The Middle Ages, Renaissances and Early Modern World

[Note: Syllabus change: You will have the reading/writing day on March 8 instead of March 15. For this week’s blog, you will comment on March 6 and the new March 13 reading. The 15th will be our roundtable and no blogging will be due. This will conclude Project 2.]

Mar. 6: Medieval to Modern Dichotomies

            Shlain, 292-322.

Mar. 8: No class. Research/Writing Day

March 13: Rebellion and Reorganization

          Shlain, 323-392.

on two out of the four categories (Second Project):

  • 3 factual errors and where the correct information can be found
  • 3 omissions (things you needed to know to evaluate his argument)
  • 3 areas of logic or reasoning with you agree or disagree and a brief explanation as to why (see instructions for the Second Project, below)
  • 1 book or article on the week’s topic written after 1990 that he could have cited in his bibliography but did not.

26 thoughts on “The Middle Ages, Renaissances and Early Modern World

  1. George A. Rados
    a short commentary on Shlain’s chapter #26 (Illiteracy/Celibacy).

    As before, Shlain did not bother to ‘dig deep’ before coming to conclusion in this chapter. From the very beginning, he states that the ‘dark ages’ in Europe after the fall of Rome, brought (alongside illiteracy) the elevation of womanhood, so much so as to place Mary, Mother of God, to the same level as the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).
    What he doesn’t bring into account is the fact that Rome and literacy did not really ceased from existence as the south-east Europe/Roman Empire (Byzantium) continued for almost another thousand years. In that European part of the Empire and in a much literate world, Mary was the exhaulted figure of Christianity’s ‘pantheon’. Women empresses (some of them trulyilliterate) ruled with an iron (manly) fist; whether they were all popular or not is another question.
    Further, not being a linguist (and not bothering to consult one), Shlain brought the Greekword ‘sophia’ (meaning wisdom) as proof that Byzantum (a literate entity!) along with the illiterate west, elevated femininity by building the St. Sophia cathedral!
    Sophia, the word, may in Greek have feminine ‘gender’ but it applies equally to both male and female qualitative posessions. Most importantly, that cathedral was built in honor of the Holy Trinity’s wisdom, as God’s (male!) undisputed quality! The full ‘title’ of the dedicated cathedral translates from Greek as follows: (To) the Wisdom of God! (Tis to Theou Sophias).
    Apparently none of the people of his publishing company were/are linguists either… To this day, and at least within the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church, Mary holds unchallenged her place in a literate world and the most famous hymn in her honor was written during the illiterate ages of western Europe by the most literate eastern part of the same continent!

  2. Leonard Shlain continues in his controversial quest to explain the correlation between the written word and a male dominated society, he uses St. Thomas Aquinas as an example of a major historical figure’s vilification of women. As a Roman Catholic and being educated within Catholic institutions, I am well acquainted with many of Aquinas’ ideas and theories. Aquinas was a member of a society which viewed women as inferior to man and thus his views towards women were not a product of his own active imagination; the outside world permeated his brain and like other historical figures, Aquinas viewed women through a skeptical lens. In this respect, I have to disagree with Shlain’s statement that it is surprising that a supposed model man such as Thomas Aquinas would vilify women. A few pages following the above example, Shlain makes a controversial statement: “Eliminating her (women) from the process greatly increases the possibility that a man might make a wrong headed decision about matters of import. History books are filled with such examples.” While I agree with Shlain in this vague statement, he fails to back up this argument with examples and facts. This causes the reader (myself included) to disagree with Shlain when he makes this argument. Perhaps as many correct decisions were made by a committee of male members as opposed to incorrect decisions. There is no way of proving this statement without concrete examples. Consulting with a member of the opposite sex is advisable and oftentimes men find solace in their communications with a woman but Shlain offers the reader a vague statement without providing evidence. This is the sole reason that I must disagree with his statement. The final piece of information that I take issue with involves Martin Luther. Shlain proposes that Luther advocated the violent overthrow of the Catholic church (by rebelling against the pope) which any student of history will recognize as a false statement. Luther was more concerned about the beginnings of his own church and separation from Catholic institutions. To my understanding, Luther never proposed a violent rebellion against the Catholic church or pope; his lone act of violence was the burning of a papal bull. Luther was not a rebellious figure as he fully supported the government repression of the peasant rebellion taking place in Germany during the early 1500’s. Luther saw corruption in the Catholic church and rather than attempt to overthrow such a well established organization, he decided to embark on the creation of his own purified church. One work that Shlain could have included in his bibliography is “Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages” by R.W. Southern. This work explains the relationship between the church and the various European governments during the middle ages as well as the mindset of the population during the time period. This would be of great assistance to Shlain as he would be able to immerse himself in the time period that he is writing about rather than viewing the past through a modern eye.

    • I highly recommend Southern’s book. It is a classic in the field and beautifully written.

