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Playing the Hero

Playing the Hero: Reading the Táin Bó Cuailnge

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 250
  • Book Info
    Playing the Hero
    Book Description:

    InPlaying the Hero, Ann Dooley examines the surviving manuscript versions of the greatest of the early Irish sagas, theTáin Bó Cuailnge(Cattle-Raid of Cooley), and creates a picture of the cultural conditions and literary mind-sets under which medieval scribes recreated the text. Dooley argues that the scribes' work is both a transmission and a translation, and that their own changing historical circumstances within the space of one hundred years, from the beginning to the end of the twelfth century, determines the specifics of their literary creativity.

    Playing the Herois a unique example of more contemporary literary methodologies - post-structuralist, feminist, historicist and beyond - being used to illuminate the Irish saga world. Dooley provides a commentary for the saga, helping to re-animate its literary sophistication. Her work is an interrogation of both the Irish epic hero - a reading of the male through the medium of feminine discourse - and the process whereby violence as normalized in the saga genre can be recovered as problematic and troubling. Dooley's work is groundbreaking and will provoke a wide response in Medieval Irish studies.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7853-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction: Reading This Saga
    (pp. 3-22)

    This study comprises a series of thematic essays grouped around the main saga representation of the Irish martial hero Cú Chulainn. It thus takes as its focus the early development of theTáin Bó Cúailngetextual tradition. At some point, probably in the ninth century, a text was put together that presumes to describe certain events in Ireland which the Irish annalistic tradition claims took place around the time of Christ. The armies of the rulers of the western province, Connacht, combined with representative groups from all other provinces, attempt to steal a prize bull, the Brown Bull of Cooley,...

  5. 1 Before Writing: Heroic Inscribing
    (pp. 23-39)

    It has always been perceived that Irish saga tradition in general, and theTáinespecially so, stands at a particularly complex point of medieval Irish literary history. It shows the marks, or has been seen to bear the signs, of a stretch across a crucial divide in Irish cultural history - namely, the twinned paradigms of the pagan/Christian and oral/written transition. Irish sagas are, so to speak, permanently marked by the fictive trauma of their beginnings in the theatre of conversion and by the apparently radical shift in their modes of communication which this supposes. There are, of course, plenty...

  6. 2 Opening the Táin Bó Cúailnge
    (pp. 40-63)

    There is plenty of evidence that the medieval scholars responsible for the forms of theTáinas we have them intended to keep a careful control of their narrative and sought out specific effects in their presentation of the saga. What follows here is an attempt to understand better how these effects of presentation function at the outset of the narrative, in order to arrive at a sense of how succeeding generations of literary men envisioned and set about the total literary enterprise of this, the greatest of Irish sagas. I begin with Recension II, then develop some of the...

  7. 3 A Scribe and His Táirn: The H Interpolations in Táin Bó Cúailnge
    (pp. 64-100)

    The question of the interrelationship of recensions and manuscript versions of medieval Irish saga texts remains a primary preoccupation for scholars.¹ Chapter 2 concentrated on a limited micro-textual segment - how the opening of the tale is crafted - as part of a discussion of genre identification. Levels and degrees of control in the transmission process has also been a key issue, and is a particularly complex matter in the textual history ofTáin Bó Cúailnge,where Recension I of that text shows so many and such varied signs of reworking over a long period of time. I now want...

  8. 4 Epic Writing and Mythic Reading
    (pp. 101-124)

    In this chapter and the next I approach by another avenue of inquiry the three intersected issues that may be deemed to constitute the textual ground of theTáin:oral tradition; scribal literacy traditions, with their full baggage of Irish monastic literary interests; and finally, as I have been emphasizing in the last chapter, individual invention. By reposing the issue of interpretation under the general rubric of myth and its mediations, I am also attempting, with the help of theTáintradition itself, to push towards a resetting and redefining of the question of the pagan/Christian content divide in medieval...

  9. 5 Myth to Epic: The Coming of a God
    (pp. 125-155)

    In chapter 4 I used the redaction of the Boyhood Deeds segment to introduce some possible approaches and to explore several facets of the mythic proposition. In my discussion of this early sequence in theTáinsaga the emphasis was on specific aspects of the marriage of narrative and mythic discourse. Two strands of scholarly work set the scene for exploring the question: the nature of exemplary myth and the presence of implicit ritual acts of heroic initiation. As background to the latter, the work of McCone went a long way in elucidating both the ideological aspects of heroic initiation...

  10. 6 The Invention of Women in the Táin
    (pp. 156-184)

    One of the standard deconstructionist operations is to take whatever binary opposition that is deemed to dominate any given text and reverse it. This seems particularly apposite to a discussion of the way issues of gender shape narratives. As Roberta Krueger has remarked concerning French medieval romances, ‘in the world of chivalric honor, the masculine hero is constructed in opposition to woman, upon whose objectification his honor depends.’¹ Staking out the domain of the feminine by reversing this process is a worthwhile operation in itself; it may have the additional benefit of being one of the best ways of gaining...

  11. 7 The Sense of an Ending
    (pp. 185-203)

    ‘Beginnings are always troublesome and conclusions are the weak point of most authors.’¹ George Eliot’s professional observation as to beginnings has been borne out by the difficulties observed in theTáinnarrative as its successive handlers have attempted to set it in motion. The strength or weakness of the saga’s conclusion must now be considered. Or rather, to change the idiom - because this study does not operate with the Victorian certainties available to Eliot - one needs to consider the ways in which a dialectic of closure and openness affects theTáinending. The study of ending as closure...

  12. Epilogue: Their Bodies, Ourselves
    (pp. 204-212)

    It may have struck readers as odd that this entire volume has been skewed, biased even, against a straightforward investigation of the main show attraction of Irish sagas generally and theTáinin particular. Where is the spectator/reader deference and awe in the face of the scenes of heroic display in which heroes do precisely what they are supposed to do - fight and go on fighting to the death?¹ Without treating this aspect of the heroic compact, of the way heroes are finally serious because they take on the burden of facing death, one is in danger of subverting...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 213-276)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 277-294)
  15. Index
    (pp. 295-298)