Aspects of the Táin

Editor: J.P. Mallory

Publisher: December Publications

Published: 1992

ISBN: 0951706829

Pages: 159

Synopsis: From the back cover: “Aspects of the Táin attempts to bring together for the modern reader an account of the historical development of the tale, how it succeeds or fails as literature, and to what extent it is a window on the Iron Age”.”

Review: This is one of those must read books that you should read along side The Táin. It starts with an outline of the story in the Táin by the editor J.P. Mallory and then it has 3 very informative essays.

The first essay is by Ruairí Ó hUiginn and it talks about the background to the Táin as well as all the things that influenced it, the different recensions, its age and so on.

Patricia Kelly’s essay talks about the themes, characters and elements in the Táin. It also talks about its literary impact.

The final essay is by J.P. Mallory and it is about how different people tried to put the tales in chronological order and look for archaeology to support it.

This was a short book but it was an interesting one. You can see all the different views that people had while studying the Táin and how their views were sometimes opposite to one another.

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Inside the Táin

Full Title: Inside the Táin – Exploring Cú Chulainn, Fergus, Ailill, and Medb

Author: Doris Edel

Publisher: Cruach Bhán Publications

Published: 2015

ISBN: 978-3-942002-20-2

Pages: 371, including 2 Appendices, Works Cited and Index

Synopsis: This is the first literary-critical study of the Táin Bó Cúailnge in its entirety, and as an autonomous literary work.

The key to a more deeply probing understanding of the semiliterate epic is the study of its characters: what they do and why they do it – why more important than what. Why reveals the differences between the various versions. Most promising is the multilayered Recension I, mainly preserved in Lebor na hUidre, which testifies of the keen interest of its compilers in the portrayal of the characters, while the version in the Book of Leinster, with its tendency to omit what might lessen the heroes’ prestige, pays for its greater unity with loss of depth.

The multi-facetedness of the characters in the early version, combined with the deceptive simplicity of the plot, lends the work a remarkable pragmatism. Despite occasional baroque descriptions of battle frenzy, the main heroes Cú Chulainn and Fergus embody a heroism reined in by prudence. All through the war they do everything in their power to limit the use of force. Ailill and Medb represent a new type of ruler-entrepreneur, who seeks to realize his aim at the lowest possible cost and accepts failure matter-of-factly. So the epic has no fatal end-point. The greater part of the two armies are able return to their countries. The theme of mutual destruction is relegated to the Battle of the Bulls. The lasting antagonism between the North and the remainder of the island must have endowed the Táin with contemporary significance at various points in time, as the allusions to (near-)contemporary events suggest.

Review: This is one of the most interesting books I’ve read as a companion to the Táin. The Introduction to the book gives very good basic information on the recensions of the Táin, which goes into technical details that assume you are familiar with he content of all three Recensions of the TBC. The book then goes into a deep analysis of the actions of Cú Chulainn, Fergus, Ailill, and Medb. As usual when we talk about the analysis of a single person I don’t agree with everything that is concluded but for the most part the analysis presented is a very sound one. The author raises some good points and also explains things in an easy manor that helps the reader get a deeper feel for the Táin and its most important characters.

The amount of information in this book is no joke. I think I would have gotten this book for the Appendices only, never mind all the deep analysis in the body of the text. A must read book.

Táin Bó Cúalnge

Series: Irish Texts Society Volume XLIX

Editor: Cecile O’Rahilly

Publisher: The Irish Texts Society and Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies

Published: First Published 1967, this copy 1984.

Pages: 357 includes the original text, translation, notes to the text and introduction and Index + Introduction.

**Notes from Celtic Scholar: This short review is not about the actual text of the Táin Bó Cúalnge or the translation but mostly about the Introduction and the notes at the end.

Review: This copy of the Táin Bó Cúalnge (TBC) has an introduction by O’Rahilly which talks about all the different recensions of the TBC, where they can be found and the hypothesis about the sources of the TBC. It has a good basic set of information at the beginning and the notes at the end of the book clarifies a lot of information but the introduction also goes into a lot of technical details which assumes you are intimately familiar with the contents of all three recensions of the TBC.

