Tuesday, December 27, 2016


Like a Photographic Plate

Peter Brown, Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012; rpt. 2014), p. 506 (footnote omitted):
In fact, lay power had by no means withered away in the sixth-century West. If we think that this happened, it is because of the peculiar quality of our sources for the period. The literature of the age was overwhelmingly clerical and mainly hagiographic. Like a photographic plate, which privileges blue tones over red, a literature devoted to the deeds of saints and bishops did not register certain colors as clearly as others. The vivid blues of a bishop's activities stand out sharply, while the great red mass of lay life against which these deeds were set remains subdued—much as, in astronomers' photographs of the constellation of Orion, the vivid blue of a dwarf star tends to swamp the prodigious red globe of Betelgeuse.

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