Hybrid healing

Old English remedies and medical texts

Author:
Lori Ann Garner
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Hybrid creatures emerging from the pages of Old English medical texts readily capture the modern imagination. A powerful medicinal root in an Old English herbal is rendered with distinctly human arms and legs; a swarm charm inscribed in the margins of Bede’s Old English history addresses bees as Valkyrie-like beings; an entry in the compilation known as the Lacnunga identifies a wayside plant as both herb and mother. Yet the most powerful forms of hybridity in the Old English healing tradition are more subtle and pervasive: linguistic hybrids of Latin and vernacular, cultural hybrids fusing Christian liturgy and Germanic lore, and generic hybrids drawing simultaneously from an ambient oral tradition and an increasingly ubiquitous culture of writing. Hybrid healing seeks to meet such textual hybridity with a methodological hybridity of its own. Drawing from a range of fields including historical linguistics, classical rhetoric, archaeology, plant biology, folkloristics, and disability studies, a series of close readings examines selected Old English medical texts through individually tailored combinations of approaches designed to illustrate how the healing power of these remedies ultimately derives from unique convergences of widely disparate traditions and influences. This case-study model positions readers to appreciate more fully the various forces at work in any given remedy, replacing reductive assumptions that have often led early medieval medicine to be dismissed as mere superstition. By inviting readers to approach each text with appropriately diverse critical frameworks, the book opens a space to engage the medieval healing tradition with empathy, understanding, and imagination.

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