I would certainly give this a first read, then go and find copies of all three recensions and then give this another deeper read. A MUST HAVE BOOK.

Motherfoclóir

Full Title: Motherfoclóir – Dispatches from a not so dead language

Author: Darach Ó Séaghdha

Publisher: Head of Zeus Ltd.

Published: 2017

ISBN: 9781786691866

Pages: 225

Synopsis: From Goodreads.

Review:

I think this is the best book I read on the Irish language in a long time. Not only am I learning Irish vocabulary and all the different peculiarities it has but I’m also learning about the Irish culture, way of life and the Gaeltacht.

Also, all the fun bits that are found in the twitter account are found in the book. The fun bits include “A fada can make all the difference” and all the interesting side information that are included along with the definitions of the different words.

If you want a fun book to read on the Irish and learn from about language and culture then this is the book for you.

Celtic Cosmology: Perspectives from Ireland and Scotland

Title: Celtic Cosmology: Perspectives from Ireland and Scotland

Editors: Jacqueline Borsje (Editor), Ann Dooley (Editor), Séamus Mac Mathúna (Editor), Gregory Toner (Editor)

Publisher: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies

Published: April 1st 2014

ISBN: 0888448260 (ISBN13: 9780888448262)

Pages: 324 including Bibliography.

Synopsis: From the deep sea to the waters above the sky, from the world beneath our feet to the promised land across the ocean – this volume represents a search for traces of cosmologies in Celtic sources, especially those of Ireland and Scotland. These cosmological traces are investigated for their Indo-European and Semitic parallels and influences. The broad world orderings – Celtic tripartition (earth, water and sky) and Christian bipartition (this world and the next) – are explored, and the cosmological meaning of specific demarcations in the landscape is analyzed. The world was mapped with words, as signposts for contemporary and future generations. These written “maps” are not only geographical, they also constitute ethical and mythological guidelines. Through storytelling, landscape and social space are processed in a framework of cosmic good and evil. In a Celtic mental world roads, rivers, mountains and hills are vital markers. Hills and caves were used in rituals and were seen as entrances to a subterranean otherworld where supernatural beings dwell and knowledge of the cosmos was believed to reside with these supernatural or subterranean beings. This knowledge is connected with protection and violation of the landscape and waters, and is often associated with the king, truth and justice. In the socialized landscape features of periphery and centre are closely related to kingship: thus, looming tragedy can be deduced from the route that a mythical king takes; royal capitals are outlined in landscape and architecture as ritual centres. The naming of significant places is a human act of creating order. In the Celtic literary tradition of explanatory and etymologizing stories, place-names serve as signifiers and warning signs (taboos) and some Celtic narratives on naming places appear to function also as performances of atonement for disruptions of the cosmic order.

 

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Review: I honestly thought long and hard before writing this review. I don’t feel like I have absorbed enough from the essays to actually talk about them confidently. It is not because the essays were not well written but because there was just too much to take in at once. This book needs to be read REALLY slowly with the stories that the essays are referring to at hand to see context. I was also not really all that familiar with the Scottish material and felt like I needed more time to absorb those parts.

So let me tell you what I thought in general. FINALLY, a book about Celtic cosmology that pulls in examples from mythology and folklore then throws in some Info-European material for some comparative analysis. The introduction itself was a beautiful treasure of definitions and thoughts that needed to be said. The essays themselves were written by people who know their stuff and edited by people who are experts in said stuff. The book is not a read it once kind of book. It is one that you must dip into time and time again to tease out all the information you need to understand Celtic Cosmology. It should be a staple in any Celtic scholar’s bookcase!

