What makes a society? That was the crux of the Antigone Lecture October 20. The lecture discussed the development of societies over time, tried to figure out what got them there, and what brought us here.
The speaker was Dr. Anthony Lappin. Lappin is one of the foremost scholars in the field of medieval and early renaissance literature in Spain.
He earned his Ph.D. in Spanish and Portuguese from Oxford University, and has been President of the Society for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literatures for three years. He has taught at several universities, including the University of Manchester, and he is a fellow of the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Studies.
He spoke about the formation of medieval society, and the various factors and influences upon it. The world was a very different place then. It was a time where violence was expected, warfare was constant and where life expectancy wasn’t what it is now.
Various points of discussion were the intricacies of medieval society, what exactly medieval society was and what that entailed — how did it develop, and what influences led to those developments.
There were many differences that would be surprising to us here in the modern world. Taxation wasn’t really that much of a factor, at least in Europe. Taxes would be collected when there was a national crisis requiring them, but aside from that, they were mostly nonexistent outside of tithes to the church.
The law of the land wasn’t as universal as it is now. There was a separate set of laws for the state, the merchants and the church, each having their own way of judging and punishing different crimes.
The church was required for the growth of government. Tithes allowed stockpiles of needed supplies in case of famine, and the church provided a unifying force for society. The church controlled vast areas of land and, through it, wealth and political influence.
The point of the nobility was to manage standing armies for national defense and security. This was an integral function of the much noted feudal system that many high schools teach today. It’s a bit more complicated than king, baron, knight and serf.
There was discussion of the effects that religion had on developing societies. There were many parallels and some differences between Christendom, the nations that grew alongside Christianity, and the nations that rose alongside Islam. The division between religion and state, for example.
With Christianity, the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor divided power. In Islamic regions, the Caliph was ruler and religious leader.
There was discussion of sociological theory, asking why exactly did things develop this way, and what did it mean for the modern world. “Where exactly did the modern world begin?” This is a question we’re still trying to answer.
In the end, the Antigone lecture was an exploration of history and society, seeking to uncover how they gained influence, and touching just a bit on how we got here from there.
A discussion of sociology, religion, economics, history and warfare, and in some small ways, the human condition. These are all the kinds of questions that drive us, and the search for answers will drive us forward for a long time to come.