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Mandrake legend

The paper presented below is meant to show how modern, up-to-date research should deal with plants of the Middle Ages.

Anne Van Arsdall, Helmut W. Klug, Paul Blanz: The mandrake plant and its legend: a new perspective.

This paper demonstrates how the contemporary legend about mandrake plant evolved from classical through early-modern times. A major misconception about the Middle Ages and the era directly preceding it is an assumption that the different elements of the mandrake legend were always widespread and well-known. Our paper stresses the importance of distinguishing different stages in the mandrake legend in the centuries from ca. A.D. 500 to 1500, showing that not all concepts we know today were associated with the plant at any given time or place in the past. We base our research strictly on historical documents (illustrations, literary and botanical/pharmaceutical texts) carefully correlated in time. Our findings bring an important corrective to many folkloristic assumptions about the mandrake legend that have been handed down and accepted at face value for years. In fact, more research is needed to pinpoint when and where various elements of the legend originated and how (and how far) they spread, especially for the time after the 12th century.

Digital version.