In the Shanameh written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi at around the turn of the Christian millennium, the conqueror Sekandar (aka Alexander the Great) encounters a speaking tree that foretells his doom, saying:
Few days remain;
You must prepare your final baggage train. Neither your mother, nor your family,
Nor the veiled women of your land will see Your face again.
Like the tree of the Dream of the Rood, which speaks for itself, or the dream tree of Nebuchadnezzar in the Book of Daniel, which portends the Babylonian king’s own fall, the speaking tree faced by Sekandar is a being that possesses knowledge and understanding of the world that far exceeds his own. There is something magnificent about trees, a majesty to their towering figures that singles them out as more than just a part of our natural surroundings. Rooted in the soil, they emerge from below and aim high: forever branching never-ending fractals. Exhaling, we relax and sink into their repeating patterns. Why do we recognize them as objects of beauty? How is this loveliness captured in medieval imagery? Is the method different across cultures? Why? Are arboreal images particularly well-suited to certain types of knowledge communication? What might they be? We are interested in how humans use these images drawn from nature to communicate effectively.
This one-day symposium aims to explore the image of the tree as a conduit for the exploration of human engagements with environment in the global middle ages, broadly defined, and seeks to encourage cross-cultural, trans-national, and interdisciplinary understanding of the role of trees, woodland, and other vegetation in various contexts. We want to better understand human responses to nature. What is it about ‘arboreal beauty’ that connects it with the divine? Recognized across cultures as axis mundi, the tree shoots upwards, its trunk and branches stretching, reaching, growing towards the light as it seeks to bridge the in-between space that divides earth from the heavens. The liminal quality of foliage, trees, and forests is recognized by artists and weavers of images across the world.
Papers may include, but are not limited to, consideration of trees:
- as central and marginal images
- as symbol and metaphor for systems of kinship/networks/communities
- as a material for craft/manufacture that acknowledges/utilizes arboreal materiality
- and geographical/regional variation in their symbolic, religious, and cultural significance
- and forests as persons, and the emotional/sensory life of trees
- pre-/post-Industrial age
- as means of expressing human emotion
- as a means of considering Deep Time, timelessness, eternity, and temporality
- and their connection with ‘folk’ customs and practices
- as a symbol for negotiation across cultures, religions, and cultural traditions
- as an image of salvation, with life-giving properties, for the body and/or soul
- as underlying diagrammatic structures in mapping and communicating knowledge
Anyone interested in participating should send a paper title and brief abstract (max 250 words) for 20-minute papers to the organizers, Mike Bintley (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Pippa Salonius (email@example.com), by 1st March, 2019.
Please include your full contact details, including institutional affiliation and professional status.
Birkbeck College, University of London A Symposium Hosted by Medieval Ecocriticisms and N/EMICS