A World Lit Only by Fire: the Medieval Mind and the Renaissance

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In the first section of William Manchester’s A World Lit Only By Fire, we are taken into a world that is vastly different from our own, and we see a kind of attitude which is rarely seen today. Manchester stresses the fact that the peasants in the Dark Ages had no knowledge of what was happening in the rest of the world. In our age of twenty-four-hour news networks and instantaneous access to information from across the globe through the internet, it is hard to fathom that if we were still living in the Dark Ages most of us would be completely oblivious to the activities of the rest of the world outside of our small village.

Manchester also points out that the common people in the Dark Ages had no conception of time. Most would not have known what century it was, let alone the specific date. For most peasants, time passed in a cycle of seasons, and they only needed to know the days of the week in order to know when it was the Sabbath.

This is in stark contrast to the life of a modern man. We can know time down to the second. And we need to know time with greater precision. While the peasants of the Dark Ages needed only to recognize the passing of the seasons and when the Sabbath was, modern man often needs to know the time of day precisely. We are constantly on a schedule. School and work starts at a certain time, and we must be there on time.

Another fascinating difference which Manchester points out is the fact that most of the peasants did not have surnames and were either referred to by their first name alone, or by a nickname. I found this very strange.

Manchester does a good job of showing the differences between the modern mind and the medieval mind. Being aware of these differences allows the reader to appreciate the huge impact that the Renaissance had on Europe.

Now in the next section of A World Lit Only by Fire, entitled “The Shattering,” Manchester shows us several events that “shattered” beliefs during the Renaissance. Most of...
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