Learning from the Past to Understand the Present: 536 AD and its Consequences for Man and the Landscape from a Catastrophist Perspective

Andrea Maraschi


The global catastrophic consequences of the 536 AD ‘dust veil’ have been recorded by numerous contemporary observers. Recently, scholars have suggested that the event has been recorded, in the form of myth, in both the Elder and Snorri’s Edda. This ecocritical study aims to highlight the consistency between the description of the consequences of Fimbulvetr (‘Great Winter’) on the landscape in the Eddic tradition, and the effects of the ‘dust veil’ on the landscape of early medieval Europe. The primary intention is to endorse the opinion of scholars who hold that the myth of Fimbulvetr does in fact correspond to a historical catastrophic event that occurred in 536 AD. Furthermore, this analysis will emphasize the importance of said myth in the construction of the cultural memory of the society that witnessed and recorded it in verses. I argue that the memory of the ‘Great Winter’ was particularly valuable, for it was considered a way in which important lessons could be taught to future generations: humbleness (similar catastrophes had already happened, and could happen again), hope (mankind survived the catastrophe), and respect (for the memory of what had happened in the past, and that could recur in the future).


dust veil; Snorri Sturluson; Edda; Fimbulvetr; ecocriticism; archaeology; sixth century; Old Norse; Ragnarøkr

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