      I disagree, Michael, about Aquinas. He has statements in his writings that are misogynistic. He assumes the worst of the majority of women, though he recognizes that women can rise above what he thinks are inherent characteristics, especially a propensity toward sin in the form of deception, licentiousness and vanity. He also has statements about same-sex relations, comparing a homosexual to a hyena, which he thought of as an inverted creature (in keeping with many patristic writers and the bestiary writers of his day). As you say, he was a product of his day, but far more than most people of his time, he was not merely a product of it. Aquinas changed the way people thought. He was brilliant, surprisingly ecumenical (within limits), willing to take his thought to daring conclusions, principled, and many wonderful things. He is still very much relevant and worth reading as a moral philosopher and theologian. I don’t think Shlain understands just how significant Aquinas was in the change that occurred between the 13th and 14th centuries. There is a kind of paradox, in which the ideas of Aquinas, which were condemned in his own day but became the gold standard a century later, were a critical part of the intellectual crackdown and the suppression of cultural variations in religious practices. Aquinas, the man who read Averroes and Maimonides, might have been surprised by what developed. The Summa essentially laid out so clearly what doctrine should be, that anyone who believed otherwise could be branded a heretic. By answering every question so thoroughly and brilliantly, he wound up closing debate rather than opening it. After his death, Catholic suppression of Jews, Cathars, Albigensians and gay people increased enormously.

  3. George Rados’ comments on Chapters 30 and 31:
    (Protestant/Catholic and Faith/Hate) of Shlain’s book gives nothing more than the historical synopsis of religious reformations and wars taking place in Europe (and the colonized areas of the ‘New World’), placing their cause and prime culprit the invention of the printing press, alongside the newly found ability of mass production and distribution of books. Concerning his main theme and, ostensibly, reason of writing this book though, these two chapters don’t serve his claim at all that the alphabet was/is the cause of the conflict between word and image via which women were placed in a marginal role within society(ies).
    That condition pre existed (and continued its existence) in general terms and the whim of a king to provide a male heir for his throne or the zealous pathos -reaching frenzy- for the cause (or against it) of
    one religious affiliation toward another, proves his thesis. Contrary, one could claim, Isabella (a Catholic woman),Elizabeth (an Anglican), Mary (a Catholic) were women, were Queens of note and had men doing zealously what was ordered by these very women!
    Does that reverse or supports Shlain’s thesis? I doubt it and I consider these two chapters as nothing more than what I stated in the first paragraph, with the addition of (perhaps) page filling.

  4. I would have to agree, that the chapters about the protestant reformation was quite filled with statements that did not seem important to Shlain’s argument. Although this was the case, I found myself very interested in these chapters and in the ending of the book. As I began to read these chapters, I found a few things that Shlain failed to leave out that would have been helpful to know to understand his argument. On page 333, Shlain stated that “the defining event of the Israelites’ reformation was the appearance of the first sacred alphabetic book. Coincident with its appearance, men sharply circumscribed women’s rights, denounced the worship of the goddesses as an abomination, and declared the images were profane.” To me, it would have been helpful for Shlain to explain, and give examples of how the first sacred text influenced men in this particular society to act in such ways. Shlain then goes on to talk about the next protestant reformation which occurred in the Roman Empire, again stating how the influence of the sacred text led to similar results. I also think that Shlain should have discussed the importance of the printing press more in his protestant reformation chapter instead of in the chapters proceeding this one, because I think this invention had a great deal to do with his argument that he is trying to get across to the reader. When I looked up more information on the printing press, I found that many historians believed that Luther’s reformation most likely would have not been as successful if the printing press was not invented. I also found that the press and the distribution of books and other printed pieces of work during Luther’s time had a large influence on his spread of ideas and work.
    One book that I think would fit perfectly in Shlains chapter about sorcery/science is The Witch-Hunts of Early Modern Europe by Brian Levack. I actually read this book last semester, and it explains in great detail why the witchcraft prosecutions took place. The book emphasizes that these events occurred because there were many people in Europe who went against the moral and religious aspects of the majority of European beliefs, and due to that they were prosecuted.

  5. I have a great deal of trouble believing that the “Protestant Reformation was not a worldwide phenomenon,” as Shlain states on page 339. The Protestant Reformation, no matter the view, left ripple effects across the world. Would the pilgrims who were trying to escape the harsh rule of Christianity have come to America if it were not for the divide or Protestantism and Christianity? Just taking this one example into account can prove a world wide phenomenon.
    I understand that Shlain credits the invention of the printing press to the center of the Protestant Reformation, as he states on page 340, “The printing press made the Reformation’s rigid and repressive self-discipline possible.” I just do not see where he is connecting this to his thesis. The printing press did make way for a mass amount of books available to the public, and this in turn raised literacy levels. So, what is the cause of bringing down women? The Reformation or the printing press.