 

Blood of the Celts

Full Title: Blood of the Celts – The New Ancestral Story

Author: Jean Manco

Publisher: Thames & Hudson

Published: 2015

ISBN: 978-0-500-05183-2

Pages: 240 including illustrations, end notes, Appendix, Bibliography, and Index

SynopsisBlood of the Celts brings together genetic, archaeological, and linguistic evidence to address the often-debated question: who were the Celts? What peoples or cultural identities should that term describe? And did they in fact inhabit the British Isles before the Romans arrived? Author Jean Manco challenges existing accounts of the origins of the Celts, providing a new analysis that draws on the latest discoveries as well as ancient history.

In a novel approach, the book opens with a discussion of early medieval Irish and British texts, allowing the Celts to speak in their own words and voices. It then traces their story back in time into prehistory to their deepest origins and their ancestors, before bringing the narrative forward to the present day. Each chapter also has a useful summary in bullet points to aid the reader and highlight the key facts in the story.

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Review: I honestly don’t know if I should be reviewing this book or not. By the end of it I was just skimming the chapters than reading the round up of important points at the end of each chapter.

I will say that the book has an extensive Endnotes section and a very long bibliography which is a good way to get more information of books to read. I also think that the author really tried. They did try to add in the latest research linguistically, archaeologically (like the Tartessian language and the Celtic from the West hypothesis) , and genetically, though I feel like the genetic part was sort of added in at a later date and honestly, their conclusion in the Introduction to the book really negated any need for that part of the book.  “As we shall see, there are three main components to the modern European gene pool. They came from ancient hunter-gatherers, early farmers and a Copper Age people. The modern Irish have a mixture of all three, as do the modern Germans and Italians. Any genetic differences are far too subtle to talk in terms of a Celtic race.” (p.9)

I felt like the author sometimes jumped to conclusions without really explaining their train of thought and the whole book felt at times like a compilation of what other disciplines said about parts of European pre-history without any real tie into to how that effected the Celtic culture.

I’ve had this book for at least a year and finally decided to read it…now I know why I’ve been hesitant to do so…

 

Celtic Mythology

Title: Celtic Mythology – Tales of the Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes

Author: Philip Freeman

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Published: 2017

ISBN: 978-0-19-046047-1

Pages: 272 including Notes, Bibliography and Index

Synopsis: Most people have heard of the Celts–the elusive, ancient tribal people who resided in present-day England, Ireland, Scotland and France. Paradoxically characterised as both barbaric and innocent, the Celts appeal to the modern world as a symbol of a bygone era, a world destroyed by the ambition of empire and the spread of Christianity throughout Western Europe. Despite the pervasive cultural and literary influence of the Celts, shockingly little is known of their way of life and beliefs, because very few records of their stories exist. In this book, for the first time, Philip Freeman brings together the best stories of Celtic mythology.
Everyone today knows about the gods and heroes of the ancient Greeks, such as Zeus, Hera, and Hercules, but how many people have heard of the Gaulish god Lugus or the magical Welsh queen Rhiannon or the great Irish warrior Cu Chulainn? We still thrill to the story of the Trojan War, but the epic battles of the Irish Tain Bo Cuailgne are known only to a few. And yet those who have read the stories of Celtic myth and legend – among them writers like J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis – have been deeply moved and influenced by these amazing tales, for there is nothing in the world quite like them. In these stories a mysterious and invisible realm of gods and spirits exists alongside and sometimes crosses over into our own human world; fierce women warriors battle with kings and heroes, and even the rules of time and space can be suspended. Captured in vivid prose these shadowy figures-gods, goddesses, and heroes – come to life for the modern reader.

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Review: I was really excited to get this book. I know Philip Freeman’s work and it usually very scholarly. This book…tried. I’m not going to discuss the simplification of the myths through retelling them. I knew this book will include the retelling of the myths, but I also expected a little about the history of the books the myths were found in or at least an introduction of how and why these books came into being. There was none of that. Even the little bit of history that he included about the Celts seemed to be a bit one-sided in that he mostly quoted Caesar.

This book, however, is a good place for people who want to read the myths in a simplified and easy form. They can be a good way to understand the myths before reading them in their longer forms…and that is about it.