Playing the Hero

Full Title: Playing the Hero – Reading the Irish Saga Táin Bó Cúailnge

Author: Ann Dooley

Publisher: University of Toronto Press

Published: 2006

ISBN: 9780802038326

Pages: 298 including notes, Bibliography, and Index

Synopsis:

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.

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The Otherworld Voyage

Full Title: The Otherworld Voyage In Early Irish Literature – An Anthology of Criticism

Editor: Jonathan M. Wooding

Publisher: Four Courts Press

Published: 2000

ISBN: 978-1-84682-556-9

Pages: 290, Includes an Appendix, Bibliography, and Index

Synopsis:

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.

Review:

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.

The Great Queens

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

Published: 1991

ISBN: 0-86140-290-1

Pages: 277, including Notes, Bibliography, and Index

Synopsis: From GoodReads.com

Review:

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.

Exploring Celtic Origins

Full Title: EXPLORING CELTIC ORIGINS: New ways forward in archaeology, linguistics, and genetics.

Series: Celtic Studies Publications XXII

Edited By: Barry Cunliffe and John T. Koch

Published By: Oxbow Books

Published: 2019

ISBN: 978-1-78925-088-6

Pages: 212 including General Index

Synopsis:

Review: This latest book from Barry Cunliffe “focuses on a research programme, based in the centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies at Aberystwyth in collaboration with the School of Archaeology, University of Oxford, designed to explore the origins of the Celts and of the Celtic Language family.” (P. IX)

I love the way it is structured, basically a bunch of essays with their own further reading section after each essay.

The first two chapters are a summerization of the Celtic From the West hypothesis and a set up of the next four chapters. They were written by Cunliffe and Koch respectively.

The next chapters were written by many experts in the fields of linguistics, archaeology, and genetics as well as chemistry. There was a lot of good information which was at times interesting, and other times REALLY confusing. There is a little bit for everyone to nibble on: DNA, linguistics, Atlantic connections, Beakers and much more. Even those who are proponents of the Kurgan Hypothesis will find something for them in the pages of this book.

It took me a while to read it because it was such an interesting mix. I’m still not sure about the Celtic From the West hypothesis; there is evidence but not exactly, there are certainly a lot of holes still to be filled in. However, in the end, it is not a hypothesis that you can summarily dismissed.

Ancient Journeys

Full Title: Ancient Journeys – The Peopling of Europe from the First Venturers to the Vikings
Author: Jean Franco
Publisher:Thames & Hudson
Published: 2013
Pages: 311 including a long bibliography and footnotes. The book also has many maps and illustrations.
ISBN: 978-0-500-05178-8

Synopsis:
Who are the Europeans and where did they come from? In recent years scientific advances have released a mass of data, turning cherished ideas upside down. The idea of migration in prehistory, so long out of favour, is back on the agenda. New advances allow us to track human movement and the spread of crops, animals, and disease, and we can see the evidence of population crashes and rises, both continent-wide and locally. Visions of continuity have been replaced with a more dynamic view of Europe’s past, with one wave of migration followed by another, from the first human arrivals in Europe to the Vikings.

Ancient DNA links Europe to its nearest neighbours. It is not a new idea that farming was brought from the Near East, but genetics now reveal an unexpectedly complex process in which farmers arrived not in one wave, but several. Even more unexpected is the evidence that the European gene pool was stirred vigorously many times after farming had reached most of Europe. Climate change played a part in this upheaval, but so did new inventions such as the c and wheeled vehicles. Genetic and linguistic clues also enhance our understanding of the upheavals of the Migration Period, the wanderings of steppe nomads, and the adventures of the Vikings.

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Review:

I was very excited to get this book, because I was interested in seeing a review of the genetic material evidence that is out there; and I wanted to see how the author would employ it to prove their main thesis of who the Europeans were and where they came from.

I’m thankful that the author took the time to explain the DNA evidence and how it works in chapter 2. I’m also grateful for the information on the problems it runs into. I just wish that I understood it all. That is not the author’s fault but my own since this is not something that interested me too much in the past so I never really read up on it. So I’m playing catchup. The author goes on to talk about the hunters and fisherman of the Mesolithic, the first farmers and dairy farming, the Copper Age, the IE family and its genetics, the Beaker folk and their relationship to the Celts and to the Italics, the Iron Age warriors, the Etruscans and Romans, the Slavs, the Bulgars and Magyars and finally the vikings.

The author also talks about not just genetics but history via archaeology and linguistics and some classical writers, a word of caution here because the author is not an archaeologist, or a linguist and it shows…for example, on page 205 the author says that Constantinople was re-named Byzantium…So I wasn’t very impressed in some places.

The author also starts out by saying that the genetic evidence should really be read carefully because ancient DNA is not the same as modern DNA, and the places were we are able to get ancient DNA, often times are comprised on one family buried together. And that it is pretty hard to link one genetic “haplogroup” with a language but you seem it done all over the book.

