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Annual Conference For Emerging Scholars: The idea of Death in the Late Middle аges - 17.11.2011, РГГУ

Good morning, I`m Nastya and today I`m going to speak about the idea of Death in the Late Middle Ages.





  You know, Death is very popular subject of discussion, but Death in the Middle ages unreasonably considered as something obvios - medieval people were afraid of Death and that is all. To my mind, in this case one plus one don`t equeal an answer, so let`s find out how really medieval people understood the idea of Death.



 I think we should start from the 12-th century, It was the time of villages and castles. People lived in very bad conditions,forces to work more and eat less, because of the diseases, wars and hunger, They also obeyed to each other according to the existing hierarchy, thus family circle was very large, and it often included servants and even peasants. In this situation, when every year somebody goes to the Next World and everything you have given you must give back, Death treated as a part of daily life.


Nuclear family


With the development of cities life and death situation was changed. Firstly, cities are perfect places for trade and handicraft. They definitely providebetter conditions of living, so citizens can live longer and have time to think about Death. Secondly, large family is a mission impossible for urban life – it needs too many resources, so peole united in nuclear families. Nuclear family is smaller –the death of its member considered as a big event. Soon Death and preparing to it becomes a tradition.


But what medieval people could expect from the Other side? The Underworld in Christianity isn`t a Tartarus - clumsy, gloomy and full of dead people, it was said, that afterlife is a specific plane of existence. If you were kind and quiet, you will be send to Heaven, if you were evil and immoral – to Hell .It seems to me, that is the time for people of the Late middle ages to be frightened by Death. Nevertheless, we will not see any signs of it.


Triumph of Death

Besides Hell and Paradise the Underworld had Purgatory. The father of Purgatory is Dante – I mean his Divine comedy, where he described the structure of the Next World. He wrote it, when he was in exile from his native Florence. There are three parts to this massive work: Inferno, Purgatory and Paradise. Main aim of Ourgatory is to make you pure - to help you to get rid of your sins. In fact, Purgatory gave opportunity to reach Paradise to everyone.


As for the images od Death in the Late Middle ages, personification of Death was initiated by the Plague of 1348. Usually it was represented as a sceleton. Why? That is a guestion. I share the point of view, which tell us, that medieval people drew what they saw - dead bodies. I think you may guess what will happen with dead bodies, if they can`t be burried for some reasons. Sooner or later you will see bones and sceleton. In the pictures Death reflected as a triumphant, as a partner and as a dancer (dance macabre). It shows, that people did not try to separate or to escape from Death. Death was following them all the time, so  it was normal to die – at least for the medieval people.

Dance macabre