Tales of the Elders of Ireland (Acallam na Senórach)

Tales of the Elders of Ireland (Acallam na Senórach)

Tales of the Elders of Ireland (Acallam na Senórach)

Tales of the Elders of Ireland (Acallam na Senórach)

Synopsis

Tales of the Elders of Ireland is the first complete translation of the late Middle-Irish Acallam na Senorach, the largest literary text surviving from twelfth-century Ireland. It contains the earliest and most comprehensive collection of Fenian stories and poetry, intermingling the contemporary Christian world of Saint Patrick with his scribes; clerics; occasional angels and souls rescued from Hell; the earlier pagan world of the ancient, giant Fenians and Irish kings; and the parallel, timeless Otherworld (peopled by ever-young, shape-shifting fairies). This readable, lucid new translation is based on existing manuscript sources and is richly annotated, complete with an Introduction discussing the place of the Acallam in Irish tradition and the impact of the Fenian or Ossianic tradition on English and European literature.

Excerpt

Early in the great medieval compilation of Fenian lore called Tales of the Elders of Ireland (Acallam na Senórach; hereinafter designated Tales, hitherto rendered as The Colloquy of the Ancients) St Patrick's guardian angels come to him to give him the heavenly advice he had sought. Ancient warriors, survivors from an older, more heroic and magnificent age, have presented themselves to him and he has been both fascinated and troubled by their appearance and their stories. The advice of the angels, given 'with one voice', is the following: 'Dear holy cleric, these old warriors tell you no more than a third of their stories because their memories are faulty. Have these stories written down on poets' tablets in refined language, so that the hearing of them will provide entertainment for the lords and commons of later times.'

Ever since that time tales of Finn and his famous band of warriors have enjoyed a long and varied literary life in both oral and written form. Their battles, their feasts, their great hunts, and their adventures in the Otherworld have fascinated audiences throughout the Gaelic world. By a curious turn of literary history these same stories, albeit in a somewhat diluted form, have also profoundly influenced modern European and American literature. In the 1760s the Highlander James Macpherson, at the behest of the literary Edinburgh élite of the mid-eighteenth century, collected, embellished, and published versions of Fenian narratives. As etiolated ghosts of their former robust selves, deploying a language of lofty and sublimely heroic inanity, these Macphersonese tales of 'Ossian', Finn, and their companions left a permanent mark on literary history. Fenian heroes and their stories contributed form and substance to eighteenth-century thinking about the nature of literary and epic tradition in general, and to the idea of a national British epic in particular. Fully implicated in the evolution of eighteenth--century aesthetic values, in the concept of original genius, of theories of the passions, and the cult of natural feeling, these heroic figures from a Celtic past penetrated deeply into the heart of European and American romantic and revolutionary movements.

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