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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Sunday, 13 March 2016

"The Discarded Image" by C S Lewis

This is a book about the Medieval world view written by the master of medieval literature who also happened to be the author of the Narnia books (and therefore of interest to me in my researches into liminality) and some often forgotten Science fiction.

Lewis argues that the Medieval Model, their cosmological picture of the Universe, appeared in modified form throughout their poetry, even down to Paradise Lost.

Lewis sees medieval man as fundamentally "an organiser, a codifier, a builder of systems", instancing the codes of chivalry and courtly love, the Summa of Aquinas and the Divine Comedy of Dante (p 10)  but what particularly distinguished the medieval academic from those of either before or after was his heavy reliance on the written word: "They are bookish. They are indeed very credulous of books. They find it hard that anything an old auctour has said is simply untrue." (p 11) But Lewis is writing about literature and what he calls the "backcloth for the arts" selects from the Model of the Universe "only what is intelligible to a layman, and only what makes it appeal to imagination and emotion." (p 14)

He writes briefly about dreams. Microbius, following the Oneirocritica of Artemidorus from the 1st century AD, divides dreams into five, the first three useful (because prophetic) and 'true': (p 63)

  • allegorical (p 63)
  • prophetic giving a vision of the future (p 64)
  • oracular: listening to someone forecasting the future (p 64)
  • preoccupied: reviewing the events of the day (p 64)
  • surreal including nightmares (p 64)


Lewis goes through the hierarchies of angels of pseudo-Dionysius and is very detailed about the Consolation of Philosophy of Boethius but it is his side sayings that are best.

We learn, for example, that Medieval man had little sense of aporia:

  • "All sense of the pathless, the baffling and the utterly alien - all agoraphobia - is so markedly absent from medieval poetry when it leads us, as so often, into the sky." (p 99)
  • Dante "is like a man being conducted through an immense cathedral, not like one lost in a shoreless sea." (p 100)
  • Medieval literature is swamped by the classics and 'even' Arab influences and there is very little room for old Norse, Celtic and Anglo-Saxon influences save for some of the old romances and ballads,"things that can only live on the margins of the mind" (p 9)

There are one or two horrible bits of racism when he speaks degradingly of Africans trying to ape Western culture; he clearly thinks they are too savage.

But there are also a number of little gems:

  • the Antipodes was the region where people had their feet on backwards (p 28)
  • "Nothing about a literature can be more essential than the language it uses" (p 6)
  • the words feigned, figment and fiction have a common root (p 65)
  • as do the words 'grammar' and 'glamour' which both mean scholarship (p 187)
  • "The beauty of clothes is either theirs (the richness of the stuff) or the skill of the tailor - nothing will make it ours." (p 83) ... "Nobility is only the fame ... of our ancestors' virtue." (p 84)
  • "Medieval art was deficient in perspective, and poetry followed suit. Nature, for Chaucer, is all foreground; we never get a landscape." (p 101)
Overall this was a well-written and delightfully illuminating book.

March 2016; 223 pages

Read my review of the biography of C S Lewis: a tender account of a man who was first class mediaeval scholar but became a best seller in three different ways.

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