Session 104: Ystafell 8
Birth-tales, death-tales and the Táin

Chair: Jane Cartwright

Conchobar's birth: revisiting the texts

Anna Pagé
Universität Wien

There are three distinct but related accounts of Conchobar’s birth: two in texts bearing the title Compert Conchobuir and a third embedded within the text known as Scéla Conchobair meic Nessa. There have been few comparative discussions of the three versions, and they have focused primarily on the content of the stories rather than on issues of textual history or manuscript context. The relationships between the texts of these three versions of Conchobar’s birth and their component parts is complex and has yet to be fully described. The existing editions may enumerate some or all manuscripts of a text, but generally do not discuss the relationships between these texts or their contexts in any detail, and in some cases not all extant manuscript versions are identified or included in the editions. In addition, in some discussions of the manuscripts there are inaccuracies regarding which versions of the the story are present in various manuscripts. As there is currently no full account of the manuscript witnesses of these texts, this paper will offer a catalogue of all known copies of these texts and clarify the relationship between the three versions of the story with particular attention to their manuscript contexts and how their component parts have been combined and recombined in various ways.

Violence, rhetoric and emotion in Táin Bó Cuailnge’s Breslech Mór Maige Muirthemne

Abigail Burnyeat
Oilthigh Dhùn Èideann (Edinburgh)

The ‘great slaughter’ of Mag Muirthemne forms a narrative centre-point to Táin Bó Cúailnge, showing Cú Chulainn taking terrifying revenge for the killing of the hundred and fifty youths of Ulster who replaced him while he recuperated at the síd of Lerga. In recent discussions, Michael Clarke, Brent Miles and Erich Poppe have explored the rhetorical analogues and antecedents of this episode’s spectacular descriptions of Cú Chulainn and his catastrophically violent attack on the men of Ireland, contextualising them in the technical practices of late antique rhetorical training and their transfer into vernacular literary practice in Ireland.

In this paper I will develop this approach to consider the function and purpose of the Breslech’s elaborate rhetorical technique, and to explore ways in which a better understanding of the construction of these passages may shed light on the aesthetic and moral purposes of episodes of extreme violence in medieval Irish narrative. The rhetorician’s use of ekphrasis and other descriptive techniques is designed to provoke imaginative and emotional engagement in their audience, creating powerful visualisations put to work for persuasive purposes. Drawing on a variety of comparative examples, I will suggest that we can read the Breslech not just as rhetorical stylistics but also as rhetorical argument, a potential guide to the response the text was designed to provoke in its medieval audience. Centering the affective aspects of the rhetorical tropes and techniques at work in the Breslech opens up new prospects for ‘reading violence’ in the text, offering the potential to bring emotional and moral dimensions of the narrative into sharper focus.

Aspects of an anthology of death-tales: two aideda from Edinburgh, NLS, Advocates Library MS 72.1.40

Anouk Nuijten
University of Cambridge

This paper will present an exploration of two understudied late medieval Ulster Cycle death-tales within their manuscript context. Aided Cheit maic Mágach (‘the Death-Tale of Cet mac Mágach’) and Goire Conaill Chernaig 7 Aided Ailella 7 Conaill Chernaig (‘The Cherishing of Conall Cernach and the Death-tale of Ailill and Conall Cernach’) are both found in the late medieval manuscript Edinburgh, NLS, Advocates Library MS 72.1.40. This manuscript consists of five distinct layers or gatherings, written in different periods and with various provenances. The first gathering consists of a collection of seven Ulster Cycle aideda or death-tales. Thomas Owen Clancy has argued that the contents of this section are unique in that it contains a collection of aideda or ‘death-tales’ and that the tales have to be read as an anthology of aideda. Building on this idea, I will explore various aspects of this anthology, focussing mainly on Aided Cheit and Goire Conaill Chernaig. First, the compilation and transmission of the group will be considered. Of specific interest here is the order of the tales, as the placement of Aided Chonchobair at the head of the group is crucial to the interpretation of the remaining six tales in the anthology. The second half of the paper will examine the relations between the two aforementioned aideda, since they show textual borrowings that may indicate that the tales were supposed to be read in conjunction with each other.