Session 80: Ystafell 8
Medieval Irish literature and Norse influence

Chair: Ranke de Vries

Dían Cécht’s murder of Míach: medical practice and intergenerational norms

Elizabeth Gray (MacKay)
Harvard University

In Cath Maige Tuired (9C X 11C), after the Tuatha Dé physician Dían Cécht replaces the severed arm of their king with a silver prosthesis, Dían Cécht’s son Míach reattaches Nuadu’s own arm. Dían Cécht then attacks his son with a sword and ultimately kills him. When healing herbs grow from Míach’s buried body arranged according to their properties, Dían Cécht mixes them so that their benefits are no longer obvious. As paradigm, the interaction between Dían Cécht and Míach establishes what is possible in medical practice and what is not, explaining “how things came to be as they are” in regard to the healing of traumatic injury and the use of herbal medicine. At the same time, Dían Cécht’s murderous response to his son invites consideration of the characters’ motives and actions as reflecting (or breaking) social norms, perhaps both at once. How might this complex tale’s anonymous authors and intended readers/audiences have viewed the interaction between Dían Cécht and Míach in the context of intergenerational relationships found elsewhere in medieval Irish law and literature (including relevant Latin material), especially those between father and son, master practitioner and student?

Irish-Norse cultural exchange and the diagnostic value of likeness

Mikael Males
Universitetet i Oslo

Some indisputable factors, such as Irish loanwords in Old Norse, make it clear that there was a profound degree of cultural exchange between Ireland and Scandinavia. In many other cases, however, it is unclear whether a perceived similarity is due to influence or coincidence. This paper discusses the methodology for establishing the presence or absence of literary influences between cultures, with a primary focus on Irish-Norse relations but with comparative outlooks to Irish-Welsh and Irish-English. It will address the interpretation of Irish loan words framed as part of the pagan past, how to determine whether the motif of a saga hero using a sling for his weapon is borrowed or not, and if Scandinavian innovations of poetic form in the ninth century are likely to have been influenced by Irish poetic conventions.

The reconstruction of cultural influences based on comparison necessitates a synthetic approach. Literary forms and motifs may be similar in a general or a specific way, and they may be marked or unmarked within their cultural setting. The same is true of constellations of formal features and motifs: The items involved may be common, but a particular constellation may nonetheless be rare. This paper argues that an explicit discussion of the diagnostic value of likeness, taking specificity and markedness into account, is a crucial ingredient in the analysis of cultural influences, in tandem with considerations of whether the proposed dates of influence fit accepted models of cultural contact.

Pseudo-history and cultural identity: interaction and integration in Cath Maige Tuired

Ina Tuomala
Oilthigh Ghlaschu (Glasgow)

Cath Maige Tuired has been repeatedly identified as one of the key narratives of Irish pseudo-history. The tale reflects the realities of the Viking Age in Ireland and the contemporary preoccupations and prejudices are mirrored in the narrative representations of the Fomoiri and the Tuatha Dé Danann. Cath Maige Tuired has traditionally been approached from a mythological viewpoint; Donnchadh Ó Corráin observed in 1998 that far too little attention had been paid to the Irish context and the polyvalence of the text within that context. This paper focuses on the text’s depictions of contemporary Irish identity and social reactions to the process of cultural hybridisation. The literary context of the tale is considered before analysing the parallels between the historical context of the text’s writing and the narrative representations of power, interaction and location. It is deduced that in the text the pivotal cultural identities are built on an ongoing comparison between the tale’s representations of the Self and the Other. This approach enables analysis of society’s perceptions of the cultural changes brought on by the Viking Age; a period which can be seen as a transitional age of interaction and integration in Ireland.