For most people alive today, the COVID-19 pandemic was our first experience of widespread isolation. However, among medieval cultures, with low population density and limited urbanisation, isolation, especially through exile, was common as a political expedient or even, as now, as a method of controlling the spread of illness. This is reflected across myriad aspects of medieval culture, from pilgrim badges to legal codes. Stories and tropes of isolation are common in medieval literature. From the immrama which often include depictions of the isolation of voyages, to images of homesickness in romances or Crusade narratives to descriptions of isolation in exile in Old English elegies and Old Norse sagas. In many instances, the literature reveals a greater fear of loneliness than death, so much so that isolation was used both as a form of punishment considered as severe as mutilation in some parts of medieval Europe, and as an important religious practice, since many people willingly distanced themselves from society in pursuit of salvation through hardship. This introductory essay introduces a dossier on medieval experiences of isolation.
- Exeter Book
- Old English Poetry