Pagan Past and Christian Present in Early Irish Literature


Author: Kim McCone
Series: Maynooth Monographs 03
Publisher:Maynooth Monographs
Copyright: 2000
ISBN: 1870684109
Pages: 277 (Paperback)

Synopsis: In this long and finely researched book, professor McCone looks into the influence of the bible on the Early Irish literature.

Review: To be honest I’m not sure how to review this, so let me start with what I thought was great about the book. I’m glad that such work is being done. Early Irish literature should be studied and all its evidence discovered. I wish more people would work on that translating manuscripts and putting them out there for people to read. The author also rejects the idea that the Ireland of that time was a backwater and puts across a picture of a very much in high demand scholastic tradition.

What I didn’t like about this book though is not the author’s point of view (to which he is entitled) but the way he presents it to the reader. This book, instead of looking at the evidence and trying to put the point of view of the author across, reads like a manifesto. The author doesn’t seem to care whether people agree with what he is saying, rather he is just telling them what he sees without any real effort to convince people with his evidence.

There is always, I think, going to be a debate on whether the Irish vernacular records were borrowed, native, monastic or traditional; whether they have elements of the Indo-European culture or not; or whether it is purely drawing on the bible. I think it is a combination of all, and trying to exclude one will just give us a picture that is incomplete. The author came across as very anti-nativist, he pretty much (from the way I understood the text) dismissed all thought that there are pagan elements in the myths.

I don’t know if I would recommend this book to anyone who doesn’t have a little more background into Early Irish literature and all the people who wrote about it. I would put this book in the advanced category rather than one for the beginner or even intermediate.

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