The Mind of the Middle Ages: An Historical Survey, A.D. 200-1500

The back of the cover calls The Mind of the Middle Ages: An Historical Survey by Frederick B. Artz a “standard text for thousands of students and teachers.” I can’t argue with that. This book packs a massive amount of information into a (relatively speaking) small space, which has the unfortunate side effect of making it a boring read. I suspect that this sort of book is meant to be used as a reference book, not to be read cover-to-cover as I did. I’m glad I own a copy of The Mind of the Middle Ages, because it will be one of my primary research books for a long time.

Astute readers will notice that the cover lists a start date of about 300 years before most historians date the beginning of the Middle Ages (or 900 years, if one is studying English literature and dating the division linguistically). This is because The Mind of the Middle Ages is about what people were reading, writing, studying, and thinking about during the Middle Ages. The thought and writing that came before the Middle Ages must be understood of the thought and writing of the Middle Ages is to be understood.

The Mind of the Middle Ages is all about the transmission of information. Artz covers what was being researched, what was being written, how texts made their way through countries, how they inspired new writers, what books were copied, what books were abandoned for better ones, trends in philosophy, art, theology, and literature, periods of stagnation, and even education and literacy. The Table of Contents should make clear just how vast the amounts of information that Artz covers are. With well-organized divisions and extensive notes, this book is perfect for research. Artz gives many resources for primary texts as well as trends of thought that help debunk many stereotypes of the Middle Ages.

The best part of this book is the chapter “The Middle Ages, Century by Century.” Artz notes that by focusing only on intellectual history, one easily loses track of the political matters, economic matters, and other matters that make up much of history. “The Middle Ages, Century by Century” is a brief overview of the major events to help the reader tie that great period together. I suspect this would be perfect material for cramming before a test.

The original publication date of this book was 1953, so the reader may occasionally come across something that marks the original publication date. One problem with The Mind of the Middle Ages is occasional outdated language. It persists in referring to Muslims as “Mohammedans,” which is largely considered inaccurate and often offensive. The reader may also find some ideas that have changed with further research since 1953—for example, Artz refers to Caedmon’s Hymn as “a few lines of no great literary merit” and says that Beowulf shows naïve theology, both ideas likely to anger today’s Anglo-Saxon scholar. Developments in research since 1953 should not sway any reader from picking up this book—few changes are drastic, and there are no emergencies in studying medieval history.

This book is about $30 new and around $3 used. I would highly recommend buying a used copy of this book. With the amount of time it takes just to read it and the vast number of resources it points to, this book is worth keeping for quick references and research.

Table of Contents

Part One: The Dominance of the EastChapter I. The Classical Backgrounds of Mediaeval Christianity

  1. Traditional Religion in the Graeco-Roman World
  2. The Impact of Philosophy
  3. The Mystery Religions

Chapter II. The Jewish and Early Christian Sources of Mediaeval Faith

  1. Judaism and the Old Testament
  2. The Diaspora and Philo the Jew
  3. The New Testament and the Beginnings of Christianity

Chapter III. The Patristic Age, 2nd–5th Centuries

  1. The Greek Fathers of the Church
  2. The Latin Fathers of the Church
  3. The Beginnings of Christian Poetry, Art, and Music

Chapter IV. Byzantine Civilization

  1. The Nature of Byzantine Civilization
  2. The Church and Learning
  3. Literature, Art, and Music
  4. The Influence of Byzantium

Chapter V. Islamic Civilization

  1. The Nature of Islam
  2. Education, Law, Philosophy, and Science
  3. Literature, Art, and Music
  4. Islam and the West

Chapter VI. The Latin West, 5th–10th Centuries

  1. The Survival of Classics in the West
  2. The Transmitters of Classical and Patristic Learning
  3. Poetry and History
  4. Art and Music
Part Two: The Revival of the West, 1000–1500Chapter VII. Learning (I)

  1. The Impetus to a New Life
  2. Science and Technology
  3. Philosophy from Anselm to Ficino

Chapter VIII. Learning (II)

  1. Backgrounds of Mediaeval Political and Social Thought
  2. Main Currents of Political and Social Thought 1000–1500.
  3. Mediaeval Schools
  4. The Rise of Universities

Chapter IX. Literature (I)

  1. The Epic Tradition
  2. Lyric Poetry
  3. Chivalric Romance

Chapter X. Literature (II)

  1. The Drama
  2. Fabliaux and Novelle
  3. History, Biography, and Sermons
  4. Symbolic Literature

Chapter XI. Art and Music

  1. Romanesque Art
  2. Gothic Art
  3. Innovation in Italy
  4. Music

Chapter XII. Underlying Attitudes

  1. The Way of the Mystics
  2. The Interests of the Humanists


  1. The Middle Ages, Century by Century
  2. The Transition from Mediaeval to Modern Times


Bibliographical Notes



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