By Poetic Authority: The Rhetoric of Panegyric in Gaelic Poetry of Scotland to C.1700

By Poetic Authority: The Rhetoric of Panegyric in Gaelic Poetry of Scotland to C.1700

By Poetic Authority: The Rhetoric of Panegyric in Gaelic Poetry of Scotland to C.1700

By Poetic Authority: The Rhetoric of Panegyric in Gaelic Poetry of Scotland to C.1700

Synopsis

By Poetic Authority presents a comprehensive survey of medieval and early modern Scottish Gaelic poetry, examining the particular form of poetic diction in the extant corpus. Through a fixed set of literary conventions, the court poets of the period gave sanction to their patrons' leadership, an essential task which served to preserve the cohesion of society. These conventions, known as the panegyric code, were in a large measure borrowed by the more demotic vernacular poets and indeed permeate all Gaelic literary genres, including annals and chronicles. Originally established in the poetic schools of Ireland, the code adopted some distinct forms in Scotland, reflecting particular social and political developments. The book is the first detailed and systematic collection and classification of the rhetoric of leadership in Scottish Gaelic poetry, from the earliest times to the beginning of the 18th century. Because of its social and political function, however, this poetry also reveals much about the society in which it flourished, particularly in respect of issues to Gaelic identity and loyalties: as Gaels, as Scots, and as members of the early-modern kingdom of Britain. Some of the book's particularly helpful features are: a careful analysis of the 'panegyric code,' including its composition and employment
• divergences from the established conventions received from the schools of Ireland
• a discussion of the issues of sovereignty, loyalties, and identities, as reflected in the poetry
• a novel systematic classification of Scottish kindreds (clans) according to their own genealogical claims. The book will prove to be an invaluable resource for those studying Celtic, Gaelic, and Scottish literature, and the history of the medieval and early modern periods.

Excerpt

In the preface to their anthology of Gaelic prose texts, Ri Linn nan Linntean, the editors state: ‘Tro litreachas agus tro sheanchas, tron lagh agus tro smuaintean nan daoine fhèin, gheibh sinn dealbh air am beatha, air na bha iad a’ dèanamh, a’ smaoineachadh no a’ creidsinn ann an iomadach cuspair, beag is mòr’ (‘Through literature and through history, through the law and through the thoughts of the people themselves, we obtain a picture of their life, of what they did, thought or believed about many topics, great and small’, Cox and Ó Baoill (eds) 2005, p. ix). This is perhaps most true of medieval and early modern Gaelic poetry. While nowadays poetry is something chiefly available in books through individual reading, throughout the period covered in this work, when reading was generally a privilege of the élite classes, poetry was something mostly acquired and transmitted orally, and available in social gatherings at any level. And it is easy to see how oral transmission would facilitate dissemination as well as exchange of opinion. Different social levels had, of course, different types of poets and audiences, and therefore we have different types of poetry. Yet all the various categories were linked to each other by what John MacInnes, writing in the seventies, defined as the ‘panegyric code’, the set of conventions which can be found throughout Gaelic literature in all its genres and social categories. It is probably the fundamentally oral character of the transmission of poetry that provides the reason for this all-encompassing literary conformity, and this conformity, or consistency, must be seen as aiming to preserve social order and cohesion. And this is no surprise, for whether in the complex metrics of the professional file or in the accentual verse of the nurse to the household children, and even in the yet humbler waulking song, we find echoes of the principles for the government of society established in the ancient Gaelic laws.

There is an important social and political message, then, embedded in the poetry. Essential to the modern reader is the need to keep sight of the . . .

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