The Dark Ages – the Middle Ages. When the world was ruled by barbaric ignorance. This is quite a popular conception, but is it justified? Hannele Klemettilä is a Finnish historian, who wants to challenge the image of the Middle Ages as an era of cruelty. In Federigo’s Hawk she presents us with evidence of the compassion and appreciation the people in the Middle Ages showed towards animals – their invaluable companions and helpers.
Author: Hannele Klemettilä
Publisher: Atena 2013, Finland
Original language: Finnish
HelMet Reading Challenge 2017: number 10. A book with a beautiful cover.
Klemettilä gives examples of relationships people had with several different animal species; dogs and cats, horses, hawks and elephants among others. Many household animals had to work hard, but so did their owners. On the other hand, there was no intensive animal farming – pigs wondered in the woods and chicken ran on the backyards.
What Klemettilä is stressing over and over, is that people were individuals also in the Middle Ages, just as they are now. There were those that adored animals and those that couldn’t care less. Even if there was someone voicing the inferiority of animals, it doesn’t mean everybody would have been of the same opinion.
It is good to bring these issues up. On the other hand, I cannot help wondering the academic research in this kind of issues. It seems that many conclusions are drawn based on very few sources and then generalized without a justification. There are of course relatively few records stemming from the Middle Ages that can be studied. But shouldn’t that be a good reason to withdraw from making generalizations?
All in all, Klemettilä has written a very entertaining book on the history of the relationships between humans and non-humans and as such it is well worth reading.