Being introduced to medieval literature in this way if often confusing: many sources mention people such as Augustine, Cato, Cicero, and Vergil as if they were learned men whose works were commonly known, and yet sometimes it is difficult to find anything other than commentary on them on sites relating to medieval studies. This is because these men and many others belonged to a time before the Middle Ages, in what most people refer to as the Classical Period.
The Classical Period was full of familiar images: ancient Rome, the eruption of Vesuvius on Pompeii, Julius Caesar being stabbed to death, Greek myths, mosaics of Alexander the Great in battle, and now that I’ve got the ball rolling you probably remember a few other major things that give you a general idea of what time period I’m talking about. Medieval history grew out of that period and though some things changed, many of the ideas brought out in the Classical period were reviewed, revised, developed, and retold during the Middle Ages. Some things became common knowledge that we don’t often here of now.
Because the common knowledge of the Middle Ages is not what we think of today, it is necessary to go back and review Classical history every now and again. Usually if you are reading medieval literature and a piece of Classical literature is referenced, there will be a footnote or an endnote that explains what is being referenced. If it isn’t, hopefully the sites presented in the next post will be able to help you find your answer.