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From The Mediaeval Mind, A History of the Development of Thought and Emotion in the Middle Ages, by Henry Osborn Taylor in Two Volumes, Volume I., MacMillan Co., New York, 1911; pp. 124-137.





THE northern races who were to form part of the currents of mediaeval life are grouped under the name of Celts and Teutons.1 The chief sections of the former, dwelling in northern Italy and Gaul and Spain, were Latinized and then Christianized long before the mediaeval period, and themselves helped to create the patristic and even the antique side of the mediaeval patrimony. Their rôle was largely mediatorial, and geographically, as well as in their 125 time of receiving Latin culture, they were intermediaries between the classic sources and the Teutons, who also were to drink of these magic draughts, but not so deeply as to be transformed to Latin peoples. The rôle of the Teutons in the mediaeval evolution was to accept Christianity and learn something of the pagan antique, and then to react upon what they had received and change it in their natures.

Central Europe seems to have been the early home alike of Celts and Teutons. Thence successive migratory groups appear to have passed westwardly and southerly. Both races spoke Aryan tongues, and according to the earliest notices of classic writers resembled each other physically — large, blue-eyed, with yellow or tawny hair. The more penetrating accounts of Caesar and Tacitus disclose their distinctive racial traits, which contrast still more clearly in the remains of the early Celtic (Irish) and Teutonic literatures. Whatever were the ethnological affinities between Celt and Teuton, and however imperceptibly these races may have shaded into each other, for example, in northern France and Belgium, their characters were different, and their opposing racial traits have never ceased to display themselves in the literature as well as in the political and social history of western Europe.

The time and manner of the Celtic occupation of Gaul and Spain remain obscure.2 It took place long before the turmoils of the second century B.C., when the Teutonic tribes began to assert themselves, probably in the north of the present Germany, and to press south-westwardly upon Celtic neighbours on both sides of the Rhine. Some of them pushed on towards lands held by the Belgae, and then passed southward toward Aquitania, drawing Belgic and Celtic peoples with them. Afterwards turning eastwardly they invaded the Roman Provincia in southern Gaul, and through their victories threatened the great Republic. This 126 was the peril of the Cimbri and Teutones, which Marius quelled by the waters of the Durance and then among the hills of Piedmont. The invasion did not change the ethnology of Gaul, which, however, was not altogether Celtic in Caesar’s time. The opening sentences of his Commentaries indicate anything but racial unity. The Roman province was mainly Ligurian in blood. West of the province, between the Pyrenees and the Garonne, were the “Aquitani,” chiefly of Iberian stock. The Celtae, whose western boundary was the ocean, reached from the Garonne as far north as the Seine, and eastwardly across the centre of Gaul to the head waters of the Rhine. North of them were the Belgae, extending from the Seine and the British Channel to the lower Rhine. These Belgae also apparently were Celts, and yet, as their lands touched those of the Germans on the Rhine, they naturally show Teutonic affinities, and some of their tribes contained strains of Teuton blood. But it is not blood alone that makes the race; and Gaul, with its dominant Celtic element, was making Gauls out of all these peoples. At all events a common likeness may be discerned in the picture of Gallic traits which Caesar gives.3

Gallic civilization had then advanced as far as the native political incapacity of the Gauls would permit. Quick-witted and intelligent, they were to gain from Rome the discipline they needed. Once accustomed to the enforcement of a stable order, their finer qualities responded by a ready acceptance of the benefits of civilization and a rapid appropriation of Latin culture. Not a sentence of the Gallic literature survives. But that this people were endowed with eloquence and possessed of a sense of form, was to be shown by works in their adopted tongue.4 Romanized and Latinized, they were converted to Christianity and then renewed with fresh Teutonic blood. So they enter upon the 127 medieval period; and when, after the millennial year, the voices of the Middle Ages cease simply to utter the barbaric or echo the antique, it becomes clear that nowhere is there a happier balance of intellectual faculty and emotional capacity than in these peoples of mingled stock who long had dwelt in the country which we know as France.