    I want to switch my attention now to the end of the book and the epilogue. We have talked to great extent about Shlain’s thesis and if he is right or not. I want to point out that even Shlain doesn’t know if he is right or wrong, “I cannot prove that I am right or wrong,” (p. 432). However, I found something important in Shlain’s epilogue that all history students are told to be careful of. This is not assuming one event led or caused another or is even related to another. “Any individual chip’s texture and design can be (and has been) explained by local condition, but when all of them are viewed juxtaposed together, I think a pattern can be discerned showing the shaping influence on culture of writing and particularly the alphabet.” (p. 432) Shlain is not taking into account one event for what it is worth, but viewing them all together he then points or patterns. History is very fragile and sensitive. It is risky trying to piece events from around the world and fitting them into a puzzle that perhaps shows many different pictures.

  6. Shlain waits a few chapters before he tells you why he finds some information to be important to his thesis. This is something I do not like about his writing. If it something you don’t know much about it is hard to follow. He doesn’t always give the deep down meaning of a situation he just tries to offer you facts. This being said I think that he could have talked more about the printing press and why it was important instead of jumping from one topic to the next. I did however find what he said about men and women complimenting each other to be a very interesting part of the book to read. I would like to know more about how the family unit came to be. This then brings him back to Christianity. I was kind of confused about why these people were so interested in rape if celibacy was such a big part of the religion. He says they created art to depict it. The chapter I found to be very interesting was the chapter on witchcraft. I would be very interested to know more about this in that time because most of what I know comes from the Salem witch trials. I am very curious to know why only women were accused of being witches?

  7. Shlain covers many aspects of history, which enhances my uneasy feelings about his writings. He continues to cover almost every time place and people but has little focus. This is even more evident in the readings the class is blogging on now. Three things I would need to know about the Medieval to Modern Dichotomies section to further process his argument are:
    1. More information on why the Renascence artists focused so heavily on the Greek and Roman traditions rather than on their own?
    2. More background on the clash between religion and science.
    3. An explanation as to why the Church had such good record keeping yet was at the same time loosing power and dominance to literacy in day to day life

    Answering the above or at least addressing the questions, Shlain would have been able to clarify and further explain some of his thoughts clearer. Moving on to Rebellion and Reorganization I found yet another source Shlain could have used to further his arguments or at least explain some of his grey areas in which he does not provide enough information. The article that i ran across from our CCSU database entitled “Child Witch Hunts in contemporary Ghana” ( Explored modern witch hunts and how they compare to the past. This article would help Shlain to not make such rash judgments as made on page 364 that the witch hunts were made popular because it was away for society to get rid of the old and poor, rather than it was a legitimate fear that these people were practiced in dark magic and the people of society were scared.

  8. While I concur with the Shlain that the Renaissance played a major role in promoting literacy I do not agree that it encouraged readers to move away from the church and be alone. The Church was an important part of daily life. In a previous history class I have taken we discussed how the Church was the one who told people what to read. If the Church did not like the material then people were not reading it. Yes, literacy did cause individual thinkers but in the Catholic Church they were the ones that said what was to be or not be. For proof of this you can read A History of the Church in the Middle Ages by F. Donald Logan. The book is a survey of the Church but Logan argues that the Church was a defining institution in the Middle Ages. If the Renaissance did not promote literacy and literacy did not promote thinking for yourself then we as students of history would not have Martin Luther and his 95 Theses, he did not like something and though his church was the all-mighty power Luther hammered his theses on the church door, ultimately causing the Protestant Reformation. I think Shlain could have used the book I previously mentioned just to get a better idea of what the role of the Church was in regards to literacy. The chapter on the Protestant Reformation seemed to include a lot of information that was not needed. Shlain stated on page 339 that the Protestant reformation was not a worldwide phenomenon. While perhaps it is true the world did not all start following the religion immediately. Every event no matter how small or how far away causes a ripple across the world. While I agree the Reformation only happened in Western European societies I cannot agree that it did not have the potential to become a worldwide religion. While I agree with Nicholas that the pilgrims would not have left the harsh rule of Christianity and come to America I do not agree it was just to get away from the harsh rule. The pilgrims did want religious freedom for their religion. The Puritans were not tolerant of another religions just theirs. I think they also came because they wanted land that was not directly under their monarch’s dominion since it took a while to get from England to America. I do agree that Shlain was grasping at straws when he stated “the printing press made the Reformation’s rigid and repressive self-discipline possible.” I understand with a printing press a writer could reach the masses but I don’t think postulating that the printing press being invented has a correlation to the Reformation. I think if he had explained himself better I would understand where he was coming from.
    In chapter 32, Shlain who spends the chapter talking about sorcery and science discusses how witch hunting had nothing to do the women being healers or pillars of the community or even part of a religious war. Witch hunting had to do with the hunter-killer attributes of the left brain. I was confused by this he goes on to say that the left brain was ballooning up because of the rapid expansion of the printing press and the generated alphabet literacy. I think Shlain would have been better served leaving that paragraph out and continuing with the last paragraph on the page. The paragraph just made no sense to me in the context of the others on page 364 and 365. Then Shlain switches back to his theory. I think Shlain would have benefited from Anne Llewellyn Barstow’s , Witchcraze: a new history of the European witch hunts.
    Moving on to the end of the book I realize that we did discuss the fact that Shlain is not a historian nor did he go through a university press. But I think if you spend 400+ pages arguing something and then right at the end say I cannot prove that I am right or wrong then my question is why publish the book. He bashes the left brain and attributes it to the hunter but then says he has no proof for what he is arguing. I was left throughout the book wondering what his point was and now I feel I have wasted my time because even he doesn’t know if he’s right. Also, because he is not a historian he does not take into account the value of one event like I said previously one event no matter how small or how far away it is causes a ripple effect and makes a difference. I think we can use this quote to show that even writing about historical events can be a problem. “Imagination plays too important a role in the writing of history, and what is imagination but the projection of the author’s personality.”-Pieter Geyl

