[lit-ideas] Medieval Studies & the Crusades

  • From: "Lawrence Helm" <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "Lit-Ideas" <Lit-Ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 18 Dec 2007 09:10:04 -0800


You write, “re-thinking the Crusade, as Richard the CoeurLion _is_ on my list 
of lists! And I wonder what led these people to cross all Europe to restore the 

Medieval studies were revolutionized during the twentieth century.  The 
historian of that process was Norman Cantor who wrote the excellent, Inventing 
the Middle Ages in 1991.  I read it twice, in 1996 and 1999.  He traces the 
history and development of the study of the Middle Ages.   He also wrote the 
very nice survey, Civilization of the Middle Ages .  This book I read was 
published in 1994 and I read it the following year.  I gave up the study of the 
Middle Ages after 9/11 as the latter’s implications seemed more pressing and 
interesting.  I noticed among other things that the study of the Middle East, 
Islam, Islamism, etc., as complicated as that was, was easier than the study of 
the Middle Ages.  There is comparatively little to read about the Middle East, 
although the literature is growing at a rapid rate, but the material available 
on the Middle Ages is vast, and it too is growing.

Cantor is evangelistic about his subject and in the back of both the books I 
mention above are appendices entitled “Recommended Reading.”   He is realistic 
about the amount of attention others, even other academics, will be inclined to 
give his subject so he breaks his Reading list into two categories.  The first 
(in Civilization of the Middle Ages) is 14 titles:

“A Short List (14) Titles)

“Here is a short reading program in medieval history that, if mastered, will 
make you well informed on the subject, so you can more than hold your own in 
any discussion about the European Middle Ages around the faculty lunch table, 
in the country club lounge, at a publishing house brainstorming session, in a 
church study group, or in an undergraduate or adult education seminar.

“The full bibliographical listing for each book, including the publisher, is 
found in the long List that follows.  The books on this short list are all in 
print, most of them in paperback, and they can be ordered directly from the 
publisher or through your local bookstore.”

I won’t list these books, but I made several attempts to buy them all, but I 
discovered that Cantor’s book was first written in 1963 and then rewritten 
several times since.  The copy I read was “A completely revised and expanded 
edition,”  but he must not have rechecked the availability of the books on his 
list because many of them were no longer available.

His long list is 143 titles.  I began buying those as well.  But many of those 
were also out of print and unavailable; although I was slowly increasing my 
library of medieval history, much as you have been increasing your library of 
Loeb Classics.  I also found books published since Cantor wrote.   I can’t say 
there is no good reason for being uninformed or misinformed about the Middle 
Ages because there is.  Even if all Cantor’s 143 titles were available, it 
would take a concerted prolonged effort to read them all.   

In regard to the Crusades, Cantor has nothing on his short list, but on his 
long list he has The Crusades, a short history by Jonathan Riley-Smith; which I 
read in 1999.    He also lists a longer, earlier work (which I didn’t read), 
Runciman’s A History of the Crusades in 3 volumes, 1951-54.  

Examining his list for books pertaining to your interest, I see  The Origin of 
the Idea of Crusade, by Carl Erdmann, a very provocative title and one I 
considered getting, but it is $259.80 on Amazon.com,  I didn’t have a limit of 
$5.00 as you do with your Loeb Classics, but $259.80 seemed rather steep, and 
this was for a used book.  It was no longer in print.  But the “idea of 
crusade” was discussed in several of the books I read, so, hopefully, I can do 
without Erdmann.    I made a general statement about the Crusades in an earlier 
note and apparently surprised Geary who didn’t know that the Crusades were 
initiated in response to Islamic aggression and not the reverse.  The crusades 
would not have been initiated had not Islamic peoples been bent upon taking 
over as much as Europe as possible.    

What is confusing in the study of the crusades is that the motivation for them 
was varied.  Yes, the Pope was sending them off in response to the request for 
help from the Byzantine Church, but Crusaders often had motives of their own.  
Some went to make a name for themselves much like the Greeks who went to Troy.  
Others went for booty, which was another motivation for going to Troy.  And 
many went for religious reasons, especially to free, as they put it, Christ’s 
birthplace from the heathen.  

The idea that the Crusaders shared equal blame with the invading armies of the 
Muslims is intriguing and at least as interesting as the idea of Crusade 
itself.   Islam was an aggressive, military force bent upon conquering the 
entire world, if they could.  Sayyid Qutb has criticized his weak Muslim 
brethren for giving this goal up.  It is Allah’s goal that the entire world be 
submissive to him, he writes.  And no Muslim is a true Muslim unless he is 
engaged in Jihad.  Well, the Turks were engaged in Jihad when the Crusaders, 
rather ineptly confronted them.


From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx [mailto:Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx] 
Sent: Monday, December 17, 2007 5:21 PM
To: lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Cc: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: Re: Ain't going to war no more'