Since the Celts of Gaul have left no witness of themselves in Gallic institutions or literature, it is necessary to turn to Ireland for clearer evidence of Celtic qualities. There one may see what might come of a predominantly Celtic people who lacked the lesson of Roman conquest and the discipline of Roman order. The early history of the Irish, their presentation of themselves in imaginative literature, their attainment in learning and accomplishment in art, are not unlike what might have been expected from Caesar’s Gauls under similar conditions of comparative isolation. Irish history displays the social turmoil and barbarism resulting from the insular aggravation of the Celtic weaknesses noticeable in Caesar’s sketch; and the same are carried to burlesque excess in the old Irish literature. On the other hand, Irish qualities of temperament and mind bear such fair fruit in literature and art as might be imagined springing from the Gallic stem but for the Roman graft.5

No trustworthy story can be put together from the myth, tradition, and conscious fiction which record the unprogressive 128 turbulence of pre-Christian Ireland. But the Irish character and capacity are clearly mirrored in this enormous Gaelic literature. Truculence and vanity pervade it, and a passion for hyperbole. A weak sense of fact and a lack of steady rational purpose are also conspicuous. It is as ferocious as may be. Yet, withal, it keeps the charm of the Irish temperament. Its pathos is moving, even lovely. Some of the poetry has a mystic sensuousness; the lines fall on the ear like the lapping of ripples on an unseen shore; the imagery has a fantastic and romantic beauty, and the reader is wafted along on waves o temperament and feeling.6

Whatever themes sprang from the pagan age, probably nothing was written down before the Christian time, when Christian matter might be foisted into the pagan story. The Sagas belong to the so-called Ulster Cycle afford the best illustration of early Irish traits.7 They reflect a society 129 apparently at the “Homeric” stage of development, though the Irish heroes suffer in comparison with the Greek by reason of the immeasurable inferiority of these Gaelic Sagas to the Iliad and Odyssey. There is the same custom of fighting from chariots, the same tried charioteer, the hero’s closest friend, and the same unstable relationship between the chieftains and the king.8

The Achilles of the Ulster cycle is Cuchulain. The Tain Bo Cuailgne (Englished rather improperly as the “Cattle-raid of Cooley”) is the long and famous Saga that brings his glory to its height.9 Other Sagas tell of his mysterious birth, his youthful deeds, his wooing, his various feats, and then the moving, fateful story of his death. Loved by many women, cherished by heroes, beautiful in face and form, possessed of strength, agility, and skill in arms beyond belief, uncontrolled, chivalric, his battle-ardour unquenchable, he is a brilliant epic hero. But his story is weakened by hyperbole. Even to-day we know how sword-strokes and spear-thrust kill. So do great narrators, who likewise realize the literary power of truth. Through the Iliad there is no combat between heroes where spear and sword do not pierce and kill as they do in fact. So in the Sagas of the Norse, the man falls before the mortal blow. But in the Ulster Cycle, day after day, two heroes may mangle each other in every impossible and fantastic way, beyond the bounds of the faintest shadow of verisimilitude.10 In this weakness of hyperbole the Irish Sagas are 130 outdone only by the monstrous doings of the epics of India.

Besides hyperbole, Irish tales display another weakness, which is not unpleasing, although an element of failure both in the people and their literature. This is the quality of non-arrival. Some old tales evince it in the unsteadfast purpose of the narrative, the hero quite forgetting the initial motive of his action. In the Voyage of Mældun, for instance, a son sets out upon the ocean to seek his father’s murderers, a motive which is lost sight of amid the marvels of the voyage.11 As may be imagined, qualities of vanity, truculence, irrationality, hyperbole, and non-arrival or lack of sequence, frequently impart an air of bouffe to the Irish Sagas, making them humorous beyond the intention of their composers.12

Yet true heroic notes are to be heard.13 And however rare the tales which have not the makings of a brawl on every page, these truculent Sagas sometimes speak with power and pathos, and sweetly present the loveliness of nature or the charms of women; all in a manner happily indicative of the impressionable Irish temperament. Examples are the moving tales of The Children of Usnach and the Pursuit of Diarmuid and Grainne.14 They bring to 131 mind the Tristram story, which grew up among a kindred people. The first of them only belongs to the Ulster Cycle. Both are stories of a beautiful and headstrong maiden betrothed to an old king. Each maid rebels against union with an old man; each falls in love with a young hero, and, unabashed, asks him to flee with her. In the former tale the heroine’s charms win the hero, while in the latter he is overcome by the violent insistence of a woman not to be gainsaid. In both stories love brings the hero to his death.

