch is high, cultural scientists all over the world explore it quite seriously. At the same time, the Middle Ages have many contradictions and contrast so it is totally worth your attention.

Formational Factors

1) The achievements of the Antiquity

2) Christianity

3) The oral culture of the barbarian tribes

Interesting Fact

Approximately at the 1000 year, the literature was written down in the monasteries and scriptoriums. Before that year, the culture and the literature of the barbarian tribes existed only orally. That demonstrates an ancient tradition of transmitting the texts from one generation to another. Here you have to understand that the messages could be changed, exaggerated and even more. Every tribe, which had the oral culture, had its own peculiarities and details. That poses a great interest for the explorers and literary critics. However, the written texts were not obtainable for the simple folks, only priests, shamans of some tribes could read, and only the richest people could afford to buy them.

Medieval Personality

Medieval personality was not a completed notion, but a partial one. They were not individuals, but the integral part of the society and nature. That is why such a person is not able to change his or her status, job or a place of living. Many people dream of living in that times, imagine themselves beautiful ladies or knights, but the chance to born in a rich family with noble roots is really tiny. Otherwise, you had to work hard to survive and fight with numerous diseases.

The Concepts of the Medieval Mentality

1) Spirituality

2) Symbolism

3) Hierarchy

4) Traditionalism or Anti-Modernity

5) Encyclopedicism or Versatility

In general, the medieval human lives to die one day. It means no perspectives, no hope and no chance to change something.

A Perfect Girl`s Image

Like any epoch, The Medieval Age had the ideal of one`s appearance. For example, the perfect image of the girl was next: she must be skinny and blonde, with thin eyebrows and thin leaps. Moreover, it was very important for her to keep in hands the Bible book or the beads.

Earlier, it was mentioned that one of the medieval mentality concept`s was the hierarchy. For example, in Heaven, it was God>archangels>angels. In the kingdom of people, it was the king>the clergy>the knights>the peasants and the townspeople. Such a society structure rested unchangeable, and one had to do something really extraordinary to move from one stratum to another.

There is one more thing you have to know for understanding that cultural epoch. Nowadays, we use hours to measure the time. But long ago, there were not clocks, and people woke up with the first sun rises and went to sleep when it was dark.

It means that nowadays we can read, watch TV or do whatever we want. The medieval people had to use the candles, which were extremely expensive, so one had no chances to do something in the evening. In other words, cultural scientists state that the time was linear and discrete. As for space, it existed only where the action took place.

The Attitude to Art

Middle Ages Artist

The artists of the Middle Ages believed that it had been nothing new to invent and the only thing they could do was to find out something already existing.

At the same time, medieval personality wanted to cover the whole world that is why there were different bestiaries and lapidaries. Pettily, but that kind of knowledge was very often fake and untruthful.


  1. Archaic or early Medieval Ages - from fifth till the eights century

    This period included only myths and early forms of folk literature.

  2. Mature Middle Ages - from ninth till the eleventh century

    Is famous for the heroic epos.

  3. High or Late Medieval Ages - from eleventh till the fifteenth century

    The final period is presented by all forms of literature.

If you want to learn the Medieval literature, you should start with the Celtic, Scandinavian and German epos. Well, it is not very easy to read, but it is worth it. Those stories are full of Gods, rituals, battles and pagan lifestyle in general.


No doubt that the most famous story is Beowulf.


It is an Anglo-Saxon poem, which was drawn up in the second part of the tenth century. It was written in the Old English using the Mercy dialect. As a poem hero, Beowulf has not the historical prototype.

He is a nephew of a Gothic king and had an inhuman power (it is so-called animalistic level). As an archaic hero, he had a magic sword called Hrunding that was of a giant size.

Beowulf accomplished three feats:

  • A battle with Grendel;
  • A battle with Grendel`s mother;
  • A battle with a dragon.

An attentive reader can notice that the every next feat is more and more difficult than the previous one. After the second feat, Beowulf is leaving in peace for fifty years. In the battle with the dragon, Beowulf dies.

There are many versions of the poem`s sense. The mythological critic`s school state that the battle between Beowulf and Grendel is a battle between summer and winter, warmth and cold. There is a point of view that Grendel is Cain`s descendant and that is where his anger is rooted.

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