Classical Literature and Learning in Medieval Irish Narrative

Classical Literature and Learning in Medieval Irish Narrative

Edited by RALPH O’CONNOR
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt6wp9wq
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Classical Literature and Learning in Medieval Irish Narrative
    Book Description:

    "This edited volume will make a major contribution to our appreciation of the importance of classical literature and learning in medieval Ireland, and particularly to our understanding of its role in shaping the content, structure and transmission of medieval Irish narrative." Dr Kevin Murray, Department of Early and Medieval Irish, University College Cork. From the tenth century onwards, Irish scholars adapted Latin epics and legendary histories into the Irish language, including the Imtheachta Aeniasa, the earliest known adaptation of Virgil's Aeneid into any European vernacular; Togail Troí, a grand epic reworking of the decidedly prosaic history of the fall of Troy attributed to Dares Phrygius; and, at the other extreme, the remarkable Merugud Uilixis meic Leirtis, a fable-like retelling of Ulysses's homecoming boiled down to a few hundred lines of lapidary prose. Both the Latin originals and their Irish adaptations had a profound impact on the ways in which Irish authors wrote narratives about their own legendary past, notably the great saga Táin Bó Cúailnge (The Cattle-Raid of Cooley). The essays in this book explore the ways in which these Latin texts and techniques were used. The chapters of this book are unified by a conviction that classical learning and literature were central to the culture of medieval Irish storytelling, but precisely how this relationship played out is a matter of ongoing debate. As a result, they engage in dialogue with each other, using methods drawn from a wide range of disciplines (philology, classical studies, comparative literature, translation studies, and folkloristics). Ralph O'Connor is Professor in the Literature and Culture of Britain, Ireland and Iceland at the University of Aberdeen. Contributors: Erich Poppe, Helen Fulton, Robert Crampton, Barbara Hillers, Michael Clarke, Máire Ní Mhaonaigh, Ralph O'Connor, Abigail Burnyeat

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-396-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. List of abbreviations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. 1 IRISH NARRATIVE LITERATURE AND THE CLASSICAL TRADITION, 900–1300
    (pp. 1-22)
    Ralph O’Connor

    Ireland, like Scandinavia, was one of the few regions of Western Europe which never came under the official control of the Roman Empire, or even saw a Roman legion. Latin was not established in Ireland until after the island’s conversion to Christianity and the establishment of monasteries, a process which began in the fifth century AD. Yet Ireland has long been famed as a bastion, indeed a wellspring, of Classical learning in the early and central Middle Ages. According to one still-popular view, a significant number of Classical texts and authorities owe their survival today to Irish scholars doggedly pursuing...

  6. PART I: THE IRISH CLASSICAL SAGAS
    • 2 IMTHEACHTA AENIASA AND ITS PLACE IN MEDIEVAL IRISH TEXTUAL HISTORY
      (pp. 25-39)
      Erich Poppe

      Few statements about the status of literary texts in their respective textual cultures would appear to be uncontroversial, but one of the uncontroversial ones concerns the status of Virgil’sAeneidas an epic. Much more controversial are the status ofTáin Bó Cúailnge(The Cattle-Raid of Cooley) as national epic in medieval Irish textual history and its relationship to Classical models in general and to Virgil’sAeneidin particular. This chapter has two points of departure, first the assumption thatTáin Bó Cúailngerepresents an Irish equivalent of Virgil’sAeneid, discussed in detail in Abigail Burnyeat’s chapter to this book...

    • 3 HISTORY AND HISTORIA: USES OF THE TROY STORY IN MEDIEVAL IRELAND AND WALES
      (pp. 40-57)
      Helen Fulton

      The translation of the story of the destruction of Troy into the vernaculars of Irish and Welsh happened several centuries apart. The IrishTogail Troí(The Destruction of Troy) was in circulation by the eleventh century, and had perhaps been translated as early as the tenth century.¹ The WelshYstorya Dared(The History of Dares) was first translated in the early fourteenth century and survives in over forty manuscript versions, though only around a dozen of these are genuinely ‘medieval’, that is, occurring in manuscripts of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.²

      Despite the gap in time between these vernacular versions...

    • 4 THE USES OF EXAGGERATION IN MERUGUD UILIXIS MEIC LEIRTIS AND IN FINGAL CHLAINNE TANNTAIL
      (pp. 58-82)
      Robert Crampton

      Merugud Uilixis Meic Leirtis(The Going Astray of Ulysses son of Laertes) andFingal Chlainne Tanntail(The Kinslaying of the Family of Tantalus) are medieval Irish adaptations based on Classical narratives.¹ AlthoughMerugud Uilixishas been the focus of several studies, its author’s original take on the story of the return of Homer’s hero remains a source of wonder;² on the other hand, the account of the tragedy of the Mycenaean royal house presented inFingal Chlainne Tanntailboth deviates less markedly from its underlying narrative(s) and has received very little modern critical attention.³

      The significant number of unique aspects...