Thanks for a thought (and feeling) provoking thought. I see traffic is slow and 
your post has not been distributed yet with the list, and, as far as this post 
by mine -- this very one I'm sending you now cc the list -- is concerned, 
perhaps never will! 
So for the record, I made a little search into two delightful OED expressions, 
"Foreign Office" and "War Department". Enjoy!
I think you are right and that it's irresponsible to deny war, etc. I hope you 
appreciate I was trying to mimick the silly entries in "Who's Who", where one 
reads of Churchill, "He enjoys a cigar in the tub", or stupid things like that. 
I was also interested in 
(a) motivating you to reply and providing an occasion, as it proved, to let us 
see your excellent, superb, stylish defense of the casus belli -- complete with 
description of the Hellenes are 'barbarian', which I enjoyed, and the motto, 
"There are always barbarians". Indeed, a common idiom in Buenos Aires is still, 
"There are no Moors on the coast" ("No hay moros en la costa") meaning, "No 
danger in view", which must come with the Conquistadores and there fear that 
the Moors would tripple across the Gibraltar Strait like _this_. 
(b) re-thinking the Crusade, as Richard the CoeurLion _is_ on my list of lists! 
And I wonder what led these people to cross all Europe to restore the Faith. 
You are possibly right that I would not like Buenos Aires being bombed so I 
apologise if I hurt your feelings which have grown so loyal to your homeland as 
they should after 9/11.
I hope other members of the list also comment on your post. It deserves good 
When I was mentioning the 'superb', etc. I was referring to your qualifying the 
excerpts from Cartladge and Strauss, not the not-so-great JLS. Anyway, thanks.
Hey, my English setter, Ruperto, never died, so I still _own_ him, in a 
metaphorical sense (He was stupidly stolen). You can count the fox terrier as 
yet another dog I own, though. Again, I was mocking the Who's Who entries. 
This pdf. on athletics I recently referred to in a post
makes a few references to what the author calls the 'warrior-athlete', which I 
hope you will appreciate. Apparently, it's pretty heavy gear!
I have a few other thoughts about war, etc. Back to the recruit versus 
volunteer. And I don't want to sound offensive, but how much 'volunteer' can it 
be if a member of the armed forces receives a salary. (I've just come from a 
'literacy' volunteer centre, and by definition, a 'volunteer' is someone who 
does not receive monetary compensation. Please explain!). Back to the 
war-argument, I think you DO like the ghurkas, but during the Falklands War, 
the Argentine army was basically (a) professional -- though hardly 'volunteer' 
-- and (b) draft, recruits -- if you volunteer, the best for your mental 
health, I would think. Argentina was not prepared for the fight, and they were 
using silly gear and weapons -- like Mausers -- that could not compare to the 
mercenary killing instict of _them_ ghurkas -- and their foreign faces! For 
some reason I cannot imagine an English officer climbing Tumbledown to kill an 
Argentine! After the years of the Good Beef from Old Argentina and all that. 
They trusted the _ghurkas_ to do the 'dirty' job.
It's also worth considering that what you mention as war being the occasion or 
excuse or pretext for the display of manly deeds may no longer be applicable 
with the technicalization (if that's the word) of most 'military strategies' 
now. I love a bootcamp, but apparently it's all computerized now, and don't be 
surprised if they also have 'simulated' boots in simulated 'camps'. 
My reference to 'foreign' was meant as partly comical, in that it's a word that 
has nice philosophical puzzles (of the naive linguistic kind) about it. We 
think of a foreign-language, and that's French for Americans, but it's American 
for the French, et al. I was also reminded of George Mikes (a foreigner, name 
pronounced Mikesh) who writes in "How to be an alien", "I told this 
Englishwoman that I was ready to marry her, as my mother did approve of my 
marrying a foreigner. To which she replied, "Me, a foreigner? I'm not a 
foreigner. You are a foregner, and your old mother, too!". "Even in Croatia?" I 
asked. "Surely. Things like these are truths, and surely truth is not relative 
to place or time." :-)
Hey, you make me sound like I'm Nero in an sempiternal (if that's the word) 
orgy in Buenos Aires. And no, I would not resign (if that's the word) my right 
to fight in a war. I don't like a satrap, least so a foreign one!
I commend your honor and intelligence and passion in dealing with and doing 
your best to understand 'foreign policy'. It can be a fascinating subject too. 
And nice to catalogue in the swimming pool library too. I have a few books on 
British foreign policy, and they make for quite a shelf! One is called "Britain 
in the Western Mediterranean" with a nice map showing all those posts of the 
Empire from Horatio Nelson's little bay in Mayonne (Minorca), plus Malta (where 
the Queen recently celebrated her 60th? anniversary with Philip) and of course 
Gibraltar (that they still possess). I also own a little silly, "Queen 
Victoria's little wars", and books on the "Indian Mutiny", "The Boer War", "The 
Reason Why" -- and a few on the Falklands/Malvinas. 
Foreign is as foreign does, too. Who would have thought that the Chileans -- to 
an European -- would count as a 'foreign' to Argentina!? Why, they (Chile) were 
_once_ part of the Argentine Empire! Yet, we were more than once on the verge 
of war, and I understand your commentary on wanting to negotiate peace as best 
as possible. As a matter of history, it was the Pope who settled peace for us! 
-- over the Beagle Channel. And as you mentioned on this list too, it's the 
Uruguayans now. Fancy living in a country which, as Homer (Simpson) sings, 
sounds like "UR-u-Gay?" 
I won't be offended (:-) if you decide not to comment online or if you copy and 
paste as you wish! This has been a pretty long post, and I thank you for your 
fueling it!
J. L. Speranza
   Buenos Aires, Argentina
Foreign Office: the department of the ‘Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs’; 
the building in which the business of this department is carried on. 
1797 Rep. Committees Ho. of Comm. XII. 301 The Office of Secretary of State for 
the *War Department was first established on the 11th July 1794. 1819 D. B. 
WARDEN Acc. U.S. III. 395 Chapter xliv. Of the War Department. Ibid. 405 The 
original proceedings of all courts-martial, ordered by the war department, are 
transmitted to that department by the judge advocate of the court. 1866 G. B. 
MCLELLAN Let. 26 Dec. in McLellan's Own Story (1887) xii. 221 The entire 
establishment..was removed to the War Department building, without my 
knowledge. 1944 Time 2 Oct. 19/1 This was strictly a military document drafted 
by the War Department.


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