My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Let me say that my choice of 2 stars is more a reflection of my own interest in this book and not necessarily of the book itself. I picked it up from a used bookstore since I was kind of approaching the medieval period from two sides (forward from the ancient world and ever backward from the 17th century). I figured it was time to delve a little deeper. After reading these selections, I can see my interests are elsewhere. However, there were things I learned, including some neat nuggets, and I will keep this volume as a reference for the future.
Of what I liked, there were some that stood out, such as the two pieces on Arnold of Brescia, a precursor to the people who would lead the Reformation (p. 338, 341). I liked reading about the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, a learned man who promoted literature, fought against popes and furthered law and government (p. 362). I enjoyed the selection from the poet Usámah (Usama ibn Munqidh), who wrote of his experiences with the Crusaders (p. 447), although some historians today say his work cannot always be trusted.
It was fun to see that students never change, with some in the 12th century wanting to postpone their studies to play and enjoy life (p. 502). Coluccio Salutati was very cool in his piece on the Defense of Liberal Studies, calling out those religious conservatives who would forbid the reading of Virgil and other “heathen” poets (p. 613). Finally, Leonardo Bruni’s “In Praise of Greek” (p. 618) resonates with me and is still valid today. So much of our logic, philosophy and great poetry came from Greek, so he writes that it is worthwhile to study the language to engage with the texts in their original voice.