    Logan, F. Donald. A history of the church in the Middle Ages. London: Routledge, 2002.
    Barstow, Anne Llewellyn. Witchcraze: a new history of the European witch hunts. London: Harper Collins, 1994.

  9. I thought I should cite an article about Pieter Geyl. Herbert H. Rowen, “The Historical Work of Pieter Geyl,” The Journal of Modern History 37, No. 1 (Mar., 1965), 35-49. He did not believe in either Whig (progressive) history or the “rise and fall” model that appealed to many historians.

  10. I found these readings very interesting because the dark ages is a time that is actually important to me because im Greek Orthodox, and in the Dark Ages is where you really see Orthodox Christianity really become Separate from the Catholic West. The great Schism of 1050 is the focal point of Orthodox Christianity, as Eastern Orthodoxy breaks off from Western Catholicism, and establishes itself as the Byzantine Empire. One thing i found that Shlain states is that around 1000 AD- 1300 AD Shlain says that Muslims and Christians are starting to get along, I disagree with his statement because the crusades were still being fought against the Turks for the holy lands, so to say that “Christians and Muslims often mingled at the borders where their cultures met, treating one another with admirable civility” is horribly inaccurate. Shlain states that the view of women by the church changes drastically, and that women are devils. The church describes women as the “devils bait for men.” What i thought was that a good question to ask them would be “Where does this put Mary Magdalene? Mary Magdalene gave birth to our savior Jesus Christ, so if women are “The devils bait” then does that mean the jesus was a bastard birth? I dont agree with this statement because not all women are “the devils bait.” God made all people in his image, so why did he make women in his image if they were “the devils bait” and then why would he have Mary Magdalene give birth to Jesus, our savior? What i also found interesting was how the view of women changes from the dark ages to the renaissance. In the renaissance, women are portrayed in pictures as the most humanistic part of life, and pictures focused on women for their earthly beauty. I thought this was very interesting and agreed with this thought because humanity cant exist without a male and cant exist without a women. Yes there are theories that suggest you dont need male and female to create life, but what we know of the bible, there was Adam and Eve, and that was the basis of how humanity and our creation became to be.

  11. John, I need to make a few corrections. Mary Magdalene was not the mother of Jesus. She was a disciple of Jesus. Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus according to Christian doctrine, was a different person. In the 4th century stories that had circulated orally about Mary Magdalene being a prostitute finally won out, even though there is no scriptural reference to her ever having been a prostitute. This view, that she was once a prostitute but was saved by Jesus, led to a dichotomy familiar to us as the “virgin-whore complex.”

    Many Jews did think of the Virgin Mary as a whore and of Jesus as a bastard (illegitimate child); Mary was not married to Joseph when Jesus was born. Under Talmudic law, a woman in a betrothal state is not supposed to have sex with her betrothed, but it is less bad if the sexual intercourse occurs during a betrothal than before it. Betrothal is a near-married state. Of course, Jews did not accept that Mary was a virgin giving birth to God’s son. They presumed, as do many other non-Christians, that Joseph or someone else was Jesus’ biological father.

    I just wanted to clear that up.

    There was a persistent reference to women as devils after the Reformation. It applied to the female sex generally, but not to every woman.
    See, for America, Carol Karlsen, The Devil in the Shape of a Woman, Chapel Hill, Univ. of North Carolina Press.

  12. The last section of the book I believe didn’t have much importance to his thesis, this information in the end was to modern. Women now in the present are allowed to write and have just equal power, so he maybe he could have changed his argument a little bit. It was hard in general for me to find factual errors because to be honest I am not familiar with this subject. On the last section of this book I really focused on statements that pertained to his thesis. There were some things I could have known to evaluate his argument and they are :
    1. “Perhaps Humanism should have been called Masculinism.” With the new development of humanism there was not much that helped out the women. They were not seen as equal, it was all for and about the man. I definitely need to know this for his argument because with the development of the alphabet he believed women’s power dissipates and along with the development of humanism it did not help the problem.
    2. Another idea that Schlain brings up that I would need to further my understanding of his argument is that the sudden inundation pf society by alphabet letters caused a dramatic increase in left-brain hunter killer values throughout Europe, and a diminution of the right brain values of love, kindness, equality. This was seen the most in the papacy. This gives a more modern twist on his argument rather than ancient history, this has more relevance.
    3. Thirdly the power of one person gives truth to Schlain’s argument. An example was the increase of Calvin. Since his regime controlled the press (335) there were so many laws made that were life or death for people. Women especially they had many forbidden things they couldn’t do. Calvin believed women were only good for bearing children and if they died in childbirth it was not a problem because they did their job. With the power he had, the alphabet did decrease the importance of women in this particular society, and I definitely needed to know to evaluate his argument.

