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Tales of the Enchanted Islands of the Atlantic

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Author Topic: Tales of the Enchanted Islands of the Atlantic  (Read 4757 times)
Lisa Wolfe
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« Reply #120 on: January 27, 2009, 11:48:10 pm »

The Taliessin legend in its late form cannot be traced back beyond the end of the sixteenth century, but the account of the transformation is to be found in the "Book of Taliessin," a manuscript of the thirteenth century, preserved in the Hengwt Collection at Peniarth. The Welsh bard himself is supposed to have flourished in the sixth century. See Alfred Nutt in "The Voyage of Bram" (London, 1897), II. 86. The traditions may be found in Lady Charlotte Guest's translation of the "Mabinogion," 2d ed., London, 1877, p. 471. The poems may be found in the original Welsh in Skene's "Four Ancient Books of Wales," 2 vols., Edinburgh, 1868; and he also gives a facsimile of the manuscript.

The lovely legend of the children of Lir or Lear forms one of those three tales of the old Irish Bards which are known traditionally in Ireland as "The Three Sorrows of Story Telling." It has been told in verse by Aubrey de Vere ("The Foray of Queen Meave, and Other Legends," London, 1882), by John Todhunter ("Three Irish Bardic Tales," London, 1896); and also in prose by various writers, among whom are Professor Eugene O’Curry, whose version with the Gaelic original was published

p. 231

in "Atlantis," Nos. vii. and viii.; Gerald Griffin in "The Tales of a Jury Room"; and Dr. Patrick Weston Joyce in "Ancient Celtic Romances" (London, 1879). The oldest manuscript copy of the tale in Gaelic is one in the British Museum, made in 1718; but there are more modern ones in different English and Irish libraries, and the legend itself is of much older origin. Professor O’Curry, the highest authority, places its date before the year 1000. ("Lectures on the Manuscript Materials of Irish History," p. 319.)

In the original legend, Oisin or Usheen is supposed to have told his tale to St. Patrick on his arrival in Ireland; but as the ancient Feni were idolaters, the hero bears but little goodwill to the saint. The Celtic text of a late form of the legend (1749) with a version by Brian O’Looney will be found in the transactions of the Ossianic Society for 1856 (Vol. IV. p. 227); and still more modern and less literal renderings in P. W. Joyce's "Ancient Celtic Romances" (London, 1879), p. 385, and in W. B. Yeats's "Wanderings of Oisin, and Other Poems" (London, 1889), p. 1. The last is in verse and is much the best. St. Patrick, who takes part in it, regards Niam as "a demon thing." See also the essays entitled "L’Elysée Transatlantique," by Eugene Beauvois, in the "Revue de L’Histoire des Religions," VII. 273 (Paris, 1885), and "L’Eden Occidental" (same, VII. 673). As to Oisin or Usheen's identity with Ossian, see O’Curry's "Lectures on the Manuscript Materials for Ancient Irish History" (Dublin, 1861), pp. 209, 300; John Rhys's "Hibbert Lectures" (London, 1888), p. 551. The

p. 232

latter thinks the hero identical with Taliessin, as well as with Ossian, and says that the word Ossin means "a little fawn," from "os," "cervus." (See also O’Curry, p. 304.) O’Looney represents that it was a stone which Usheen threw to show his strength, and Joyce follows this view; but another writer in the same volume of the Ossianic Society transactions (p. 233) makes it a bag of sand, and Yeats follows this version. It is also to be added that the latter in later editions changes the spelling of his hero's name from Oisin to Usheen.

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