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Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 4, 1893.djvu/389

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Celtic Myth and Saga.

current views of Irish myth and saga cannot easily be overestimated. There is a well-known legend to the effect that the bards of the early seventh century were unable to recall in its entirety the greatest of Irish epic tales, the Tain bo Cuailgne; so they sent to Brittany "to learn the Tain, which that wise man (insui) had taken to the East in exchange for the Cuilmenn." This story has generally been interpreted in the sense which critics attach to the finding of the Law under Josiah, i.e., as implying that the Tain assumed its definite shape in the early seventh century. But Prof. Zimmer seems inclined to take it au pied de la lettre. For him insui, "that wise man", can only apply to Gildas, with his standing epithet of Sapiens, who did come from Brittany (returning thither to die) to Ireland in the middle of the sixth century, and who, he conjectures, carried off a MS. of the Tain in exchange for the Cuilmenn, an historical work dealing with the early history of mankind in supplement of the biblical account, which was held in high esteem in mediƦval Ireland.

If this is really so, our MS. tradition for the Tain, and inferentially for other portions of the Ultonian cycle, is thrown back to the early sixth century, and we have the proof that, probably following the firm establishment of Christianity in Ireland, the old heroic literature suffered an eclipse during the sixth century and experienced a revival in the seventh century, thanks to King Guaire of Connaught and to the chief bard Senchan Torpeist. The prominence of both these personages in the romantic history of the period is clear evidence that they did take part in a bardic movement of some sort, and perhaps the hypothesis that they represented a national and semi-pagan reaction against Christian culture best fits in with all the facts ot the case.

The possibilities of the other suggestion are even more pregnant. Prof. Zimmer has always insisted upon the Viking period (800-950 A.D.) as forming a chasm in the social and intellectual development of Ireland. The