I’ve been thinking about some of the ideas we talked about on Tuesday (in reference to “Ypotis”, especially) and it’s gotten me wondering about a particular question. Although this is going to sound rather broad and open to much interpretation, I suppose I’ll go ahead and ask it anyway: what was the “meaning of life” for people in Medieval times? First, let me clarify what I mean by that ridiculously general query. At one point, Dr. Seaman pointed us to lines 289-95 in “Ypotis” to show how people questioned issues of justice—for example, why was the reader born after Christ and therefore able to believe in him and hopefully one day ascent to Heaven, but a man like Adam, probably more pious and with more good deeds, born before Jesus and therefore fated to Hell? Dr. Seaman explained that just after those lines comes an answer to this question: “Als [Adam] was man of myghtys moste,/[G-d] sente Adam the Holy Goste,/And fette out Adam and Eve/And all that were hym leve” (297-300). In other words, people’s “essences” (or souls, or spirits, or whatever one likes to call them) were not trapped in time or space and were instead able to transcend such physical borders.
Reexamining this section of the poem made me wonder: if people of the time cared so much about going to Heaven that they would consider allowing non-Christians a “second chance” of sorts, was that their only care in life? Throughout this class it has become more obvious to me how dangerous it is to create stark binaries or categories in which people and events are placed. So wouldn’t it be just as foolish to assume that Heaven was the only pursuit worth living for, despite the didactic and religious texts we have come across in Ashmole 61?
Many debate about the “meaning of life” in our own society. Is life all about accumulating wealth—becoming famous—living hedonistically—finding true love? Most would argue it’s a mixture of all of those things (and, of course, plenty more). So wouldn’t the same be true about Medieval society? If so, what were the other categories?