This blog will contain reviews of books that I have read to deal with the Celts and other subjects that interest me, as well as my own thoughts on the subject of the Celts their religion, mythology and culture.
Category Archives: Book Reviews
This is where you will fine my reviews of books on the Celts.
Full Title: The Bell Beaker Transition in Europe – Mobility and Local Evolution During the 3rd Millennium BC.
Editors: Maria Pilar Prieto Martínez and Laure Salanova
Publisher: Oxbow Books
Pages: 214, with each essay having its notes and bibliography at the end of the essay.
Review: This text brings together 17 articles that were initially presented in the 15th International Bell Beaker Conference “From Atlantic to Ural”. It was organized in May 2011 in Spain. The theme for the conference was “Could the circulation of objects or ideas and the mobility of artisans explain the unprecedented uniformity of the material culture observed throughout the whole of Europe?”
This is the second volume to come out of this conference; the first was in 2013 and was concerned with new excavations or item analyses. The papers in this volume were selected for their interest in the Bell Beaker phenomenon in Europe and for the differing perspectives they offer. The chapters are organized mainly geographically and they start with Eastern Europe then move to the Mediterranean and end in the Iberian Peninsula.
While I enjoyed reading all the essays, the ones that interested me the most besides the final essay that summed up the book, were essays 5 and 12. Essay 5 talks about the migrations to Britain and Ireland. The part about Ireland was short but interesting. The Bell Beakers introduced copper mining to Ireland in the 24th century BC directly from continental Europe. In essay 12 the authors investigated the traces of exchange and circulation processes in the archaeological record on gold working craftsmanship. All in all, it was a really informative read.
Full Title: Playing the Hero – Reading the Irish Saga Táin Bó Cúailnge
Author: Ann Dooley
Publisher: University of Toronto Press
Pages: 298 including notes, Bibliography, and Index
Review: I have never been utterly confused by a book as much as I have been confused by this one. I don’t know if it is because the author like to complicate things, or it is the subject matter, or it is just above my pay grade.
The book is supposed to be a series of thematic essays grouped around the main saga representation of the Irish martial hero Cú Chulain. The study conducted is about the relation between Recension I and II. It is not a study that gives a complete picture of the entire saga so if you are looking to see what this saga is then this is not the book for you.
In this study the author is more interested in all the complex and varied aspects of how texts reveal themselves of how it is that they came to mean. This bit was copied word for word from the Introduction. I am not sure exactly what is meant by “come to mean”. And the whole book is like that. This was just a taste of what the writing in the book is like.
Like I said in the beginning this book is confusing to me. And based on a few reviews I read online it seems like it is confusing to a lot of people. So here is my verdict. Stay away from this book if you are : (a) a beginner, (b) an intermediate or, (c) looking for an analysis of the actual text of the Táin because this is not it.
Full Title: Tracing the Indo-Europeans – New Evidence from Archaeology and Historical Linguistics.
Edited by: Brigit Anette Olsen, Thomas Olander, and Kristian Kristiansen
Publisher: OXBOW Books
Synopsis: Recent developments in aDNA has reshaped our understanding of later European prehistory, and at the same time also opened up for more fruitful collaborations between archaeologists and historical linguists. Two revolutionary genetic studies, published independently in Nature, 2015, showed that prehistoric Europe underwent two successive waves of migration, one from Anatolia consistent with the introduction of agriculture, and a later influx from the Pontic-Caspian steppes which without any reasonable doubt pinpoints the archaeological Yamnaya complex as the cradle of (Core-)Indo-European languages. Now, for the first time, when the preliminaries are clear, it is possible for the fields of genetics, archaeology and historical linguistics to cooperate in a constructive fashion to refine our knowledge of the Indo-European homeland, migrations, society and language. For the historical-comparative linguists, this opens up a wealth of exciting perspectives and new working fields in the intersections between linguistics and neighbouring disciplines, for the archaeologists and geneticists, on the other hand, the linguistic contributions help to endow the material findings with a voice from the past. The present selection of papers illustrate the importance of an open interdisciplinary discussion which will gradually help us in our quest of Tracing the Indo-Europeans.
Review: I was honestly very excited for this book to come out. I pre-ordered it and waited for it and read it as soon as it came in, even though I had promised myself I was not going to buy any books until I finished the ones on my to-read list.
