Francis G. Gentry

title.none: Goetz, Life in the Middle Ages

identifier.other: baj9928.9502.006 95.02.06

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Francis G. Gentry, Pennsylvania State University

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1995

identifier.citation: Goetz, Hans-Werner. Life in the Middle Ages: From the Seventh to the Thirteenth Century. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1993 (recte 1994). Pp. ix + 316. $44.95 (hb) $19.95 (pb). ISBN: ISBN 0-268-01300-4 (hb) ISBN 0-268-01301-2 (pb).

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: Bryn Mawr Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 95.02.06

Goetz, Hans-Werner. Life in the Middle Ages: From the Seventh to the Thirteenth Century. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1993 (recte 1994). Pp. ix + 316. $44.95 (hb) $19.95 (pb). ISBN: ISBN 0-268-01300-4 (hb) ISBN 0-268-01301-2 (pb).

Reviewed by:

Francis G. Gentry
Pennsylvania State University

A recent thread on the Medieval History list (Mediev-L) discussed quite extensively the "under-appreciation of German medieval history" (Patrick Geary, October 1994) and, by extension, German historians of the Middle Ages. Geary proposed, among other things, translations of the works of currently productive German scholars as well as a "better knowledge of German and German scholarship among ourselves and our students." The book under review here attempts to accommodate the first of Geary's suggestions.

Life in the Middle Ages: From the Seventh to the Thirteenth Century is a translation of Hans-Werner Goetz's 1986 Leben im Mittelalter. As a result the volume is doubtless not completely unknown to colleagues in history (see review by Richard C. Hoffmann in Speculum 63 (1988), pp. 401-402). But for medievalists from other disciplines, who do not feel at home in German, and for students, the translation of Goetz's work is a welcome event.

Goetz is well-aware of the limitations that the availability of sources places upon him in his attempt to illuminate life in these early medieval centuries. Thus he does not present "case studies" but rather examples or "typifying portrayals" that are as "representative of their time as possible" (3). In arranging these representative accounts, Goetz attempts to be as inclusive as possible by treating the everyday routine of each social stratum in addition to individual highlights of these lives. He avoids, therefore, the view of everyday life as "history from below" as well as "everyday" in the sense of a routine, work-oriented existence. Although everyday life must be differentiated "according to social status and birth, age and sex, education and occupation, nationality, religious and regional affiliation, and mobility" (3), the differences should not be completely leveled out. To illustrate his everyday lives, Goetz utilizes a plethora of contemporary sources: legal documents, chronicles, and literature. The result is an informative, interesting, and at times very rich cultural history, especially of the Carolingian and Ottonian periods—not that the other eras in his time frame are neglected, I hasten to add!

Two introductory chapters establish the general and individual peripheries within which Goetz will site everyday life. He begins with an essay entitled "People, Nature, Culture: The Conditions of Everyday Life During the Middle Ages" in which the struggle of the people with the vagaries of nature and the seasons as well as with the establishment of living spaces is discussed. The second introductory chapter deals with the family and the various determining factors of everyday life that had an impact on the family and its members ("House and Clan," "Marriage," "The Wife," "Love and Sexuality," "The Children"). In each section Goetz provides an adequate survey of the topic at hand, although in his discussion of sexuality (as also noted by Hoffmann in his Speculum review) Goetz relies very heavily on the witness ofGerman literatur e, and the reader is left with the impression that, in this regard at least, life imitated art.

The most important section of the book, however, comprises chapters 3-6, which view the monastery, the manor, the court, and the beginning urban area as the most prevalent settings of typical medieval life. The chapters also have a parallel structure which includes discussions of the respective form of life as an institution, e.g. Benedictine monasticism in the West; the space occupied, e.g. the peasant's dwelling and the manse; the people, e.g. knights in the High Middle Ages; and the typical "way of life." Each chapter provides a wealth of detail about the subject at hand as well as numerous citations from contemporary documents and literature. In this latter regard, I believe that Goetz again relies too heavily on literary works in his discussion on chivalry. On one occasion, Goetz recounts an episode from Hartmann's Iwein in order to illustrate the common apprehension of knighthood (179). Th e problem is that the characters are not correctly identified, and the medieval poet, Hartmann von Aue, intended the passage to ridicule the speaker's concept of chivalry. This is, however, a minor quibble, but should alert readers to proceed with caution when encountering literary texts as supposed genuine illustrations of "everyday life" or of everyday attitudes or points-of-view.

The German version of the book had its origin in an "introductory course for history students" (ix). This genesis has the advantage of making the volume quite accessible to students and scholars from the most disparate disciplines, and it is especially the student who will profit from a close reading of Goetz's text. Of course a disadvantage of such a book is that much is presented—or appears to be presented—in a superficial manner. This appearance, at least, is not done away with by the sometimes very wooden and unidiomatic English translation by Albert Wimmer, although the translation does indeed get better as the book progresses. Nonetheless, the translation—and the proofreading—could have used a stronger editorial hand. It also would have been appropriate to update the bibliography. A spot check reveals nothing published after 1985, a fact that is certainly in order for the original German version in 1986, but hardly so for the English translation in 1994! So much has been written since 1985 especially in the areas of gender and sexuality—not to mention chivalry!—that some titles should have been added. For users of the translation the listing of more secondary works in English would also have been helpful. In spite of these shortcomings, the book's publication fulfills its stated intent of serving as an introduction for students and scholars. And for that members of the academic community should be grateful.

Hoffmann notes in his review that Goetz's work is quite Germanocentric in choices of illustrative lives, and this observation is a correct one. But returning again to the sentiments expressed in the first paragraph of this review, such a lopsidedness is perhaps permissible in order to help redress the heretofore apparent lack of balance.