Medieval Bodies: Life and Death in the Middle Ages

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W. W. Norton & Company, Nov 12, 2019 - History - 352 pages

With wit, wisdom, and a sharp scalpel, Jack Hartnell dissects the medieval body and offers a remedy to our preconceptions.

Just like us, medieval men and women worried about growing old, got blisters and indigestion, fell in love, and had children. And yet their lives were full of miraculous and richly metaphorical experiences radically different from our own, unfolding in a world where deadly wounds might be healed overnight by divine intervention, or where the heart of a king, plucked from his corpse, could be held aloft as a powerful symbol of political rule.

In this richly illustrated and unusual history, Jack Hartnell uncovers the fascinating ways in which people thought about, explored, and experienced their physical selves in the Middle Ages, from Constantinople to Cairo and Canterbury. Unfolding like a medieval pageant, and filled with saints, soldiers, caliphs, queens, monks and monstrous beasts, this book throws light on the medieval body from head to toe—revealing the surprisingly sophisticated medical knowledge of the time.

Bringing together medicine, art, music, politics, philosophy, religion, and social history, Hartnell's work is an excellent guide to what life was really like for the men and women who lived and died in the Middle Ages. Perfumed and decorated with gold, fetishized or tortured, powerful even beyond death, these medieval bodies are not passive and buried away; they can still teach us what it means to be human.

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Medieval Bodies: Life and Death in the Middle Ages

User Review  - Publishers Weekly

Art historian Hartnell’s entertaining, comprehensive debut contradicts the popular conception of the Middle Ages as a “backwards, muddy” time by surveying medieval attitudes toward the human body ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - aadyer - LibraryThing

A brilliant collection of discussions essentially about the role of the body in medieval life and culture. Encompassing mainly for understandable reasons, Europe and the Middle East, this is a look at various different health beliefs and their interactions with medieval societies Read full review


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About the author (2019)

Jack Hartnell is a lecturer in art history at the University of East Anglia, Norwich. He has previously held positions at Columbia University, the Courtauld Institute, the Max Planck Institute in Berlin, and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

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