The Similarities Between Irish Stories English Literature Essay

The similarities between narratives contained in early Irish literature and descriptions of Continental Kelts by classical beginnings is striking, these histories of Continental Celts are based on the Hagiographas of Julius Caesar, Diodorius Siculus and Posidonius. This intent of this essay is to demo utilizing these similarities that these imposts, subjects and rites were non merely a happenstance or Christian embroidery, but grounds for pre-Christian belief system that influenced both the heathen Irish and Continental Celts.

Feasting, and the title-holder ‘s part.

Around one thousand old ages before Christ, Posidonius recorded that the Celts during banquets,

… The best warriors would have the thigh part during efforts. If another adult male were to dispute this right to the choicest part, a affaire d’honneur was fought was fought to the decease.[ 1 ]

And Diodorus Siculus besides stated,

While dining aˆ¦ They honour the brave warriors with the choicest part aˆ¦ During banquets it is their usage to be provoked by idle remarks into heated differences, followed by challenges and individual combat to the decease ‘ .[ 2 ]

This history in unusually similar to the Irish texts, Fled Bricrenn ( Bricriu ‘s banquet ) and Scela Muicce Melc Da Tho ( The narrative of Mac Da Thos Pig ) . These narratives tell how the best warrior was entitled to the title-holder ‘s part, which was considered a great honor. This would frequently take to physical differences over the right to claim this honor, frequently ensuing in decease. The Ulster Cycle saga Scela Mucce Meic Da Tho ( “ The Story of Mac Da Tho ‘s Pig ” ) features a difference over the Champion ‘s Portion between warriors of Ulster and Connacht who are Guests at a banquet in Leinster. They dispute it by touting of their old heroic workss, and finally the Connacht hero Cet mac Magach is acknowledged as the bravest adult male nowadays. Merely as he is about to carve the hog, the Ulster hero Conall Cernach arrives, and his self-praises force Cet to give manner to him. But he claims that Conall would hold had to give manner to his brother Anluan had he been at that place. Conall responds by fliping Cet Anluan ‘s newly severed caput. Conall carves the hog, but gives the Connachtmen such a little part that conflict breaks out between them. In Fled Bricrenn, the narrative concerns a mischievousness shaper called Bricriu who invites all the Ulster heroes to a banquet in a new hall built particularly for the juncture. He so causes a row between the Ulster heroes by first calling Cu Chullain the title-holder, so Logaire Buadach, and eventually Conall Cernach, which ends up being decided by their married woman ‘s.[ 3 ]

Both these texts were non put into written signifier until around the eight century, so there is around a thousand old ages dividing them, demoing a deeply similar usage shared between the Continental Celts and the Irish before Christianity could hold educated the pre-Christian Irish.

Good kingship and Deities

The four chief heroic and royal figures of the four Irish Literary rhythms, Lug, Conall Cernach, Finn Mc Cumail and Art, have links to Continental Gaelic Deities. Tomas O ‘ Cathasaigh believes that the text of The Battle of Mag Tuired around the 9th century is a lesson in good and bad kingship, ‘to be imitated by people as they live out their lives ‘ .[ 4 ]An illustration of this can be seen sing Lug who is a all right illustration of what a good male monarch should be. He was called Mercurius by Caesar, and described as being the discoverer of all the humanistic disciplines of the Celts, and besides depicted in Irish literature at the Feast of Tara, which is a symbolic ritual stand foring sovereignty, and where the male monarch shows he is worthy of his place and brotherhood with the land. It was here that Lug showed that he had the necessary set of accomplishments to be king. This shows another nexus between the cardinal rules and values sought by both the Irish and Celts for what a good male monarch should be.[ 5 ]

Another Ulster hero who represents this nexus is Conall Cernach, his Surname is linked to the Celtic God Cernunnos, who is besides known as the ‘horned one ‘ . A all right illustration of this divinity is on the celebrated Gundestrup caldron, which depicts Cernunnos, ‘horned ‘ and keeping a serpent. There is besides a representation of this connexion in the Irish text called, Tain Bo Froich which tells a narrative of incident between Conall Cernach and a serpent.[ 6 ]

