The library of secrets

Who doesn’t like a medieval secret? One of the enduring features of the medieval period is that of an age of secrecy. There’s a secret in every corner, the dark centuries are replete with mystery, teeming with hidden treasures, shrouded, cloaked, clouded – with secrecy. Not really. If the medieval age of secrecy is more…

Living in dark times

No other historical age has suffered more at the hands of historians than the so-called Dark Ages, the period between the 5th and 15th century AD. The medieval period as a dark age has been one of the most enduring legacies of past historiography, while scholars – medievalists, but not exclusively – have tried hard…

Letters addressed to a ghost

When we think of Renaissance humanism, several things leap to mind: the rediscovery of the classics, the discovery of manuscripts and works previously thought lost, a taste for antiquity, Cicero’s eloquence, classical ideas, imitation of the ancient masters. But we rarely, if ever, think about imaginary friends. And we rarely think about the novelty of…

Petrarch on the love of books

Richard de Bury’s Philobiblon has echoes of Petrarch’s Epistolae familiares. The two men had indeed met and, according to Ernest Thomas, were ‘kindred spirits’, united in their love for books and the celebration of learning. In book 3 of his Epistles, the Italian humanist observes that ‘gold, silver, jewels, purple garments, houses built of marble, groomed…