Session 128: Ystafell 8
Medieval Irish literature

Chair: Patrick McCafferty

Reception of Isidore’s Etymologies in Early Medieval Ireland

Brianna Daigneault
University of Toronto

Building on work done by scholars such as Ann Dooley, Michael Herren, Jocelyn Hillgarth and Marina Smyth, this paper proposes to examine early manuscripts of Isidore in Ireland. Specifically, it aims first to detail the manuscript witnesses of the Etymologiae, since we know this work today in its complete form with all twenty books, but in the Middle Ages they often circulated separately or in halves (Books I-IX tended to travel together, as did Books X-XX). The principal Irish manuscripts with this text are: Laon Bibliothèque municipale 447, Wiltshire Longleat House NMR 10589, St Gall Stiftsbibliothek Sangallensis 13999 NrI, and a fragmentary grouping of eighteen folia across three manuscripts (Munich Staatsbibliothek clm. 29051b + Cheltenham Philipps Collection 20688 + New York Columbia University Plimptom Library 127). None of these copies have the full twenty books, so scholars must know what to make of the parts of the text we have. Furthermore, the content was far from uniform, not only due to the process of copying, but also because Isidore penned different versions of his writings within his lifetime, so the shape of the text is of interest. Finally, the paper will discuss its reception in Ireland, particularly the Old Irish glossing of the manuscripts. Also, given my research focus on animals, I will discuss the relationship of the Etymologiae to texts such as the Liber de ordine creaturarum and the Liber de mensura orbis terrae


Landscape as spiritual state in early Irish 'Nature Poetry'

Joey McMullen
Centenary University

Despite Donnchadh Ó Corráin’s efforts to have the genre variously known as 'nature' or 'hermit' poetry be read as 'works of art' (rather than historical documents attesting to the lives of actual hermit-poets), these poems still remain relatively underexplored from a literary perspective. In this paper, I will re-read the paradisiacal landscapes in these poems, particularly the ninth- and tenth-century works A Marbáin, a díthrubaig and Dúthracar, a Maic Dé bí, as a literary device which mirrors the spiritual state of the religious figure (and very possibly the scribe writing the poem down or the audience which might have enjoyed it). The poets explain at great length all of the flora and fauna, the abundance and wealth of their secluded dwellings, known only to the hermit and God. Marbán and Manchán are at home in their woodland retreats, which provide for them and whose inhabitants keep them company. While this may, in part, be an elaborate poetic conceit contrasting the delights of a rural life with a secular one, I will argue—following thinkers such as Ambrose and Eriugena—that the landscapes in these poems need not be read solely as a remote woodland but rather as the spiritual garden of the soul built up by good deeds and belief in order to be protected from vice.

The reworking of traditional materials on the dinnṡenchas corpus

Kevin Murray
Coláiste na hOllscoile, Corcaigh (Cork)

It has long been recognised that the dinnṡenchas corpus re-uses and reworks materials which are found elsewhere in medieval Irish literature. With regard to this constituent material, tales from the Mythological Cycle are by far the most numerous as we have at least thirty dinnṡenchas items citing characters from the Túatha Dé Danann. However, the authenticity of this reworked dinnṡenchas tradition has been repeatedly questioned; it has been described as being composed of ‘artificial learning rather than genuine traditional mythology’, and the suggestion has been made that it ‘may well represent no more than perfunctory ad hoc fabrication’. The purpose of this talk is to submit the sources underpinning the dinnṡenchas to additional scrutiny and to engage further with the ways this material has been reworked in order to see if more light may be cast on the nature and creation of this important element of medieval Irish literary culture.