THOMAS CAHILL's appealing approach to distant history has won the attention of millions of readers in North America and beyond. Cahill is the author of five previous volumes in the Hinges of History series: How the Irish Saved Civilization, The Gifts of the Jews, Desire of the Everlasting Hills, Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea, and Mysteries of the Middle Ages. They have been bestsellers not only in the United States but also in countries ranging from Italy to Brazil. His most recent book is A Saint on Death Row.
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Excerpt from book:
NEW WORLDS FOR OLD
Innovation on Sea and Land
Winter completes an age
With its thorough levelling;
Heaven’s tourbillions of rage
Abolish the watchman’s tower
And delete the cedar grove.
As winter completes an age,
The eyes huddle like cattle, doubt
Seeps into the pores and power
Ebbs from the heavy signet ring;
The prophet’s lantern is out
And gone the boundary stone,
Cold the heart and cold the stove,
Ice condenses on the bone:
Winter completes an age.
Thus the perspicacious W. H. Auden in For the Time Being. Like seasons, ages are seldom so precise as to end abruptly, while allowing another age to commence. Few events of European history have been as final as the Black Death in bringing to an end one age (which we might call the Innocently Playful Medieval) and bringing into view another (which we might call the Colder Late Medieval–Early Renaissance). But even at this interstice, old forms and old mental states hang on, while new forms and new mental states peek uncertainly into view. Locality often determines how boldly or timidly the new will come to supplant the old; and localities can find their integrity, even their ancient right to existence, open to question. (“This village has always been crown territory.” “But which crown, England’s or France’s?” “Which religion, Christian or Muslim?” “Oh, and where, pray, is the boundary stone, the definitive separation between Us and Them?”)
At such a crossroads, it is difficult if not impossible to see much farther than one’s nose: the watchman’s tower is down and the prophet’s lantern out. Those who occupy traditional seats of power—those who use signet rings—may begin to find their perches less stable and secure, more open to question. The ordinary bloke, the commoner attempting to make his way in the world, is all too likely to experience a new if vague sense of unease, of doubt seeping into his pores like unhealthy air. It is not a time of dancing and embracing but of stepping back and taking stock. Yet life goes on: men travel and make deals, as they have always done; monarchs make decisions, as they have always done, with far-reaching and often unpredictable consequences.
1492: COLUMBUS DISCOVERS AMERICA
One such man was Christopher Columbus, born of undistinguished forebears near Genoa, long a shadowy petitioner at various European courts, now arrived at Córdoba to the new headquarters of Spanish royalty, the Alcázar, former stronghold of Muhammad XII, whom Spaniards called Boabdil; and two such monarchs were their Catholic Majesties Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. The year was a fateful one, 1492. To it, historians, looking backwards, have assigned the final expiration of the Middle Ages and the (as yet unheralded) birth of a new age.
Many Americans will recall having suffered through a school pageant or two meant to dramatize the monumental encounter between the Genoese ship captain and the Spanish royal couple. And since such dramatizations invariably contain almost as much misinformation as they do historical fact, it is"Cahill is a felicitous writer. . . . [H]is erudition is impressive and engaging. No reader will doubt his enthusiasm for or knowledge of great Renaissance masters such as Donatello, Masaccio and Botticelli, as well as the freakishly talented Leonardo and that ruffian Caravaggio. Almost as important, Heretics and Heroes is illustrated in a lavish and handsome fashion. Anyone looking for a refresher on Renaissance art . . . or on Reformation conflicts and the subsequent wars of religion could do far worse than to pick up this breezy but reliable guide." —The Washington Post
"The writing is crisp, conversational, and matched by very few non-fiction writers out there today. The great achievement of Heretics and Heroes is Cahill's seemingly effortless illumination of the Renaissance and the Reformation. I have learned a lot from what Cahill has done here." —James S. Shapiro, Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University, and author of Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?
"Cahill cheerfully explains the enduring value of the Renaissance and Reformation movements to 21st century Western principles, injecting humor and a conversational style into well-written and easily accessible chapters centering on controversial issues and mesmerizing personalities. . . . Well-chosen illustrations and discreetly placed asides clarify his arguments. . . . Cahill writes passionately about the era’s transformational art, the unexpected benefits of the Black Plague, and the intellectual struggles over secular and papal power, resulting in an entertaining yet thought-provoking examination of Western civilization." —Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Cahill sets his delightfully analytic mind to the major transformations prompted by the Renaissance and Reformation . . . [he] makes it seem so simple to connect the dots, as the 14th through 16th centuries witnessed changes to every facet and walk of life--from the expulsion of the Moors in Spain to the emergence of nations and massive religious upheaval. The breadth of Cahill's knowledge and his jocular style of writing make for a remarkable book."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
From the Hardcover edition.