But the Dark Ages weren’t Dark!

When people can't be bothered to think through a decent argument against something they dislike, it has become routine to describe whatever-it-is as 'old fashioned' or 'mediaeval', or to make disparaging comparisons to 'the Dark Ages'.

Nothing displays the stuck-up self-centredness of modernity more than these dismissals of the past.

We treat the story of our species as if, until you and I turned up, it was some deathly desert, entirely inhabited by savages.  How, we say, can we possibly learn from these pre-modern dumbasses, when they didn't even have toilet paper?

But of course humans now are almost exactly the same as humans three thousand years ago (except that we are more technologically advanced, and they were happier).  The Dark Ages were often difficult and dangerous – Viking swords were sharp – but they weren't dark; they just failed to have the delusions of grandeur with which we presently burden ourselves.  People knew how to grow things, make things, work together, fight, and feast – all alien skills to me.

Book of hours
I love to read old books, and to hear the tone of voice of another human, magically passed on down the ages.  I want to get on to Ancient Greece – to Virgil, Horace, and Homer – but for now I will stick to England.  When I read these quotations (c. AD 885) they don't sound decrepit and out-of-date, but utterly true and real:

In prosperity a man is often puffed up with pride, whereas tribulations chasten and humble him through suffering and sorrow. In the midst of prosperity the mind is elated, and in prosperity a man forgets himself; in hardship he is forced to reflect on himself, even though he be unwilling.


He seems to me a very foolish man, and very wretched, who will not increase his understanding while he is in the world, and ever wish and long to reach that endless life where all shall be made clear.

Alfred the Great [849 – 899]

Alfred the great


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