The book sports contributors like J.P. Mallory, and David W. Anthony. It has eight essays besides the Introduction. The text aims to get a more precise grasp of who the Indo-Europeans were, where they came from, and how their language and essential elements of culture came to dominate Europe and large parts of Asia.
The Introduction sets up the rest of the book by talking about the two positions about who the Indo-Europeans were: pastorialists from the Pontic-Caspian steppes or they emerged several millennia earlier as the first agriculturalists from Anatolia.
Through out reading this book I felt that the editors chose mostly the views that sided with the Pontic-Steppes hypothesis. However, these essays gave good reasons for going against the Anatolian hypothesis.
My feelings on this book are a little confused. There were parts of it that I enjoyed, especially the first essay which set up the problem of the IE Homeland beautifully. But for the most part I was a little confused as to what was the new information that we were supposed to get out of this book. It just felt like we were getting disjointed information about different things but the common thread seems to be “Pontic – Steppes”. I really wanted to give this book more than 3 stars…but in the end I just couldn’t. I don’t regret buying it if only for that first essay by Thomas Olander on the problem of the IE Homeland.
Full Title: The Otherworld Voyage In Early Irish Literature – An Anthology of Criticism
Editor: Jonathan M. Wooding
Publisher: Four Courts Press
Pages: 290, Includes an Appendix, Bibliography, and Index
Prominent in the literature of early Ireland are the tales known as echtrai (adventures) and immrama (voyages), stories telling of journeys to the Otherworld of Celtic legend. These tales have long held a fascination for both scholars and general readers, but there is no satisfactory, comprehensive treatment of them in print. This anthology presents a selection of the most important studies of the subject, to which is added a number of new essays representing the current state of scholarship. A general introduction is provided and an extensive bibliography.
Containing the most important critical materials for an understanding of the Irish Otherworld Voyage legends, this anthology will be of interest and use to teachers and students of early Irish history and literature, comparative literature and mythology.
The idea for this book came during a conference at Maynooth in 1995. The attendees noted the need for a guide to Hiberno-Latin and early Irish voyage literature. They wanted a work of reference for the subject, because this kind of work was not yet available. This text is a selection of past and present criticism concerning the voyage tales and their context. “The articles are to be understood as artifacts particular to their era, though it is to be noted that nothing has been selected for purely historical interest: all the items in this volume has in some way or other provided a perspective, which has not been entirely superseded by later work” p. ix The selection of articles span nearly a century, and they discuss Irish voyage literature, its social and religious context.
Some of these articles were really short (4 pages) like “Two Observations Concerning the Navigatio Brendani” and “The Location of the Otherworld in Irish Tradition”, while others are really long like “Subversion at Sea: Structure, Style, and Intent in the Immrama” (32 pages).
I think my favorite out of all the articles was the one by John Carey, “The Location of the Otherworld in Irish Tradition.” I have to admit, I don’t have a lot of exposure to the Immrama or the Echtrai, but I found this volume very interesting. I’m going to read this book again after I read and digest that part of Irish Literature. I feel like I missed a lot because of my limited exposure to these stories. This is a must have book if you have an interest in Immrama and Echtrai.
Title: The Wisdom of the Outlaw: The Boyhood Deeds of Finn in Gaelic Narrative Tradition.
Author: Joseph Falaky Nagy
Publisher: University of California Press
Pages: 338 with Appendix One starting at 209; the book includes Appendix One, Appendix Two, an extensive notes section as well as an index and bibliography.
Review: It took forever to get my hands on a copy of this book and even then it was lightly used. Still it was better than waiting for a new edition that never materialized.
This is like the seventh or eighth time that I read this book and every time I read it I discover something new.
The book discusses Finn as a poet and an outsider. It talks about the terms Fénnid, Fían, and Rígfénnid and discusses Finn’s parents. Once that is all done the author starts analyzing Finn’s life.
This is a great book if you are following the path of the Outlaw in Irish tradition. It is also a great analysis of the Finn tradition as a whole so if you are interested in it from the standpoint of literature this is one of the best books on the subject.
There is also a great Appendix one in the back with some translations of the text which are very useful. And the notes section is quite extensive.
