cover image Medieval Lives: Eight Charismatic Men and Women of the Middle Ages

Medieval Lives: Eight Charismatic Men and Women of the Middle Ages

Norman F. Cantor. HarperCollins Publishers, $23 (197pp) ISBN 978-0-06-016989-3

Cantor ( Inventing the Middle Ages ), a professor of history, sociology and comparative literature at New York University, here presents lively and engaging portraits of five men and three women whose idealism exerted great influence during the medieval era, beginning with Helena Augusta (c.255-329), the mother of Constantine the Great, and ending with John Duke of Bedford (c.1389-1435), who was regent of France for Henry VI. Cantor creates vignettes in which his subjects engage in discourse with their contemporaries. He imagines Helena Augusta, for instance, stopping at an inn along the Palestinian coast and discussing theological matters with the innkeeper, his assistant and a Roman Catholic bishop. This approach reveals not only the subjects' characters, but also the religious and political ideas that informed their lives, as well as other significant aspects of medieval society and culture. Although the author uses fictionalized conversations, his reconstructions rest on solid research and result in compelling depictions of important medieval thinkers, including Hildegard of Bingen, Alcuin of York and Eleanor of Aquitaine. (Mar.)