Lori Ann Garner
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To persuade a plant
Hybridity of rhetoric in Harley 585
in Hybrid healing
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Chapter 4 examines ways that herbs are sometimes invoked as actual sentient beings in early medieval medical texts. Bringing studies in medieval rhetoric to bear on orally performed incantations required by Old English healing recipes, this chapter offers a close analysis of the direct address employed in two medical texts within the Harley 585 manuscript in order to communicate with a wide range of plants, specifically mugwyrt (mugwort), wegbrade (waybread), attorlaðe (identified as cockspur grass or possibly betony), and mægðe (mayweed or chamomile) as they appear in the Lacnunga within the so-called ‘Nine Herbs Charm’ and the herbs ricinum (castor-oil plant) and peruica (periwinkle) as treated in the Herbarium. While the charms in the Herbarium and the Lacnunga both involve direct address in soliciting the respective herbs’ assistance, the specific manner in which the herbs are addressed – and, consequently, the relationships implied between healer and herb – differ markedly from each other. Such variation in the two types of address and the attendant methods of persuasion reflect distinct cultural differences between Latinate and Germanic modes of expression and conceptions of herbal healing, yet their juxtaposition within a single manuscript devoted to healing practice nonetheless suggests that these variant strains of thought were not seen as competing or mutually exclusive. As with many aspects of early medieval culture, such variation in the rhetorical devices employed for the persuasion of plants reflects the productive hybridity emerging from Germanic and Latinate influences and helps us better understand healers’ complicated conceptions of herbal power.

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Hybrid healing

Old English remedies and medical texts

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