Lori Ann Garner
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Of mandrakes and manuscripts
Hybridity of being in Harley 6258B
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Chapter 5 turns to questions of transmission and reception, focusing on the mandrake root (mandragorum) as it appears across manuscripts versions of the Old English Herbarium, a text preserved in four manuscripts dating from the tenth century to as late as the twelth. Centering its analysis on the anomalous entry for the anthropomorphized mandrake in a historically neglected manuscript, this chapter challenges the privileging of lavishly produced manuscripts over less visually appealing counterparts. The beautifully illustrated copy of the Herbarium in MS Cotton Vitellius C.iii has typically served as an authoritative base text, with the copy in MS Harley 6258B most often being viewed as demonstrating far less care and planning in its production. However, it is precisely the omissions, organizational departures, and other ‘flaws’ that suggest a close connection of this seemingly lesser text to the actual performance of medical practice. This chapter is thus aimed at helping to rebalance the historical privileging of literate culture over oral tradition in scholarly treatments of the Old English medical corpus, a tendency that risks reading natural variation across versions as ‘mistakes’ and connections to folklore as irrational. Finally, by applying approaches found in Matthew Hall’s groundbreaking Plants as Persons and Michael Marder’s Plant-Thinking to the mandragorum entries, this chapter confronts our societal privileging of human over plant. An Appendix offers a newly edited and translated text of the mandrake entry reflecting the chapter’s analysis.

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Hybrid healing

Old English remedies and medical texts


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