The Celtic West and Europe: Studies in Celtic Literature and the Early Irish Church

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The Celtic West and Europe: Studies in Celtic Literature and the Early Irish Church. By Doris Edel. (Dublin: Four Courts Press. Distributed in the U.S.A. by ISBS, Portland, Oregon. 2001. Pp. 320. $65.00.)

This book consists of a collection of Doris Edel's papers produced previously over the last fifteen years or so. Most were not published in English, and also in sources not necessarily widely available, and so this is a most welcome opportunity to have wider access to works by this scholar of Celtic literature. The papers have where necessary been translated by the author, and none of the slight idiosyncrasies (such as "fase" for phase") make the meaning unclear. There is some slight repetition between chapters as some of the introductory rubric necessarily had to be repeated in separate publications, but overall the collection allows for the development of several key themes in Celtic literature and culture. In the space for this review, only some of the themes will be explored at length, though others will be mentioned.

Edel sets out her view of the source materials and the ways in which they should be interpreted in Chapter 1. It is an elegant scene-setter for the whole volume and highlights the position which then underlies many of the later emphases and interpretations. It should probably be read first, whatever else might be used in this book. Here one of the great debates regarding early medieval Ireland is explored-to what extent was there continuity of pagan practices and beliefs into the Christian period? Edel is a supporter of the indigenous view, which considers that much of pagan culture survived Christian conversion, albeit in modified form. Such a view also accepts Celtic as a valid category, beyond that of language, which also now has many opponents in history and archaeology. The alternative, held by many including this reviewer, is termed the new orthodoxy by Edel and considers that the conversion caused a major break in many aspects of culture.

Identifying what may have come from an earlier, and potentially pagan, oral tradition has long been a theme of early medieval Irish textual scholarship. Edel provides some valuable insights and arguments on this matter in many chapters. These include "The Early Church and Literary Imagination," which examines sea voyages (Chapters 4-6),"In Search of the Tradition" (Chapters 11-12), and "Wales and Arthurian Literature" (Chapters 17-19). …


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