    Schlain sometimes goes against what he wants to argue, but sometimes has no choice because of the facts from the past. He cannot change the research and the facts, but alter his argument. Not all societies were affected by the creation of the alphabet but he has enough info to go with it.

  13. I found Shlain’s interest in Aquinas and Aristotle interesting. Shlain seems perplexed by Aquinas’ sexist viewpoints dispute his admiration for Socrates and Aristotle however I think it is unsurprising. Aquinas lived in a christian world built from the old testament which all have patriarchal laws and superstitions regarding women such as their inferiority and being the source of corruption in men. Likewise Ancient Greece often had very slanted views on women. In the acclaimed birthplace of democracy, the city state of Athens, women had few rights that property owning citizen men had, and were restricted in many ways, being barred from office and so forth.

    In the platonic text the symposium love for women was sometimes called vulgar love. The scientific method was hardly refined or heavily enforced as it is today and the concept of peer review or repeatable provable facts were often intertwined with opinions, perspectives, and untested logical loops.

    Page 349 also seemed to paint a very black vs white dichotomy of European and native american peoples both of whom are extremely varied in personality, time and space. There were also conflicts between early settlers and native Americans and in some ways settlers did not know how exactly to categorize native Americans who seemingly had no place in the biblical blood lines that had previously accounted for the perceived races. Likewise on page 350 he describes the Europeans ares being “driven made by the printing press”. This seems to ignore the very complicated political and technological advances of European empires and their drive to colonize and monolpize power through expansion. When he mentions Alexander he forgets that Alexanders conquests were in a different climate, his enemies were in many ways his contemporaries at least militarily and technologically. Colonial Europeans were arrogant but in a somewhat understandable way. Their religion, technology, training and repeated exposure to the diseases they carried and transmitted to the people they conquered made them extremely formidable. These factors combined to create a series of racial profiles and made the empires feel as if they were entitled to the world, and that they alone could bring a new era. The inquisition likewise was a response by church officials to recover the waning power of religion as the foremost authority in society. I would argue that the church knew exactly what the result of a heliocentric earth model or revaluations on anatomy or illness or natural disaster would do to biblical authority, and over the centuries their fears have been continually reconfirmed. However I disagree that the printing press was the sole contributor to this, but rather it was the increased communication of ideas through print that spread the turmoil necessarily for social evolution.

    Later Shlain compares the advents of technology to the re-emergence of what he considers to be the goddess, however I do have some issues with this. First in his discussion of Mary gaining some aspect of godhood, she was often worship in early christian Europe in the same wya that a goddess would. Her comparison to the trinity is an old aspect from the period of early christian conversion and is perhaps more accurately a form of acculturation between the new Roman religion and older pagan faiths. Likewise technology did not necessarily change gender roles on their own at least not entirely. True factories provided new working opportunities to women however women’s wages and rights were a slow and uphill struggle. I would suggest looking at the conditions brought on by world war II as a major mile stone as women controlled more of the work force then ever before in the United States (ironically enough because men were disposable enough to send to war but women could not be used in such a manner, an interesting concept see this video for further explanation).

  14. Well, that video, “Feminism and the Disposable Male” uploaded by girlwriteswhat on Nov 4, 2011, should generate some interesting commentary, Joseph!. Class, I would very curious what you think about this viewpoint.

  15. In this section I have found more factual errors/omissions where Shlain makes claims about history with no sources, that aren’t accurate, or leave certain facts out that go against his thesis. For instance on page 348 he wrote that Autos-da-fe during the Spanish Inquisition has no parallel in history, and “human sacrifice had never before been practiced on such a large scale in such an allegedly civilized society.” Except the Mayans who were a highly civilized class based society whose religion demanded tremendous human sacrifice, but this goes against Shlain’s thesis so it’s omitted. Another aspect of his argument I had hard time swallowing was when he wrote, “Initial contacts between Europeans and the first Americans were for the most part friendly.” I don’t think the Caribe Tribe or Las Casas would agree with this statement, or the other Native Indians who were beaten into slavery, or killed by the Spanish which inspired the Black Legend to be created. Actually Shlain informs the reader on the next page about how Indian men would have their genitals or limbs cut off if they resisted. Again there’s no source to prove his claim that encounters were peaceful. An omission of fact can be found on page 354, when Shlain discusses the reign of “Bloody Mary.” He says that when Elizabeth took the throne Europe was ready for peace. However, in Dr. Mitchell’s Renaissance and Enlightenment class, I learned that Elizabeth executed more Catholics then Mary killed Protestant’s, and that it was England’s anti-Catholic sentiment which gives us the legacy of “Bloody Mary.” Another omission/error can found on page 324 where Shlain says that the Qur’an came to Muhammad in writing by an image-less male deity. There’s no source to back this claim up and that’s probably due to it not being true. First, Muhammad received Allah’s message through the Angel Gabriel, and it was told to him not written down. As well Islam did not take away women’s rights that they previously enjoyed, and actually gave them more equality. Muhammad’s daughter actually became a warrior-leader after his death. It was years later that Islam became focused on the verses in Qur’an. Muhammad actually said that he could teach Islam to an illiterate Bedouin tribesman in one night.
    One article that could have been used by Shlain is Edward Test’s article about human sacrifice practices in America. While skimming the article I couldn’t help but notice that Test starts his article saying that in 1500CE when Europeans thought about human sacrifice they thought of America. Also, in the article Test pays special attention to Las Casas and his time spent in the New World.

