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A versified Ireland

The Dindshenchas Érenn and a national poetics of space

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Amy C. Mulligan

Chapter 3 considers the Dindshenchas Érenn (‘Placelore of Ireland’), a collection of around 200 poems and 200 prose pieces about named places comprising medieval Ireland’s most explicitly topographical narratives. The Dindshenchas Érenn was formally brought together as a cohesive corpus and first attested in the Book of Leinster manuscript. This chapter considers the narrative topographies of the Dindshenchas Érenn, looks at the role of place-making poets as medieval Ireland’s geographers and tracks ideas about the use of verse as the appropriate literary form in which to write and formalize Ireland’s landscape. The poets suggest that the verbalized territories of the dindshenchas poems, simultaneously real and imagined, were to be contemplatively accessed, virtually inhabited and moved through in an appropriative act. This, furthermore, was an act of collective national imagining. The island-wide bardic curriculum demanded that by the eighth year of training poets were able to recite the entire topographic corpus on demand, and multiple dindshenchas texts advertise the poets’ ability to conjure lost sites and spaces with their words and visionary abilities. The Dindshenchas Érenn thus becomes a national landscape, a virtual Ireland created, performed and preserved by the poets and scribes of Ireland.

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Amy C. Mulligan

Chapter 2 traces the development of the poetics of space in Ireland’s heroic literature (ca. 900–1160) through a focus on the warrior Cú Chulainn. I situate narratives from Táin Bó Cúalnge alongside other Ulster Cycle texts to track a spatial hero’s construction. Cú Chulainn is initially named Sétanta—suggesting ‘path-finder’ or ‘journeyer’—and tales of his birth, boyhood deeds and defense of Ulster in the Táin emphasize his ability to navigate new environments and internalize storied maps of the territory. Cú Chulainn’s increasing mastery of placelore and the erotics of space are examined in Tochmarc Emire. A brief look at Mesca Ulad queries how Ulster’s spatially savvy hero is not ultimately immune to displacement: Cú Chulainn loses himself and the men of Ulster in hostile territories, and their frenzied ride transforms the landscape—their journey levels hills, clears trees and drains rivers—and generates a (mis)reading of the drunken, careening heroes as environmental features rather than humans, which also problematizes violence and heroic excess. The chapter concludes with Saint Patrick raising Cú Chulainn from the dead to tell his tale, an account that highlights the chapter’s key themes: spatial narrative, textuality and the redemptive function of storytelling.

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National pilgrims

Traveling a sanctified landscape with Saint Patrick

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Amy C. Mulligan

Chapter 4 looks at the late twelfth- or early thirteenth-century Acallam na Senórach, medieval Ireland’s longest piece of literature at 8,000 lines. Set in the fifth-century past, the Acallam resurrects both Saint Patrick and the pagan hero Caílte to lead a pilgrimage through a reimagined Irish topography, merging sacred and secular to posit a revalorized, sanctified Ireland for a post-conquest audience. The Acallam advocates walking and physical movement through a green Ireland as knowledge-creating, while also promoting the benefits of imaginative engagement with a storied environment. The Acallam furthermore deploys a geospatial poetics to ‘naturalize’ Patrick: as in the Irish legends of kingship and sovereignty, Patrick is endorsed by the land. His actions show an increasingly harmonious relationship with the environment and culminate in his composition and delivery of Irish-language topographical poems. Patrick becomes a saintly practitioner of the Irish poetics of place, and the British-born foreigner is by the end of the text embraced as Ireland’s patron saint. By modeling Irish spatial practices through a range of characters transformed over the course of the narrative, the Acallam shows the diverse members of Irish (and English) society how to engage with Ireland as a richly storied, sanctified nation.

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A landscape of words

Ireland, Britain and the poetics of space, 700–1250

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Amy C. Mulligan

In recent decades, spatiality—the consideration of what it means to be situated in space and place—has become a key concept in understanding human behavior and cultural production across the disciplines. Texts produced by and about the medieval Irish contain perhaps the highest concentration of spatial writing in the wider medieval European milieu, and only in Ireland was a distinct genre of placelore formalized. As Mulligan shows, Ireland provides an extensively documented example of a culture that took a pre-modern ‘spatial turn’ and developed influential textual models through which audiences, religious and secular, in Ireland and Europe, could engage with landscapes near and far. Ireland’s peripheral geographic position, widespread monastic practices of self-imposed exile and nomadism, and early experiences of English colonialism required strategies for maintaining a place-based identity while undergoing dispossession from ancestral lands. These cultural developments, combined with the early establishment of Latin and vernacular literary institutions, primed the Irish to create and implement this poetics of place. A landscape of words traces the trajectory of Irish place-writing through close study of the ‘greatest hits’ of (and about) medieval Ireland—Adomnán’s De locis sanctis, Navigatio Sancti Brendani, vernacular voyage tales, Táin Bó Cualnge, Acallam na Senórach, the Topographia and Expugnatio Hibernica of Gerald of Wales, and Anglo-Latin accounts of Saint Patrick’s Purgatory. A landscape of words provides rigorous source analysis in support of new ways of understanding medieval Irish literature, landscape and place-writing that will be essential reading for scholars on medieval Ireland and Britain. Mulligan also writes for non-specialist students and researchers working on the European Middle Ages, travel and pilgrimage, spatial literature, and Irish and British history and culture, and allows a wide readership to appreciate the extensive impact of medieval Irish spatial discourse.

