Friday, February 11, 2011

Literacy in the Middle Ages

Sarah Woodbury, author of historical fiction and fantasy novels, has posted a most interesting look into what it means to be "literate", stating that there really isn't an absolute standard even now.
"What it means to be literate is not an absolute standard even now. This was even more true in the Middle Ages when the majority of the population couldn’t read at all, a certain percentage could read and not write, and the only way to be ‘literate’ at the time was if a person could read Latin. Literacy in other languages didn’t count."

"The term writing was used by medieval authors, whether they were actually carrying out the process of putting the words to parchment themselves, or whether they were dictating. One imagines that scribes of this type must have been rather like 20th century typists who could not only render the words of the master in the appropriate medium of the day, but may have exerted a little influence over such matters as spelling, style and grammar; educated, undervalued and ultimately anonymous."

"In Europe, which had always been much more under the influence of Latin, the first person to break through the Latin barrier was “Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), arguably the greatest medieval poet. Dante wrote in Latin but, more frequently, he used the Tuscan vernacular. His writings encompass a broad range of subjects but he is best known for the lyric poems to his beloved Beatrice and la Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy). Packed with symbolism and allegory, The Divine Comedy conveys Dante’s judgments on the characters of history as he places them into the many levels of heaven, hell and purgatory. Dante’s ability to create literary masterpieces in Tuscan proved his own arguments against the scholars and writers who, scorning the use of vernacular as vulgar, insisted on Latin as the language of literature."
Read the full article here.


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