Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Era from 1000 to 1499: Highlights

Leonardo da Vinci, the
quintessential "Renaissance Man"

The 1000-1499 section of the Chronology starts here. The links there will lead you to the Listings.


In Europe, it's the late Middle Ages in most places, and the Renaissance near the end of the period down in Italy. As national literatures begin to develop, it becomes harder to speak of "the West" in cohesive terms. So let's start our tour in the Northwest, traveling more-or-less southerly and easterly until we arrive in the Far East and the "Land of the Rising Sun."

About as far northwest as we can go, we'll find Iceland, home of a surprisingly large amount of significant literature at this time. It's the latter part of the "Saga Age," and lots of stuff is being produced that would later gives chills to J. R. R. Tolkien (and his fans) in both Icelandic and Old Norse (its predecessor, as Latin is to Italian).

Down and over a bit, we come to Holland and pick up a monk, an artist, and a humanist scholar (Thomas à Kempis, Hieronymus Bosch, and Erasmus) then on to Germany, with more of the same, as well as the start of the Protestant Reformation (Luther), some mystical literature (Meister Eckhart), and--surprisingly--an Arthurian story (Parzival), not to mention more spears-and-helmets with Siegfried and the Nibelungenlied. Later, and elsewhere, Copernicus turns things inside out.

Over to the British Isles; Arthurian stuff, mystics, Welsh and Irish mythology, Chaucer, and some poetry; across to France and more Arthur (the stories traveled more than he did), philosophical theology, two great love affairs (Abelard and Heloise for reals, Aucassin and Nicolette in fiction), and history both real (Froissart) and imagined (The Song of Roland). Down to Spain: The Song of El Cid, Cabeza de Vaca's stranger-than-fiction account that includes raising dead Indians by the power of Christ, Loyola founding the Jesuits, and Maimonides guiding the perplexed.

And we're just getting started, because when we get to Italy, fire up the Franciscans (the Dominicans started around the same time, in France) and, after a poetic prologue with Dante and Petrarch, rev up the Renaissance (here come the usuals: Botticelli, Leonardo, Machiavelli, Michelangelo, and all them artists). Marco Polo went to China and came back to tell the (somewhat true) tale; Bonaventure and Catherine of Siena did some theology; and Boccaccio told stories for ten days (but it seemed like more).

We finally get out of Europe to fly over one Turkish funny man (Nasreddin Hodja) and a few Turkish poets and writers, only to encounter a plethora of Persian poets (the best-known of whom may be Rumi) as they weather the Mongol invasion (1219–1221) and re-unify under Timer's (Tamurlane's) Timurid Empire (1370–1507).

And speaking of Mongols, we have an account of Genghis Khan in The Secret History of the Mongols. And the closely-related Tibetans produced the national Epic of King Gesar around the same time.

Then several story collections in India (vampires! smut!), along with the indefinable mystic poet Kabir, as the Indian Classical Period (230 BCE-1279 CE) comes to a close and the Medieval Period (1206-1596) takes over.

Though the Glorious Tang is over, China is still producing more than its fair share of poets and literati, as well as scientists and military engineers in the Song (and parallel, in the north, the Liao) Dynasties, followed by the Yuan (the Mongols) and much of another pinnacle, the Ming (1368-1644). Of special note are poets and statesmen Ouyang Xiu and the well-traveled Su Dongpo, and the earliest of the "Four Great Classical Novels," Shi Nai'an's Water Margin (the others will follow over the next several hundred years).

At last, arms aching, we reach Japan, with more court diaries and poetry; the epic Tale of the Heike; Buddhist writings by Dogen and Ikkyu; Essays in Idleness and Record of the Ten-Foot Square Hut; classic Noh dramas, and numerous legends.

The modern era is about to begin, and soon we'll have to slow down to century-by-century instead of the half-a-millennium-at-a-time pace we've been keeping.

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