    Test, Edward M. “‘A Dish Fit for the Gods’: Mexica Sacrifice in De Bry, Las Casas, and Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar”, Journal of Medieval & Early Modern Studies; Vol. 41 Issue 1, p93-115 Winter 2011.

  16. Leonard Shlain continues to argue his thesis that the introduction of the alphabet into society led to the decrease in the role of women and the right side of the brain in the world. In this section Shlain begins to focus strictly on Europe, the reformations and the effects of the industrial revolution on women’s roles. Though Shlain makes quite a few valid arguments he once again omits information that does not support his thesis. Shlain dedicates a lot of time towards focusing on the Reformation of religion in Europe and the effects Luther and Calvin had on women’s oppression. Despite discussing how the role of religion changed because of the printing press, he really never fully addressed the role that the Enlightenment played on religion. The Enlightenment introduced scientific ideas that led people to question religion and become skeptical of their believes, similar to how the Protestant Reformation presented different ideals on religion. While discussing the Protestant Reformation Shlain brings up how the gospels of Jesus and the Apostles strongly support the right brain with no murdering and plenty of mercy. Despite the support of the right brain ideals it is also important to mention that later in the Bible almost all of the Apostles and Jesus meet a violent end through crucification or stoning. One final omission is in regards to Shlain’s topic of the Renaissance and its focus on the male obsession of “rape, struggle and death.” (312) Shlain makes it appear that this was the main focal point of the Renaissance and largely ignores iconic works such as the Mona Lisa by Leonard Da Vinci.
    Shlain has an extremely negative view of the role that Martin Luther and John Calvin played in the degradation of women during the Protestant Revolution. Despite the anti-feminist views that Calvin held towards women, Shlain’s perception of Luther is far from the truth. Sascha Becker wrote an article in The Scandinavian Journal of Economics entitled “Luther and the Girls: Religious Denomination and the Female Education Gap in Nineteenth-century Prussia.” In this article Becker presents evidence that the education gap between men and women actually decreased due in part to the work of Luther. Luther actually dedicated funds to build girl’s schools in order to help women learn the gospel and better themselves. Shlain paints Luther as someone that greatly disliked women, but after reading this article Shlain may realized that there was a good side to Luther as well.

    • My question is regarding your article, did that gap close because of a conscious attempt by Luther, or was it an unintended outcome? The gap closed in the nineteenth century, and Luther lived in the sixteenth. There are various charges leveled at Luther about sexism and anti-semitism that often get conflated with Lutheranism or the Lutheran Church; how much Luther’s personal views had on the positions taken by the sect he founded is a matter of debate. It’s an interesting article you found.

  17. These chapters on the Medieval times to the Reorganization were pretty turbulent and since Shlain is not a historian, he makes mistakes and trips over his own logic. An article to help his writing in the Humanist/Egoist chapter stating, “In 1305, Pope Clement VI transferred the Vatican from Rome to Avignon where it remained until 1377″ (Shlain, 310). This is misleading, if not false, after pope Boniface VIII was captured, imprisoned, and eventually died in Anagni, his successor was, “not enthroned in Rome but in Lyons, and eventually established his seat in Avignon. What people in Rome called the Babylonian Captivity of the popes there would last around seventy years” (Kung, 111). One of Shlain’s most common mistakes is not explaining the time that elapses between his points, and since he is going to attack the church for so long he should make sure why and how the church is moved. Now I find fault in his his reasoning in three instances, and one debunks his entire thesis. The first comes into play when he is discussing the medieval world and how women played a prominent role and had a high level in society. He discusses, “Queens, women warriors, women bankers…Then, originating from within the Church, small group of highly educated and determined men began to wrestle the dynamic medieval culture away from its feminine orientation toward masculine values” (Shlain, 295). He did the same thing in his Roman chapter. The explanation of who these men are, why they are doing this, and what they said to accomplish this is everything. There is no proof that this even happened. His second area of faulty logic is the issue of logic itself, Martin Luther. Shlain discusses how Luther advocated the abandonment of reason for two pages and then Shlain writes “Luther was particularly determined to jettison the devotion to Mary. Reasoning that the new Testament never accorded Mary divinity…” (Shlain, 330). Now is Luther a hypocrite? Or should Shlain have used a better word? The latter is more probable but the fact is that the word “reason” implied hypocrisy in this situation. Now the most absurd reasoning error Shlain has made so far is when he discusses the Gregorian Reform and, as only Shlain could do, takes a detour to the beginning of time. He discusses the nomads and their equality, until, “The all-male hunting party came into existence in only our species and with it the ethos of the left brain” (Shlain, 315). This completely destroys the foundation of this book. The left brain-right brain battle began here with the hunting parties! Literacy is merely the exercise of the left brain’s dominance. It is not the origins as he is discussing because he clearly states that husband and wife before this are equals. I do not know how he could have worded this differently, if anything he should have put this in the first page, probably even the preface to illustrate the origins more carefully.

