Full Title: Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel: Kingship and Narrative Artistry in a Mediaeval Irish Saga
Author: Ralph O’Connor
Publisher: Oxford University Press, Oxford
Published: May 5th 2013
Pages: Hardcover, 386. Including GlosCsary, Works Cited and Index
Irish saga literature represents the largest collection of vernacular narrative in existence from the early Middle Ages, using the tools of Christian literacy to retell myths and legends about the pagan past. This unique corpus remains marginal to standard histories of Western literature: its tales are widely read, but their literary artistry remains a puzzle to many even within Celtic studies. This book, the first monograph to offer a systematic literary analysis of any single native Irish tale, aims to show how one particularly celebrated saga ‘works’ as a story: the Middle Irish tale Togail Bruidne Da Derga (The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel), which James Carney called ‘the finest saga of the early period’. This epic tale tells how the legendary king Conaire was raised by a shadowy Otherworld to the kingship of Tara and, after a fatal error of judgement, was hounded by spectres to an untimely death at Da Derga’s Hostel at the hands of his own foster-brothers. By turns lyrical and laconic, and rich in native mythological imagery, the story is told with a dramatic intensity worthy of Greek tragedy, and the intricate symmetry of its narrative procedure recalls the visual patterning of illuminated manuscripts such as The Book of Kells. This book invites the reader to enjoy and understand this literary masterpiece, explaining its narrative artistry within its native, classical and biblical literary contexts. Against a historical backdrop of shifting ideologies of Christian kingship, it interprets the saga’s possible significance for contemporary audiences as a questioning exploration of the challenges and paradoxes of kingship.
Ralph O’Connor’s study is the most comprehensive study of “The Destruction of Derga’s Hostel” that I have read so far. The book only has 10 chapters and yet it manages to have a comprehensive analysis of the saga.
The first chapter talks about the textual background of the story without being too boring to the layman but still having enough interesting information to hold the interest of someone who is more interested in manuscripts. Chapters 2 to 7, provide a close reading of the text and takes the reader through the life of Conaire from his birth to his death. Chapters 8 and 9 take a close look at the Biblical dimension of the story. It looks at the classical/Biblical versus vernacular influences. And finally, Chapter 10 looks at the reception of the text by its original audience, while at the same time giving a historical framework for contemporary ideas of kingship.
The book also has a glossary of jargon, Irish and Latin terms and has tables and figures to explain the complicated structure of the story. What I loved most is that each chapter has sections which can be read alone so you don’t feel like you have to read the whole chapter in one sitting to get the full picture of what the author is trying to say. Also, the way the author challenges assumptions and revisits questions asked by other scholars before.
I liked how the author compared the usages of the geisi in the Irish sagas to the way that prophecies are used in Greek sagas. I love the way he looks at the assumption that just because something looks like it is Biblical on the surface then it has to be of Biblical influence.
All in all, I really enjoyed everything in this book and I highly recommend it.