The Irish genius also showed an aptitude for lyric expression, and at an early period developed elaborate modes of rhymed and alliterative verse.15 Peculiarly beautiful are the poems reflecting the Gaelic belief in a future life. A charming description of Elysium is offered by The Voyage of Bran, a Saga of the Otherworld, dating from the seventh century. Its verse portions preponderate, the prose serving as their frame.16 But it opens in prose, telling how one day, walking near his stronghold, Bran heard sweet music behind him, and as often as he turned the music was still behind him. He fell asleep at last from the sweetness of the strains. When he awoke he found by him a branch silvery with white blossoms. He took it to his home, where was a seen a woman who sang:

“A branch of the apple-tree from Emain I bring;
  Twigs of white silver are on it,
  Crystal boughs with blossoms.
  There is a distant isle,
  Around which sea-horses (waves) glisten.”

And the woman sings on, picturing “Mag Mell of many flowers,” and of the host ever rowing thither from across the sea; till at last Bran and his people set forth in their boat and row on and on, till they are welcomed by sweet women with music and wine in island-fields of flowers and bird-song. There is no sad strain in the music from this Gaelic land beyond the grave.

Irish traits observed in poem and Saga are reflected in accounts of not improbable events, and exemplified in 132 Christian saints; for the Irish did not change their spots upon conversion. How Christianity failed to affect the manners of the ancient Irish is illustrated in the story of the Cursing of Tara, where tradition says the high-kings of Ireland held sway. The account is scarcely historical; yet Tara existed, and fell to decay in the sixth century.17 Its cursing was on this wise. King Dermot was high-king of Ireland. His laws were obeyed throughout the land, and over its length and breadth marched his spear-bearer asserting the royal authority, and holding the king’s spear across his body before him. Every town and castle must open wide enough to let this spear pass, carried crosswise. The spear-bearer comes to the strong house of Ædh. He finds the outer palisade breached to let the spear through, but not the inner house. The bearer demands that it be torn open. “Order it so as to please thyself,” quoth Ædh, as he smote off his head.

King Dermot sent his men to lay waste to Ædh’s land and seize his person. Ædh flees, and at last takes refuge with St. Ruadhan. The king again sends messengers, but they are foiled, till he comes himself, seizes the outlaw, and carries him off to hang him at Tara. Thereupon St. Ruadhan seeks St. Brendan of Birr and others. They proceed to Tara and demand the prisoner. The king answers that the Church cannot protect law-breakers. So all the clergy rang their bells and chanted psalms against the king before Tara, and fasted on him (in order that their imprecations might be more potent), and he fasted on them. King and clergy fasted on each other, till one night the clergy made a show of eating in sight of the town, but passed the meat and ale beneath their cowls. So the king was tricked into taking meat; and an evil dream came to him, by which he knew the clergy would succeed in destroying his kingdom.

In the morning the king went and said to the clergy: “Ill have ye done to undo my kingdom, because I maintained the righteous cause. Be thy diocese, Ruadhan, the first one ruined, and may thy monks desert thee.”


Said the saint: “May thy kingdom droop speedily.”

Said the king: “Thy see shall be empty, and swine shall root up thy churchyards.”

Said the saint: “Tara shall be desolate, and therein shall no dwelling be for ever.”

It was the custom of ancient bards to utter an imprecation or “satire” against those offending them.18 The irate fasting and cursing by the Irish clergy was a thinly Christianized continuation of the same Irish habit, inspired by the same Irish temper. There was no chasm between the pagan bards and the Christian clergy, who loved the Sagas and preserved them. They had also their predecessors in the Druids, who had performed the functions of diviners, magicians, priests, and teachers, which were assumed by the clergy in the fifth and sixth centuries.19 Doubtless many of the Druids became monks.