I see myself reading this book a few more times in the future and still discovering something new.
Pages: 272 including Appendix, Bibliography, and Index.
Synopsis: Hospitality was one of the most important social institutions and cultural customs in medieval Ireland. The fundamental principles governing the provision of hospitality were rooted in both the secular and religious traditions of Irish culture, and were represented in both the public and private spheres of Irish life. Legal texts, court records, ecclesiastical decrees concerning the privileges of high-ranking clerics and secular statements regarding the rights of kings reveal that the practice of hospitality was largely contractual and generally involved the mutually self-interested transactions of mundane affairs. Yet an ethos of generosity, strongly linked to a cultural code of honor, suffused the Irish practice of hospitality with an air of moral uprightness and decorousness. Gnomic literature provided a series of adages, maxims and proverbs reminding individuals that the path to virtuous living began with charity, liberality and good housekeeping, while sagas and bardic praise poetry underscored the influence hospitality had in determining one’s standing in society. Still, hospitality was not wholly secular, nor exclusively Irish for that matter. It was a basic Christian duty sanctioned by the Church and observed throughout the medieval world. Christian precept and example had a major impact on native Irish concepts of hospitality, and how the practice was played out in everyday life.
Hospitality in Medieval Ireland discusses hospitality in Ireland between the period of 900 – 1500 CE. The text has six chapters and an appendix of observations on the customs of hospitality in Medieval Ireland.
The first chapter discusses the sources used to glean these customs. The sources include the Annals, legal and administrative sources, Gnomic literature like instructions or proverbs, narrative literature both secular and religious, praise poetry, political memoirs, letters, field notes and finally descriptions of Ireland.
Chapter Two talks about the recipients of medieval Ireland’s hospitality. Some of the recipients were ordinary travellers, men of art who included poets, musicians and various other talents, churchmen, and noblemen and their retinue.
Hospitality and the ordinary household is the subject of the third chapter and I found this chapter interesting because it talks about ordinary people. The sources on this is very sparse and so this chapter was really short.
The fourth chapter is about hospitality and the nobility. Of course this chapter is a lot longer than the previous one as there is more evidence in the texts when it came to the nobility.
Chapter five is about guest houses and their keepers. There are three types of keepers traditionally and they are Hospitallers, churchmen, and professional learned men. The one that surprised me the most was professional learned men, they are better known for getting hospitality rather than supplying it.
The Irish church also practiced hospitality, and chapter six discusses the impact of the arrival of Christianity on native Irish concepts of guesting, feasting, and gift giving. There were sections on guesting, feasting, and the giving of Alms.
The book ends in an appendix that gives us observations on the customs of hospitality in Medieval Ireland. It talks about receptions for guests, customary lengths of stay, sleeping arrangements, guest houses and entertainment.
I found this book very interesting because I kept comparing the customs to the customs followed by Arabs and found them extremely similar. Parts of this book surprised me because of preconceived ideas that I had and some just confirmed what I already know. A must read book.
Full Title: The Great Queens – Irish Goddesses from the Morrígan to Cathleen ní Houlihan
Series: Irish Literary Studies 34
Author: Rosalind Clark
Publisher: Colin Smythe Limited
Pages: 277, including Notes, Bibliography, and Index
Synopsis: From GoodReads.com
The book is made up of an Introduction, four chapters and a conclusion.
The Introduction discussed the background of the Irish language and the stories the author is talking about the rest of the book.
Part One, which is made up of two chapters, discusses who the Morrígan is as a goddess and how She was portrayed by authors who wrote (or didn’t write) about Her in Myths.
Part Two, which ends with Chapter Four, discusses Sovereignty goddesses and how they turned into an allegory in Medieval times. The author then takes that one step further and discusses how They go from an allegory to peasant “ordinary” women from the end of the Middle Ages through the Irish Renaissance.
Finally, the conclusion puts it all together and ties it up with more information.
I’m a little torn about this book. It has a lot of great information on the War Goddesses but sometimes I wanted to scream at the book “nope, nope, nope!” It has more to do with how I read the myths and my own thoughts on the War Goddesses then with actual wrong information. So in the end, read the book and see if it jives with your thoughts on the subject matter…some of it certainly didn’t jive with me.