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Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science, and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe

by

Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science, and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe Cover

 

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

After the long period of cultural decline known as the Dark Ages, Europe experienced a rebirth of scholarship, art, literature, philosophy, and science and began to develop a vision of Western society that remains at the heart of Western civilization today.

By placing the image of the Virgin Mary at the center of their churches and their lives, medieval people exalted womanhood to a level unknown in any previous society. For the first time, men began to treat women with dignity and women took up professions that had always been closed to them.

The communion bread, believed to be the body of Jesus, encouraged the formulation of new questions in philosophy: Could reality be so fluid that one substance could be transformed into another? Could ordinary bread become a holy reality? Could mud become gold, as the alchemists believed? These new questions pushed the minds of medieval thinkers toward what would become modern science.

Artists began to ask themselves similar questions. How can we depict human anatomy so that it looks real to the viewer? How can we depict motion in a composition that never moves? How can two dimensions appear to be three? Medieval artists (and writers, too) invented the Western tradition of realism.

On visits to the great cities of Europemonumental Rome; the intellectually explosive Paris of Peter Abelard and Thomas Aquinas; the hotbed of scientific study that was Oxford; and the incomparable Florence of Dante and GiottoCahill brilliantly captures the spirit of experimentation, the colorful pageantry, and the passionate pursuit of knowledge that built the foundations for the modern world. Bursting with stunning four-color art, MYSTERIES OF THE MIDDLE AGES is the ultimate Christmas gift book.

Review:

"Cahill's latest engaging romp through pop intellectual history (after Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea) focuses, despite the subtitle, not on fringe cults, but on the mainstream of medieval Roman Catholic thought. Instead of obscurantist dogma, he finds a ferment of implicitly progressive ideas that laid the groundwork for modernity. The veneration of the Virgin Mary, he contends, prompted a boost in women's status, exemplified by the mystic nun Hildegard of Bingen, who gained public status and power as a spiritual figure. The papacy's claim of spiritual authority independent from temporal power contained the seeds of modern notions about the separation of church and state, democracy and the legitimacy of political dissent. And the perennial head scratching over the doctrine of transubstantiation, he argues, stimulated the beginnings of both empirical science and artistic realism. Cahill's treatment is more impressionistic than systematic, and built around lively profiles of iconic medievals like Abelard and Hlose, Francis of Assisi and Giotto, whose paintings get a long, lavishly illustrated exegesis. The author wears his erudition lightly and leavens his writing with reader-friendly anachronisms, likening Hildegard to blues chanteuse Bessie Smith and calling the Franciscans 'the world's first hippies.' The result is a fresh, provocative look at an epoch that's both strange and tantalizingly familiar. Photos. Color illus. throughout." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

About the Author

THOMAS CAHILL is the author of four previous volumes in the Hinges of History series: How the Irish Saved Civilization, The Gifts of the Jews, Desire of the Everlasting Hills, and Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea. He and his wife, Susan, divide their time between New York City and Rome.

Product Details

ISBN:
9780385495554
Subtitle:
The Rise of Feminism, Science, and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe
Author:
Cahill, Thomas
Publisher:
Nan A. Talese
Subject:
Renaissance
Subject:
World - General
Subject:
World
Publication Date:
20061024
Binding:
Hardback
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
COLOR THROUGHOUT 68 HALFTONES
Pages:
368
Dimensions:
9.22x6.52x1.30 in. 1.63 lbs.

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Related Subjects

History and Social Science » Western Civilization » Medieval
History and Social Science » World History » Medieval and Renaissance

Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science, and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe Used Hardcover
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Product details 368 pages Nan A. Talese - English 9780385495554 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Cahill's latest engaging romp through pop intellectual history (after Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea) focuses, despite the subtitle, not on fringe cults, but on the mainstream of medieval Roman Catholic thought. Instead of obscurantist dogma, he finds a ferment of implicitly progressive ideas that laid the groundwork for modernity. The veneration of the Virgin Mary, he contends, prompted a boost in women's status, exemplified by the mystic nun Hildegard of Bingen, who gained public status and power as a spiritual figure. The papacy's claim of spiritual authority independent from temporal power contained the seeds of modern notions about the separation of church and state, democracy and the legitimacy of political dissent. And the perennial head scratching over the doctrine of transubstantiation, he argues, stimulated the beginnings of both empirical science and artistic realism. Cahill's treatment is more impressionistic than systematic, and built around lively profiles of iconic medievals like Abelard and Hlose, Francis of Assisi and Giotto, whose paintings get a long, lavishly illustrated exegesis. The author wears his erudition lightly and leavens his writing with reader-friendly anachronisms, likening Hildegard to blues chanteuse Bessie Smith and calling the Franciscans 'the world's first hippies.' The result is a fresh, provocative look at an epoch that's both strange and tantalizingly familiar. Photos. Color illus. throughout." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
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