The Axe and the Oath

The Axe and the Oath

Ordinary Life in the Middle Ages

Book - 2010
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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.

Publisher: Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, c2010.
ISBN: 9780691143125
Branch Call Number: 940. 1 FOS
Characteristics: xii, 384 p. ; 23 cm.


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Dec 18, 2017

I was drawn to the book’s title. I expected a description of the effects of martial-police forces and beliefs/commitments on people who weren’t lords, ladies, and clerics. Instead, I got an aging academic’s meditation on the concept of man with obscure references to a huge swath of time before 1600. The structure isn’t chronological; he jumps around between 800 and 1400 in the same paragraph sometimes. His organizational pattern and section tites don’t seem to follow any clear lines of pursuit. It looks like a collection of lectures. The author’s motivation only becomes clear in the “Conclusion” (p. 384), where he confesses, “I felt like saying all this, and that is enough.” His point appears to be the ordinary people ignored chivalry’s fine points, kept their heads down and worked, without becoming entangled in the religious wrangling of the time. But few of the almost 400 pages say those things. Most of the time, he’s just railing against the supposed misconceptions of other historians and the misuse of the term “medieval” by journalists.

Jan 19, 2011

No foot- or endnotes, no bibliography, no citations of source material and therefore essentially useless.

In a work of this kind, considering the length of the period, I am willing to allow for more generalities than normal, but not for essentially what I see as an attitude of "I'm an expert so I don't need to back up what I'm saying".

I don't care if the author is a professor emeritus from the Sorbonne and I'm certain sure that if a student had handed in such a poorly-supported paper to him when he was actively teaching, that student would have received a richly-deserved F.

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