Tag Archives: serf

There are bad times just around the corner

Everything in the Holy Roman Empire was humming along smoothly—everybody did their jobs according to whatever social class they were born to. If a serf were unhappy with serfdom, there wasn’t much he could do about it. That serf may well have believed no one else shared his feelings. It was difficult to know what the serfs on other manors were thinking because there weren’t many ways to communicate with people other than directly, in person. There weren’t any newspapers. No call-in radio talk show hosts to point out the absurdity of the feudal system. No social media because no internet. A meeting place like a church was strictly controlled by clergy and nobility—the people in charge.

However, a great comfort of studying history is to realize that no matter how bleak things may seem, no state of affairs will last forever. Things can always get worse.

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

From their lips to God’s ears

My take on Saint Jerome in his study by one of my heroes, Albrecht Dürer. Who doesn’t have a human skull laying around in one’s study?

As we saw in ancient Egypt, there’s a down side to concentrating literacy exclusively into one thin slice of the population. The Egyptian scribes had protected their monopoly on hieroglyphics. Their world fell apart when the Phoenicians invented the alphabet. Was that about to happen again?

In mediæval Europe, literacy gave the clergy access to the Bible. They encouraged the idea that access to the Bible meant access to G-d, and that regular shmoes needed the clergy to talk to G-d on their behalf.* I don’t condemn the clergy entirely for doing this. Probably most were doing their best to keep a faithful interpretation of G-d’s Word (there were some wacky interpretations and heresies back then). Friends, that’s a lot of responsibility. It’s a great temptation to assign power to oneself. As we will see, the clergy would give in to that temptation.

*Saint Jerome had translated the Bible from Hebrew & Greek into Latin in the ad 300s. He worked directly from the original languages and so his translation was very accurate. St Jerome’s Bible, in ‘vulgate Latin,’ was the officially approved Church Bible. But by the Middle Ages, most people didn’t speak Latin anymore.

https://ourworldindata.org/literacy
https://www.quora.com/What-were-literacy-rates-in-Medieval-Europe-How-did-they-compare-to-literacy-rates-in-the-Roman-Empire
https://spartacus-educational.com/YALDeducation.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerome

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

The Yankee lights up his pipe while holy-grailing

Feudalism was an economic system designed to keep people permanently in their own class, their own caste. A serf had no hope of ever accumulating enough wealth to escape serfdom. Even for a freeman, the likelihood of owning land was small, since all land was owned by the king, nobility or the Church. It’s not easy for someone in the United States, a free-born citizen of a representative republic, to understand feudalism. I learned about feudalism in school but didn’t really get it. A book that helped was Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. I was in 8th or 9th grade when my dad suggested it to me, so you middle-schoolers/high-schoolers are ripe to enjoy it. As an American citizen, Mark Twain was troubled by the class system that still hung around Europe in his time (Twain’s book, Huckleberry Finn, helped turn people against slavery in the U.S.). He used humor to promote a point of view, to change people’s minds. Twain lived and wrote over a century ago, so (let’s not cancel Mark Twain) please forgive any lapses into unwokedness. A Connecticut Yankee isn’t a happy book, but it is funny. You’ll love it. I enthusiastically recommend it. Click on the link to get started—https://www.gutenberg.org/files/86/86-h/86-h.htm