Christianity came to the Irish as a new ardour, effacing none of their characteristics. Irish monks and Irish saints were as irascible as Irish bards and Saga heroes. The Irish temper lived on in St. Columba of Iona and St. Columbanus of Luxeuil and Bobbio. Both of these men left Ireland to spread monastic Christianity, and also because, as Irishmen, they loved to rove, like their forefathers. Christianity furnished this Irish propensity with a definite aim in the mission-passion to convert the heathen. It likewise brought the ascetic hermit-passion, which drove these travel-loving islanders over the sea in search of solitude; and so a yearning came on Irish monks to sail forth to some distant isle and gain within the seclusion of the sea a hermitage beyond the reach of man. There are many stories of these explorers. They sailed along the Hebrides, they settled on the Shetland Islands, they reached the Faroes, and even brought back news of Iceland. But before the seventh century closed, their sea hermitages were harried by Norsemen who were sailing upon quite different ventures. From an opposite direction they too had 134 reached the Shetlands and the Hebrides, and had pushed on farther south among the islands off the west coast of Scotland. So there come sorry tales of monks fleeing from one island to another. These harryings and flights had gone on for a century and more before the Vikings landed in Ireland, apparently for the first time, in 795.20 There followed two centuries of fierce struggle with the invaders, during which much besides blows was exchanged. Vikings and Irish learned from each other; Norse strains passed into Irish literature, and conversely the Norse story-tellers probably obtained the Saga form of composition.

The rôle of the Irish in the diffusion of Christianity with its accompaniment of Latin culture will be noted hereafter, and a sketch of the unquestionably Irish saint Columbanus will be given in illustration. A few paragraphs on his almost namesake of Iona, whose career hardly extended beyond Celtic circles, may fitly close the present chapter on the Celtic genius. In him is seen the truculent Irishman and the clan-abbot of royal birth, violent, dominating by his impetuosity and the strident fervour of his voice; also the saint, devoted, loving, to his followers. Colum,21 surnamed Cille, “of the church,” from his incessant devotions, and by his Latin name known as Columba, was born at Gartan, Donegal, in the extreme north-west of Ireland, about the year 520. His family was chief in that 135 part of the country, and through both his parents he was descended from kings. He does not belong to those early Irish saints represented by Patrick and his storied coadjutors of both sexes, whose missionary activities were not constrained within any ascetic rule; but to the later generation who lived in those monastic communities which were so very typically Irish.22

Columba appears to have passed his youth wandering from one monastery to another, and his manhood in founding them. But so strong a nature could not hold aloof from the wars of his clan, which belonged to the northern branch of the Hy-neill race, then maintaining its independence against the southern branch. The head of the latter was that very King Dermot (usually called Diarmaid or Diarmuid) against whom St. Ruadhan23 and the clergy fasted and rang their bells. Columba appears to have had no part in the cursing of Tara. But Dermot was the king against whom the wars 136 of his family were waged, and all the traditions point to the saint as their instigator. The account given by Keating, the seventeenth century historian of Gaelic Ireland, is curious.24

“Diarmuid . . . King of Ireland, made the Feast of Tara, and a nobleman was killed at that feast by Curran, son of Aodh; wherefore Diarmuid killed him in revenge for that, because he committed murder at the Feast of Tara, against the law and the sanctuary of he feast; and before Curran was put to death he fled to the protection of Colum-Cille, and notwithstanding the protection of Colum-Cille he was killed by Diarmuid. And from that it arose that Colum-Cille mustered the Clanna Neill of the North, because his own protection and the protection of the sons of Earc was violated. Whereupon the battle of Cul Dreimhne was gained over Duirmuid and over the Connaughtmen, so that they were defeated through the prayer of Colum-Cille.”

Keating adds that another book relates another cause of this battle, to wit:

“. . . the false judgment which Dirumuid gave against Colum-Cille when he wrote the gospel out of the book of Finnian without his knowledge.25 Finnian said that it was to himself belonged the son-book which was written from his book, and they both selected Diarmuid as judge between them. This is the decision that Diarmuid made: that to every book belongs its son-book, as to every cow belongs her calf.”

