Session 110: Ystafell 2
The reception and influence of Orosius in medieval Ireland

Chair: Patrick Wadden

Orosius Hibernicus: Notes on the transmission of the Historiae adversus Paganos in a Hiberno-Latin context

Cameron Wachowich
University of Toronto

Orosius’s Histories against the Pagans, a masterpiece of late-antique universalist history, is known to have circulated extremely widely in Europe and beyond during the Middle Ages. Its themes and methodology were imitated in historical writing from Scandinavia to Ethiopia. Scholars including Donnchadh Ó Corráin and Marie-Pierre Arnaud-Lindet, the most recent editor of the Histories, have long noted that Irish scribes and scholars played a significant role in the transmission of Orosius’s Latin text prior to the tenth century. The implications of this are substantial for the understanding of both Latin and vernacular historical writing in Ireland and further afield; however, a thorough study of the Irish contributions to the transmission of Orosius remains a desideratum. Using Arnaud-Lindet’s proposed stemma as a starting point, this paper will examine the most significant examples of suspected Irish transmission with reference to palaeographical and codicological evidence as well as Hiberno-Latin orthographical and grammatical features. Beginning with Arnaud-Lindet’s Family I, the possibility that the two earliest witnesses, Laon, Biblio. Munic. 137 and Paris, Biblio. Nat. lat. 6995, derive from an Irish witness will be interrogated. The examination will then turn to Arnaud-Lindet’s Family II, which is represented most notably by the Bobbio Orosius. The insular character of this family will be thoroughly elucidated with reference to a hitherto unexamined witness. Finally, the implications of this study for the stemma will be addressed.

Orosius, divine punishment by thunderbolt and early Irish literature

Daniel Watson
Ollscoil Mhá Nuad (Maynooth)

Among the notable features of Orosius’s Histories against the Pagans is his interest in thunderbolts as an expression of divine judgement. The portrayal of God as the wielder of the thunderbolt is certainly not unknown in the Bible (e.g. 2 Sam. 22:15, Psalm 17:15, 143:6; Wisd. 5:22), but there is no mention of specific individuals being punished in this way. Occasional reports of such things are found here and there in other late antique historical works. However, it is in Orosius that it is elevated to the level of a historiographical theme. Since he appears to be rather singular among Latin Christian authorities in this regard, this raises the possibility that reports of divine punishment by lightning in Early Irish literature may demonstrate an Orosian influence. This paper will survey the Old and Middle Irish evidence.

Orosian historiography and the city of Babylon in Middle Irish poetry

Elizabeth Boyle
Ollscoil Mhá Nuad (Maynooth)

A relatively large corpus of Middle Irish poetry deals with the history, geography and architecture of the ancient city of Babylon. Some, but not all, of this poetry contains information which is ultimately derived from Orosius’s Histories against the Pagans. However, some independent – and contradictory – traditions can also be identified amongst its sources. This poetry forms a sub-genre within the broader corpus of verse concerned with the historical empires (Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Roman) which lie at the heart of Orosian historiography. Much of this verse has not been studied in detail and, indeed, much of it has not previously been edited or translated. This paper will attempt to build a picture of the various and conflicting images of Babylon in eleventh- and twelfth-century Irish verse in order to establish the status of Orosius as an authority on Babylonian history. In so doing, it is hoped that the richness and complexity of medieval Irish ideas concerning the ‘imagined geography’ of Babylon will also be elucidated.