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- Heroic Romances of Ireland Volume 1 - 2/44 -


Latium in Pallas' day; but it does show that Virgil was familiar with the fact that such victims used in some places to be sacrificed on funeral pyres; for, in a sense, he could not have actually invented the incident.

[FN#3] See the exhibition of the tips of tongues in the "Sick-bed of Cuchulain," page 57.

Thus the appearance of an archaic element in an Irish romance is in itself no proof of the Druidic origin of that form of the romance, nor even of the existence of that element in the romance's earliest form: upon such a principle the archaic character of the motif of the "Oedipus Coloneus" would prove it to be the oldest of the Greek tragedies, while as a matter of fact it seems to be doubtful whether the introduction of this motif into the story of Oedipus was not due to Sophocles himself, although of course he drew the idea of it, if not from the original legend of Oedipus, from some other early legend.

The most satisfactory test of the authorship of an Irish romance, and one of the most satisfactory tests of its date, is its literary character; and if we look at the literary character of the best of the Irish romances, there is one point that is immediately apparent, the blending of prose and verse. One, the most common, explanation of this, is that the verse was added to the original tale, another that the verse is the older part, the prose being added to make a framework for the verse, but a general view of some of the original romances appears to lead to a very different conclusion. It seems much more probable that the Irish authors deliberately chose a method of making their work at once literary and suited to please a popular audience; they told their stories in plain prose, adding to them verse, possibly chanted by the reciters of the stories, so that while the prose told the story in simple language, the emotions of pity, martial ardour, and the like were awakened by the verse. They did not use the epic form, although their knowledge of classical literature must have made them familiar with it; the Irish epic form is Romance. They had, besides the prose and what may be called the "regular" verse, a third form, that of rose, or as it is sometimes called rhetoric, which is a very irregular form of verse. Sometimes it rhymes, but more often not; the lines are of varying lengths, and to scan them is often very difficult, an alliteration taking the place of scansion in many cases. The rhetoric does not in general develop the story nor take the form of description, it usually consists of songs of triumph, challenges, prophecies, and exhortations, though it is sometimes used for other purposes. It does not conform to strict grammatical rules like the more regular verse and the prose, and many of the literal translations which Irish scholars have made for us of the romances omit this rhetoric entirely, owing to the difficulty in rendering it accurately, and because it does not develop the plots of the stories. Notable examples of such omissions are in Miss Faraday's translation of the Leabhar na h-Uidhri version of the "Great Tain," and in Whitley Stokes' translation of the "Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel." With all respect to these scholars, and with the full consciousness of the difficulty of the task that has naturally been felt by one who has vainly attempted to make sense of what their greater skill has omitted, it may be suggested that the total omission of such passages injures the literary effect of a romance in a manner similar to the effect of omitting all the choric pieces in a Greek tragedy: the rhetoric indeed, on account of its irregularity, its occasional strophic correspondence, its general independence of the action of the tale, and its difficulty as compared with the other passages, may be compared very closely to a Greek "chorus." Few of the romances written in prose and verse are entirely without rhetoric; but some contain very little of it; all the six romances of this character given in the present volume (counting as two the two versions of "Etain") contain some rhetoric, but there are only twenty-one such passages in the collection altogether, ten of which are in one romance, the "Sick-bed of Cuchulain."

The present collection is an attempt to give to English readers some of the oldest romances in English literary forms that seem to correspond to the literary forms which were used in Irish to produce the same effect, and has been divided into two parts. The first part contains five separate stories, all of which are told in the characteristic form of prose and verse: they are the "Courtship of Etain," the "Boar of Mac Datho," the "Sick-bed of Cuchulain," the "Death of the Sons of Usnach" (Book of Leinster version), and the "Combat at the Ford" out of the Book of Leinster version of the "Tain bo Cuailnge." Two versions are given of the "Courtship of Etain "; and the "Sick-bed of Cuchulain," as is pointed out in the special preface prefixed to it, really consists of two independent versions. It was at first intended to add the better-known version of the "Death of the Sons of Usnach" known as that of the Glenn Masain MS., but the full translation of this has been omitted, partly to avoid making the volume too bulky, partly because this version is readily attainable in a literal form; an extract from it has, however, been added to the Book of Leinster version for the purpose of comparison. In the renderings given of these romances the translation of the prose is nearly literal, but no attempt has been made to follow the Irish idiom where this idiom sounds harsh in English; actives have been altered to passive forms and the reverse, adjectives are sometimes replaced by short sentences which give the image better in English, pronouns, in which Irish is very rich, are often replaced by the persons or things indicated, and common words, like iarom, iarsin, iartain, immorro, and the like (meaning thereafter, moreover, &c.), have been replaced by short sentences that refer back to the events indicated by the words. Nothing has been added to the Irish, except in the Leabhar na h-Uidhri version of "Etain," where there is a lacuna to be filled up, and there are no omissions. The translations of the verse and of the rhetoric are, so far as is possible, made upon similar lines; it was at first intended to add literal renderings of all the verse passages, but it was found that to do so would make the volume of an unmanageable size for its purpose. Literal renderings of all the verse passages in "Etain," the first of the tales in volume i., are given in the notes to that story; the literal renderings of Deirdre's lament in the "Sons of Usnach," and of two poems in "The Combat at the Ford," are also given in full as specimens, but in the case of most of the poems reference is made to easily available literal translations either in English or German: where the literal rendering adopted differs from that referred to, or where the poem in question has not before been translated, the literal rendering has been given in the notes. These examples will, it is believed, give a fair indication of the relation between my verse translations and the originals, the deviations from which have been made as small as possible. The form of four-line verse divided into stanzas has generally been used to render the passages in four-lined verse in the Irish, the only exception to this rule being in the verses at the end of the "Boar of Mac Datho": these are in the nature of a ballad version of the whole story, and have been rendered in a ballad metre that does not conform to the arrangement in verses of the original.

The metre of all the Irish four-lined verses in this volume is, except in two short pieces, a seven-syllabled line, the first two lines usually rhyming with each other, and the last two similarly rhyming,[FN#4] in a few cases in the "Boar of Mac Datho" these rhymes are alternate, and in the extract from the Glenn Masain version of the "Sons of Usnach" there is a more complicated rhyme system. It has not been thought necessary to reproduce this metre in all cases, as to do so would sound too monotonous in English; the metre is, however, reproduced once at least in each tale except in that of the "Death of the Sons of Usnach." The eight-lined metre that occurs in five of the verse passages in the "Combat at the Ford" has in one case been reproduced exactly, and in another case nearly exactly, but with one syllable added to each line; the two passages in this romance that are in five-syllabled lines have been reproduced exactly in the Irish metre, in one case with the rhyme-system of the original. With the rhetoric greater liberty has been used; sometimes the original metre has been followed, but more often not; and an occasional attempt has been made to bring out the strophic correspondence in the Irish.

[FN#4] An example of this metre is as follows:--

All the elves of Troom seem dead, All their mighty deeds are fled; For their Hound, who hounds surpassed, Elves have bound in slumber fast.

In the first volume of the collection the presentation has then been made as near as may be to the form and matter of the Irish; in the second volume, called "Versified Romances," there is a considerable divergence from the Irish form but not from its sense. This part includes the five "Tains" or Cattle-Forays of Fraech, Dartaid, Regamon, Flidais, and Regamna; which in the originals differ from the five tales in volume i, in that they include no verse, except for a few lines in Regamna, most of which are untranslatable. The last four of these are short pieces written in a prose extremely rapid in its action, and crowded with incident. They are all expressly named as "fore-tales," remscela, or preludes to the story of the great war of Cualnge, which is the central event in the Ulster heroic cycle, and appear suited for rapid prose recitations, which were apparently as much a feature in ancient as they are in modern Irish. Such pieces can hardly be reproduced in English prose so as to bring out their character; they are represented in English by the narrative ballad, and they have been here rendered in this way. Literal translations in prose are printed upon the opposite page to the verse, these translations being much more exact than the translations in the first volume, as the object in this case is to show the literal Irish form, not its literal English equivalent, which is in this case the verse. The "Tain bo Fraich" is also, in a sense, a "fore-tale" to the Great Raid, but is of a different character to the others. It consists of two parts, the second of which is not unlike the four that have just been mentioned, but the first part is of a much higher order, containing brilliant descriptions, and at least one highly poetic passage although its Irish form is prose. Fraech has been treated like the other fore-tales, and rendered in verse with literal prose opposite to the verse for the purpose of comparison. The notes to all the five Tana in the second volume accompany the text; in the first volume all the notes to the different romances are collected together, and placed at the end of the volume. The second volume also includes a transcript from the facsimile of that part of the Irish text of the tale of Etain which has not before been published, together with an interlinear literal translation. It is hoped that this arrangement may assist some who are not Middle Irish scholars to realise what the original romances are.

The manuscript authorities for the eleven different romances (counting as two the two versions of "Etain") are all old; seven are either in the Leabhar na h-Uidhri, an eleventh-century manuscript, or in the Book of Leinster, a twelfth-century one; three of the others are in the fourteenth-century Yellow Book of Lecan, which is often, in the case of texts preserved both in it and the Leabhar na h-Uidhri, regarded as the better authority of the two; and the remaining one, the second version of "Etain," is in the fifteenth-century manuscript known as Egerton, 1782, which gives in an accurate form so many texts preserved in the older manuscripts that it is very nearly as good an authority as they. The sources used in making the translations are also stated in the special introductions, but it may be mentioned as a summary that the


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