Paradise in the Sea: An Early Geography of Desire

  • Alfred K. Siewers
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


The ninth-century Periphyseon (De Diusione Naturae) by the Hiberno-Latin philosopher John Scottus Eriugena culminates early Irish Sea writings on nature from the standpoint of intellectual history, although the book was banned for centuries by the Western church and, despite renewed interest in recent years, remains little read (there is no easily accessible English-language translation, for example) and less understood given its early medieval experiential approach to philosophy.1 The work’s symbolism of nature—its sea of divinity and clouds of theophany, its cosmic tree uniting Paradise and earth, and its fourfold textualiconography of a cosmic landscape—remains indispensable, however, for understanding larger cultural contexts of the naturally miraculous Otherworld trope, which move it even beyond the Heideggerian sense of region explored in the last chapter into a more elemental realm. The cosmic-landscape symbolism of the Periphyseon more than its philosophy forms the focus of this chapter, which examines how, in effect, Eriugena’s cosmic iconography extends a place-region analogous in qualities to the Irish Sea Otherworld onto a Creation-wide scale. In other words, the text illustrates views of nature implicit in the Otherworld trope, in ways relevant to current environmental philosophy. Written around the same time as the formation of core literary narratives of Tochmarc Étaíne, Táin Bú Cuailnge, and key Irish sources for the Welsh Mabinogi, by an Irish author in Francia with an educational background in the archipelagic milieux of those other texts, the Periphyseon challenges modern assumptions that the distinctive early Irish exegetical concern with miracles as natural “was not tied to a wider theoretical outlook,” but does so with its own iconography.


Religious Scholar Environmental Philosophy Desert Asceticism Morning Star Spiritual Realm 
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