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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Historical Enigmas #3: Who Were The Middle Ages Anyway?

I received roughly half the response on Historical Enigmas #2 that I did on #1, so I have decided to proceed to #3. I do not consider this punitive. I considered PBS repeating Riverdance until they met their donation goals punitive. Fifteen years ago I knew a guy who lived downstairs from Riverdance and he can't hear so good now. This is different. It is history. If you don't learn your history, not only are you doomed to repeat it but you cannot expect to repeat it with any authority or accuracy. 

The remedy is contained in an old Sam Cooke song, What A Wonderful World: "Don't know much about the Middle Ages; looked at the pictures and I turned the pages". And although that line was excised, probably to shorten the song for more frequent radio play, it's the one that thematizes this blog entry, which deals with the Middle Ages. They went on for a very long time, from the Late Antiquity period of 300 AD to Renaissance 1200 years later. I'd like to shorten it, like the song, to the middle Middle Ages but there isn't any. So this essay will address the High Middle Ages--AD 1000 to 1350. Historically speaking, this is when people began saying "Hi!"(shortened from "High!") to each other.
The clergy, which assumed psychological power over the populace, comprised a privileged social class. Knights, who got military power, comprised another. They said "Hi" to each other. The serfs mainly got shovels. I made my living as a gardener for many decades and know about the shovel part.

Above is the Bayeux Tapestry showing William the Conqueror  (center), his half-brothers Robert, Count of Mortain  (right) and Odo, the bishop of Bayeux in the Duchy of Normandy ( left).  They mainly sat around all day saying "Hi", watching chickens and waving at each other. Understandably, this got a bit old after several hundreds of years. So they had the Crusades.

The Crusades were endorsed by the clergy.  They told the knights: "You know, you really ought to go  barging around other peoples' countries and get them to wearing pants!" And they did.

Since nobody in these countries had ever seen three armored warriors riding a single six-legged horse before, they immediately complied. Thus, the High Middle Ages gave onto the Late Middle Ages, in which everybody had pants but no accurate timepieces. Dinner engagements, board meetings, prom dates and everything one wears pants to were ruined by hordes of latecomers. So they quit the Middle Ages for an era of invention and refinement, especially of accurate clocks and watches. This was called the Renaissance and I hope you all know it's still going on.


  1. Hi!
    I just love your hysterical enigmas.
    God bless those Middle Agers for getting us all into pants. I really don't care if my clocks are accurate but I truly appreciate pants.

  2. Of all of the historical eras and ages, the early Renaissance period is, by far, the period that I find the most interesting. Such a time of intellectual growth and wonderment.

  3. Hi, thanks for educating us on this important time in our history.I have always wondered where pants came from.

  4. I always thoroughly enjoy your amusing and informative "Historical Enigmas". Occasionally I don't leave comments because I can't think of anything brilliant to say.

    I seem to be getting fewer & fewer visitors to my blog. If it wasn't for you and one of my twenty cousins, I'd have nobody....

    As for Riverdance - - I've seen it so many times on PBS that I actually know all the steps and could easily perform with their troupe.

  5. I haven't worn a watch since my freshman year in college. Does that mean the Renaissance is over for me?

    Recently watched a show in which God, manifest as a man dressed in a hot dog costume swibbing out flyers on the street corner, tells the title character the Crusades were no more about faith than friends are about popularity.


  6. Dorobo-- Thanks, and Hi!

    Delores-- Even stopped clocks are right twice a day, but it's always time for pants.

    Keith-- Indeed, and renaissance has a ways to go --a great adventure.

    Arleen-- Hi! Most pants come from our local Target store, but I have some of unknown origin.

    Jon-- Your comments are invariably kind and encouraging. I should adopt you as a cousin.

    Suze-- Once you get a renaissance rolling, they're impossible to stop

  7. Have lost my watch today- just as I thought I was getting so modern with my Rayburn technology. But thanks to these essays, I have rekindled a love for historical living. Back to the sundial!

  8. HIGH-ly entertaining. And I'm sure that in the Middle Ages, they first started uttering those timeless (watchless?) words, "Wanta get high?" referring, of course, to their new intellectual pursuits.

  9. Lily-- I've heard the days of digital watches are numbered. Sun is quite reliable; longer-lived batteries.

    Susan-- Thanks. High praise indeed!

  10. Don't you think that it is a bit enigmatic that long before the Middle Ages the people who lived in that vaguely Turkish part of the World did wear pants (and rather cute caps)and the rest of Civilisation thought it terribly effiminate?

  11. I enjoy history so when I read this I was delighted because it was very funny and I learned something new. I never knew the greeting "hi" came out about that way nor the origin of pants, which I truly appreciate, haha. Quite interesting.

  12. "Don't you think that it is a bit enigmatic that long before the Middle Ages the people who lived in that vaguely Turkish part of the World did wear pants (and rather cute caps)and the rest of Civilisation thought it terribly effiminate?" Lady Mondegreene

    WOW, now that's an incredible piece of history I'm happy to know about. Reveals so much about the evolution of society. Thank you for sharing it.


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