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HALL OF FAMEon September 28, 2000
In "Intellectuals in the Middle Ages" Jacques Le Goff explores the rise of intellectuals in Western Society. He says the Western medieval intellectual was born in the town. When towns expanded around the year 1000 A.D. individuals who could read and write and teach others to read and write were in great demand.
Reading and writing was something the clergy could do. Towns were often attached to monastaries or cathedrals, so the demand for instruction led some clergy to leave behind lives of contemplation as monks and undertake lives as mendicants (ad)ministering to the people. Over time, the church became more and more involved in commercial interests, and this growing involvement further fueled the demand for an educated class.
But the church controlled "knowledge." Early thinkers and teachers like Abelard, found themselves working within a theological framework. The imposition of the theology on knowledge is known as scholasticism. Le Goff says scholasticism sowed the seeds of it's own destruction because it constrained rational thinking and therefore in time became outmoded in a rapidly developing capitalist society.
Many of the problems the church faced required scietific or rational thinking (such as figuring out a calander to schedule the celebration of Church holydays). In supporting these forms of thinking the church indirectly supported thought that was inimical to it's own existence. However, the church moved very slowly, so intellectuals became more secular, and involved in the material world.
However, acquiring knowledge was an expensive proposition. The secular scholar/teachers had to eat, cloth themselves, and find shelter. They no longer had funding from the church to support themselves, let alone underwrite the poorer students. Many scholars associated with "Princes" who could offer them a rich life style as well as protection. Thus the acquistion of knowledge became something only the wealthy could afford.
So, as the Middle Ages waned, the mendicant intellectual and scholar, tending a flock of students comprised of both rich and poor students disappeared completely. Le Goff suggests the Renaissance scholars worked in glorious surroundings, usually in countryside villas where they owned large farms purchased with their own or inherited wealth. LeGoff calls these Renaissance scholars Humanists. Interestingly, Renaissance scholars mostly studied and wrote about the common people with whom they avoided contact.
An interesting note, Latin was the language of the Renaissance scholars, but because these scholars were the only people who continued to use Latin, it was doomed as more and more Europeans spoke a vernacular language based on Latin (French, Italian, Spanish, etc.).
Le Goff suggests the fall of Constantinople in the 15th Century spurred scholars, particularly in Italy, to study all things Greek--language, architecture, etc.--which had been the basis of the Byzantine Empire. I had not made the connection between the fall of the Byzantine Empire and the Renaissance but it makes a great deal of sense. Many scholars and other professionals fled when the Byzantine Empire fell to the Turks. They would have carried a great deal of knowledge with them. After all, they did not call themselves Byzantines, they called themselves Roman.
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on April 25, 2004
Excellent, be it only for the presentation of the difference between the pompous scholastic thinker laboring in the academy and the other nonacademic humanist laboring in the the "luxe calme et volupte" of his study.
Another of the attributes is the readability of the work Le Goff is a gifted writer.
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