North, South, and Slavs

A quote from Thomas Cahill, Mysteries of the Middle Ages: And the Beginning of the Modern World (Hinges of History)

p. 190 “But there was a division even then between Europe north and Europe south. The south – Italy south of Lombardy, the parts of France that spoke Provencal, Spain, Portugal, and (to some extent) Ireland, a sort of Mediterranean island misplaced in the Atlantic – was sensuous and sexual. As one went north toward the Germanic tribes, the Saxons, the Franks, the Prussians, the Scandinavians, many pleasures lost their evident appeal, and one encountered more silence, less show, a more rigorous sense of order, both personal and social, and people who had probably never since adulthood taken all their clothes off – and who, if stripped naked, looked like plucked chickens, rather than like the sinuous, sun-loving, copper-colored humans of the south. (Think of the embarrassed white limbs of Adam and Eve in the painting of Dutch and Flemish masters, as opposed to the expansively easeful biblical nudes given us by Michelangelo and his fellow Italians.)”

p. 190-191 “The land of the Slavs, the snowmen, the toughest people of all, lay beyond such distinctions. For in Eastern Europe, whether Catholicism or Orthodoxy prevailed, there flourished a Christianity of inhuman fasts, unending winters, and interminable liturgies, as well as a personal hygiene that included boiling oneself in steam, then rolling in ice. Whether one was naked or clothed, the point was never sensuality but survival.”


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