Less consistent is the tradition that Columba left Ireland because of the sentence passed upon him by certain of his fellow-saints, as penance for the bloodshed which he had occasioned. Indeed, for his motives one need hardly look beyond the desire to spread the Gospel, and the passion of the Irish monk peregrinam ducere vitam. Reaching the west of Scotland, Columba was granted that rugged little island then called Hy, but Iova afterwards, and now Iona. This was in 563, and he continued abbot of Hy until his death in 597. Not that he stayed there all these years, for he moved about ceaselessly, founding churches among the Picts and Scots. Some thirty foundations are attributed to him, besides his thirty odd in Ireland.


Adamnan’s Vita largely consists of stories of the saint’s miracles and prophecies and the interpositions of Providence in his behalf. It nevertheless gives a consistent picture of this man of powerful frame and mighty voice, restless and unrestrained, ascetically tempered, working always for the spread of his religion. We see him compelling men to set sail with him despite the tempest, or again rushing into “the green glass water up to his knees” to curse a plunderer in the name of Christ. “He was not a gentle hero,” says an old Gaelic Eulogy. Yet if somewhat quick to curse, he was still readier to bless, and if he could be masterful, his life had its own humility. “Surely it was great lowliness in Colomb Cille that he himself used to take off his monks’ sandals and wash their feet for them. He often used to carry his portion of corn on his back to the mill, and grind it and bring it home to his house. He never used to put linen or wool against his skin. His side used to come against the bare mould.”26

So this impetuous life passes before our eyes filled with adventure, touched with romance, its colours heightened through tradition. As it draws to its close the love in it seems to exceed the wrath; and thus it ends: as the old man was resting himself the day before his death, seated by the barn of the monastery, the white work-horse came and laid its head against his breast. Late the same night, reclining on his stone bed he spoke his last words, enjoining peace and charity among the monks. Rising before dawn, he entered the church alone, knelt beside the altar, and there he died.27 — His memory still hangs the peace of God and man over the Island of Iona.



1  The physiological criterion of a race is consanguinity. But unfortunately racial lineage soon loses itself in obscurity. Moreover, during periods as to which we have some knowledge, no race has continued pure from alien admixture; and every people that has taken part in the world’s advance has been acted upon by foreign influences from its prehistoric beginnings throughout the entire course of its history. Indeed, foreign suggestions and contact with other peoples appear essential to tribal or national progress. For the historian there exists no pure and unmixed race, and even the conception of one becomes self-contradictory. To him a race is a group of people, presumably related in some way by blood, who appear to transmit from generation to generation a common heritage of culture and like physical and spiritual traits. He observes that the transmitted characteristics of such a group may weaken or dissipate before foreign influence, and much more as the group scatters among other people; or again he sees its distinguishing traits becoming clearer as the members draw to a closer national unity under the action of a common physical environment, common institutions, and a common speech. The historian will not accept as conclusive any single kind of evidence regarding race. He may attach weight to complexion, stature, and shape of skull, and yet find their interpretation quite perplexing when compared with other evidence, historical or linguistic. He will consider customs and implements, and yet remember that customs may be borrowed, and implements are often of foreign pattern. Language affords him the most enticing criterion, but one of the most deceptive. It is a matter of observation that when two peoples of different tongues meet together, they may mingle their blood through marriage, combine their customs and adopt each other’s utensils and ornaments; but the two languages will not structurally unite: one will supplant the other. The language may thus be more single in source than the people speaking it: though, conversely, people of the same race, by reason of special circumstances, may not speak the tongue. Hence linguistic unity is not conclusive evidence of unity of race.

2  As to the Celts in Gaul and elsewhere, and the early non-Celtic population of Gaul, see A. Bertrand, La Gaule avant les Gaulois (Paris, 1891); La Religion des Gaulois (Paris, 1897); Les Celtes dans les vallées du Pô et du Danube (in conjunction with S. Reinach); D’Arbois de Jubainville, Les Premiers Habitants de l’Europe (second edition, Paris, 1894); Fustel de Coulanges, Institutions politiques de l‘ancienne France (Paris, 1891); Karl Müllenhof, Deutsche Altertumskunde, Bde. I. and II.; Zupitza, “Kelten und Gallier,” Zeitschrift für keltische Philologie, 1902.

