Religious Symbolism

Dream of the Rood and Miracles of the Virgin are highly symbolic texts. The most noticeable symbol in Dream of the Rood is the cross or the tree, which is also symbolic of God and his suffering. Rather than highlighting the pain and suffering of the Lord The Dream of the Rood is more focused on the rood’s journey and response to the crucifixion. The cross sets a sorrowful tone in the tale as it evoke pity and in the end praise from the reader.

Symbolism in Miracles of the Virgin is the white lily flowers that are found in the throat of the male figures. I’m not sure of the significance of the flower, but I know it has a connection to the Virgin Mary and her purity. The last male figure is healed by the Virgin’s breast milk. There is some significance with the throat and the Virgin but Im not exactly sure what that is. Like The Dream of the Rood this poem focuses a religious figure other than God and her role in his life.

The role of the cross

In Dream of the Rood, the cross is obviously the central figure. But what surprised me is just how active a role the cross seems to play in the crucifixion and in the salvation of man. The cross says “they mocked us both together” and “They pierced me through with darksome nails”, both suggesting that the cross is just as actively involved with the salvation of man as Jesus is. The cross even tells how it refused to bow or break at any point during Christ’s Passion. And for its role, the cross is adorned in gold and jewels. To read a text, religious or otherwise, that would give glory to anyone/thing besides Jesus for the salvation of man is just odd. It seems to suggest that Jesus is not solely responsible for salvation and that he never could have been. There needed to be a strong, willing, and able supporter, which would contradict the idea that the Son of God is all powerful.

I was hoping that writing this post would help clear up my own confusion on what the role of the cross says about the Passion and salvation, but I am honestly more unsure now than I ever was.

New Perspective of the Crucifixion

I found The Dream of the Rood very interesting and emotional.  The poem begins from the point of view of a man who then dreams of the cross that Jesus died on speaks to him.  The perspective of the cross is a unique and emotional first “person” point of view of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  The cross tells of the brutal experience of being “ripped up from [its] roots” and being forced to “bear their criminals” (30-31).  It tells of the painful and sorrowful experience of the cross’s first hand experience with Christ’s death, in which the cross is covered in Jesus’s blood as it witnesses the evil men nail Jesus to itself and die. Its dialogue uses powerful words to portray the experience, calling Jesus “bone-weary” and itself “standing drenched in blood, all shot through with arrows” (62-63).    The story is filled with sorrow and pain on both the cross’s part and Jesus’s.  Not only does the cross tell the story of Jesus’s death but also of the cross’s burial and recovery.  In a way the cross’s story parallels Jesus’s.  The cross suffered and was buried and then is recovered and honored.  The perspective given by the first person point of view is very interesting because I had never read the story of Jesus’s death from any perspective other than the common versions in The Bible.  The cross explains that it was recovered, adorned with gold, honored, and rose up to heaven where it is eternally with God.  The cross’s dialogue ends with a moral lesson, telling the dreamer that God has the judgment and that those who are worthy will rise up to heaven like the cross had.  This tale shares an emotional and unique perspective that adds a new kind of emotion because it describes the pain of being a part of the crucifixion of the cross’s savior.

Emotion of the Rood

Having already read this poem was very helpful, since I already understood that it was about the Holy Cross. The narrator was actually being shown its journey from tree to cross through a dream vision. The poem is full of emotions, like pride as well as woe. The rood is proud to have been chosen to serve as a religious icon. It is even called the “victor-tree” early on in the story. The cross describes its grief for the pain that Christ had to endure, but it “needs stand firm” trying to be strong for Him when He was weak. After Christ’s death, the cross speaks of how “on me the Son of God suffered a little time; wherefore in glory now I tower up beneath the sky.” Though I had read this previously, I never really focused on just how prevalent the emotional aspects were because the last time I read it, I was translating it from Old English and focused instead on the linguistic aspects of the poem.

Neuroscience from Plamper’s Reading

This article resonated with me particularly because I am very interested in neuroscience. While the many different definitions and views of emotion proved a lot to keep track of, Plamper’s examination on the polarity between emotion and reason from a historical perspective was interesting. The example Plamper uses is that of the amygdala being the source of fear. This analysis of emotion as having a direct neuroanatomical source is often misconstrued to be reductionist, in that it assumes that our personality is a mere composite of different neurotransmitters which implies a purely biological view of emotions. However I would argue that the two do not have to be mutually exclusive and can be used in conjunction to better explain the basis of personality. Our genetic make up, and the resulting chemical make up of our brains is the physical source of our expressed emotions and personality.

One example of this could be narcissism. Narcissism, generally considered a negative trait, could be thought to be either a lack or depleted amount of oxytocin, which is a bonding neurotransmitter. However this does not excuse an individual from their selfish actions. Sorry for the thoroughly neuroscience oriented blog post!

Emotion & Reason

The article brought up many interesting point about emotions that I have not learned about.   I found the conflicting arguments about emotion and reason most interesting.  Today most people tend to believe that emotion is almost opposite to reason but in fact at one point they were argued to go together.  I understand that there is a tendency to view emotion as a reaction versus a thought out process but the arguments of monism stating that mind and body (emotion and reason) are the same is an interesting way to approach emotion.  Ultimately, I agree with emotion being a reaction, especially with the speed at which synapsis are stimulated in the brain, but still an interesting way to approach emotion and the medieval studies.

