By Barbara W. Tuchman
The 14th century offers us again contradictory photographs: a glittering time of crusades and castles, cathedrals and chivalry, and a dismal time of ferocity and non secular anguish, a global plunged right into a chaos of struggle, worry and the Plague. Barbara Tuchman anatomizes the century, revealing either the good rhythms of background and the grain and texture of household existence because it used to be lived.
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Additional info for A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century
Although much of the ‘information’ about that cooling trend derives from misinterpretations of supposedly fourteenth-century sailing directions to Greenland, which suffer heavily from seventeenth-century interpolations, they have strongly influenced interpretations of complex climate data from that vast region. Recent climate research, which indicates that cold and/or erratic weather affected the Eastern Settlement during a period prior to the colony’s desertion, has prompted renewed suggestions that a worsening climate contributed in a major way to the Norse Greenlanders’ disappearance.
7 Ruins at Eirik the Red’s farm Brattahlid (‘Steep Hill’) in southwest Greenland. The reconstructed ‘Thjodhild’s church’ with its little bell tower visible in the left background and enduring importance. 26 In the past couple of years, further excavations have used a quite different approach from the earlier ones, so additional information about the site’s Norse history will very likely be presented in the future. In 1961, a team of archaeologists found the remains of a small church on a knoll just south of Eirik’s old farm houses.
Those who venture farther north would need to take care, however, the father admonished, because the Greenland Sea is prone to hafger∂ingar (probably tsunamis) and features many monsters, including the margygr with long hands and the large-breasted upper body of a woman, but with a man’s long hair and beard. They had not been seen very frequently, the father believed, but ‘people have stories to tell about them, so men must have seen or caught sight of them’. Rather more useful to traders would be the rostungr (walrus) found in Greenland waters and described as a species of seal, with two big tusks in its upper jaw yielding ivory, and with tough hide which, when cut into strips, provided strong ropes.
A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara W. Tuchman