Scholarly sentiments

Kenneth Jackson viewed the TBC as a ‘window on the Fe age ‘ and as such a contemplation of a heathen historical yesteryear. Jackson was to the full cognizant that some of the characters and events in the TBC were fabulous in substance, but his theory for the TBC being a vas for a historical heathen yesteryear was due to characteristic characteristics of society, the material cultural, and the imposts contained within the narratives themselves, believing them to be a echt record of a heathen society in Ireland around the fourth century. He based his analysis on the point that the imposts and rites presented in the narratives within the TBC bore a dramatic resemblance to Greek and Roman histories of Continental Celts.[ 7 ]

Koch noted that it was non possible for early Irish literati to be cognizant of Gaulish Celtic imposts such as decapitation and banqueting, which were broad spread throughout the Ulster narratives, as Koch provinces, “ … .shows that the Christian learned categories did non see their ascendants as being closely related to the Continental Celts. There would hold been no apprehensible sensitivity for Christian Irish authors to quarry texts depicting the antediluvian Gauls in inventing narratives of their ain heathen ascendants “[ 8 ]


Chariots play a important function within early mediaeval literature and were viewed by many bookmans such as Kenneth Jackson as, ‘A window on the Iron Age ‘ .[ 9 ]A position non shared by Mc Cone,[ 10 ]and Greene pointed out that the chariots depicted in the Irish texts can non be proven to be Iron Age chariots.[ 11 ]Regardless of the countless written histories of Chariots often mentioned throughout Irish literature, there is nevertheless perfectly no grounds archeologically talking, to turn out they were used in Ireland. Although there are other signifiers of grounds for illustration the Ahenny high cross in Tipperary dating around the 9th century depicts chariots. Examples of how the chariot was used on the continent is given by Koch and Carey,

This is the manner the British battle with their chariots. First, they drive about in all waies throwing lances and distributing pandemonium throughout the ranks of their enemies by the panic of their galloping Equus caballuss and whining wheels. Then they work their manner into the center of the enemy horse they leap down from the chariots and battle on pes. Meanwhile the chariot-drivers have moved the chariots off, but near plenty to come to the assistance of the warriors if they are earnestly threatened by the enemy.[ 12 ]

This illustration resembles histories in early Irish history,

Cu Chulainn sprang into his scythed chariot, with its Fe points, its thin crisp borders, its maulerss and its steel points, with its nails which were on the shafts and lashs and cringles and fasteners in that chariot. Thus was the chariot: it had a model of narrow and compact gap, high plenty for great efforts aˆ¦ worthy of a hero aˆ¦ drawn by two fleet Equus caballuss aˆ¦ easy harnessed to the shafts of Cu Chulainn ‘s chariots.[ 13 ]

Apparels and military equipment.

From mediaeval Irish texts we get the feeling that the Irish loved to dress up and demo off their wares, these wonts were besides attributable to the Continental Celts besides, as the undermentioned descriptions will show,

The Gauls wear stupefying dressing – shirts which have been dyed in assorted colorss, and pants which they call bracae. They besides wear stripy cloaks with checked form, midst in winter and thin in summer, fastened with a clasp. They use unambiguously decorated, man-high shields in conflict, some with projecting bronzy animate beings of brilliant craft. These animal-figures serve for defensive intents every bit good as ornament. Their helmets have big figures on top – horns, which for a individual piece with the helmet, or the caputs of birds and quadrupedal animate beings – which give an visual aspect of added tallness to the warrior.[ 14 ]

While the Irish descriptions are really similar,

So on that twenty-four hours he donned his gay dress, viz. a just mantle, well-fitting, bright purple, fringed, five-folded. A white broach of Ag inset with inlaid gold over his white chest aˆ¦ Next to his tegument he wore a adventitia of satiny satin aˆ¦ He carried a dark-red violet shield with five homocentric circles of gold a rim of white bronze. At his girdle hung, ready for action, a golden-hilted, ornamented blade aˆ¦ In the chariot beside him was long shining-edged lance together with a crisp attacking javelin aˆ¦ In one manus he held nine caputs, in the other 10, and these he brandished at the hosts. Those were trophies of one dark ‘s combat by Cu Chulainn.[ 15 ]


The Continental Celts decapitated their slain enemies, and kept the caputs as prized ownerships, these Trophy caputs were really of import to them, and they valued them above wealth because they represented their courage and honor which is what set them apart in a warrior society.

