Plant life in the poetic edda

Bintley, M. (2016) Plant life in the poetic edda. In: Thomson, S. and Bintley, M., eds. Sensory Perception in the Medieval West. Turnhout: Brepols. pp. 227-244

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In recent years, scholarship in early medieval studies and other allied fields has increasingly addressed the representation of relationships between humans and non-humans. The latter category has included actors of various kinds, including those we would most often think of as active (mammals, reptiles, birds, fish, insects, and so on), and those which we would be less accustomed to attribute any independent life at all in the modern world, such as human-made or naturally-occurring objects and phenomena, to which we would be less accustomed to attribute any independent life at all in the modern world. Plant life, which has also received some attention, sits somewhere between these broad categories. Plants can move and grow, on the one hand, but on the other they cannot see or hear or walk in the same way as other animals – or at least, we are not accustomed to think of them as doing so in the modern developed West. Instead, plant life appears either as an element of landscape, or as a backdrop for the more important things that humans and animals do, or in commodified form at the base of an ecological pyramid. Notwithstanding, literatures both ancient and modern indicate human knowledge and understanding of plants as beings comparable with humans, with a similar capacity to endure pain, suffering, and loss, in both metaphorical and literal terms. This chapter will offer a case study of the ways in which trees and other plants are represented in Old Norse Eddic poetry. It will examine their presentation as beings who possess sensory and emotional qualities, starting with a discussion of the hardships of the central pillar of Norse cosmology, Yggdrasill, before considering the ways in which the suffering of trees is used as a means of portraying the suffering of humans, and concluding with some reflections on what this evidence suggests about interactions between humans and plants in early medieval Scandinavia.

Item Type: Book Section
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion > BL0660 History and principles of religions > BL0689 European. Occidental > BL0830 Germanic and Norse
D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D0101 Medieval and modern history, 476-
P Language and Literature > PD Germanic languages > PD1501 North Germanic. Scandinavian > PD2201 Old Norse. Old Icelandic and Old Norwegian
Q Science > QH Natural history > QH0301 Biology (General) > QH0540 Ecology
Divisions: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Humanities
Depositing User: Dr Michael Bintley
Date Deposited: 22 Mar 2017 15:06
Last Modified: 22 Mar 2017 15:06

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Last edited: 29/06/2016 12:23:00