Táin Bó Cúailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley) Critical Essays

Critical Overview

(Epics for Students)

Medb (Queen of Connacht) Published by Gale Cengage

The Táin Bó Cúailnge appears alien, primitive, and unimaginably ancient. There are unmistakable signs that this atmosphere is a sophisticated construction of the past, making its historicity a scholarly donné (a thing in a literary work that is taken for granted or expected by virtue of the genre or milieu in which it is contained) well into the twentieth century. As B. K. Lambkin notes, the clarity of perception of its earliest critic, the scribe of the twelfth century Book of Leinster who said, "But I who have written this story, or rather this fable, give no credence to the various incidents related in it. For some things in it are deceptions of demons, others poetic figments; some are probable, others improbable" was forgotten in a desire to have a reliable historical source. It was its apparent 'primitiveness' that caught the imagination of nineteenth-century scholars whose obsession with the presumed and desired antiquity of the Táin quickly became part of the Irish strain of nineteenth-century romantic nationalism. Scholarship under its influence, and not only in Ireland, often justified itself in the search for the pure, unsullied national character of a people. As editor Barbara Hillers notes, even the greatest nineteenth-century scholars approached the Ulster cycle of tales as history and its characters as real people. The Táin Bó Cúailnge was a rich source of historical, mythological, and linguistic information. As Gerard Murphy notes, the question of literary technique hardly entered into their consideration, its artlessness was a positive virtue, if only as a proof of its great antiquity, their origin in "the youth of the world, before the heart had been trained to bow before the head or the imagination to be troubled by logic."

The critical situation of the Táin Bó Cúailnge is somewhat better than Irish saga...

(The entire section is 773 words.)