The Autumn of the World

When the world was half a thousand years younger all events had much sharper outlines than now. The distance between sadness and joy, between good and bad fortune, seemed to be much greater than for us; every experience had that degree of directness and absoluteness which joy and sadness still have in the mind of a child. The great events of human life–birth, marriage, death–by virtue of the sacraments, basked in the radiance of the divine mystery.

There was less relief available for misfortune and for sickness; they came in a more fearful and more painful way. Sickness contrasted more strongly with health. The cutting cold and the dreaded darkness of winter were more concrete evils. Honor and wealth were enjoyed more fervently and greedily because they contrasted still more than now with lamentable poverty. The lepers, shaking their rattles and holding processions, put their deformities openly on display.

In their external appearance, too, town and countryside displayed the same contrast and colour. The city did not dissipate, as do our cities, into carelessly fashioned, ugly factories and monotonous country homes but, enclosed by its walls, presented a completely rounded picture that included its innumerable protruding towers. Just as the contrast between summer and winter was stronger then than in our present lives, so was the difference between light and dark, quiet and noise. The modern city hardly knows pure darkness or true silence anymore, not does it know the effect of a single small light or that of a lonely distant shout.

Johan Huizinga – The Autumn of the Middle Ages

Published by Diogenes

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