Strange Beauty pp 133-144 | Cite as

Archipelago and Empire

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


Many cultures describe their “story-shaped world”1 spatially in terms of a household, hall, or home. Delaware Indian traditions did this in tales of a cosmic longhouse. Early Irish texts sometimes described the three households of heaven, hell, and earth.3 Paul’s cosmic use of the term economia,4 and the modern neologism ecology, both harken back etymologically and semantically to a view of the earth or cosmos as a household. In early vernacular narrative landscapes of Europe’s Atlantic archipelago, the preeminent formative Insular motifs of the “cosmic longhouse” arguably were the otherworldly mound-portals or síde of early Irish stories, together with that of the lord’s mead hall of Anglo-Saxon literature.5 These could be extended into larger landscapes, as well. As we saw in chapter three, the Irish mirrored the chthonic Otherworld in the sea. But in Anglo-Saxon hagiography, the eighth-century locale of St. Guthlac’s mound mirrored the mead hall in Beowulf as transformative citadel-tomb opposed to surrounding fenlands, even as the sea figured alienation in Anglo-Saxon poetry.


Eleventh Century Eighth Century Green World Spatial Practice Monastic Community 
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© Alfred K. Siewers 2009

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