Homer in the Twentieth Century: Between World Literature and the Western Canon

By Barbara Graziosi; Emily Greenwood | Go to book overview

3
Homer among the Irish: Yeats,
Synge, Thomson

Richard Martin

From the beginnings of attested Irish literature, the image of Greece and traces of Greek poetry regularly appear.1 At the very start, the archaic sixth-century eulogy called the Amra Choluim Chille, in one poetic verse praises the saintly monk Colum Cille for his ability to speak with angels and learn Greek grammar—accomplishments that were apparently viewed by the poet as being on the same spiritual level.2 The story of Troy and Homeric epic also left a deep impression on the medieval Irish, although it reached them indirectly, and without overbearing authority, leaving room for some interesting innovations.3 One wonders, for example, what an ancient rhapsode would have made of the condensed Irish version of the Odyssey, called the Merugud Uilix maic Leirtis (Wandering of Ulysses son of Laertes), in which the emotional climax is provided not by the reunion with Penelope (whom the hero first espies in bed with Telemachus—innocently as it turns out) but by a much more compelling scene of recognition by Odysseu's ageing yet robust multicoloured hound dog.4

1 Well surveyed in Stanford 1976: 1–18 and 73–89.

2Text in Stokes 1899: 123. Emending atgaill to athgaill, Hull 1960: 250 translates:
'In the grammar of Greece… he conversed with an angel of an ex-Gaul.'

3See Myrick 1993 for general background and for detailed study of Togail Troí,
the medieval Irish version of Dares, De excidio Troiae historia.

4Text in Meyer 1958; translation in Meyer 1886. Cf. Myrick 1993: 78–9 with
further bibliography.

-75-

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