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Amy C. Mulligan

The Introduction consists of a brief overview of the book and its structure, its driving questions and the critical contexts, and identifies foundational aspects of an Irish poetics of space. The Introduction describes the book’s organization—largely chronological—to show how Ireland’s spatial poetics developed over 500 years in response to specific historical circumstances. Three major issues are introduced, which are tracked across the book to illustrate ongoing thematic continuities and developments: (1) affective and transformative engagement with textual geographies; (2) national and postcolonial place-writing strategies; and (3) canonization and theorization of a spatial literary corpus. In addition, each chapter develops discrete aspects of writing place in conjunction with a critical literature on space (pilgrimage, actual and virtual, through otherworldly landscapes and seascapes; exile and dislocation; verbal mapping or cartography; movement as knowledge-generating, i.e. ‘practicing place’; alterity, place-writing and conquest).

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Holy islands

Transformative landscapes and the origins of an Irish spatial poetics

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Amy C. Mulligan

Chapter 1 identifies geography’s central role in the earliest texts produced by and about the Irish ca. 700–900. I begin with the first Holy Land pilgrimage account composed in Britain, Adomnán’s De locis sanctis, a foundational text for spatial writing. I consider how Adomnán applied this model to North Atlantic holy sites in Vita Sancti Columbae, and show how accounts of Holy Land pilgrimage inform Irish texts about voyages in the waters surrounding Ireland and Britain, the Western herimum in ociano. The islands of the North Atlantic (including Ireland) are often envisioned as otherworldly lands of milk and honey, whose nature is largely determined by their position limning civilization and the unknown watery regions beyond. A desire to investigate these places and be changed by them motivates the monastic Irish voyagers whose stories are told in the Navigatio Sancti Brendani, which circulated widely throughout Europe; the lay protagonists of the closely related vernacular Irish voyage texts (immrama) undergo parallel experiences as they travel these same geographies. Irish spatial narratives provided an early and influential model for composers in Ireland, Britain and Europe to write texts inviting imaginative travel to holy places from the Dead Sea to the Irish Sea.

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Amy C. Mulligan

Chapter 5 addresses how twelfth-century Church reformers and participants in the English invasion of Ireland also developed a poetics of Irish place to argue for their own entitlement to Ireland. I turn first to Gerald of Wales, whose Topographia and Expugnatio Hibernica show Ireland physically rejecting the ‘unworthy’ Irish from the landscape and embracing English and Welsh settlers, exhorting them to plant themselves in Irish soil. I examine the process by which the identities of Ireland’s invaders are mapped onto the territory and show how a changed Ireland is generated through textual culture, particularly important when in historical reality Ireland resisted full conquest. The chapter then turns to Saint Patrick’s Purgatory in Ireland’s north. Accounts of the Tractatus de Purgatorio Sancti Patricii were repeatedly copied and translated over several centuries: 150 Latin manuscripts survive, and another 150 codices confirm its translation into virtually every European vernacular. While Patrick’s Purgatory is a site of pilgrimage, its rhetoric nonetheless suggests heroic, crusading conquest of Ireland’s dangerous spaces in which English reformers also became textual heroes. In conclusion, I examine how both Gerald’s works and the Tractatus accomplished the export of an English poetics of Irish space which became highly influential throughout Europe.

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Amy C. Mulligan

Through a discussion of spatial practice in Irish verbal and literary culture, the Conclusion paints an encompassing picture of the resilience and ubiquity of circling spatial practice in Irish culture. While this practice, literary and cultural, is rooted in the Middle Ages, it is nonetheless still prevalent and globally influential in contemporary literary culture, as evidenced by Seamus Heaney’s poetry. The conclusion emphasizes the circling poetical device of dúnad, but also considers various visual images of circling spatial schemes, including illuminated insular gospels, mazes or labyrinths, plans of Jerusalem holy structures, maps and depictions of the cosmos, as well as schemes of the ogam alphabet. Spatial practice, and circling movements through material and imaginative landscapes, are a driving force in diverse forms of Irish cultural production.

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Worthy friends

Speght’s Chaucer and Speght’s Spenser

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Elisabeth Chaghafi

Thomas Speght was the first Chaucer editor to present readers with a ‘medieval’ Chaucer firmly situated in the past. By providing a substantial apparatus of supplementary materials aiming to facilitate access to Chaucer’s works, Speght was implicitly highlighting Chaucer’s datedness. At the same time, Speght also used his ‘additions’ to present Chaucer as a true English classic and national poet still worthy of being read, and to insist that Chaucer’s works continued to be relevant to his sixteenth-century readers. This chapter traces the evolution of the front and back matter of Speght’s editions (of 1598 and 1602) and analyses how they serve Speght’s double agenda to present Chaucer as a poet both ancient and ‘modern’. In particular, it examines how Speght pursued his double strategy by stressing links between Chaucer and Edmund Spenser and by fashioning a ‘friendship’ between the two major English poets of the past and present.

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Wise wights in privy places

Rhyme and stanza form in Spenser and Chaucer

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Richard Danson Brown

This chapter explores Spenser’s technical debt to Chaucer arguing for the semantic character of Spenser’s rhyming practice, and the ways in which his choices of rhyme and stanza impinge on the broader meanings of his poems. The first section analyses Chaucer and Spenser’s use of rime riche, arguing that while the device shows the latter’s fealty to the former, it also shows the updating of Chaucerian language to the metrical norms of early modern English. The second section explores the question of stanzaic syntax, arguing that Spenser wanted a more restrictive mise-en-page than in the Chaucer folios; this is illustrated through a detailed reading of his continuation of the Squire’s Tale in The Faerie Queene IV.iii which stresses the extreme repetitions across stanzas in which Spenser specialised. In this view, repetition is a device used in context to enhance readerly wonder at the extraordinary deeds narrated, while Spenserian diction works to keep Chaucerian English in the reader’s mind. The final section reopens the old question of the origins of the Spenserian stanza, repointing an old answer: the Spenserian is a deliberate development of the rhyme royal stanza as practised by Chaucer.