Emotional history and literature

Plamper’s article complicates our understanding of ‘feeling’ even more as he attempts to find a working definition of emotion that can ultimately be used to discuss emotions throughout history.  While all the definitions and philosophies of emotion were a bit overwhelming, I found the article interesting in light of our studies.  At one point, the author asks, “Can emotional reactions to ‘real’ events that affect me directly be compared or even equated with emotional reactions to cultural products such as novels, films, or computer games?”  Aristotle, he says, considers these emotional reactions to “have a lesser force” (14).  But I think most literature enthusiasts would disagree — of course the emotional reactions are real and probably the same.  The question then becomes, is there a difference between how literature affects us and how it might have been different at the time and place it was written.  Of course, as Palmer points out, “emotional thinking during the Middle ages is not so well researched as that in antiquity, and furthermore had little influence on subsequent centuries” which makes the task of “Feeling Medieval” more difficult (17).

SN. Another point that stood out to me was that in the “court painting of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century North Indian Islam no indication of the face as the site of emotion,” it is all in “bodily movement, colour,” etc.  This immediately reminded me of the images we looked at in class and the contrast between Medieval paintings and contemporary depictions of courtly love, where the faces are the main sites of emotion.

Seeing Galen ideas today

Despite its length, this article was pretty interesting. I especially enjoyed reading about the different people in history that tried to define and understand emotions. I’ve read about Galen before, and I find his theory fascinating. He believed that humans were composed of four fluids: blood, phlegm, yellow gall, and black gall. An excess of one of these caused a person’s humour to exist in a particular sphere where they experienced particular feelings. Galen advocated moral education and moderation to combat this unbalance.

He and other theorists also seemed to place value in a person’s will, implying that if their will was strong enough, they could overcome issues like melancholy and depression. This part of his theory is what I can still see today. Many people are under the impression that a person can “beat” depression and melancholy through the strength of their will, when that isn’t always the case. To me, these sentiments seem just as ignorant and far-fetched as Galen’s theory of fluids and humour.

Multiple ways of looking at emotion

The author brings up Rosenwein and again talks about how there are two different (at least two) camps of thought regarding emotion. this author describes them as polar opposites in the beginning of his essay. What is weird is that he gives any attention to the idea of the tribes with their primitive nature of deciding if someone was fearful simply by using a ritual. Is my thoughts on this primitive myself and perhaps I can’t widen my horizen to accept this? Or maybe I am not reading the article correctly, but to even entertain this concept is strange. It is clear that emotions are universal, to me, and not governed by any outside force of nature like karma or chi or atua. .


I’d like to take a quick look at the Enlightenment’s view on things: “nature as the body and nature as the environment”.  If we can look to emotions as certainties of the human body or human nature, then we can, as the author says, read nature as absolute certainty. What does that say to the author’s earlier tryst with the amygdala? I am not sure. I do know that this author things that you can take the piece by piece evolution of emotion and look at it, like he does with the amygdala.


The author notes that in a hundred year span there have been 92 different definitions for emotion. I think that this speaks to the way that the author said he wanted to look at the evolution of emotion piece by piece. But are we supposed to cut out the pieces like the tribe mentioned earlier in his work that deemed emotions as ruled by outside forces? I did see the author’s connection with emotions and outside forces when he reminded the reader of the ways that we, as a group of people writing or talking about our feelings, will use such phrases that reference “something external” such as “overcome with rage”.

I guess I struggled to see all of the various definitions of emotion and was most struck by the author’s ability to relate something as concrete and valid as the amygdala with the Maoi tribe’s concepts of emotions being governed by an outside force.

Emotion: Historically and Frustratingly Complex

This was a lengthy but interesting work, and I feel further invested in the study of emotion and how it pertains to our class after reading it. There was a lot of information in this article, but the main thing that I took away from it is how difficult it is and has been through history to define emotion, as well as the questions that surround it. Plamper rarely directly answers the questions he titled his chapters with, instead reviewing different ways people have approached such questions beginning with Artistotle into modern day. This emphasizes how complex and nearly impossible to concretely conceptualize emotion is: “everyone knows what [it] is, until asked to give a definition” (11). I like the idea that rather than seeking hard truths to the questions surrounding emotion, it is more productive to instead look at the different ways people have tried to answer them as time has passed.

There were two points in these chapters that I found most interesting. One, I enjoyed reading about Artistotle’s definition of “pathos”, and the idea that emotions have positive and negative traits simultaneously – for example, anger producing pain as well as the imagined possibility of ‘sweet’ revenge. This made me think about how this could be applied to the emotion of love or desire. Love produces the obvious pleasure of mental and physical satisfaction and joy, but could also be negative because of the possibility of it being taken away, or the person of your affection hurting you.

Secondly, I was also fascinated by Plamper’s talk about how many of the modern day metaphors for emotion may date back to how the Greeks defined it, as they imply an external force (i.e. overcome with rage, love-struck). I think this idea has also been addressed in another article we have read for class, and this just further helped to show how concepts of emotion have a lineage that has found ways to stay with us despite ever-changing definitions and constructs.