19 Apr

I love mythbusters, particularly Medieval ones. Maybe it’s because 15 years ago I believed a lot of them. For example, I totally believed that at the end of the Roman Empire the Western world completely, 100% fell apart. I believed that Medievals never washed and that virtually nobody could read. I can’t tell you today exactly why I believed this stuff (I’m sure I had my reasons) but I did. Maybe I wouldn’t have gone as far as William Manchester and thought everyone ran around naked (having done agricultural labor myself, that just seems an insane concept) but if someone had analyzed Lord of the Rings and told me that no, in Tolkien’s mind Sauron wasn’t analogous to Hitler but to a historical bloodthirsty, raging killer maniac warlord who set up shop in Trier after the end of the Empire, I’d have bought it.

Most of us have probably seen what I call “The Baby and the Bathwater” e-mail that’s gone around. Fortunately, this has been soundly debunked by Barbara Mikkelson on Snopes

Thanks to Steve Muhlberger for pointing out this site which identifies more common historical errors. Most of the errors are ancient but there are a few Medieval ones sprinkled in. I particularly enjoyed number 27 though I think he could have changed that to read, “The Christians systematically destroyed ancient manuscripts” and had even more of an impact.* I haven’t really given it much thought but I bet I believed this one too 15 years ago.

* The book on manuscript transmission that’s been referred to me by someone who should know (I haven’t read it) is Scribes and Scholars: A Guide to the Transmission of Greek and Latin Literature by Reynolds and Wilson, Oxford University Press (1991). ISBN: 978-0198721468. There are plenty of newer books out there on this too.


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