3  See ante, Chapter II.

4  The Latin literature produced by their descendants in the fourth century is usually good in form, whatever other qualities it lack. This statement applies to the works of the nominally Christian, but really pagan, rhetorician and poet, Ausonius, born in 310, at Bordeaux, of mingled Aquitanian and Aeduan blood; likewise to the poems of Paulinus of Nola, born at the same town, in 353, and to the prose of Sulpicius Severus, also born in Aquitaine a little after. In the fifth century, Avitus, an Auvernian, Bishop of Vienne, and Apollinaris Sidonius continue the Gallo-Latin strain in literature.

5  Without hazarding a discussion of the origin of the Irish, of their proportion of Celtic blood, or their exact relation to the Celts of the Continent, it may in a general way be said, that Ireland and Great Britain were inhabited by a prehistoric and pre-Celtic people. The Celts came from the Continent, conquered them, and probably intermarried with them. The Celtic inflow may have begun in the sixth century before Christ, and perhaps continued until shortly before Caesar’s time. Evidences of language point to a dual Celtic stock, Goidelic and Brythonic. It may be surmised that the former was the first to arrive. The Celtic dialect spoken by them is now represented by the Gaelic of Ireland, Man, and Scotland. The Brythonic is still represented by the speech of Wales and the Armoric dialects of Brittany. This was the language of the Britons who fought with Caesar, and were subdued by later Roman generals. After the Roman time they were either pressed back into Wales and Cornwall by Angles, Jutes, and Saxons, or were absorbed among these conquering Teutons. Probably Caesar was correct in asserting the close affinity of the Britons with the Belgic tribes of the Continent. See the opening chapters of Rhys and Brynmor-Jones’s Welsh People; also Rhys’s Early Britain (London, 1882); Zupitza, “Kelten und Gallier,” Zeitschrift für keltische Phil., 1902; T. H. Huxley, “On some Fixed Points in British Ethnology,” Contemporary Review for 1871, reprinted in Essays (Appleton’s, 1894); Ripley, Races of Europe, chap. xii. (New York, 1899).

6  The Irish art of illumination presents analogies to the literature. The finesse of design and execution in the Book of Kells (seventh century) is astonishing. Equally marvellous was the work of Irish goldsmiths. Both arts doubtless made use of designs common upon the Continent, and may even have drawn suggestions from Byzantine or late Roman patterns. Nevertheless, illumination and the goldsmith’s art in Ireland are characteristically Irish and the very climax of barbaric fashions. Their forms pointed to nothing further. These astounding spirals, meanders, and interlacings, combined with utterly fantastic and impossible drawings of the human form, required essential modification before they were suited to form part of that organic development of mediaeval art which followed its earlier imitative periods.

Irish illumination was carried by Columba to Iona, and spread thence through many monasteries in the northern part of Britain. It was imitated in the Anglo-Saxon monasteries of Northumbria, and from them passed with Alcuin to the Court of Charlemagne. Through these transplantings the Irish art was changed, under the hands of men conversant with Byzantine and later Roman art. The influence of the art also worked outward from Irish monasteries upon the Continent, St. Gall, for example. The Irish goldsmith’s art likewise passed into Saxon England, into Carolingian France, and into Scandinavia. See J. H. Middleton, Illuminated Manuscripts (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1892), and the different view as to the sources of Irish illuminating art in Muntz. Études iconographiques (Paris, 1887); also Kraus, Geschichte der christlichen Kunst, i. 607-619; Margaret Stokes, Early Christian Art in Ireland (South Kensington Museum Art Hand-Books, 1894), vol. i. p. 32 sqq., and vol. ii. pp. 73, 78; Sophus Müller, Nordische Altertumskunde, vol. ii. chap. xiv. (Strassburg, 1898).

