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Ælf, Ælfsīden, Ælfādl, Ælfsogoþa: Elves and Disease in Anglo-Saxon Leechbooks


Magic, disease, uncanny creatures, and strange little elves that embody the wicked practices in Anglo-Saxon England. Based on a review of the literature, such as critical editions, essays and translations, the study aims at analyzing the profiles of these odd creatures in the Medieval medical manuscripts known as "Leechbooks", representing a significant part of the Old English literature. First, the paper focuses on the analysis of the paleography and contents of these Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, namely Bald’s Leechbook, Leechbook III and Lacnunga, in order to understand the nature of the texts and to scrutinize how medicine and heathen beliefs were strictly connected during the medieval period. Secondly, attention is drawn on the Germanic literary context, in which elves acquired several connotations, from fascinating and interesting living beings to monstrous and dangerous beasts. In particular, the paper aims at taking into account the most remarkable attestations of the Germanic literatures, Caedmon’s works, Beowulf, Judith, Edda, to identify the roles that the elves played even in the Christian texts. Finally, a group of recipes and spells contained in the Old English Leechbooks is selected and examined with regard to language, use and meaning during the period. Therefore, the purpose is to reveal the role of these magical and illustrious creatures that still today are included in our collective imagination.

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