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Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 4, 1893.djvu/376

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368
Celtic Myth and Saga.

well as the language of their models. In this instance the second mode approved itself the more acceptable. The Book of Leinster version was apparently neglected by later copyists, whereas the rival one must have been transcribed frequently before reaching the 17th–18th century texts which alone have come down to us.

The literary problems which the story raises are perhaps more interesting than the tale itself, yet it contains some picturesque and admirable touches; we assist at the bivouac of the invading Ulstermen: "their fires were kindled, cooking of food and drink was made; baths of clean-bathing were made by them, and their hair was smooth-combed; their persons were cleansed, and tunes and merry songs and eulogies were sung by them." Nor can we easily find a finer example of old Irish chivalry of feeling (by the modern editor rightly and characteristically condemned as foolishness) than the statement: "for Conchobar concealed not even from his enemy the place in which he would take station or camp, that they might not say that it was fear or dread that caused him ot to say it." Most characteristic, too, is the way in which the heroes revile their adversaries and belaud themselves, as well the habit of rapid sententious dialogue, so pithy that each phrase is almost a proverb.

Like many of the oldest examples of Irish storytelling, the Battle of Ruis na Rig is in alternate prose and verse, the great variety and complexity of metre in the latter being remarkable. But it is noticeable that the apparently oldest verse portions are in the so-called rosc, a measure distinguished by no stanzaic form and no rhyme, but by alliteration and a "certain laconic and oracular diction". In this measure have likewise come down to us pieces that profess and approve themselves among the oldest remains of Irish speech, such as the so-called lorica of Patrick, the formulae of the Brehon laws, etc. It has generally been held that metrical complexity and rhyme are both early characteristics of Irish verse which in these respects, it has