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INTERPRETING MARVELS

The Irish Augustine

If the predominantly oral culture of pre-Christian Celtic Ireland contained much in the way of philosophical, speculative, or abstract thought there is no evidence for it. Significantly, the rich heritage of myths, legends, and sagas transcribed by the early monastic scribes in Ireland does not contain even fragments of philosophical speculation. Despite the claims made by Herbert Moore Pim (1920) that an Irish idealist tradition originated with the druidic belief system, there is really no serious evidence of a druidic Socrates whose wise sayings might have been recorded by the same scribes who were happy to record the Celtic mythological tales. The most we can say is that the pre-Christian Celtic philosophies were 'sacral, not Socratic', that they were part of a tradition of knowledge that was 'ceremonial rather than critical' (Rankin 1996:297). Regardless then of how impressed we are by the artistic and imaginative achievements of the pre-historic period in Ireland (as recorded in the archaeological evidence and in the transcribed literature), there is no denying that the properly historical period begins in the fifth century with the introduction of Christianity-that is, with the arrival of 'the religion of the book' (Richter 1995:219). Christianity brought literacy, writing, documents-the makings of history, including intellectual history-to the island of Ireland. A history of Irish thought cannot therefore begin earlier than the introduction of Christianity and Christian literacy.

The early writings of a culture, however, are rarely philosophical or speculative. The earliest writings in Ireland were predominantly

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