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History World

Once and Future Sex: Going Medieval on Women's Roles in Society

Once and Future Sex: Going Medieval on Women's Roles in Society

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What makes for the ideal woman? How should she look, love, and be? In this vibrant, high-spirited history, medievalist Eleanor Janega turns to the Middle Ages, the era that bridged the ancient world and modern society, to unfurl its suppositions about women and reveal what's shifted over time--and what hasn't.

Enshrined medieval thinkers, almost always male, subscribed to a blend of classical Greek and Roman philosophy and Christian theology for their concepts of the sexes. For the height of female attractiveness, they chose the mythical Helen of Troy, whose imagined pear shape, small breasts, and golden hair served as beauty's epitome. Casting Eve's shadow over medieval women, they derided them as oversexed sinners, inherently lustful, insatiable, and weak. And, unless a nun, a woman was to be the embodiment of perfect motherhood.

In contrast, drawing on accounts of remarkable and subversive medieval women like Eleanor of Aquitaine and Hildegard of Bingen, along with others hidden in documents and court cases, Janega shows us how real women of the era lived. While often mothers, they were industrious farmers, brewers, textile workers, artists, and artisans and paved the way for new ideas about women's nature, intellect, and ability.

In The Once and Future Sex, Janega unravels the restricting expectations on medieval women and the ones on women today. She boldly questions why, if our ideas of women have changed drastically over time, we cannot reimagine them now to create a more equitable future.

Pox Romana: The Plague That Shook the Roman World

Pox Romana: The Plague That Shook the Roman World

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A wide-ranging and dramatic account of the Antonine plague, the mysterious disease that struck the Roman Empire at its pinnacle

In the middle of the second century AD, Rome was at its prosperous and powerful apex. The emperor Marcus Aurelius reigned over a vast territory that stretched from Britain to Egypt. The Roman-made peace, or Pax Romana, seemed to be permanent. Then, apparently out of nowhere, a sudden sickness struck the legions and laid waste to cities, including Rome itself. This fast-spreading disease, now known as the Antonine plague, may have been history's first pandemic. Soon after its arrival, the Empire began its downward trajectory toward decline and fall. In Pox Romana, historian Colin Elliott offers a comprehensive, wide-ranging account of this pivotal moment in Roman history.

Did a single disease--its origins and diagnosis still a mystery--bring Rome to its knees? Carefully examining all the available evidence, Elliott shows that Rome's problems were more insidious. Years before the pandemic, the thin veneer of Roman peace and prosperity had begun to crack: the economy was sluggish, the military found itself bogged down in the Balkans and the Middle East, food insecurity led to riots and mass migration, and persecution of Christians intensified. The pandemic exposed the crumbling foundations of a doomed Empire. Arguing that the disease was both cause and effect of Rome's fall, Elliott describes the plague's "preexisting conditions" (Rome's multiple economic, social, and environmental susceptibilities); recounts the history of the outbreak itself through the experiences of physician, victim, and political operator; and explores postpandemic crises. The pandemic's most transformative power, Elliott suggests, may have been its lingering presence as a threat both real and perceived.

Wandering Mind: What Medieval Monks Tell Us about Distraction

Wandering Mind: What Medieval Monks Tell Us about Distraction

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The digital era is beset by distraction, and it feels like things are only getting worse. At times like these, the distant past beckons as a golden age of attention. We fantasize about escaping our screens. We dream of recapturing the quiet of a world with less noise. We imagine retreating into solitude and singlemindedness, almost like latter-day monks.

But although we think of early monks as master concentrators, a life of mindfulness did not, in fact, come to them easily. As historian Jamie Kreiner demonstrates in The Wandering Mind, their attempts to stretch the mind out to God--to continuously contemplate the divine order and its ethical requirements--were all-consuming, and their battles against distraction were never-ending. Delving into the experiences of early Christian monks living in the Middle East, around the Mediterranean, and throughout Europe from 300 to 900 CE, Kreiner shows that these men and women were obsessed with distraction in ways that seem remarkably modern. At the same time, she suggests that our own obsession is remarkably medieval. Ancient Greek and Roman intellectuals had sometimes complained about distraction, but it was early Christian monks who waged an all-out war against it. The stakes could not have been higher: they saw distraction as a matter of life and death.

Even though the world today is vastly different from the world of the early Middle Ages, we can still learn something about our own distractedness by looking closely at monks' strenuous efforts to concentrate. Drawing on a trove of sources that the monks left behind, Kreiner reconstructs the techniques they devised in their lifelong quest to master their minds--from regimented work schedules and elaborative metacognitive exercises to physical regimens for hygiene, sleep, sex, and diet. She captures the fleeting moments of pure attentiveness that some monks managed to grasp, and the many times when monks struggled and failed and went back to the drawing board. Blending history and psychology, The Wandering Mind is a witty, illuminating account of human fallibility and ingenuity that bridges a distant era and our own.
Wild: Tales from Early Medieval Britain

Wild: Tales from Early Medieval Britain

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Journey into the wilderness of northwestern Europe between the sixth and tenth centuries, an oft forgotten time in a mystical and magical place where the terror of the wilderness was surpassed only by its potential for salvation.

Wild: Tales from the Early Medieval World takes you on a journey out of the present and into the wilderness of another age. A collection of poems, tales, and deeply researched musings that explore the rich history of the Medieval wilderness of northern Europe and the mysteries and teachings that it holds. Amy Jeffs knows that if you "get lost in the wilderness, you may never be found," so she is here to guide you through it and back home to your own wēstendream.