The Axe and the Oath

The Axe and the Oath : Ordinary Life in the Middle Ages

2.88 (126 ratings by Goodreads)
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In "The Axe and the Oath", one of the world's leading medieval historians presents a compelling picture of daily life in the Middle Ages as it was experienced by ordinary people. Writing for general readers, Robert Fossier vividly describes how these vulnerable people confronted life, from birth to death, including childhood, marriage, work, sex, food, illness, religion, and the natural world. While most histories of the period focus on the ideas and actions of the few who wielded power and stress how different medieval people were from us, Fossier concentrates on the other nine-tenths of humanity in the period and concludes that 'medieval man is us'. Drawing on a broad range of evidence, Fossier describes how medieval men and women encountered, coped with, and understood the basic material facts of their lives. We learn how people related to agriculture, animals, the weather, the forest, and the sea; how they used alcohol and drugs; and, how they buried their dead. But "The Axe and the Oath" is about much more than simply the material demands of life.
We also learn how ordinary people experienced the social, cultural, intellectual, and spiritual aspects of medieval life, from memory and imagination to writing and the Church. The result is a sweeping new vision of the Middle Ages that will entertain and enlighten readers.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 384 pages
  • 140 x 216 x 29.72mm | 567g
  • New Jersey, United States
  • English
  • 0691143129
  • 9780691143125
  • 635,164

Back cover copy

"What did men and women eat, drink, and wear in the Middle Ages? How did they work, fight, pray, and laugh? This book reduces medieval life to its most elemental functions. It encompasses not only material and social conditions, thought, and belief, but the natural environment as well. In other words, it raises all the questions that one never dares to ask. Among France's most active medieval scholars, Robert Fossier has spent more than six decades studying historical documents. Now he steps back from them to propose a deeply personal perspective. The result is a tour de force. Viewed in their bare flesh, humans living in the Middle Ages appear not much different from us."--John W. Baldwin, Johns Hopkins University

"This is a provocative meditation on the human condition in the Middle Ages, written by one of the field's most distinguished historians. Robert Fossier thoughtfully probes the continuities and discontinuities of everyday life for ordinary people, with constant and daring comparisons to modern knowledge and experiences."--William C. Jordan, Princeton University

"This is an outstanding book, an ambitious and strikingly successful attempt to capture the huge experience of human life in the Middle Ages. The most impressive aspect of this extraordinarily vivid work is the author's breathtaking mastery of everything he writes about. And the beautifully crafted and translucent prose gives the effect of a friendly and seamless conversation with the reader."--Piotr Górecki, University of California, Riverside
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Table of contents

