In Search of the Heroic Lay
Epic and romance go hand in hand in Irish literature, for the two great cycles of heroic tales express sometimes one mood, sometimes the other.... The classification into cycles is modern. The native tradition classified the stories by types, and we have two old lists of sagas so arranged. The types there recognized are Destructions, Cattle-Raids, Courtships, Battles, Cave Stories, Voyages, Tragedies, Adventures, Banquets, Sieges, Plunderings, Elopements, Eruptions, Visions, Love Stories, Hostings, and Invasions. A story was just a story, whether the matter was legend or history, and the boundary between these two was of less interest in medieval times than it is today. 1.
What Miles Dillon notes about medieval Irish genre distinctions could also be said of other traditions: the concerns of modern theory are not necessarily those found in native reflections on genre. Dastan, as we have seen, is underdifferentiated in many Turkic traditions, comprising oral narratives (in verse or a mixture of verse and prose) of both a heroic and a romantic nature. The most celebrated Old Irish heroic tale, the Táin Bó Cuailnge, belongs according to native taxonomy, as its title (The Cattle-Raid of Cooley) indicates, to the “genre” of cattle raid or táin. It is the story of the attack of the Connacht army on Ulster in order to gain the famous bull of Cooley, Donn Cuailnge, and of Cú Chulainn's heroic defense of Ulster. 2. Old Irish táin, literally “the driving-away, ” is the verbal noun from t-agid “to drive away, ” which in turn is a compound verb derived from agid “to drive, ” a verb related to Latin agō or Greek ágō “to lead.” There is a very close Kazakh parallel to Old Irish táin, both linguistically and cultur-____________________