    • 5 THE MEDIEVAL IRISH WANDERING OF ULYSSES BETWEEN LITERACY AND ORALITY
      (pp. 83-98)
      Barbara Hillers

      Merugud Uilixis meic Leirtis, ‘The Wandering of Ulysses son of Laertes’, is a short prose saga composed in late Middle Irish around the year 1200.¹ The text survives in three late-medieval manuscripts, the earliest and best-known of which is the late fourteenth-century Book of Ballymote.²Merugud Uilixispurports to tell the adventures of Ulysses son of Laertes, Uilixes mac Leirtis, on his voyage home from Troy and his eventual homecoming.

      Merugud Uilixishas attracted a fair amount of critical notice for being the first vernacular retelling of theOdysseyin the medieval West. The composition of a vernacular Irish saga...

  7. PART II: THE DYNAMICS OF CLASSICAL ALLUSION
    • 6 DEMONOLOGY, ALLEGORY AND TRANSLATION: THE FURIES AND THE MORRÍGAN
      (pp. 101-122)
      Michael Clarke

      The literary classifications of a century ago still loom over us. WhenTáin Bó Cúailnge(The Cattle-Raid of Cooley) was recruited as the ‘primary epic’ of a national literature,¹ and when the texts associated with it were called a Heroic Cycle,² they were uprooted from the cultural context that gave them meaning. We are only beginning to undo the damage, and to re-learn how to listen to the medieval Irish construction of the ancient past. In this paper, I offer a case study taking this corpus as the record of a remarkable adventure in cross-cultural translation.³ Where the medieval scholar-authors’...

    • 7 RECONSTRUCTING THE MEDIEVAL IRISH BOOKSHELF: A CASE STUDY OF FINGAL RÓNÁIN AND THE HORSE-EARED KINGS
      (pp. 123-139)
      Michael Clarke

      When the medieval scholar-authors constructed a narrative literature about the pre-Christian past of Ireland, its discourse was shaped by engagement with Graeco-Roman antiquity as well as with pre-existing lore originating in the Irish language. This claim is no longer controversial, but we are only beginning to engage with the challenges that it presents. We need to develop a new understanding of how Latin texts were read and appropriated – in effect, a new ‘archaeology of reading’.¹ A key issue here is the relationship between text, commentary and world-knowledge. In this period, the canonical Latin texts were transmitted and assimilated in...

    • 8 ‘THE METAPHORICAL HECTOR’: THE LITERARY PORTRAYAL OF MURCHAD MAC BRÍAIN
      (pp. 140-162)
      Máire Ní Mhaonaigh

      One of the most important and influential narratives composed in the Middle Irish period wasTogail Troí(The Destruction of Troy), a vernacular expansion and elaboration ofDe excidio Troiae historia(History of the Destruction of Troy), an influential fifth-century Latin account of the Trojan war, purporting to be translated from the account of Dares Phrygius, who was allegedly an eye-witness to the events he described.¹ Cast into Irish in the eleventh century or perhaps a little earlier,² along withScéla Alaxandair(The Alexander Saga),³ it constitutes the earliest strand of Irish adaptations of Classical secular history. This type of...

  8. PART III: CLASSICAL MODELS FOR VERNACULAR EPIC?
    • 9 WAS CLASSICAL IMITATION NECESSARY FOR THE WRITING OF LARGE-SCALE IRISH SAGAS? REFLECTIONS ON TÁIN BÓ CÚAILNGE AND THE ‘WATCHMAN DEVICE’
      (pp. 165-195)
      Ralph O’Connor

      In his 1955 monograph,Studies in Irish Literature and History, James Carney pitted himself against what he saw as a ‘nativist’ orthodoxy which held to a national-Romantic view of the best-known Irish sagas as relics of native myths and legends, isolated from (or only superficially linked with) the wider world of European Latin learning. Against this orthodoxy, Carney asserted that Irish sagas achieved literary greatness and ‘epic’ status only when their authors embraced and imitated the Latin epic tradition. His statement aboutTáin Bó Cúailnge(The Cattle-Raid of Cooley), which in practice (and problematically) he took as representative of the...

    • 10 ‘WRENCHING THE CLUB FROM THE HAND OF HERCULES’: CLASSICAL MODELS FOR MEDIEVAL IRISH COMPILATIO
      (pp. 196-207)
      Abigail Burnyeat

      This short chapter will present an attempt to respond to two metaphorical statements that have played a part in the delineation of responses to the role of Classical literary models in the inspiration and interpretation of medieval Irish narrative material. One of these statements is old, one more contemporary. The newer one is the widespread critical assumption thatTáin Bó Cúailnge(The Cattle-Raid of Cooley) represents an Irish equivalent to Virgil’sAeneid, the older is a late-antique and medieval commonplace examining Virgil’s relationship to his Homeric sources, and assessing his work in the creation of theAeneidas that of...

  9. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 208-229)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 230-244)
  11. STUDIES IN CELTIC HISTORY
    (pp. 245-246)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 247-247)