- Paperback: 227 pages
- Publisher: Routledge; 2 edition (May 16, 1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0415185513
- ISBN-13: 978-0415185516
- Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 13 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #778,816 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Hildegard of Bingen: A Visionary Life 2nd Edition
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From Library Journal
Hildegard was a unique and remarkable woman of the 12th century who began the austere life of a religious at the age of eight. In light of the fact that she surmounted the typical restraints and low esteem in which women were held in the Middle Ages, her accomplishments were prodigious. That she wrote at all was exceptional. Her interests were both mystical and intellectual, including natural history, medicine, and science. Her musical works are performed even today. She is best known, though, for three lengthy theological works--discussed in some detail here--that came about from her visionary experiences. Just as Hildegard "sought to understand the world in all its aspects, natural, human and divine," this biography approaches her life from a scholarly viewpoint, seeking to interpret her visionary knowledge from a modern perspective. It is the first major work to do so.
- Carol J. Lichtenberg, Washington State Univ. Lib., Pullman
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Digital edition.
"Sabina Flanagan's biography is a solid introductory account...."
"Flanagan's book would be the one that I would recommend as a first introduction to Hildegard."
"An excellent biography of an extraordinary medieval visionary...a fascinating book about a miraculous life."
"It is the great virtue of Sabina Flanagan's cool, scholarly, and reflective biography that it sets her story so firmly in her own age....A woman of electrifying visionary power, fascinating, often enigmatic and clearly of great presence, she was also a woman with a will and prejudices of her own....It is as such, wrinkles and all, that Sabina Flanagan presents her to us, and we must be grateful for the historical balance of her picture."
-"New York Review of Books
"Sabina Flanagan's biography is a solid introductory account."
-"Voice Literary Supplement
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While reading this lifeless biography I had the persistent impression that it had not been written from the heart, as would be appropriate, or even expected, for a subject like Hildegard von Bingen. That being said, I still believe there is a place in the biographical literature for an essay based entirely on rational principles, as this one obviously was, although it may have for consequence to dehumanize the subject to a certain extent. But it will certainly please anyone looking for a historical approach that is driven by scientific rigour. Yet, at times I had the impression I was reading a top student high school report. This is a relatively small book and I presume there was not enough space in that format for more scope and depth. But this shortfall could also be explained by the fact that we actually know very little about Hildegard herself. On the other hand we do have better access today to the various texts, works and letters that survived Hildegard, and Flanagan did have the opportunity to explore this abondant literature. Unfortunately the study she derives from these writings remains for the reader an unfulfilling intellectual exercise. For example, in the chapter dedicated to the beautiful music that was written by Hildegard we find a very superficial analysis of selected liturgical songs where the emotional aspect of the music is entirely ignored. No attempt whatsoever is made to convey the effect that Hildegard's music may still produce today on modern listeners. In fact there is little to be found in terms of emotion throughout the entire book. No artistic considerations are ever discussed, and, strangely, no spiritual ones either. Perhaps this could be explained by the fact that Flanagan was obviously writing for an academic audience.
But there are two chapters that I found particularly interesting towards the end of the book where the author discusses the interactions that Hildegard had with various people, and in particular her spectacular confrontations with the ecclesiastic authorities. There for the first time is exposed the human side of Hildegard. Unfortunately the effect is spoiled shortly afterwards, in the last chapter, when Flanagan brings forward her theory that the strange manifestations in Hildegard's life could have been induced by her migraines. Her argument rests entirely on observations discussed by Oliver Sacks in a book on migraine. As explained in this work, and contrary to popular belief, migraines in general are not always accompanied by chronic headaches. Using Sacks' findings Flanagan tentatively attributes the famous visions to this poorly understood medical problem. Her theory implies that those visions would have nothing to do with mysticism, or unique psychic abilities. Had she been successful she would have demolished in one blow the entire spiritual edifice where Hildegard has been confined for almost ten centuries. But her argumentation is rather weak and remains unverifiable. Of course if you were already seeking such a rational explanation you may view this as a compelling idea. It all depends on what you think of those phenomena and how you view Hildegard as a Christian mystic.
Strangely the author elected to wait until the very end of her book before attempting to deconstruct the traditional view, some would say myth, that Hildegard was a mystic with extrasensory capabilities that defy human comprehension, and she offered as an alternative view a more rational and down to earth explanation. This is a notion that will certainly please some members of the academic community, but one also that is likely to hurt the sensibilities of Hildegard's numerous followers and admirers around the world.
The book takes a bit of a downturn in the final chapter, when the author, albeit somewhat cautiously, hazards an interpretation of Hildegard's visionary experiences as being rooted in migraine headaches. Granted, the author admits that it is a major step from visionary to prophet, and that Hildegard's status as prophet cannot be reduced to neuro-physiological phenomena. Nevertheless, the thesis is forced, and highly speculative, since there is no objective evidence to indicate that Hildegard even suffered from migraines, much less that she confused them with divinely inspired visions. I personally suffer from migraines - and believe me, I'm in no danger of confusing them with divine revelations.
Overall, it is a well-written book, although clearly intended for an educated audience. It is not an academic treatise, but neither does it fall into the genre of what we might call "popular biography." For motivated readers, it is a solid investment of time and energy - but read the last chapter with a few grains of salt.