    Hans Kung, The Catholic Church, (New York: The Modern Library, 2003), 111
    Leonard Shlain, The Alphabet versus the Goddess, (New York: The Penguin Group, 1998), 310
    Ibid; 295
    Ibid., 330
    Ibid., 315

  18. On page 339 Shlain states that the protestant reformation was not a worldwide event, while I see how immediately it was not a worldwide event. In future decades and centuries the persecution of protestants would cause them to migrate around different parts of Europe and eventually they would sail across the Atlantic ocean to the Americas, which would have a great effect on how these new countries or colonies were created and there religious basis. Also Nicolas Thomas asked a few questions in his entry that I agree with his questioning of them and want to put some input on answering them. As to why renaissance painters focused on Greco-Roman traditions is as my Renaissance and Reformation professor put it, “the people of the renaissance looked at the ancient traditions as the “good old days and the Golden Age of civilization and who doesn’t like the good old days better than the modern days, but what they failed to remember is that day to day life in ancient times was just as boring and dreary as their times.” The second question I see as religion was not ready to allow its congregations to start thinking for themselves, they had enjoyed the tradition of only the privileged few were allowed to be literate and think for themselves and now that science was starting to advance itself people were making discoveries that went against doctrine and the religious heads didn’t know how to handle this, so they did the best they could to stop this free thought which was to persecute people.

  19. Shlain goes off on a tangent about Albigensianism on page 300. I feel he talks about Gregory too much, and includes meaningless information about his life in order to fill pages. I’m frustrated because Shlain tries to give these majestic stories that aren’t necessary. I understand it’s not a history textbook, and was published with the intent to be dolled up for the masses. Yet, I feel this book could be much shorter without all these random “facts” and stories thrown in. It’s just a ton of filler that doesn’t get at the point he set out to make. Much of the talk about the Christian church does make it seem like men were much more corrupt and destructive. I’m not sure if Shlain is trying to get at that point as well. I feel as if he is, yet there wasn’t a female pope, or many female dictators around at this point in time. It’s only fitting that men are more responsible for all of the killing going on. It is shown that many women were accused in the inquisition, yet I’m curious what the numbers are in comparison to men. Shlain fails to include this in his story. I’m sure this information would be hard to find, but I would like something to back up what he is saying. Which thus far, hasn’t been much from fact.

    Shlain could have used a book published in 2010 caled- The Inquisition: A History- by Michael C. Thomsett in his bibliography. This book goes very in depth into the Inquisition. Shlain could have used this for more actual facts in his writing, and perhaps more up to date information. This book goes into the witch-hunts, which Shlain mentions, but could have gone more in depth with. Women were burned at the stake and thought to be heretics to the church. This is a major event that is crucial to Shlains argument of women losing power. Much more so than a lot of the random tangents he gets on.

    • The death toll of women to men during the Spanish Inquisition is estimated at 20 to 1 by some sources, but I doubt there can be an accurate count. If one combines all of the various inquisitions, it becomes even more complex.

  20. On page 339 Shlain dives into yet another area in which he may little to no formal training. Shlain speculates on the childhood experiences of prodistante leaders Luther and Calvin. He attempts to make a corralation between Luthers abusive father and his stand-off of the pope and Kings. He also makes a similar attempt with Calvin but all he knows of his childhood was that his mother died at a young age. Not only are these historic childhoods un-collaborated, but his argument falls flat. He gives no scientic evidence that their is a direct link between the experiecne of their childhood and their liklihood of becoming the leaders in which they became. He also does not discuss all the other children who had similar upbringings and didnot become such distint prodistant leaders.
    Later on page 351 He makes the agrument that had the New World been discovered by another culture the treatment of the native americans would have been different. This is yet another example of not giving us all the information. What makes him believe that the treatment would have be different. Had there been other ventures in which natives were treated in a better manner? These are just a few questions that had they been awnsered would have futhered his argument. On page 373 he actually debunks his own argument. He states that countries whom did not utilize the printing press, did not slip in to a relgious rain in terror however, he then states countries that did infact have printing presses but did not have relgious reigns of terror.
    Thought a number of my fellow students find this book to be a poor historical thesis I do believe there are certian areas in which further research could help further he overall thesis. The first is his concept about the printing press leading to a) rise in literacy
    b) increased religious issues
    This point to do see some validity in. It seems that when everyone given “the written word” everyone then finds their own meaning. This is when the seperation between leaders and followers truely comes in to play.
    Another valid point is the invention of photography. There does seem to be a “balancing” between the sexes at the same point in which it is developed, however i should note, that should the contiued invention of film further this concept, one could agrue it does.
    Though these two points may have validity one has to question, are these things truely realted directly to the alphabet or do they just develop out of evolutionl. One could argue that yes the creation of the alphabet was a vidal part of wear the human race was headed however, one could just as easily argue what it really started when they found the insterment in which to write in the mud. Maybe everything is always related to the event in which occured prior.