They decapitate their slain enemies and attach the caputs to their Equus caballuss ‘ cervixs. The blood-soaked loot they manus over to their attenders, while they sing a vocal of triumph. The choicest spoils they nail to the walls of their houses merely like runing trophies from wild beastsaˆ¦aˆ¦aˆ¦ … These are proudly displayed to visitants, stating that for this caput one of his ascendants, or his male parent, or he himself refused a big offer of money ‘ .[ 16 ]

The undermentioned illustrations will demo that this pattern was besides carried out by the Irish, harmonizing to early Irish literature,

I swear what my people swear that, since I took a lance in my manus, I have non been without killing one of the Connachtmen every individual twenty-four hours and slaughter by fire every individual dark, and I have ne’er slept without the caput of a Connachtman under my articulatio genus ‘ . ‘It is true ‘ , said Cet, ‘you are a better warrior than I am. If it were Anluan who were within, he would give competition for the other to you. It is a commiseration for us that he is non within ‘ . ‘But he is! ‘ said Conall, taking Anluan ‘s caput out of his girdle ; and he casts it at Cet over his chest so that a draft of blood explosion on his lips.[ 17 ]

Talking to the dead

Koch writes that a adult male called Tertullian quoted a 2nd century BC Greek author who said that the Continental Celts used to kip beside the grave of their fallen hero ‘s trusting that they might look to them.[ 18 ]

This would mirror the belief shown in the Tain that the dead can return and relay valuable information to the life, as the episode in the tain where Muirgen sleeps at the Tomb of Fergus Mac Roich, who after Muirgen recites a verse form appears to him and tells him the narrative of the Tain.[ 19 ]

Naked and fearless in conflict

It was a popular pattern for the Celts to travel into conflict bare, this may hold been merely to scare their enemy by demoing off their superior build, or show that they had no fright of decease or hurt by non necessitating any armor to protect them. Some bookmans believe it was so that the enemy would n’t be able to catch their apparels and utilize it once more them or acquire caught up on something during conflict. Barry cunliffe provinces that bare Celts is a popular subject in Graeco-Roman art, and points to the Bologn funerary stele in 5th century of a bare Celt making conflict with an Etruscan.[ 20 ]

Examples of classical Continental studies of this pattern are given by Polybius,

The Insurbres and Boli were clothed in bloomerss and light cloaks, but the Gaesatae from amour propre or make bolding threw their vesture off, and went out to the forepart of the ground forces naked, holding nil but their arms. They believed that since the land was covered in brambles which might catch their vesture and impede the usage of their arms, they would be more effectual this manner[ 21 ]

This subject is echoed in the Tain, “ I have woken them, the charioteer said. ‘They are hotfooting naked to the conflict, with Notting but their arms. ”[ 22 ]

Aristotle wrote of their the Celts courage and deficiency of fright, while Strabo wrote that when the Celts met Alexander, he asked them what they feared the most, their answer was that they feared Notting except that the sky might fall down upon them. This position repeated in the Tain by the curse given to Conchobar ; ‘we will keep out, until the Earth gives under us, or until the celestial spheres fall on us ‘ .[ 23 ]


The similarities between classical histories of rites and imposts of the Continental Celts when compared with early medieval Irish literature are singular. Both Jackson and Koch felt that the existent scenes, characters, subjects and topographic point names underpinning the Tain showed a true contemplation of a pre-Christian yesteryear. Both the Tain and the classical histories of the Continental Celts, show a really old templet which all warrior societies would hold used. Despite some obvious intervention by Christian Scribe, and the deficiency of some archeological grounds in relation to chariots in Ireland, we can non disregard the huge sum of similarities in subjects and civilizations available in both classical histories of the Continental Celts and iconology, and Early Irish Literature.