7  The classification of ancient Irish literature is largely the work of O’Curry, Lectures on the Manuscript Materials of Ancient Irish History (Dublin, 1861, 2nd ed., 1878). See also D. Hyde, A Literary History of Ireland, chaps. xxi.-xxix. (London, 1899); D’Arbois de Jubainville, Introduction à l’étude de la littérature celtique, chap. préliminaire (Paris, 1883). The tales of the Ulster Cycle, in the main, antedate the coming of the Norsemen in the eighth century; but the later redactions seem to reflect Norse customs; see Pflugk-Hartung, in Revue celtique, t. xiii. (1892), p. 170 sqq.

8  This comparison with Homeric society might be extended so as to include the Celts of Britain and Gaul. Close affinities appear between the Gauls and the personages of the Ulster Cycle. Several of its Sagas have to do with the “hero’s portion” awarded to the bravest warrior at the feast, a source of much pleasant trouble. Posidonius, writing in the time of Cicero, mentions the same custom among the Celts of Gaul (Didot-Müller, Fragmenta hist. Graec. t. iii. p. 260, col. 1; D’Arbois de Jubainville, Introduction, etc. pp.  297, 298).

9  Probably first written down in the seventh century. Some of the Cuchulain Sagas are rendered by D’Arbois de Jubainville, Épopée celtique; they are given popularly in E. Hull’s Cuchulain Saga (D. Nutt, London, 1898). Also to some extent in Hyde’s Lit. Hist., etc.

10  See the famous Battle of the Ford between Cuchulain and Ferdiad (Hyde, Lit. Hist. of Ireland, pp. 328-334). A more burlesque hyperbole is that of the three caldrons of cold water prepared for Cuchulain to cool his battle-heat: when he was plunged in the first, it boiled; plunged into the second, no one could hold his hand in it; but in the third, the water became tepid (D’Arbois de Jubainville, Épopée celtique, p. 204).

11  Certain interpolated Christian chapters at the end tell how Mældun is led to forgive the murderers — an idea certainly foreign to the original pagan story, which may perhaps have had its own ending. The tale is translated in P. W. Joyce’s Old Celtic Romances (London, 1894), and by F. Lot in D’Arbois de Jubainville’s Épopée celtique, pp. 449-500.

12  Perhaps no one of the Ulster Sagas exhibits these qualities more amusingly than The Feast of Bricriu, a tale in which contention for the “hero’s portion” is the leading motive. Its personae are the men and women who constantly appear and reappear throughout this cycle. In this Saga they act and speak admirably in character, and some of the descriptions bring the very man before our eyes. It is translated by George Henderson, Vol. II. Irish Texts Society (London, 1899), and also by D’Arbois de Jubainville in his Épopée eltique (Paris, 1892).

13  For example, in a historical Saga the great King Brian speaks, fighting against the Norsemen: “O God . . . retreat becomes us not, and I myself know I shall not leave this place alive; and what would it profit me if I did? For Aibhell of Grey Crag came to me last night, and told me that I should be killed this day.”

14  “Deirdre, or the Fate of the Sons of Usnach,” is rendered in E. Hull’s Cuchulain saga; Hyde, Lit. Hist., chap. xxv., and D’Arbois de Jubainville, Épopée celtique, pp. 217-319. The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Grainne was edited by O’Duffy for the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language (Dublin, Gill and Son, 1895), and less completely in Joyce’s Old Celtic Romances (London, 1894).

15  Cf. Hyde, o.c., chaps. xxi. xxxvi.

16  The Voyage of Bran, edited and translated by Kuno Meyer, with essays on the Celtic Otherworld, by Alfred Nutt (2 vols., David Nutt, London, 1895). A Saga usually is prose interspersed with lyric verses at critical points of the story.

See a short version similar to the description above in “The Life of St. Brandon,” from William Caxton’s The Golden Legend, on this site. — Elf.Ed.

17  On Tara, see index in O’Curry’s Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish; also Hyde, Literary History, pp. 126-130. For this story, see O’Grady, Silva Gaedelica, pp. 77-88 (London, 1892); Hyde, pp. 226-232.

18  See D’Arbois de Jubainville, Introduction à la lit. celtique, pp. 259-271 (Paris, 1883).

19  See D’Arbois de Jubainville, Introduction, etc. p. 129 sqq.: Bertrand, La Religion des Gaulois, chap. xx. (Paris, 1897). Also O’Curry, o.c. passim.

