Monday, 28 December 2009

Civilisation 1: The Skin of Our Teeth: 3

Western civilisation according to Clark, was kept alive by holy men in places like Iona, the centre of Celtic Christianity. Here we see examples of the amazing designs of manuscripts and crosses produced by the Celtic Church, in what is known as the Irish style. It is not clear whether the manuscripts were designed in Iona or Lindisfarne.  The book of gospels with its “pure pages of ornament are almost the richest and most complicated pieces of abstract decoration ever produced”, and is Clark suggests “more sophisticated and refined than anything in Islamic art” (Clark, 1969 p.11). Clark does seem to generally ignore the contribution of Islamic art and science on Western European thought. It is worth remembering that in Victorian Britain Islamic and Celtic design seem to fuse in the arts and crafts.

With the Norseman on the move places like Iona became unsafe so the Abbott of Iona fled to Ireland. What we see from this chaos are clear differences between “Atlantic man” and the “Mediterranean man” and the new technical skills of the Viking’s journeys, which represent a new achievement of the western world” (Clark, 1969 p.14).  The symbol that distinguishes “Atlantic man” from the Greek temple of “Mediterranean man” is the Viking ship. Clark states that “the Greek temple is static and cold” while “the ship is mobile and light” (Clark, 1969 p.14).

These oppositions of permanence and mobility are themes that run through Civilisation. There are tensions between cultural restlessness and a need to settle and create order out of the flux of experiences.

This particular clip ends with the rise of the Frankish Kingdom and the creation of the Holy Roman Empire.  "Incidentally", says Clark  "drawings of the ninth century show, almost for the very first time, that the horsemen have stirrups, and people who like mechanical explanations for historical events maintain that this was the reason why the Frankish cavalry was victorious" (Clark, 1969 p.14).

Clark, K (1969) Civilisation: A personal view. London: BBC/J. Murray

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