Resilience as an interpretative Key to the Relationship between Man and Nature in the Middle Ages

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Medieval man experiences his own weakness in his challenge with the natural world. He lives in an environment which exposes his fragility on a daily basis. He has received an ambiguous legacy from Christian tradition: besides the positive conception of creation found in Genesis, ecclesiastical culture interprets natural calamities as divine punishment for human sins. Historians must not be deceived by such amplifications of ecclesiastical culture, but it is undeniable that medieval man feels a sense of helplessness because he feels subjected "to powers that cannot be disciplined" (Marc Bloch). Faced with these challenges of nature, the medieval West evidences, however, an extraordinary dynamism in its capacity to adapt. If we consider the relationship between man and nature in a historical perspective and therefore in a chronological dimension, we understand that it is not a monodirectional evolution that progressively leads to modernity. The High Middle Ages is undoubtedly marked by the preponderance of nature over man, while with the 12th century the landscape becomes increasingly humanized and dominated by man. A positive theological and philosophical conception of nature is established, and culminates on a figurative plane in Giotto's realism. The 14th century crisis presents a new trend reversal. The black Plague and climate change reactivates the vicious circle of poor harvests, high prices, famine and mortality that made the existence of man in the High Middle Ages uncertain. The terror of divine punishment causes man to take refuge anew in asceticism and to use physical pain as an instrument of atonement: all social classes invoked a more intensely religious art (Millard Meiss). Can we therefore consider the 12th century as the beginning of modernity in the light of the man-nature relationship? In many respects yes, but in reality it was a sort of false start, followed by a return to a negative perception of nature.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNature and Human. An intricate Mutuality
EditorsGert - Ruta, Carlos Rafael Melville
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Middle Ages
  • Nature


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