Danièle Cybulskie on living like a medieval monk
by Timothy Pike
Author, medieval historian, and podcaster Danièle Cybulskie loves history, and is on a quest to make it as entertaining as possible.
Based near Toronto, Ontario, Danièle has been researching and writing about the Middle Ages for more than a decade. She’s the author of The Five-Minute Medievalist, featuring some of the most popular articles Danièle has written on topics such as the Templars, love and lust advice, and medieval words we still use every day.
But articles and books are only one way she brings the past to life. She’s also the creator and host of ExtraMedieval, a brand-new podcast that takes a more in-depth look at the subjects she covers on the other program she hosts, The Medieval Podcast. “I wanted to bring more history to more people,” she says, “and I’ve always felt confident in front of a microphone. Podcasting seemed like a natural fit.”
Her latest book, How to Live Like a Monk, explores how co-opting the traditions and practices of monks in the Middle Ages can lead to better living today. “This book illuminates the day-to-day of medieval European monasticism,” her book teaser tells us, “showing how you can apply the principles of monastic living, like finding balance and peace, to your life.”
It goes on:
She shares how monks authentically embraced their spiritual calling and were also down to earth: they wrote complaints about being cold in the manuscripts they copied, made beer and wine, and even kept bees.
The response to How to Live Like a Monk has been phenomenal, with many readers telling Danièle how much it helped them. “I sometimes get e-mails from readers, and they go straight to my heart,” she says. “But for me, the biggest achievement is having written something that has touched people deeply and given them a little bit more peace. I never imagined being a medieval historian would allow me to give people tools to help them find more peace, but you just never know what life has in store.”
When Danièle was approached to write How to Live Like a Monk, it was an offer she couldn’t refuse. “I can’t take credit for the concept—that was brought to me by Lauren Orthey at Abbeville Press,” she says. “But I was delighted to have the opportunity to bring together my love of history and my love of modern psychology and wellness, so I very quickly said yes!”
“I never imagined being a medieval historian would allow me to give people tools to help them find more peace,” Danièle says, “but you just never know what life has in store.”
Danièle, surprisingly, never set out to be a writer—it all started by accident. “I was home with a new baby,” she says, “and missed the conversations and learning I’d done around history in university. I started a blog to get back in touch with my love of the medieval world, introducing people to the facts I found most interesting about it. That led to my becoming a regular writer for a website called Medievalists.net, and eventually to writing books.”
Along the way, she discovered that writing is about persistence. “You just have to put your reps in until you find your own unique style and voice,” she says. “It’s like that old joke: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.”
For Danièle, the practice has paid off, and has even made her more aware of how her work is received. “I’ve become a more sensitive writer by listening to people,” she tells me. “I used to make a lot of completely unconscious assumptions based on my worldview, as I think we all do, but now I watch for that in both the writing and the editing process, and try to make sure I’m more aware and inclusive of other perspectives.”
Danièle acknowledges one downfall of her field, though: at times, she has felt out of her depth. “When you’re a historian, there are always people who have put in deeper dives than you have on a particular topic,” she says. “This can cause you to question whether or not you’re the right person to be writing about it.”
Fortunately, she’s found a way to move past unhelpful feelings like that whenever they arise. “I often think about Madonna,” Danièle tells me. “She’s said, or so I’ve heard, that she knows she’s not the best singer or dancer, but that doesn’t matter to her. She just puts in the work, and I mean, the results speak for themselves. People love her music. You don’t have to be the ultimate expert or the best. You just have to do your best.”
Danièle’s next book, Chivalry and Courtesy: Medieval Manners for a Modern World, deals with etiquette in the Middle Ages and is set to be released in the fall. “I think there’s a lot in it that’s going to surprise people,” she says, “given that most modern people believe medieval people had no manners at all. In reality, though, things like table manners—don’t talk with your mouth full, don’t eat with your elbows on the table, don’t wipe your mouth on your sleeve—are very consistent over time. I’m hoping the book will help people see the Middle Ages with more open-mindedness.”
Danièle Cybulskie has been researching and writing about the Middle Ages for over a decade. She is the author of The Five-Minute Medievalist and How to Live Like a Monk, and is a featured writer at Medievalists.net. She’s a former college professor and specialist in medieval literature and Renaissance drama, and her work has been published in magazines worldwide, spanning topics from The Hundred Years’ War to Roman togas. Her mission is to make history fun, entertaining, and engaging, as well as draw attention to our shared human nature across the centuries. When she’s not reading, writing, or recording, Danièle can be found drinking tea, doing Krav Maga, or sometimes building a backyard trebuchet.
You can learn more about Danièle at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Also be sure to check out her podcasts, The Medieval Podcast and ExtraMedieval.
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