When a flying egg was no yolk

Medieval Worlds
February 27, 2004

"Whoever injures someone with an egg should pay ten aurei if the plaintiff can prove it." Thus the law in 12th-century Castile, one of a number of intriguing nuggets buried in Medieval Worlds .

Many medievalists like to use short primary source extracts in student seminars. Roberta Anderson and Dominic Bellenger are clearly of this school: this sourcebook arose from a course they co-teach. As such, it is not dissimilar to being presented with a pile of someone else's teaching photocopies, with both the benefits and the problems that might imply.

The greatest benefit is the breadth that Medieval Worlds presents, accurately reflecting the pluralism of the title. Extracts span late antiquity to the very late middle ages, and topics include some nicely imaginative categories, such as "The medieval world self-observed" (largely travel literature) as well as more obvious themes such as the papacy and English politics. Everything is bite sized, and thus good for seminar use.

The selection moves from familiar extracts - Magna Carta, Urban II preaching crusade, Chaucer - to less well-known ones: a comment on chivalry by Diaz de Gamez, John of Salerno on Cluniac sign-language, a 15th-century account of pilgrimage not (for once) by Margery Kempe.

It should be noted that, as with most medievalists' photocopy collections, all of the selections here are reproductions of previous translations. Many, presumably because they are out of copyright, are somewhat ancient and occasionally untrustworthy. The section on women is thus rather etiolated, since the impetus to translate interesting sources on the topic has been a more modern phenomenon.

Overall, a well-priced collection, but not indispensable.

John H. Arnold is lecturer in medieval history, Birkbeck College, London.

 

Medieval Worlds: A Sourcebook. First edition

Editor - Roberta Anderson and Dominic Aidan Bellenger
Publisher - Routledge
Pages - 328
Price - £60.00 and £15.99
ISBN - 0 415 25308 X and 25309 8

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