Plant life in the poetic edda

Book chapter


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

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.

Page range227-244
Year2016
Book titleSensory Perception in the Medieval West
PublisherBrepols
Output statusPublished
Place of publicationTurnhout
Publication dates
Print24 Mar 2016
Publication process dates
Deposited22 Mar 2017
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