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Richard Cole

The Political Symbolism of Ants and Bees in Old Norse Sources

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In this article I discuss the political themes attached to the eusocial creatures, specifically ants and bees, in Old Norse sources. I consider the situation of Old Norse as a transnational literature, encompassing one country that lacked ants and bees (Iceland) and one that did not (Norway). Although the behavioural ecology of eusociality, or indeed the classification of ants and bees as taxonomically related, is a relatively recent development in human knowledge, I argue that the fundamental qualities of swarming and mutual aid were clearly recognisable long before modern science. The differing environments and differing political systems between Iceland and Norway are examined as factors shaping the depiction of eusocial insects. However, the Old Norse sources are also integrated into their European context in order to explore the abstract – even universal – ideological questions that are prompted when humans compare their own societies to those of ants and bees.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCollegium Medievale
Pages (from-to)163-204
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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