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He now saw Classical Antiquity, so long considered a ‘dark’ age for its lack of Christianity, in the ‘light’ of its cultural achievements, while Petrarch’s own time, allegedly lacking such cultural achievements, was seen as the age of darkness. I agree there’s some level on which all of these are a sort of boundary-crossing in the ethics of historiography. In this case you’re not responsibly abdicating historical judgment.[…] Petrarch wrote that history had two periods: the classic period of Greeks and Romans, followed by a time of darkness in which he saw himself living. And I agree that maybe very responsible historians want to avoid this and come up with more neutral names for very official work – I’ve seen some people talk about “Alexander III of Macedon”. You’re making a historical judgment, and getting it wrong. The Dark Ages were only “dark” if you like big centralized states with powerful economies. For example, ancient Rome had slavery, and most Dark Age societies didn’t. And Alexander the Great was only “great” if you like killing a lot of people and conquering their lands.Some people have used it this way, but this is neither how the term’s original inventors intended it, nor how a majority of modern people (historian or otherwise) think of it.
Petrarch was the first to give the metaphor secular meaning by reversing its application. The “Time There Were Five Whole Emperors In A Row, None Of Whom Were Sadistic, Perverted, Or Insane, Which As Responsible Historians We Cannot Officially Call “Good”, But Which By The Standards Of Ancient Rome Is Seriously Super Impressive”. But if you only challenge the term “Dark Ages”, I feel like you’re doing the opposite of this suspension-of-judgment. ” you’re putting yourself in a position to judge historical eras, saying that maybe some of them were dark and others weren’t, but this particular one wasn’t.And compared to the periods before or after, Dark Ages Europe was unimpressive.I’m probably an overly literal person, but whenever I think about dark ages, I think of the modern (and anachronistic for the period in question) association between light, population density, and economic activity: The Dark Ages in Europe were a time when things would have been more towards the North Korean end of that picture.This sleep of forgetfulness will not last for ever. Maybe the real Golden Age of Athens was in 40,000 BC, when Neanderthals on the rocky plain that would one day become Athens hunted mammoths in carefree abandon, loving life and being at one with nature and the changing seasons.When the darkness has been dispersed, our descendants can come again in the former pure radiance.” Petrarch can’t just be referring to an absence of good historical sources – he’s talking about his own era! Maybe the title “Alexander the Great” should really go to Alexander IV of Macedon, who was killed at age 14 and so never conquered, murdered, or oppressed anyone – truly an outstanding achievement matched by approximately zero other kings of the era.