When you think of the Middle Ages, you think of a wholelottaignorant, right? Loopy folk beliefs, slavish acceptance of draconian religious programming, a profound lack of empathy for most other people (especially those different from one), squalor fairly easily alleviated but not being a priority.
Although I must say that at the recent Society for Creative Anachronism event my friends Rebekah and Forrest took me to, they seem to have left out all of the above. Anyway, consider this dominant reality before you judge your medieval ancestor’s mindset with too much disdain:
They knew nothing was going to get better.
I was walking through my house today, thinking about the stiff knee that results from (what I believe to be) botched cartilage surgery. Avascular knee cartilage will not regrow, of course. That which was removed no longer acts as a pad for the weight of my thigh and upper body. What remains, taking more stress, will deteriorate further. My knee will never be the same again, and all because for once I finally attempted to evade a pitch rather than let it hit me. And I thought, well, maybe they’ll invent artificial knee cartilage by the time I need it.
“Maybe by the time I get that old, there’ll be something better.” The exact form of hope that peasant LeBlanc, tilling his fields in medieval Anjou, did not have. Could never have–not if sane. What reason had he to imagine his sore knee would be ameliorated by a new invention? He had never seen a new invention. He had seen new proclamations from the clergy, the nobility, the merchants. In nearly every case they were bad news for him: you are going to hell, you must produce more grain, you must pay more interest. Unless you imagine that anyone ever told him: “You get to go to heaven, you are allowed to produce less crops for me now, and we’ll lend to you without charging interest this time.”
His knee hurt, it would continue to hurt, and nothing would be invented to fix it.
My knee hurts, and not only do I hope something will be invented for it, I am not insane to imagine that it may be. As a child, games were things played on a board with tokens and dice and spinners. Today’s child (who when I was his or her age, I marveled at Pong) plays a realistic and immersive game of army combat. With Koreans. Who are currently in Korea, not in his living room. Also an Australian guy and some gal from Norway. When I was in college, I wrote my papers on an electric typewriter. Now I edit people’s writing on a computer with software that allows me to track my changes and leave margin comments.
I saw this change. It is more scientific to tell myself things are possible than impossible, all considered.
You probably feel the same way too, especially if you are in your forties and hoping they’ll fix all the elderly ailments before you get them. (They intercepted polio at the pass, did they not?)
Now imagine your life, your entire life, with no such rational hope.