A lot is happening in the postmodern Europe. Some of it is admirable while most of it is disgusting. Europe has come from far and it would have been predestined for far were it not for the change of events. Her current problems are a testimony to these seemingly pessimistic sentiments. One is left wondering, in the words of the African writer Chinua Achebe, 'where did the rain start beating them?' Her problems are nevertheless self-afflicted but this does not make her less vulnerable or lessen the catastrophe. The root cause of all her woos and worries is civilization. This essay explores the different faces of Europe from Medieval Ages to Modernity.
Both philosophical thinking and religious power characterize the history of Europe. She has experienced the trauma associated with transition from one Age to another. Few nations or even continents can go through what she underwent and live to tell the story. Civilization in Europe to what she is today is a series of eras from the dark Ages through the Roman Empire, Medieval Ages, the Renaissance period, Modernity Ages and now in the Post-modern era. However, this paper gives focus to the periods between Medieval Age to Modern era.
The Medieval Ages, also referred to the Middle Ages are a period sandwiched between the Roman Empire and the Renaissance period. The Roman Empire is believed to have ended in 476 A.D while the Renaissance began as from 1453. It had a culture that was based on a feudal system. Going by this system of administration, there was a power pyramid in which the clergy and nobles were at the top and a large number of peasants at the bottom. The peasants worked on the land and dwelt in shanty huts. They often slept on straw mattresses or worse still, shared a night with their animals. In the middle of the pyramid were merchants, artisans, scientists and yeoman farmers.
This Age was marked by several distinctive traits as shall be mentioned here. First, like in the postmodernism era, the youth was highly valued. Institutions of higher learning were built as well as great cathedrals. Most scholars used Latin as the official language. Art also found its way here as this was an era characterized also by development in literature. Some of the great scholars and philosophers of the time include Thomas Aquinas who believed that 'both reason and Christian teaching came from God and such both came from the same teaching'
Great works of this period include Beowulf, which is apparently the greatest fictional work in written in vernacular. Others included Geoffrey Chaude who wrote The Canterbury Other notable personalities were the Troubadours. These were noble musicians and poets had pledged to be as loyal to their women as to their lords. Talking of women, they were treated relatively with respect but considered helpless and unrealistically pure and beautiful.
In technology, their knowledge was limited since they relied on reason and observation but science needed more than this. They blended scientific theories with myth and superstition while some of the scientists allegedly practiced alchemy-an attempt of turning lead into gold. However, trade still flourished as merchants purchased and sold commodities such as wool and fur. These took place in fairs that doubled as trade and fun centers.
As mentioned earlier, this era had the feudal system and hence ruled by many leaders. Kings had reduced powers due to fragmentation into areas each ruled by a different feudal lord (Angelov, 2009). The traditions of Germany differed. Laws were for made for an individual tribe. The church took custody of the early and biblical writings and thus knowledge was limited to the clergy. Thus, this period is sometimes to the Dark Ages because barbarians had invaded Europe and vandalized most of the works of art and fine buildings that had preceded this era in the Roman empire. As a result, the only place where knowledge survived was in monasteries.
After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, men in virtually all over Europe thronged the Western Europe in search of knowledge. They brought back with them literature, arts and other treasures. This marked a new era for Europe, the era of the rebirth of knowledge hence, the Renaissance. However, the renaissance did not attempt to change the pre- existing knowledge and customs; it rather dealt with providing a different viewpoint in which well-known facts were to be looked from. Discoveries were made in fields such as art, government, philosophy and art. Earlier cultures were upset and replaced with a new curiosity about the natural world with students giving scant attention to personal opinions and observations. This laid the foundations of modern science (Burke, 1998).
Another distinction that stood out in this era was its value for humanity. It discarded shallow ideas regarding human nature and replaced them with a view of man as being an inspiring and living subject for study and direct observation. It was a change of focus from God in the preceding eras to man. Science and the arts gained more popularity.
The Renaissance is marked by a trail of great men and events in world. It is during this period that Christopher Columbus discovered America and Shakespeare wrote his many plays. Printing was also discovered during this period. Other key personalities of this period are Martin Luther who was a German theologian and a religious reformer. His teachings gave birth to the Protestant Reformation. Another key figure was the Italian Leonardo da Vinci. This was a man of almost all capabilities. He could paint, draw, sing, invent and treat. He was simply a genius. As mentioned earlier, the there was a shift in paradigm from primitive godliness to a more secular view of life. Such a transition is believed to have been caused by the aftermath of the black plague in Florence. This plague caused by fleas brought by sailors from Asia left many people with some cities reporting a death toll of almost a third of the population. This scenario might have caused man to shift his attention to the life he led and not teachings of eternity as preached in the bible.
The Renaissance period was a period of intellectual enlightment as characterized by its many scholars. However, with the emerging industrialization, the beliefs and output who contributed so much for this era could not match the demands of the approaching 'reforms in virtually all aspects of man. This marked the beginning of a movement that empowered the human being to take part in the creation, improvement and reshaping of his environment. It was on these grounds that Modernism was born.
It thus can be said that the primary goal of the Modern Ages was to make a better human society. Did man succeed in this endeavor? The response is a question of heated debates even today. While it is true that man has leapt forth in the advancement of technology and other crucial fields, problems of equal or more magnitude have always cropped up to counter man's efforts. Take for instance the world wars (Armstrong, 2005). Man had succeeded in inventing weapons but this discovery worked to his peril. The same weapons almost claimed his extinction in the two world wars fought on the soil of virtually every continent, Europe not an exception given that she was the one who was spoiling for a row.
As a recapitulation of an earlier sentiment, Europe has been through much like seen in the eras discussed above. Nevertheless, the more things change, the more they remain the same. From primitive godliness in medieval era, secularity in Renaissance, to a mixed society with virtually no ground to stand on firmly, terror attacks and economic depressions, Europe in the verge of plugging into more catastrophes than it experienced in the course of her civilization.