Session 20: Ystafell 8
The body and human form in medieval Irish literature

Chair: Joseph Eska

Making clothing meaningful in early Irish literature

Mary Leenane

The attestation of broadly contemporaneous clothed human forms in a wide variety of mediums in early Irish society is particularly noteworthy. These iconographies are to the fore on stone artefacts, like the Cross of the Scriptures at Clonmacnoise and Muiredach’s Cross at Monasterboice, in manuscripts, such as the Book of Mulling, Book of Dimma and the Book of Kells with descriptions of the physical appearances and apparel of various characters manifesting across early Irish literature. Looking a little closer, all these imageries are largely the products of monastic houses and thus embedded and influenced by not only local but also wider discourses. This paper will endeavour to provide insight into the way in which seemingly mundane items of dress are infused with deeper symbolisms as a component of narrative creation. This will include a focused study of these kinds of representations at seemingly pivotal narrative moments for figures, such as Cú Chulainn, Lóegaire Búadach, and Finn mac Cumaill. The creation and possible similarities in these kinds of iconographies will also be considered briefly.

‘Not of the same size nor of the same time’: giants in Fíanaigecht literature

Geraldine Parsons
Oilthigh Ghlaschu (Glasgow)

Perhaps the most enduring aspect of the physicality of the fían as it has been imagined in from the Middle Ages to today is giant stature. While the figure of the giant has attracted a great deal of attention in comparable traditions, it remains under-analysed in relation to Old and Middle Irish literature as a whole and, in particular, in relation to medieval fíanaigecht works. This paper will suggest that the depiction of féinnidi as giants may have been conventional before c. 1200, based on how these characters are depicted as interacting with the landscape. Yet it will also be argued that the first text to bring giganticism into focus as an attribute of the fían was Acallam na Senórach, written c.1200. How that work presents complex categories of ‘giant’ and ‘non-giant’ will be considered and it will be shown that this work constitutes an early assertion of the ambiguity surrounding the physicality of the fían that persists in modern tradition.