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Celtic Literature in Translation: Curse Tablets, Cattle Raids, Camelot, and Cyber Celtica

ENGL 258.301
TR 3-4:30 pm

This survey focuses on literature originally written in Irish, Scottish Gaelic, and Welsh, and more briefly examines Breton, Manx and Cornish. We first look at the earliest Celtic carvings and inscriptions though these are not "literature" as such. Early texts include the Mabinogi, Sweeney's Madness, the Cattle Raid of Cooley, and Fionn Mac Cumhaill. Later medieval selections include the love poetry of Dafydd ap Gwilym and the first post-Norman Irish poets. The Early Modern and Modern periods see the beginnings of contemporary genres although there are still strong bardic, epic, and mythological influences. The Ossianic controversy triggers a discussion of the translation of Celtic works in general, and in this case, "translation" from a non-existent original. By the 19th and early 20th centuries, novels and contemporary stage drama emerge as part of the Celtic Revival. The formalized collecting of Celtic folklore texts begins and several selections are from folk autobiographies or tradition. We conclude with such recent or current writers as Máirtín Ó Cadhain (frequently compared to Joyce), Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, Máire Mhac an tSaoi, Kate Roberts, Sorley Maclean, and the various pioneers of Celtic free verse. Several lectures are devoted to King Arthur material, beginning with its Welsh sources. Women writers are also featured, wherever feasible, and their works are seen in the context of the powerful role of women in early Celtic society and its legacy.


As time permits, we look at some of these literary works recast as pop culture or fine art (King Arthur on Broadway and in Hollywood) and explore Celtic language writing on the Internet. Perhaps by the end of the course, we can address the comment by the Greek historian, Strabo, that the ancient Celts "... are easily handled by those who desire to outwit them." This course emphasizes, but is not limited to, selections that have inspired English-medium writers from the late 19th century onwards, from Yeats to Joyce and Heaney, but will not formally include their works. Relevant films or excerpts will be shown wherever possible. No knowledge of Celtic languages is required although students who are able will be encouraged to read the texts in the original.

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