Friday, February 5, 2010

The Year 1000, Three points, point 2

Yeah, I got around to it.

In this "fascinating, modern world we live in," (quick--which movie?) information has become so plentiful we avoid it. When we look for peace and quiet, we get away from the TV, the computer, I almost said the radio, but that would show my lack of tech savvy. We avoid the bustle and noise.

And when we need information, there's a glut of it. For example, I just searched on Google for "the year 1000. There were 36,500,000 results. At ten results per page, that's 365,000 pages. How many would you check? 2? 5? I bet most of you would check the first page and call it good.

We have so much information, we can pick and choose. Want pages that talk about the panic and concern about the possible Millennial return of Christ in the year 1000? Look here. Want to learn about how women were treated at that time? Look here. Was the year 1000 a leap year? Wikipedia's entry can tell you. We can find information on most any subject from so many sources that we don't have to take it or leave it; we can be fussy.

But, you know, most of that information would be second, or even third-hand. First person accounts of the era, primary sources, are almost nonexistent. That's because the people of the time were backward, illiterate souls who didn't value education and wrote down little.

NO. They did value education, and they wrote down many things. At least as far as we can tell. Unfortunately for us, Anglo-Saxon England was conquered in the year 1066 by William the Conqueror and his nasty Norman Frenchmen (who were actually Vikings who, early in the 800s, struck a deal with the king of France, who allowed them to settle in northern France in exchange for not pillaging northern France.) The Normans, like conquerors before and after them, began the process of destroying the records of Anglo-Saxon culture. Henry VIII continued it when he dissolved the monasteries in the sixteenth century. Monks were turned out to become "everyday" citizens, their property seized for the Crown, and, as a result,

Priceless ancient manuscripts were burned, used as drumskins and roof insulation, or to line beer barrels and bind books. As a consequence, it only takes a morning to read all surviving Anglo-Saxon poetry.

Compare that to information about

sexual behavior at the end of the second millennium...thirty-six cartons of documents to cover the high jinks of the President of the United States alone--which is thirty or more than the storage space occupied by the modern transcripts of everything surviving in Englisc.

(Why thirty-six cartons? Never mind.)

So we live in an age of information, trying hard to understand those who came before us, with little or no information about them. Reminds me of that old, wry comment about being treated like a mushroom. You know? "They keep me in the dark and feed me bull..."

Italicized quotes from The Year 1000, 1999, Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger.

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