Preface ix Part One: MAN AND THE WORLD Chapter 1: Naked Man 3 A Fragile Creature 3 An Ungainly Being 3 Fairly Content with Himself 5 But Are There Nonetheless Nuances? 8 But a Threatened Creature 11 Does Man Really Know Himself? 11 "Abnormal" Assaults on Man 16 The Illness That Lies in Wait 19 The Black Death 23 Can Those Men Be Counted? 27 Chapter 2: The Ages of Life 37 From the Child to the Man 38 Expecting a Baby 38 When the Child Arrives 41 "Childhoods" 44 The Child in the Midst of the Family 48 Man in His Private Life 51 As Time Goes By 52 Nourishing the Body 59 The Shaping of Taste 67 Adorning the Body 69 Man, Woman, and the Others 77 The Two Sexes Face-to-Face 78 Sexual Concerns 82 Living by the Fire and by the Pot 87 The Chains of Marriage 91 ... And Their Locks 96 Kin 102 ... And "Relations" 107 The Workplace 108 The House 109 ... And What Was Found in the House 115 Man Is Born to Toil 117 But What Work? 121 And Tools? 127 The End of Life 131 The Elderly 132 The "Passage" 136 After Death 139 Chapter 3: Nature 145 The Weather 145 The Paleo-Environment 146 What Did They See or Feel? 149 Fire and Water 154 Fire, the Symbol of Life and Death 154 Saving and Beneficent Water 157 The Sea, Horrible and a Temptress 160 The Products of the Earth 164 Mastering the Soil 165 Making the Earth Render 168 Grasses and Vines 171 The Trees and the Forest 175 The Forest, Overwhelming and Sacred 175 The Forest, Necessary and Nourishing 180 And the People of the Forest? 183 Chapter 4: And the Animals? 186 Man and Beast 187 Fear and Disgust 187 Respect and Affection 189 Knowing and Understanding 194 What Are the Beasts? 195 Penetrating This World 198 Utilize and Destroy 202 The Services of the Beast 203 Killing: Man's Job 208 A Contrasting Balance Sheet 215 Part Two: MAN IN HIMSELF Chapter 5: Man in Himself 223 Living in a Group 224 Why Come Together? 225 How to Assemble? 229 Where to Gather? 235 Laughter and Games 246 Precautions and Deviations 252 Order and the "Orders" 254 Peace and Honor 260 Law and Power 265 Gaps 276 And People from Elsewhere 285 Chapter 6: Knowledge 292 The Innate 293 Memory 293 The Imaginary 298 Measurement 303 Acquisitions 310 Act, Image, Word 312 Writing 317 What to Learn? 323 And Where? 329 Expression 335 Who Wrote and What Did They Write? 336 For Whom and Why Did Authors Write? 341 The Artist's Part 343 Chapter 7: And the Soul 348 Good and Evil 350 The End of Dualism 351 Virtue and Temptation 356 Sin and Pardon 362 Faith and Salvation 365 Dogma and the Rites of Medieval Christian Faith 366 The Church 371 The Other World 376 Conclusion 382
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Review quote

"This is a wonderful book--the product of a lifetime's immersion in the documents and artefacts that survive from the 1,000 years that we call the 'Middle Ages.'... In the end, Fossier concludes, 'I felt like saying all this, and that is enough.' More than enough, when a book as absorbing and challenging as this is the result."--Helen Castor, Times Higher Education "This remarkable book ... belongs with William Manchester's A World Lit Only by Fire as a window into a world so far removed from us and yet still very much present today."--Nick Schulz, National Review "Fossier writes with a passion that makes this amazing period of European history come alive for any reader interested in medieval or social history."--Library Journal "[A] grand-scale, breathless, dizzying tour, whisking us through a labyrinth of concepts, texts, authors and centuries in pursuit of the lives of the ordinary people who make up the world of medieval Europe."--Juanita Feros Ruys, Australian "The subject of this skillful, elegantly produced translation of Ces gens du Moyen Age is immensely important and represents the culmination of a lifetime of work by one of the leading French medievalists of his generation. Fossier examines 'ordinary life' under a series of illuminating thematic headings: the physical being of man himself, growth from childhood to adulthood, private life, the workplace, and death. But he also considers external and psychological categories, such as the weather, trees, animals, memory, expression, faith, and salvation. In doing so, Fossier has been careful not to impose the arbitrary divisions of modern society upon a civilization that know no such compartmentalization, doing readers a great service."--Choice "The result is a sweeping new vision of the Middle Ages that will entertain and enlighten readers."--Spartacus Educational "The immense value of a book like this lies in its latent ability to stimulate readers--be they historians professional or amateur--to ask stimulating questions. If a reader drinks in Fossier's readable, intriguing discussion of medieval lay-learning, and learns enough from his wide-ranging discussion to ask a question either of Fossier or of the medieval sources, he has made great progress."--Emily A. Winkler, Oxonian Review "Fossier draws upon over four decades of experience in the social history of medieval France to produce what is an immensely wide ranging, eclectic and engaging study of human life from conception to burial."--Carol Hoggart, Parergon
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About Robert Fossier

Robert Fossier is professor emeritus of medieval history at the Sorbonne. He is the author of many books on medieval history and the editor of "The Cambridge History of the Middle Ages".
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Rating details

126 ratings
2.88 out of 5 stars
5 7% (9)
4 19% (24)
3 42% (53)
2 18% (23)
1 13% (17)
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