The Other Middle Ages: A Medieval Latin Reader

by Kenneth F. Kitchell, Jr, Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers 2016, Pb 400 pages, ISBN 978-0-85616-837-4 ($29).

There are now quite a number of ‘readers’ available for those learning Medieval Latin, and it is therefore useful to identify what the specific aims of this book are that might make it significantly different from the others. In the Introduction Kitchell states the aims of this book very clearly: ‘Paramount is a desire to attract more students and teachers into reading ML. While doing this, the book attempts to show aspects of medieval life often overlooked in traditional ML readers and it contains pieces that differ widely in style. It is also dedicated to the simple proposition that reading skills are best acquired by level-appropriate reading.’ Which is all very clear and quite ambitious, and there is no doubt that Kitchell’s book is well designed to achieve all these aims.

The book contains 79 readings, most of them taking up a page or less, divided into 11 categories. To grasp the range of categories it is simplest to list them, because they give a good idea of what kind of material to expect:


  1. Everyday Life
  2. Echoes of Antiquity – Alexander the Great
  3. The Black Death
  4. Perspectives on Women
  5. Anti-Semitism
  6. Wonders and Marvels
  7. The World of the Church
  8. Ritual
  9. Attacks on the Church
  10. Carmina Burana and Goliardic Tradition
  11. The World of Nature and Science


These categories cover a substantial portion of the cultural, social and religious life of the Medieval world, fields of study that are still not well represented in courses on Medieval History at university level.

The Latin readings within each category are excellently chosen, partly, Kitchell tells us, with the help of his own students. The four readings on ‘The Black Death’ make gruesome reading; ‘Perspectives on Women’ shows the largely misogynistic attitudes of the age; ‘Wonders and Marvels’ has ten stories of the weird and magical that so intrigued the medieval mind; the three sections on the Church present some saintly, some amusing and some hostile writings which well illustrate the complexity of medieval religion;  ‘The World of Nature and Science’ has 16 readings, 10 of them from the prolific polymath Albertus Magnus, who combines some careful scientific observation with a good dose of folklore and moralising – and he claims that he found 10 pearls in a single helping of oysters from the North Sea. In all, a fine and varied collection of medieval texts.

Each reading is prefaced with a very informative introduction, and the ‘Notes and Vocabulary’ that accompany every reading are pitched at just the right level for students who know the basic grammar but have little experience of reading real Latin. The Lexicon at the end of the book includes every word in the texts. The Introduction includes a useful summary of the main differences between Classical and Medieval Latin - though I didn’t quite see the point about ‘debeo’ on p.xxvi; debeo + infinitive = ‘have to . . .’ was well enough established in Classical Latin. And I trust that the section on p.xxvii on Indirect Statement will not give students the impression that they don’t also need to know the Accusative and Infinitive construction, which most medieval writers did in fact use quite often.

The book is very well produced, Latin texts are sensibly in a larger font size than the rest of the material, and the 26 illustrations are well selected and appropriately located in the text. An excellent addition to the books available for the teaching of Medieval Latin. I do hope that the book achieves the aims that the author set out for it.

John Thorley
(Former President of Euroclassica)