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A Woman's Journal


Poetry and Wine

By Maggie Turner

November 1, 1999

Poetry and Wine

I like "old" books. What I mean by old books are those that were written prior to my birth, not necessarily printed before my birth. My current reading excursion is to medieval times, the book is entitled Medieval People, written by Eileen Power, first published in 1924. This book explores the lives of 6 ordinary people who lived between the 9th century and the 16th century. The individuals are a peasant, a traveler, a prioress, a wife, a wool merchant, and a clothier. The traveler is Marco Polo; I don't really see him as an ordinary person. After all, if he were merely ordinary would I have heard of him 730 years later? I certainly haven't heard of any of the others.

So far the most memorable piece of information I have found is in the first chapter called The Precursors. This chapter sets the historical stage for the lives of the individuals. A section is devoted to a man called Ausonius. The man is a professor of rhetoric living in the latter half of the fourth century. This fellow loves wine, writing poems and socializing with neighbors and fellow scholars. This member of the intelligentsia lives a life of comfort and ease, as do his colleagues. The times were violent, his life was not. This fellow and his colleagues were the 'rulers of reason', the 'cream of the crop', 'in the know', 'the last word'. These guys represented the knowledge of their time!

Now I come to quote the part that I really, really like:

" 'all Gaul was a smoking funeral pyre' and the Goths were at the gates of Rome. And what have Ausonius and his correspondents to say about this? Not a word. Ausonius and Symmachus and their set ignore the barbarians as completely as the novels of Jane Austen ignore the Napoleonic wars."

Well, I guess they never claimed to be humanitarian. One wonders at the book's author, a professor at Cambridge. Her comments seem biting, but does she imagine that the academy of scholars has evolved to a higher plane over the last 800 years? She doesn't say.


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