LIVE from the NYPL: Thinking Medievally: Thomas Cahill in conversation with Margaret Atwood

December 1, 2006

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The High Middle Ages (1100 - 1347 A.D.) were extraordinary years for the advancement of science, women, and the arts. But most people today have exactly the opposite understanding of medieval life, envisioning instead rampant barbarism, superstition, and oppression both religious and secular interspersed with impressive castles and gallant knights as high points. This dark, albeit incorrect, view of the Middle Ages might seem like the ideal setting for an adventure film or bodice-ripper novel, but the truth of the time period is far more interesting.

Join historian Thomas Cahill and novelist/poet Margaret Atwood as they discuss Cahill's new book, Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science, and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe. Cahill and Atwood will explore the European cities, people, and ideas that make the Middle Ages so fascinating and essential to who we are today:

The cult of the Virgin and how it encouraged powerful medieval female figures such as Hildegard of Bingen and Eleanor of Aquitaine, who were precursors to modern-day heroines like Eleanor Roosevelt and even Madonna.

The advent of courtly love and the invention of sex as romance.

The nature of reality. Could mud become gold, as the alchemists believed? What about the Eucharist? Did it at some point change from ordinary bread into a mystical reality?

Realism in art. Like scientists, artists began to explore reality as they pondered how to depict the human body, motion, and space.


About Thomas Cahill

Thomas Cahill is the author of "The Hinges of History," a prospective seven-volume series in which the author recounts formative moments in Western civilization. These books include How the Irish Saved Civilization, The Gifts of the Jews, and the latest volume, Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science, and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe. Cahill endeavors to retell the story of the Western world through little-known stories of individuals who had pivotal impacts on history and contributed immensely to Western culture and the evolution of Western sensibility, thus revealing how we have become the people we are and why we think and feel the way we do today.


About Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood's books have been published in over thirty-five countries. She is the author of more than forty books of fiction, poetry, and and critical essays. In addition to The Handmaid's Tale, her novels include Cat's Eye, shortlisted for the Booker Prize; Alias Grace, which won the Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in italy; The Blind Assasin, winner of the 2000 Booker Prize; and her most recent, Oryx and Crake, shortlisted for the 2003 Booker Prize. She lives in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson.