OLD CELTIC ROMANCES: A COLLECTION BY PATRICK WESTON JOYCE, TRANS. FROM THE GAELIC

[It’s March, innit…"]

Just out of curiosity, why “The Gaelic”?  What is the property of that word that it merits an article?

P. W. – no relation to James.  Check out this guy’s professional pedigree:

—  P. W. Joyce, MA, LLD, TCD, MRIA, LOL, ROFL, WTF, WOW.  “Thanks, Pat. I’d like to buy a vowel, please…” 

—  One of the Commissioners for the Publication of the Ancient Laws of Ireland, President of the Royal Society of Antiquaries, Ireland

Saints and Begorrah! 

This volume was first published in 1907, and so it has some charming old-fashioned quirks about it.  On the title page, there’s Joyce’s CV with its bridal train of capital letters, a list of his other works, all of which sound resolutely intellectual, and a line from Shakespeare to add a bit of gloss – not so much to the volume, but to the author himself.  The single line from CORIOLANUS, “I shall tell you a pretty tale”, almost damns the book with faint praise.  At least use the whole chunk.  Or find a better one that’s at least three lines.  To use only one, and one that sounds like anyone could have said it is kind of lazy.  Lord Tennyson, Robert Louis Stevenson, or Walt Whitman could have written that.  With three or more lines, it would look and sound more like Shakespeare.  Yes, I’m being nitpicky. This man could,even dead since 1914, run intellectual circles around me.  But my schoolteacher instincts have kicked in.  I can’t help it. 

Here’s the whole bit copied exactly from a Gutenberg Project site:

I shall tell you A pretty Tale,

it may be you have heard it,

But since it serves my purpose,

I will venture To scale’t a little more

CORIOLANUS, Act 1, Scene 1

See?  That sounds and looks more intriguing.  The last line clinches the whole purpose of the collection.

This is a wonderful collection of mind-blowing epics.  What’s mind-blowing is the underlying Celtic mythology.  If you’ve ever read any, Classical mythology doesn’t really prepare you for the imaginative and fantastical Xanadu that is the world beyond the ninth wave.  It’s kind of hard to swallow if you’re rooted in the Olympian Pantheon.  There will probably never be a movie called “Percy Jackson and Cu Chulain against the Tuatha De Danaan”.  But it is so worth exploring!

I’d like to concentrate on one particular story, “The Voyage of Maildun”. (MAWL-dun).  I laughed at first, thinking of the Monty Python sketch about the viking saga that takes place in North Maldon. In his extensive (read “vainglorious wankfest”) preface, which, in spite of my description, is very interesting, Joyce places the appearance of TVoM at around 1100 AD, which was post-Roman empire, and the tail end of the Viking incursions.  Romans and Vikings both have a strong oral story-telling tradition, however, I don’t know if theirs influenced the Gaelic story-telling tradition in Ireland or if the native population already had their own.  What’s especially interesting about this story is its parallels to THE ODYSSEY.  Again, I don’t know if the Greek influence came into play in the preparation of this epic, or if that was just a common story theme – the ocean voyage that takes years and taxes a boy, kicking and pushing him into manhood. 

I haven’t read the whole book, but I really like this story.  It’s an epic with songs and verses and stories within the story.  An incredible feat of literary workmanship.  And its Odyssey-like theme actually helps me understand it better. 

 A brief overview of Celtic mythology
 Irish names from mythology
 Celtic Twilight
 Celtic Mythology at Amazon

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