  21. There were many omissions and things I needed to know related to this weeks topic. To start a better or at least a brief background on the crusades. I have never studied them before and really know nothing about them, along with other religious terror acts. I was also not aware that there were witch trails and witch hunting in Europe. I only learned about the Salem which trials in the past. Finally the last thing that would be helpful would be a better scientific background of Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin along with their theories.
    Shlain made several good points, that I agreed with, but others that I disagreed with. I was in complete disagreement when on page 342 he stated “I propose that the sixteenth century European nightmare was brought on by Gutenberg’s press and the widespread literacy that came from it. Slain makes this seem like the sole cause which simply can not be true.
    I did however agree with Shlain when he says the witch craze was an example of masculine hysteria and gullibility without a parallel in any other culture. Some of the things Shlain describe were just so outrageous such as the pickers, that hysteria would be the only thing to blame.
    I have to disagree with Shalin when he says beyond doubt that the male was the standard and the female a defective version of him on page 378. This is just a generalization and I do not believe this to be true because there are many women that are smarter than some men. This is just too general of an opinion to state as a fact.

  22. Many of you have brought up the printing press. Here again, Shlain challenges received wisdom. The standard historical narrative about the printing press is that it was a wonderful invention, but that it had revolutionary consequences for European church and society, namely that it gave rise to biblical literacy and this benefited everyone.

    I think it is worth considering this point, even if you disagree with the conclusion, because it is such a common assumption to presume the good effects of literacy upon everyone in the aggregate.

    In John Eliot’s publication Indian Dialogues (1671), which is a compilation of Indian missionary attempts to convert other Indians in New England to Christianity, unconverted Indians continually express distrust of the book (The Bible) because they relate it directly to the disappearance of their land. They believe it is full of tricks and many reject literacy as it will make them tricksters.

    On the other hand, both Maori (in New Zealand) and native Hawaiians embraced literacy eagerly. Maori started newspapers in their own language (see New Zealand Papers Past). The newspapers were avenues for dissent and the government tried to control them. Major civil war broke out at the instigation of literate Maori.

    Thus, it is possible that the effects of literacy, which mainly were afforded to men in the sixteenth century, had negative effects on women in the aggregate. It is not necessarily the case, but the major campaign to educate women came only in the late nineteenth century, four centuries after the printing press was invented.

  23. I have continued to find many problems in Shlain’s logic. In chapter 30, Shlain writes of what he calls previous reformations and makes a point that the creation of Islam led to women’s freedom being curtailed. Yet in Chapter 27, Shlain writes on page 281 that Mohammed “taught his fellow Arabs that in Allah’s eyes every mortal was equal. A woman could own property, enter any legitimate profession, manage her own earnings and was an equal in legal cases.” It was not until later that Islam began to curtail freedoms of women. Shlain mentions that Jesus and Mohammed taught love and respect for all people and that subsequent followers yet he never seems to dig deep into reasons why these religions became so brutal and misogynistic. His two main theories seem to be the introduction of the written word and in the case of leaders such as Calvin, death of a mother at an early age. I feel there has to be more to the riddle of patriarchy. Jesus and Mohammed were both well read men, so why did they teach tolerance and compassion and not bigotry and hate? We have been Homo sapiens-sapiens for approximately 500,000 years, for 490,000 of the years, there is no archeological evidence of widespread violence. I believe Shlain has attempted to account for this violence by proposing a thesis that the written word was directly responsible for the subjugation of women. Shlain ends his book by writing, “reading and Writing are such valuable tools in world culture that virtually all governments want their citizens to acquire them. The benefits of alphabet literacy are magnificent and life-changing.” If this is the case then why did he spend over 400 pages criticizing the role of the written word in human culture? Shlain ends his book by calling for “a renewed respect for iconic information, which, in conjunction with the ability to read, can bring our two hemispheres into greater equilibrium and allow both individuals and cultures to become more balanced.” So is this Shlain’s answer? respect for the written word and imagery will end subjugation of women? If this is the case why is there still so much sexism in a country like America where it would seem we have for the most part reconciled imagery and literacy? Shlain made a bold attempt to explain the last 10,000 years of human history but in the end leaves more questions than answers.

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