Tyler Bass
March 23, 2015

Narrator Anthony Esolen successfully debunks Dark Ages myths made popular as early as the 13th century, by Petrarch, and repopularized by other historians well into the 19th century. A dim view of the so-called European Dark Ages may stem from too flowery a view of the Roman Empire that preceded it, or perhaps too much regard for the explosion of Latin literature that followed medieval times.

That Dark Age Europe believed the world is flat until Columbus is a pernicious myth that still seems to lurk in the background of modern thought. In medieval times, just being at the shore, watching ships descend below the horizon line, made the earth’s true shape perceptible to those of very limited travel and means.

Though American conservative Dennis Prager produced this presentation, it immediately reminded me of the “Medieval Lives” series by the relative freewheeler and Bush administration skeptic, Terry Jones, of Monty Python fame. Gilliam shares a dismay by Esolen and Prager University that stereotype treats the lives of medieval commoners as so bleak and inconsequential.

In defending old Europe from unfair stereotypes, the Prager presentation could be fairer to the medieval Muslim world. At a minute and a half into the video, Esolen says, “For the first time in the history of the world you could go to Paris or Bologne or Padua or Oxford or Prague or Cologne and study under masters of law, medicine, philosophy and theology. And your degree designating you as a master or a doctor would hold good anywhere in Europe. It was an international community of scholars.” On his map Esolen doesn’t acknowledge institutions like the University of al-Qarawiyyin, the world’s oldest continually operating university. It’s nonetheless geographically present, in Fes, Morocco – an institution that hosted distant scholars, including the first French pope, reputed to have introduced Arabic numerals to Europe.

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