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.
type of bias, one closely tied to matters of
orality/aurality, traditionality, performativity, spoken rhetoric, and oral transmission
treated in previous chapters: the faculty of hearing itself. This chapter brings a hybrid
methodology that draws from what might seem an unlikely combination—oraltheory and
Deaf studies—to bear on remedies for hearing loss. This perspective not only exposes
the implicit privileging of hearing and aurality within oral tradition
studies but also demonstrates what early medieval medical texts
Hybridity of metaphor in Ic me on þisse gyrde beluce
Lori Ann Garner
Chapter 2 examines metaphorical weapons that appear in Old English charms and remedies and asks: what happens when we consider the weapons as more than abstract metaphors for battling disease, when we think of the weapons in more concrete, literal terms? The chapter first brings oral theory into dialogue with approaches from archaeology in an analysis of the Old English Herbarium entry for yarrow, a medicinal herb whose healing properties are deeply connected in traditional lore to the legendary battles of Achilles. The chapter then builds toward analyzing in greater depth an Old English alliterative poem from the margins of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, opening ‘Ic me on þisse gyrde beluce’, a generically hybrid poem in which weapons serve as metaphors for healing and protection. Old English traditional remedies frequently employ weapons (both as metaphors and also as healing implements) to conceptualize disease and to negotiate power over illness and adversity in early medieval England, providing important glimpses into how ‘battles’ against ailment might have been understood and imagined by the texts’ earliest audiences. In metaphorically equating items of the most elite warrior’s armor – specifically a sword, shield, mailcoat, and helmet – to the four gospel authors, Ic me on þisse gyrde beluce essentially elevates figures associated with Christian liturgy to the highest values of loyalty, honor, and protection within the vernacular heroic tradition. Finally, the chapter concludes by discussing several debated matters of editing and translation.
insights concerning healing practices and
philosophies more broadly. Chapter 2 starts by bringing oraltheory into dialogue with approaches from archaeology in an analysis of the Old English
Herbarium entry for yarrow, a medicinal herb whose healing properties are deeply
connected in traditional lore to the legendary battles of Achilles. The chapter then builds
toward analyzing in greater depth an Old English alliterative poem from the margins of
Bede’s Ecclesiastical History , opening ‘Ic me on þisse gyrde
With empathy and imagination—hybridity in the field
Lori Ann Garner
, repeating the problem untrumnysse
[‘illness’] and the goal unbindan [‘to unbind’]. Such
structuring is obscured by standard conventions in modern print, and I would argue that
nearly every remedy might become better understood through this type of ethnopoetic
Chapter 4 ’s approach of linking rhetoric
with oraltheory revealed patterns of sentience attributed to healing plants and the deeply
collaborative relationship between healer and medicinal herbs. Though the leonfot
remedy does not prescribe
in medieval verse, as Garner points out, ‘not everyone would have been able to participate equally in this oral/aural culture’.
Garner's effort to begin remediating the audism of ‘much oral tradition scholarship’ examines (as noted briefly in Chapter 2 ) medical and legal texts as it explores ‘the intersections of Deaf studies and oraltheory within the context of early medieval England in particular’.
Detailing an early medieval understanding of a wide spectrum of
Edmund Leach, Lévi-Strauss (London: Fontana, 1970).
38 Albert B. Lord, The Singer of Tales (New York, 1965); idem, Epic Singers and
Oral Tradition (Ithaca, NY, and London: Cornell University Press, 1991). Lord
and Parry’s theories on the composition of oral poetry have also been applied,
not without criticism, to Old English epic: John Miles Foley, ‘The OralTheory
in Context’, in John Miles Foley (ed.), Oral Traditional Literature: a Festschrift
for Albert Bates Lord (Columbus, OH: Slavica, 1980), 27–123, esp. 51–60. For a
more recent cross-cultural exploration of