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Living with the Dead in the Middle Ages

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Whereas modern societies tend to banish the dead from the world of the living, medieval men and women accorded them a vital role in the community. The saints counted most prominently as potential intercessors before God, but the ordinary dead as well were called upon to aid the living, and even to participate in the negotiation of political disputes. In this book, the dist Whereas modern societies tend to banish the dead from the world of the living, medieval men and women accorded them a vital role in the community. The saints counted most prominently as potential intercessors before God, but the ordinary dead as well were called upon to aid the living, and even to participate in the negotiation of political disputes. In this book, the distinguished medievalist Patrick J. Geary shows how exploring the complex relations between the living and dead can broaden our understanding of the political, economic, and cultural history of medieval Europe. Geary has brought together for this volume twelve of his most influential essays. They address such topics as the development of saints' cults and of the concept of sacred space; the integration of saints' cults into the lives of ordinary people; patterns of relic circulation; and the role of the dead in negotiating the claims and counterclaims of various interest groups. Also included are two case studies of communities that enlisted new patron saints to solve their problems. Throughout, Geary demonstrates that, by reading actions, artifacts, and rituals on an equal footing with texts, we can better grasp the otherness of past societies.


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Whereas modern societies tend to banish the dead from the world of the living, medieval men and women accorded them a vital role in the community. The saints counted most prominently as potential intercessors before God, but the ordinary dead as well were called upon to aid the living, and even to participate in the negotiation of political disputes. In this book, the dist Whereas modern societies tend to banish the dead from the world of the living, medieval men and women accorded them a vital role in the community. The saints counted most prominently as potential intercessors before God, but the ordinary dead as well were called upon to aid the living, and even to participate in the negotiation of political disputes. In this book, the distinguished medievalist Patrick J. Geary shows how exploring the complex relations between the living and dead can broaden our understanding of the political, economic, and cultural history of medieval Europe. Geary has brought together for this volume twelve of his most influential essays. They address such topics as the development of saints' cults and of the concept of sacred space; the integration of saints' cults into the lives of ordinary people; patterns of relic circulation; and the role of the dead in negotiating the claims and counterclaims of various interest groups. Also included are two case studies of communities that enlisted new patron saints to solve their problems. Throughout, Geary demonstrates that, by reading actions, artifacts, and rituals on an equal footing with texts, we can better grasp the otherness of past societies.

30 review for Living with the Dead in the Middle Ages

  1. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    Patrick Geary, as a historian, focuses on the Carolingian period in what would become France and Germany, though he’s obviously conversant with medieval history in its entirety, not to mention late classical history. He has published in English, French, Italian and German. He clearly knows Latin and I think he’s familiar with Greek as well. The man is a consummate, impeccable early medievalist. Living with the Dead in the Middle Ages is the second book of his I’ve read and though his writing its Patrick Geary, as a historian, focuses on the Carolingian period in what would become France and Germany, though he’s obviously conversant with medieval history in its entirety, not to mention late classical history. He has published in English, French, Italian and German. He clearly knows Latin and I think he’s familiar with Greek as well. The man is a consummate, impeccable early medievalist. Living with the Dead in the Middle Ages is the second book of his I’ve read and though his writing itself is not gripping or particularly novelistic (a trait I admire in historians), he writes clearly and well, and the value of his ideas far outweighs any lack of verbal artistry. In this case, he has collected essays and articles published elsewhere and assembled them into an intriguing whole that purports to speak about the relationship of the dead with the living in the early Middle Ages. In effect, the book is primarily about the uses of saints and sainthood in early medieval European religion. Geary touches on such topics as the development of the cult of saints, the boom in translation of relics starting in the late 8th century, a peculiar and fascinating practice known as the humiliation of relics, and pilgrimage. But couching his discussion of saints and sainthood in a broader context of attitudes toward the dead allows him to speak about gift-giving and conflict resolution; practices which took into account, for instance, property endowed by the dead and the resultant feelings of debt toward the dead that medieval people seem to have felt and taken very seriously. These practices, which seem unusual to us, betray an attitude that meant the dead were very much still a part of living society. The physical death of the body did not signify the social death of the person. The dead still required reciprocity and repayment. In a non-metaphorical way difficult for us to imagine, the dead in early medieval society stayed “alive”, relevant, and continued to influence the choices and actions of the living. Because this work is cobbled together from previously published pieces, the connection between the chapters can seem slightly tenuous. But altogether Geary makes a good case in his introduction that they belong together. I do wish he had written a corresponding epilogue to tie the ends back up together. Still, for those interested in early medieval cultural history, or historical as well as anthropological methodology concerning attitudes toward death and the dead in a given society, this is an irreplaceable read.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Alison

    I thought this and "Furta Sancta" were the same book! Apparently not.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Marek Sliwinski

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jakovdj

  5. 5 out of 5

    Nicole DiStasio

  6. 5 out of 5

    ChaosMoondrawn

  7. 5 out of 5

    Madeline

  8. 4 out of 5

    Nicole Petrosky

  9. 4 out of 5

    Andee Nero

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jason Carr

  11. 5 out of 5

    Liz

  12. 5 out of 5

    Shrug

  13. 5 out of 5

    Giulietta

  14. 5 out of 5

    Boris

  15. 5 out of 5

    Larynn

  16. 5 out of 5

    Dean

  17. 5 out of 5

    Cassandra

  18. 4 out of 5

    Mark Iverson

  19. 5 out of 5

    Haylie Davis

  20. 5 out of 5

    Aidan

  21. 5 out of 5

    Margo

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

  23. 4 out of 5

    Valerie

  24. 5 out of 5

    Georgia

  25. 4 out of 5

    Anna

  26. 5 out of 5

    David James

  27. 4 out of 5

    Karl

  28. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Sweet

  29. 4 out of 5

    James Sinks

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jules

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