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Medieval Western literature was characterized by a significant impact of Christianity. In fact, this influence was quite natural since Christianity became the dominant religion in Western Europe, which actually became the only one in the course of time. At the same time, the influence of Christianity could be observed not only in literature but also other spheres of life. In general, Christianity was the dominant religion, ideology, and philosophy that defined the lifestyle, views, and beliefs of people in the Medieval Ages.
Speaking about literature proper, it should be pointed out that, in spite of the existing stereotypes concerning the Medieval epoch, literature developed and progressed during this period. Even though, traditionally the Medieval period is viewed as Dark ages, the development of Western literature perfectly proves the fact that this was the epoch of progress. At the same time, the fact of the profound impact of Christianity on Western literature is undeniable. However, there were objective factors that defined such a trend in the Medieval literature.
First of all, it is necessary to underline that the Middle Ages literature may be viewed in a way as a descendant of the ancient literature, especially Roman ones. Historically, it was the former Roman Empire territory where the literature traditions were particularly strong, while in the areas where the Roman civilization remained hostile literature was underdeveloped and, instead, it was mainly folklore traditions that were quite strong in these areas. As a result, various legends, fairy tales and other similar works of folklore were the characteristic of Western literature, especially in Germany and Britain. buy an essay
On the other hand, the areas where the Roman civilization influences were particularly strong, especially Italy and France literature traditions persisted. However, the development of literature in Western Europe was very specific in the period of the Middle Ages. The overwhelming majority of the population of Western Europe was illiterate, science, after the downfall of the Roman Empire, was in a decline. In such a situation, religion remained the only source of philosophical and literature knowledge at the epoch. In fact, it was only priests who were really educated people at the epoch while even nobility viewed education as a kind of privilege, which though was not really important, especially at the early period of the Medieval epoch.
Naturally, those few educated people who could write and read and had access to various literary and philosophic works of the past were directly or indirectly related to the church since church, i.e. Christianity, was the major (the only as the matter of fact) educator at the epoch. Moreover, books and literary or philosophic texts that were used in education were mainly related to religious, Christian themes. As a result, it would absolutely illogical that Christianity failed to remain a significant trace in literary works of writers of that period.
It is worthy of mention that the development of the Medieval century in Western Europe was not homogenous, i.e. different countries had a different level of the development of literature. Nevertheless, on analyzing the literature of that epoch in Western Europe it should be said that sacred themes and elements were amply presented in literary works, though some naturalistic and legendary elements persisted. For instance, it is possible to refer to works by Francois Rabelais who created works which characters possessed some supernatural characteristic such as enormous height or appetite but still it was not a mystification but rather an attempt to hyperbolize human vices, which naturally met the vices criticized by the church, such as overeating.
In fact, there are even more evident influence of Christianity and church in literature of the Middle Ages. For instance, one of the most known writers of the early Medieval epoch, the Vulnerable Bede was famous for his religious works not only in England but in France, Italy and other European countries. In this respect, it is worthy of mention one of his most popular works “The History of the English Church”.
In this period ballads, fables, romances and similar genres progressed. In the late Medieval period a more critical or more frivolous view on Christianity and its representatives, priests were developed. For instance, Geoffrey Chaucer in his “Canterbury Tales” describes pilgrimages from London to Canterbury and depicts representatives of church which are not so perfect as they were traditionally depicted. Nevertheless, the writer still remained affected by Christianity which was presented in his book in its images and characters. Even more radical is the book by Dante “The Divine Comedy”, in which the author raises themes which were traditionally not discussed in the literature, such as the description of the Hell and sinners that were there.
Thus, the literature of the Middle Ages evolved from purely or predominantly religious works, such as “The History of the English Church” by the Vulnerable Bede to quite critical or quite liberal works, such as “The Divine Comedy” by Dante. Nevertheless, whatever the period of creation of literary works was the influence of Christianity remained very significant.
Eamon, W. Science and the Secrets of Nature: Books of Secrets in Medieval and Early Modern Culture. Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1994.
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