The Otherworld Voyage in Early Irish Literature. an Anthology of Criticism

By Zaenker, Karl A. | The Catholic Historical Review, October 2003 | Go to article overview

The Otherworld Voyage in Early Irish Literature. an Anthology of Criticism


Zaenker, Karl A., The Catholic Historical Review


The Otherworld Voyage in Early Irish Literature. An Anthology of Criticism. Edited by Jonathan M. Wooding. (Dublin: Four Courts Press. Distributed in the United States by ISBS, Portland, Oregon. 2000. Pp. xxviii, 290. $55.00.)

Despite the indisputable importance of early Irish literature in European medieval thought and literature, its study has too often been restricted to the comparably tew Celticists and Hiberno-Latinists. For the scholarly discourse to become truly interdisciplinary, anthologies such as this serve as welcome introductions to neophytes even while advancing our specialized knowledge. The volume presents some of the most stimulating contributions to the study of the immrama:those four early Irish narratives interconnected by common themes (the travel from island to island), common motifs (e.g., that of the latecomers, the supernumeraries), common narrative structures, and a pervasive Christian peregrinatio ideal (pilgrimage overseas). And yet, each work carries its own distinct character, as well as its own philological problems. The most widespread voyage narrative that may have influenced the other four, the legend of St. Brendan, is known both through the Latin Navigatio Sancti Brendani of the late eighth century (if we follow Dumville's dating,p. 131) and the various texts of the Vita Brendani.

The editor of the anthology, Jonathan M. Wooding, not unlike the procurator in the Navigatio, offers "guidance" (p. xxiv) and orientation in the vast sea of immram criticism. The attractively crafted volume contains nineteen reprinted articles,"a representative selection of past and present criticism," that date from 1905 to the end of the century. They are chronologically arranged and vary in length between three and thirty pages. The selection tries to "provide the reader with an impression of the evolving critical discourse concerning a topic," and, further, to make available secondary literature that is "widely scattered and often obscurely published." The latter argument is less persuasive: a good number of articles were culled from leading medieval journals which most North American university libraries would have on their shelves. This volume does not need secondary justification as it fulfills its primary aim admirably by providing an authoritative overview of scholarship on Irish otherworld voyage literature. …

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