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Medieval Farming Life / School poster

Image credit: Kulturgeschichtliche Bilder no.5

The Renaissance and a Mid-Summer Day’s Muse

By Stephen Crawford

This other day, Lords and Ladies, I spent some time back in the Sixteenth Century. It was at the Arizona Renaissance Festival, held yearly in an odd venue out in the desert near Gold Canyon, opposite the Superstition Mountains, by the jugglers, acrobats, sword-swallowers and other modern-day gypsies.

The Renaissance, you might recall, was the cultural revolution in non-Islamic Western European countries (a.k.a. Christendom), which preceded the Enlightenment, and from which sprang so many modern ideals of love, life, liberty, justice and government. Sorry, there were a lot of white people involved, but other continents and cultures were busy at the time.

By rare happenstance, I found myself walking alone – wife and children otherwise occupied – when I came across a strange site. It was an encampment of people working. Their clothing was rough. Some were cooking, cleaning, spinning; some were sharpening weapons, and preparing for a hunt. The children were in school; that is, being raised and trained in a parent’s craft. It was a lot of hot, and hard, and dirty, and smoky work. There was a lot of muscle, and there were few machines. There was a lot of fire, and there was little escape.

It was a reenactment of life in Renaissance times. These participants were volunteers. They only had to survive for the duration of the fair. The people they represented, however, had to survive this from day-to-day for the duration of their lives; is anyone surprised that they would want to improve life, and to make life easier?

This little blast to the past made me think, though. Remember that wonderful Monty Python skit – the Repressed Worker? People back then didn’t approach life that way. There were no government benefits to feel entitled to. There was no time for an affliction of victimhood. To the extent that anything worked, it was a family effort, working together with neighbors in communities with common objectives.

Women weren’t oppressed, unless by oppression you mean circumstance. They usually maintained the home front with the children because that was their optimal role. Men were better able to do the more difficult and dangerous work. I doubt anyone ever asked for a role reversal.  It wasn’t that women were taking advantage of men – it’s just that, as partners, men and women worked better that way.

Modernity has changed things, to be sure, at least in the West. Largely because of our Western culture, there are many conveniences and opportunities that simply did not exist then. Somehow, I don’t think the women of yesteryear would complain about washing machines or air conditioning. Smoke, dirty water, knees – I’m not seeing it.

I think if one of our fore-mothers were to hear a “woke woman” of today complain about peoples’ privilege while basking in the relative ease of their modern liberal lives, she would laugh with derisive astonishment. If she could, she would reach out through 500 years of growth and sacrifice with a simple message –

“My dear, you are living a life I could not even dream of. Please, honor thy fore-fathers and thy fore-mothers, and show a little respect.”

Well, back on the beaten path, back in the present, it was a beautiful day at the festival with friends and family. I was happy to be there. Thanks, fore-fathers and fore-mothers.


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