Honestly, but the end I think I got one thing from this book. The migration hypothesis is back in fashion. I don’t think this is a bad book. I think the author should have concentrated on one era or culture and researched the heck out of it to see if the linguistic and archaeological evidence lined up with the DNA evidence presented. Keep in mind that this book is from 2013…so the technology and DNA evidence presented here might already be obsolete.

Celts The History and Legacy of One of the Oldest Cultures in Europe

Author: Martin J. Dougherty
Publisher: Amber Books
Published: 2015
ISBN: 978-1-78274-166-4 (Hardcover)
Pages: 224 including bibliography, index, maps, and pictures (black and white and coloured)

Synopsis:

“They cut off the heads of enemies slain in battle and attach them to the necks of their horses… They embalm the heads… [and]… display them with pride to strangers.” – Diodorus Siculus.

Before the Vikings, before the Anglo-Saxons, before the Roman Empire, the Celts dominated central and western Europe. Today we might think of the Celts only inhabiting parts of the far west of Europe – Ireland, Great Britain, France and Spain – but these were the extremities in which their culture lasted longest. In fact, they had originated in Central Europe and settled as far afield as present day Turkey, Poland and Italy. From their emergence as an Iron Age people around 800 BC to the early centuries AD, Celts reveals the truth behind the stories of naked warriors, ritual beheadings, druids, magic and accusations of human sacrifice. The book examines the different tribes, the Hallstatt and La Tène periods, as well as Celtic survival in western Europe, the Gallic Wars, military life, spiritual life, slavery, sexuality and Celtic art. Illustrated with more than 180 colour and black-and-white photographs, maps and artworks, Celts is an expertly written account of a people who have long captured the popular imagination.

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Review: If you’ve ever read Simon James’ book The World of the Celts, or Miranda Green’s The World of the Druids, then you know the kind of book this is. Basically, it is an introductory book. It has a little bit of everything in it. The history of the Celts (snapshot of it anyway), Celtic literature, Celtic Gods and Goddesses (well, some of them) and so on. Hardly ever a page goes by without an illustration, a picture or a map. This would be the kind of book I would recommend to someone who knows nothing about the Celts, and are not really sure they are interested in reading in depth about them.

I do have to say that because of the expertise of the author (he is a professional writer specialising in military history), the military bits are very interesting. I liked the book. Of course I read it in one sitting because there wasn’t anything new in it but it was still good. Of course, it wasn’t perfect either and I sometimes felt like the author was putting together a booklet for a Dungeons and Dragons game (he, the author is also a game designer so maybe that also came through in the writing?). I would recommend this book as a fun introduction to the Celts, but don’t look for anything in depth here.

Celtic Britain and Ireland 200 AD to 800 AD

Full Title: Celtic Britain and Ireland 200 AD to 800 AD – The Myth of the Dark Ages
Authors: Lloyd and Jennifer Laing
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Published: 1990, reprinted 1991
ISBN: 0-312-04767-3
Pages: 263, including Index and Bibliography.

Synopsis: The term ‘Dark Ages’ was coined to describe a period which was seen as a period of anarchy and violence, following the collapse of civilisation. Recent discoveries by archaeologists and historians have, however, radically altered this traditional view of the Dark Ages, and the period is now seen as one of innovation and dynamic social evolution. This book reconsiders a number of traditionally accepted views. It argues, for example, that the debt of the Dark Age Celts to Rome was enormous, even in areas such as Ireland that were never occupied by Roman invaders. It also discusses the traditional chronology suggesting that the date of ‘AD 400’ usually taken as the start of the ‘early Christian period in Britain and Ireland now has comparatively little meaning. Once this conventional framework is removed, it is possible to show how the Celtic world of the Dark Ages took shape under Roman influence in the centuries between about 200 to 800, and looked to Rome even for the immediate inspiration for its art. Such questions as the extent of British (that is, Celtic) survival in pagan Saxon England, and the Celtic and Roman contribution to early England are considered.

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Review: Honestly, I’ve read so many “old/out of date” books lately that I was settling down to another “been there and learned that”. I was pleasantly surprised though. Sure this book did have an element of “been there and learned that” but there are also some “Oh, huh, interesting” and “oh, huh, so that is why people these days assumed it was like that” elements too.

Over all I think that the Laings wrote an easy to read and follow book, telling the reader about a period in Britain and Ireland that the rest of the classical world called the Dark Ages. The book itself was organised very well, and it is very easy to find things that you want to find just by skimming to relevant chapters and sections because they were so clearly labeled, or by going to the Index.

They showed that in Britain and Ireland it was hardly the Dark Ages, and along the way you get to know how some interesting archaeology was done and by whom, and how some antiquarian societies came into being and how they became so much more than just amateur hour.The bibliography was also pretty interesting and extensive.