From the Brink of the Apocalypse

PDF EBook by John Aberth

EBook Description

John Aberth’s From the Brink of the Apocalypse is a broad scope presentation of the interrelated elements of famine, war and plague and their effect upon the social and cultural landscape of fourteenth century Europe. From the Brink of the Apocalypse PDF EBook Organized around the “Four Horseman” trope, Aberth attempts to illustrate that the Black Death was only one of the catastrophic influences upon the population. This edition is updated to include new scholarship and a re- PDFwritten “Epitaph” chapter that addresses his underlying, though often lost, thesis that the apocalyptic tenor of the era, rather than shocking the population into stasis, created opportunities for the lower echelon, opportunities that paved the way to the Renaissance. Aberth focuses primarily on the secular experience, and while the Church permeates every aspect of medieval life, the chaos that the institution itself is embroiled in, such as the Great Schism and the Babylonian Captivity, that colored the Black Death as God’s vengeance is, curiously, relegated to background noise rather than being factored into the psychological impact resultant in the apocalyptic thematic that he is tracing.
Aberth’s book is ideally suited for undergraduate level inquiry. It provides a broad base introduction to the fourteenth century that, at times, skirts the edge of in depth analysis. The first Chapter, Famine, is a fairly tight analysis of the impact the Great Famine of 1314-17 had on the population early in the century. More importantly, it highlights the relationship between famine and malnutrition that results in a “’synergistic package’ between famines and chronic infections” that are not generally considered when calculating the impact of famine upon population numbers (41). Although Aberth does not make any attempt to quantify the impact of this connection, by broadening the scope, he is able to set up the dovetailing pattern between famine, war and plague that provide the scaffolding for his book.
The second chapter, War, is a meandering exploration of the effect of the Hundred Years War, primarily upon noncombatants. His examination of propaganda is quite interesting, utilizing both the literary record and the record of state encouraged sermon, as well as highlighting the pulpit as a disseminator of war updates to keep the population in favor of continued taxation in support of a war against a Christian nation that was lining the pockets of the treasury and the elite. His analysis of the economic impact of the Hundred Years War is a bit light.Aberth sprinkles this chapter, which is highly focused on England, with the occasional foray into the actions of the French and the Aragonese when their war activities coincide with outbreaks of Typhus and “French Pox” in an effort to continue linking the four horsemen motif. These moments feel disconnected from the rest of the chapter.
The third chapter, Plague, is, perhaps, the most problematic. The chapter feels hobbled together, and in spite of the prologue’s promise that this updated version would include new scholarship, adheres to the standard tripartite rat, flea, and plague convention, although he does put his personal stamp on the death rate through the use of bishops’ registers, to 40-60 percent.His archival research on medical practices in this section, however, makes repeated derisive comments on the use of astrology in medicine, without pausing to acknowledge that the two, from the time of Galen, were used in conjunction and would explain why timing was considered vital to treatment; download; it did not simply provide an “out” for doctors whose patients died. Given his use of the fourteenth century literary corpus, which would, of course, include Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales whose physician is lauded for his prowess in astrology, and Aberth’s use of medical texts from throughout the Christian and Arab world, the disdainful tone and repeated jabs at this type of medical practice belies a modern bias that undermines his analysis.
The last chapter, Death, uses cultural artifacts, such as Transi Tombs, church frescoes and literature that were part of the cult of remembrance and indicative of the changing views of death in the wake of the Black Death. This is Aberth’s most successful chapter. He traces the origins of the depiction of death as a skeleton, a break in artistic convention, and traces its dissemination from France into England.His analysis of the changes in art and literature and their resonance with the relationship between body and soul is insightful.
The Epitaph section is a personal, first person narrative that reiterates his belief in the transcendence of the medieval into modernity as reaction to the apocalyptic crises of the fourteenth century.Without the belief in the reunion of body and soul post-apocalypse, the caesura created by these crises, the courage to find new ways to deal with upheaval on the material plain would have been impossible. Finally, we have a definitive thesis, one which had been inconstant and oft abandoned in the earlier chapters.
Overall, Aberth has produced a tome which, at times, feels cobbled together, suffers from breadth of scope that robs from his ability to produce deep analysis. Aberth is a great story teller, but colorful anecdotes are not history, and given a taste of his ability to produce cogent analysis for the Death chapter, one walks away feeling less than satisfied.
Like this book? Read online this: Death by Analysis, Back from the Brink.

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