Inter-University Centre Dubrovnik

An independent international centre for advanced studies

64 | New Perspectives on Medieval Celtic Prose

15 Sep 2008 - 17 Sep 2008
Course directors:
Ranko Matasović, University of Zagreb, Croatia
Stefan Zimmer, Bonn University, Germany
Course description:
This course will present new insights in our understanding of Medieval prose texts in Old and Middle Irish and Middle Welsh. Results of the last couple of decades of philological analysis of Celtic prose will be presented, with focus on the problems of dating, elements of oral literature, and the influences from classical and ecclesiastical sources. Mutual influences between two Insular Celtic traditions will also be taken into account, and particular attention will be paid to the stylistic features and motives that set the Celtic storytelling apart from the mainstream of European literature.
Instruction will be on the graduate level, but undergraduate students of Celtic languages and/or Medieval studies are also invited to apply. No knowledge of Medieval Celtic languages will be assumed, although some familiarity with Latin and/or Old Irish and Middle Welsh is welcome. The instruction will be in the form of lectures with powerpoint presentations and handouts. Lectures will be followed by a round-table discussion in which participants will be able to ask questions and discuss issues with all lecturers. 1.

Ranko Matasović, University of Zagreb: "Introduction to Medieval Celtic Prose" (1 hour).

This introductory lecture will give an overview of problems involved in the interpretation of the Medieval prose texts in Irish and Welsh. The literary prose of the Medieval Celtic countries will be placed in the wider context of Medieval European literature. Criteria that set the Celtic literary tradition apart from others will be discussed, as well as the problems of interpretation specific to Old and Middle Irish and Middle Welsh texts.

2. Kim McCone, NUI Maynooth: "Pagan and Christian influence in Early Irish Tales" (6 hours)

This course of six lectures will begin by considering the environment in which surviving early medieval Irish sagas were produced and the implications that this has for their interpretation. This introduction will be followed by five lectures submitting individual texts, principally in English translation, to a more detailed examination with a view to illustrating and discussing the basic issues involved. Lectures two and three will look at a group of the earliest extant Old Irish tales probably dating from the late seventh and/or early eighth century A.D., namely Compert Con Culainn (C Chulainns Conception), Compert Mongin (Mongns Conception), Echtrae Chonnlai (Connlaes Expedition) and Immram Brain (Brans Voyage). The fourth lecture will deal with the probably tenth-century Scla Muicce Meic Da Th (The Tale of Mac Da Ths Hound), the fifth with Aided Cheltchair Meic Uithechair (The Death of Celtchar son of Uithechar) and the sixth with the account of C Chulainns death in Brislech Mr Maige Muirthemne (The Rout of Muirthemne Plain).

3. Ruair hUiginn, NUI Maynooth "The Problem of Dating of Medieval Irish prose" (6 hours)

The question of dating texts and related matters will be addressed in this series of seminars. Following a general overview of the different linguistic periods of Irish, dating criteria relating to the various stages of Old, Middle and Early Modern Irish will be examined and discussed. This will comprise not only an examination of linguistic data but also, where appropriate, the use of non-linguistic criteria. A number of short excerpts from different texts will be read with special reference to linguistic features, style and content. The use of linguistic archaisms as stylistic devices in prose texts or their use to fulfil certain metrical requirements in poetical compositions will also be discussed with reference to relevant examples. The question of dating some medieval Welsh material will also be examined. Finally we will examine a number of edited texts and paying special attention to the criteria used by their editors in dating them.

4. Hildegard Tristram, Freiburg Univrsity: "Imagining the Past Medieval Irish and Welsh Tales Between Orality and Literacy ", (6 hours)

Although they are only preserved in written form in manuscripts which date from the central or later Middle Ages, the early Irish and Welsh prose tales look back to an age in which literature was essentially oral and passed on only by word of mouth. The depth of narrated time may in some cases encompass more than a thousand years, in other cases only a few centuries, in a few cases even less than a century. These tales were written down by the monks to be read out aloud (or pre-lected) among peer literati or to be performed in front of live audiences. Thus, they are written in nature, but orally-derived. Their function was to be orally delivered.
In my six lectures, I will discuss a number of characteristics relating to the written and the oral nature of these narratives, focussing on selected texts such as the Irish tales of Tin B Cuailnge (Cattle Raid of Cuailnge), Togail Bruidne D Derga (The Destruction of D Dergas Hostel) and Scla Mucce Meic Dath (Stories about Mac Daths Pig) and the Welsh tales of Kulhwch ac Olwen (Kulhwchs Wooing of Olwen) and the Four Branches of the Mabinogi: (Pwyll, Branwen, Manawydan and Math). The Irish tales are heroic in character and the Welsh ones (Arthurian) romances. Pagan mythology lurks behind all of them.
A Reader will be provided and put on the website a few weeks before the course so that the students can study it in advance and come prepared. The lectures will be illustrated by selected recordings of modern readings from the texts studied.
5. Stefan Zimmer: "Middle Welsh Prose", Bonn University (6 hours)

The short lecture series attempts to present the Welsh prose literature from c. 1050 to c. 1450 in a systematic way. It will consist of the following unists:

1. Introduction
2. Law Texts
2.1 Bryein Teiliau
2.2 Laws of Hywel Dda
3. Narrative Texts
3.1 Culhwch ac Olwen
3.2 Mabinogi
3.2.1 Pwyll Pendeuic Dyuet
3.2.2 Branwen Uerch Llyr
3.2.3 Manawydan Uab Llyr
3.2.4 Math Uab Mathonwy
3.3 Arthurian Romances
3.3.1 Translations of Chansons de geste
3.3.2 Translations of Graal & Perslevaus stories
3.3.3 Adaptions from Chrestien de Troyes
3.4 Breuddwyd Macsen Wledig
3.5 Chwedleu Saeth Doethon Rufein
3.6 Breuddwyd Rhonabwy
3.7 Cyfranc Lludd a Llefelys
4. Historical Texts
4.1 Brut y Tywysogyon
4.2 Brut y Brenhinedd
4.3 Brut Dingestow
4.4 Ystorya Gruffudd ap Cynan
5. Religious Texts
5.1 Elucidarium
5.2 Didactic texts
5.3 Ymborth yr Enaid
5.3 Scripturial and other texts
6. Hagiography
6.1 Dewi
6.2 Beuno
7. Medical Texts
8. Grammars
9 Conclusion, with references to Early Welsh Poetry and the Welsh Bible

Applications: all participants should apply by e-mail to Ranko Matasović ( by March 31, 2008. Please state your full name, address and affiliation. The number of participants is limited, so in case of unexpectedly great interest participants who apply earlier will be accepted.

Attendance fee: 30 Euros (includes instruction, course materials, and a guided tour of Dubrovnik)

Course lecturers:
Ranko Matasović, University of Zagreb, Croatia
Kim McCone, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
Ruairi O' hUiginn, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
Hildegard Tristram, University of Freiburg, Germany
Stefan Zimmer, Bonn University, Germany