Mr. Curiosity is studying medieval history this year. As part of his work, he’s reading several medieval pieces of literature. This was one of his choices for the year. I read the books alongside him.
Translated by: Robert M. Adams
Published: originally in 1516, this edition in 1975
Genre: classic philosophy
Length: 85 pages
Setting: Utopia, a medieval society
Summary: Short version: More’s description of a society set up to benefit all
Long version: Our narrator, Thomas More, is off in Flanders. He gets to talking to some locals about government and society. They tell him of a man who visited a most curious place. More sits down with the sailor to learn all about Utopia. The sailor starts by discussing the physical set-up of Utopia and their government. He goes on to describe the moral and philosophical underpinnings of the society.
Final thoughts: Not exactly a riveting book, but it was interesting to see the first version of Utopia. I think the modern idea of what constitutes a Utopia has changed a bit since the 1500s. More figured there wouldn’t be any money or property ownership. That characteristic, right off the bat, would eliminate much of the crime. There was quite a big discussion about war and fighting. I think that reflected how much fighting was going on in Europe in the 1500s. The Utopians considered war and fighting to be terrible. Therefore, it should be done by mercenaries as much as possible. So, we won’t fight, but we’ll let all you unenlightened civilizations fight for us. On the other hand, slaver was perfectly acceptable.
Utopia also seemed to be best for the men, who ruled the households. Women didn’t have equal opportunities compared to the men, although I’m sure they had more opportunities in Utopia than in typical medieval society. I also took notice of their religious beliefs. You could believe anything you wanted, as long as you believed in God and heaven. Since they had so few laws, the only thing ensuring you acted in the best interests of society was your belief in the afterlife. Everyone spent their time working or learning. No one engaged in such frivolous activities as gambling or making art. Of course, if there’s no money, there’ no reason to gamble. I’m not sure I consider art to be frivolous.
If we consider More’s Utopia as some ideal that society would naturally move toward, we really haven’t. Either More got his version of a perfect society wrong, or we haven’t advanced much. I’m going with option #1, not that I know what a perfect society would look like.
Title comes from: It’s the name More gave the perfect society. It apparently comes from the Greek words meaning “no place”.
Reading challenges fulfilled: book #31 for 2019 and a U in my Title Reading the Alphabet Challenge
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