Undergraduate Course: Heroes, Wonders, Saints and Sagas: Medieval Celtic Literature in Translation (CELT08022)
|School||School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures
||College||College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
|Credit level (Normal year taken)||SCQF Level 8 (Year 2 Undergraduate)
||Availability||Available to all students
|Summary||The course provides an introduction to selected genres of Celtic-language literature from c. 600-c. 1500 AD, and an understanding of the social and historical background that gave rise to these texts. Two strands of literature are combined: the Medieval Welsh and Medieval Gaelic traditions. English translations are used throughout the course; while no knowledge of the original Celtic languages is required, a small part of its contextual study will focus on limited aspects of relevant terminology (e.g. with regard to translators¿ choices in particular contexts). The course is aimed at students who have completed Celtic Civilisation 1A and 1B, but is open to anyone who has taken a course in literary/historical or similar subjects at University level and wishes to explore the medieval Celtic-language tradition.
The course does not aim to provide a comprehensive survey of the two literatures studied, but rather to examine in greater depth certain periods, themes, and genres that are characteristic and that, where possible, offer cross-cultural comparisons within the Celtic-speaking world. For history students, the course offers an insight to the nature and context of the two literary traditions; for literature students, it provides enhanced understanding of the social and political background to the Medieval Welsh and Gaelic texts and their composers. Students of Celtic Studies will gain a broader understanding of the medieval literary tradition, in advance of opportunities at Honours level to choose more intense but sometimes narrower, language-based courses.
Content will consist of the introduction of new material, exemplified by particular texts, characters, or genres, set items of primary and secondary reading, and a range of student-led active learning events enabling discussion, response, and detailed engagement and analysis. It is hoped that many students will opt for CELT08023 in Semester 2, which continues this approach to the Celtic-language literary traditions of early modern to twentieth century Ireland and Scotland; in combination, these courses provide the opportunity to progress to the Honours programme of Medieval Celtic Studies.
The course introduces students to selected aspects of medieval Gaelic and Welsh literature in English translation. It will cover important and characteristic genres of these literatures, and provide historical and social backgrounds against which primary texts may be interpreted.
The medieval Gaelic strand of the course will examine key themes and features of literature, mainly prose saga, which dates from the ninth to the twelfth century. We begin with the contexts of the composition of these tales during or after the period in which the Gaelic-speaking world converted to Christianity, and the production of the manuscripts in which they are preserved; popular theories of the extent to which pre-Christian ¿mythological¿ elements may be present in these texts will also be explored (e.g. descriptions of otherworlds and the afterlife). Next, we consider a series of texts from the corpus of ¿Ulster Cycle¿ narratives, the oldest Gaelic-language literature preserved, enabling discussion of compilation, characterization (including of Cú Chulainn, ¿Hound of Ulster¿), the relationship between different tales and why they were considered as parts of a cycle, and exploring concepts of violence, gender representation, and satirical humour. The final unit introduces texts that allow us to explore the boundaries between hagiographical, Biblical, and secular narrative traditions, and to assess the rich corpus of medieval Gaelic literature-in- translation, which reworked classical and continental texts and characters (such as Odysseus) into new vernacular (Gaelic-language) forms.
The medieval Welsh strand will explore key themes and features of literature dating from the ninth century to the early fifteenth, beginning with poetry attributed to the elusive figures of Taliesin and Aneirin, praise poets to rulers of the Old Northern British-(Welsh-)speaking kingdoms of Rheged and Gododdin. Some of this poetry may have been composed in the late sixth century, but develops its own complex tradition following the decline of Welsh in northern Britain, and the promotion of the Old North as a ¿golden age¿ of heroic behaviour. The later-medieval legacies of Taliesin, Aneirin, and a somewhat more famous Old Northern poet-prophet, known later as Merlin, are also explored, and the figure of Arthur is assessed from its earliest extant occurrence c. 830 to the dramatic appropriation of Welsh literature for pan-European audiences by Geoffrey of Monmouth, in the wake of the Norman annexation of England and the Welsh Marches after 1066. Arthur¿s reclamation by Welsh authors during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries concludes the course by exploring the vernacular (Welsh-language) tradition of prose romance, which also reflects on Welsh authors¿ perceptions of the wider world and its peoples and literatures.