20  For this whole story see H. Zimmer, “Uber die frühesten Berührungen der Iren mit den Nordgermanen,” Sitzungsbericht der Preussischen Akad., 1891 (I), pp. 279-317.

21  For the life of Saint Columba the chief source is the Vita by Adamnan, his eighth successor as abbot of Iona. It contains well-drawn sketches of the saint and much that is marvellous and incredible. It was edited with elaborate notes by Dr. W. Reeves, for the Irish Archaeological Society, in 1857. His work, rearranged and with a translation of the Vita, was republished as Vol. VI. Of The Historians of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1874). The Vita may also be found in Migne, Patrologia Latina, 88, col. 725-776. Bede, Ecc. Hist. iii. 4, refers to Columba. The Gaelic life from the Book of Lismore is published, with a translation by M. Stokes, Anecdota Oxoniensia (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1890). The Bodleian Eulogy, i.e. the Amra Choluim chille, was published, with translation by M. Stokes, in Revue celtique, t. xx. (1899); as to its date, see Rev. celtique, t. xvii. p. 41. Another (later) Gaelic life has been published by R. Henebry in the Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie, 1901, and later. There is an interesting article on the hymns ascribed to Columba in Blackwood’s Magazine for September 1899. See also Cuissard, Rev. celtique, t. v. p. 207. The hymns themselves are in Dr. Todd’s Liber Hymnorum. Montalembert’s Monks of the West, book ix. (vol. iii. Eng. trans.), gives a long, readable, and uncritical account of “St. Columba, the Apostle of Caledonia.”

22  The Irish monastery was ordered as an Irish clan, and indeed might be a clan monastically ordered. At the head was an abbot, not elected by the monks, but usually appointed by the preceding abbot from his own family; as an Irish king appointed his successor. The monks ordinarily belonged to the abbot’s clan. They lived in an assemblage of huts. Some devoted themselves to contemplation, prayer, and writing; more to manual labour. There were recluses among them. Besides the monks, other members of the clan living near the “monastery” owed it duties and were entitled to its protection and spiritual ministration. The abbot might be an ordained priest; he rarely was a bishop, though he had bishops under him who at his bidding performed such episcopal functions as that of ordination. But he was the ruler, lay as well as spiritual. Not infrequently he also was a king. Although there was no common ordering of Irish monasteries, a head monastery might bear rule over its daughter foundations, as did Columba’s primal monastery of Iona over those in Ireland or Northern Britain which owed their origin to him. Irish monasteries might march with their clan on military expeditions, or carry on a war of monastery against monastery. “A.D. 763. A battle was fought at Argamoyn, between the fraternities of Clonmacnois and Durrow, where Durmond Duff, son of Donnell, was killed with 200 men of the fraternity of Durrow. Bresal, son of Murchadh, with the fraternity of Clonmacnois, was victor” (Ancient Annals). This entry is not alone, for there is another one of the year 816, in which a “fraternity of Colum-cille” seems to have been worsted in battle, and then to have gone “to Tara to curse” the reigning king. See Reeve’s Adamnan’s Life of Columba, p. 255. Of course Irish armies felt no qualms at sacking the monasteries an slaying the monks of another kingdom. The sanctuaries of Clonmacnois, Kildare, Clonard, Armagh were plundered as readily by “Christian” Irishmen as by heathen Danes. In the ninth century, Phelim, King of Munster, was an abbot and a bishop too; but he sacked the sacred places of Ulster and killed their monks and clergy. See G. T. Stokes, Ireland and the Celtic Church; Killen, Ecc. Hist. of Ireland, vol. i. p. 145 sqq.

23  The title of saint is regularly given to the higher clergy of this period in Ireland.

24  “The History of Ireland by Geoffrey Keating” in the original Gaelic with an English translation, by Comyn and Dineen (Irish Texts Society. David Nutt, London, 1902-1908).

25  This means that he copied a manuscript belonging to Finnian.

26  The Life of Colomb Cille from The Book of Lismore.

27  Adamnan.


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