The Discarded Image: An Introduction To Medieval And Renaissance Literature
- Cambridge University Press
- Publication Date:
- 29 March 2012
- Literary Studies: General
Showing 1-3 out of 3 reviews.
Excellent for understanding the medieval idea of the nature of the universe. I regularly read the section on the difference between the Ptolemaic and Copernican universes in class. The chapter on the Longaevi (fairies etc.) is important for the sources of Inklings fantasy.
C S Lewis invents the idea of a medieval model to explain the medieval world view; just as in past ages men of learning have used models to understand the universe which they live. He may have used the title "The Discarded Image" because the medieval model has proved to be palpably not true. This however is not the point. Lewis contends that to understand medieval literature the modern reader must be familiar with their world view because it was the view that shaped their thoughts, lives and everything they wrote. The success of the book depends therefore on how well Lewis is able to explain and describe the model's essential elements. Lewis introduces his subject by stating that medieval man built himself a model which explained the universe in which he lived and into which all his knowledge and learning could be included. Everything had to be fitted in. The middle ages are described as an age of acteurs(authority); all writers whenever they could based their knowledge on what had come down to them from past ages. It was an age of books and manuscripts which were pored over in order to find the necessary authority to shape their thoughts. This leads nicely into the next few chapters that identify and describe the sources that were used. Lewis starts with the classical aucteurs pointing out that the middle ages had less access to works from antiquity than we enjoy today. He then moves on to the seminal period: the period from the 3rd century AD to the 7th century AD where a pagan society became dominated by a western Christian society. He guides us through Plotinus; father of the neo-platonists to Calcidus, Macrobius, Dionysius and finally Boethius. Time is spent explaining their contribution to the medieval model and some important ideas emerge. The Christian society of the middle ages was based on a pagan view of the universe. It was Justin Martyr who had said earlier that: "Whatever things have been well said by all men belong to the Christians" Lewis also point s out that much of the writing was philosophical in nature it was not Christian doctrine. Lewis reminds us that Boethius was a Christian but it was a philosophy he was writing and so he had no hesitation in including pagan elements.Having dealt with the sources for the model Lewis then sets out to to describe how it explains the workings of the cosmos. The earth is set at the centre with concentric circles radiating outwards from it. The circles immediately surrounding the earth are made up of the four elements; earth, air, fire and water. Then comes the great divide of the moon where air gives way to the ether. Lewis stresses it is important to understand that the circles above the moon containing the sun and the planets are translunary. These are the heavens; the realms of the angels and the gods and are incorruptible. The area below the moon is the sublunary where nature rules, there are deamons and the world is corruptible. Here Lewis could really use a diagram as it is difficult to understand the concepts from the text alone. Lewis emphasises that the heavens (translunary) were not conceived as the dark abyss of space, indeed they were full of light and the harmony of the spheres.Lewis calls his next chapter "The Longaevi" these are the fairies that play significant parts in many medieval texts. Fairies consist of fauns, pans, satyrs silvans and nymphs and Lewis admits that they remain elusive, but need some interpretation for the modern reader. The following longer chapter "Earth and its Inhabitants" covers most other fields of knowledge. There is; the human rational soul, the human body and its humours, the human past and the teaching of the liberal arts. Finally we come to "The Influence of the Model" where Lewis explains how the model he has described effected the literature produced in the middle ages and beyond. Interesting points arise here especially for those readers who have issues with some aspects of medieval literature. For example why does it contain so many lists and catalogues, which merely serve to make a dull read and why do writers continually use source material rather than inventing their own stories. Lewis is able to answer these questions by referring to the evidence that he has provided in his explanation of the medieval model.The books undertitle: "an introduction to Medieval and Renaissance literature is misleading on two counts. Firstly it is so much more than an introduction; it is a text that does no less than tease out the key points to enable the modern reader to understand medieval literature from the perspective of those who wrote it. Lewis's use of the model brilliantly captures the world view of the middle ages and his comparisons with the modern age are enlightening. Secondly I think more would be gained from reading this book after some familiarisation with medieval texts. Coming to the book with no such experience would make in my view some of the more abstract arguments difficult to follow.There are a couple of criticisms. There is no list of reference material at the back of the book. Medieval literature is referenced within the text itself with perhaps an over reliance on Chaucer, but it would have been useful to have these collected somewhere. There are no diagrams and some of Lewis's explanation cry out for them. These can be forgiven because for me the book produced some light bulb moments. It is an essential read for anybody with more than a passing interest in medieval literature
This is not an easy read, but worth the effort. Lewis uses his knowledge of medieval culture, society and literature to introduce some images that were once familiar, but have since been lost to the modern world.
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