In both strands of the course, study of primary texts will reflect in various ways upon the cultural, intellectual, and political contexts that produced them, and the means and context of their preservation. Assignments are designed to encourage deeper engagement with particular texts, providing opportunities for shorter reflective writing, close-reading, and textual analysis enriched by critical awareness of secondary scholarship and literary.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
||Other requirements|| None
Information for Visiting Students
|High Demand Course?
Course Delivery Information
|Academic year 2020/21, Available to all students (SV1)
|Course Start Date
|Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info)
Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4,
Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours
|Assessment (Further Info)
|Additional Information (Assessment)
||UPDATE: 2020-21 ONLY!
Primary source engagement: 40 %
Critical writing: 50 %
In 2020-21 ONLY, this course will have no final exam.
||Students will receive full written feedback on written work and are encouraged to contact staff for informal feedback.
|No Exam Information
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
- demonstrate a sound knowledge of the characteristics of key genres of Medieval Welsh and Medieval Gaelic literature (in English translation)
- assess the qualities of this material as literature, drawing on scholarly evaluation as well as detailed close-reading of the primary texts
- demonstrate an understanding of primary texts in the contexts of their origin and preservation
- demonstrate an understanding of the role of the purveyors of this literature (poets, scholars, scribes, translators) in the context of their society, era, and historical environments
- demonstrate competence in transferable skills, e.g. close engagement with texts, critical evaluation of sources, independent reading, coherent and clearly structured writing, time management
|Background and general reading (Welsh):|
Joseph P. Clancy, Medieval Welsh Poems (2003, reprint 2018)
T. O. Clancy (ed.) The Triumph Tree: Scotland¿s earliest poetry (1996)
Gwyn Griffiths & Meic Stephens (eds), The old red tongue: An anthology of Welsh literature from the 6th to the early 21st century (2017)
Ifor Williams, The Poems of Taliesin (1987)
Sioned Davies, The Mabinogion (2007)
Rachel Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein, The Triads of the Island of Britain (2006)
J. B. Coe & S. Young, The Celtic Sources for the Arthurian Legend (1995)
Introductory discussion of medieval Welsh literature:
Ifor Williams, The beginnings of Welsh poetry, ed. Rachel Bromwich (1972)
Rachel Bromwich & R. Brinley Jones (eds), Astudiaethau ar yr Hengerdd: Studies in old Welsh poetry (1978)
J. E. Caerwyn Williams, The poets of the Welsh princes (1978)
Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan & Erich Poppe (eds), Arthur in the Celtic Languages (2019)
Oliver Padel, Arthur in medieval Welsh literature (2000 reprint 2013)
Sioned Davies, The Four Branches of Mabinogi (1993)
Jenny Rowland, Early Welsh Saga Poetry (1990)
Elissa Henken, Traditions of the Welsh Saints (1987)
A. O. H. Jarman & G. R. Hughes (ed.), A Guide to Welsh Literature, vol. 1 (1976 revised 1992)
Background and general reading (Irish):
J. Gantz, Early Irish myths and sagas (1981)
T. Kinsella, The Táin (1969)
T. Cross & C. Slover, Ancient Irish tales (1936, reprint 1969)
K. Jackson, A Celtic miscellany (1951, reprint 1971)
D. Greene & F. O¿Connor, A golden treasury of Irish poetry (1956)
G. Murphy, Early Irish lyrics (1956, reprint 1998)
Introductory discussion of medieval Irish literature:
A. Dooley, Playing the Hero: Reading the Irish saga Táin Bó Cúailnge (2006)
M. Ní Bhrolcháin, An Introduction to Early Irish Literature (2009)
K. McCone, Pagan past and Christian Present in early Irish literature (1990)
Donna Wong, ¿Literature and the oral tradition¿, in The Cambridge History of Irish Literature: Volume 1 to 1890, eds. Margaret Kelleher and Philip O¿Leary (Cambridge, 2006), 633-76
Mark Williams, Ireland¿s Immortals: A History of the Gods of Irish Myth (2016)
|Graduate Attributes and Skills
||close-reading, textual analysis, critical assessment of sources
|Keywords||Gaelic,Welsh,Irish,Celtic-language literature,poetry,prose,Celtic Revival,Arthur,Táin,Mabinogi
|Course organiser||Dr Kate Mathis
|Course secretary||Ms Anne Kelly
Tel: (0131 6)50 4167