I was reading a history book last year by Friedrich Heer (some German) called The Holy Roman Empire. It was, surprisingly enough, a history of the Holy Roman Empire. It seemed quite good at the beginning, but for some reason I’d stopped reading it. Anyhow, I took it up again last week and thought I’d have a go at it again. So I read the last chapter again before I’d broken off; and ok, it was considerably more tedious than I remembered, but it wasn’t till I got to the last paragraph and read the following that I remembered why I’d stopped reading. Heer, by the way, has the habit throughout of inserting odd reflections which have little to do with the period at hand.
Emperor Henry V died of a cancerous ailment in 1125, at the age of forty-five and in the midst of a fresh conflict with lay and ecclesiastical opponents. Cancer is not only a modern disease; but it seems – as is only to be expected – to become especially prevalent at critical and revolutionary periods of human history, periods in which men are obliged to ‘transpose’ themselves, physically and psychically. Monica, St Augustine’s mother and an extraordinary woman in her own right, died of cancer, at the turning-point between Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Henry V, a man faced with an extraordinary challenge, also died in one of Europe’s periods of revolution.
Yep, well – pretty much convinces me!