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The Tain: From the Irish epic Tain Bo Cuailnge [Paperback]

Thomas Kinsella
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 1 2002
The Tain Bo Cuailnge, centre-piece of the eighth-century Ulster cycle of heroic tales, is Ireland's greatest epic. It tells the story of a great cattle-raid, the invasion of Ulster by the armies of Medb and Ailill, queen and king of Connacht, and their allies, seeking to carry off the great Brown Bull of Cuailnge. The hero of the tale is Cuchulainn, the Hound of Ulster, who resists the invaders single-handed while Ulster's warriors lie sick. Thomas Kinsella presents a complete and living version of the story. His translation is based on the partial texts in two medieval manuscripts, with elements from other versions, and adds a group of related stories which prepare for the action of the Tain. Illustrated with brush drawings by Louis le Brocquy, this edition provides a combination of medieval epic and modern art.

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The Tain: From the Irish epic Tain Bo Cuailnge + The Mabinogion + Penguin Classics Early Irish Myths And Sagas
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Product Details

Product Description

From the Publisher

31 b/w brush drawings throughout

About the Author

Thomas Kinsella is a poet and translator. Among his publications are Blood and Family and From Centre City.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
THE POETS of Ireland one day were gathered around Senchan Torpeist, to see if they could recall the 'Tain Bo Cuailnge' in its entirety. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The men of Ulster are risen from their pangs. Aug. 4 2002
This is the story of a 'tain' or cattle raid perpetrated on Ulster by Ailill and Medb, king and queen of Connacht, along with their allies from all parts of Ireland. It is arguably the earliest surviving epic of Ireland's pre-Christian heritage. The centerpiece of the story is the great feat of 17 year old Cuchulain, who single handedly halts the massed armies intent on seizing the brown bull of Cuailnge (and a tidy portion of the wealth of Ulster as well.
Due to a curse, the men of Ulster are doomed to suffer severe bouts of pain whenever they are faced with great difficulties. So, as Ailill and Medb approach Ulster, only Cuchulain can stand and fight. The 'Tain' and its peripheral tales are the story of Ulster's defense, first by Cuchulain, and finally by the massed men of Ulster, risen from their pangs. Poet Thomas Kinsella's telling of this story starts with the early history of Ulster and then introduces Cuchulain, who will be the hero of many of Ulster's legends.
This is a remarkable effort from a literary standpoint. Whether by Kinsella's art or the nature of the original language of the text, the "Tain bo Cuailnge" is one of the most accessible of the old epics. The language lacks the overblown pretensions of many translations, remaining clear and understandable whether it is prose or verse. Kinsella himself states that this is a translation, not a retelling, but the introduction leaves some doubt about the precise meaning of 'translation.' In any case, Kinsella's efforts have made the story come to life, bringing home beautifully both the glory and tragedy of a conflict that must have decimated the fighting men of an entire country.
The Irish of the "Tain's" writing loved making lists. Lists of heroes, lists of weapons, and lists of places abound.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Faithful Translation by an Irish Poet March 7 2002
The Ulster Cycle is a group of tales associated with the northeast of Ireland and the Ta/in Bo/ Cuailgne is the core of the cycle. The tales are preserved in manuscripts of the twelfth-century and later, but they look back to a pre-Christian culture dominated by warriors who counted their wealth in cows. Raiding your neighbors was one way to acquire more cows. In the Ta/in Bo/ Cuailgne, one group, the Connachta, tries to obtain a very special bull, a transformed human, by raiding another group, the Ulaid. In the process, gods, goddesses, kings, queens, seers, and heroes of every description become involved, and a raid turns into a monumental battle.
This is not a retelling or a novelized version of the Ulster cycle tales. Rather this is a translation of an ancient saga equivalent to the Odyssey, Iliad, or Mahabarata. Years ago, not long after this book was first printed, I had the good fortune to hear Thomas Kinsella, an eminent modern Irish poet, describe how in translating the Ta/in, he combined his own vision with expert input from scholars of the ancient language. The voice in this translation is that of Kinsella, but it echoes the voices of all those who came before him. Having studied the ancient language and texts myself, I feel that Kinsella has produced a work of poetic art that is nevertheless faithful to the meaning and spirit of the stories. The beautiful semi-abstract images by Le Brocquy are not really illustrations but accompanying art, demonstrating how the cycle of Ulster tales, which has inspired Irish artists through various eras, continues to kindle the creative fire in those who read and hear them.
If you are interested in learning about pre-Christian Irish--or Celtic--tradition, the Ta/in is indispensable reading.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent job Mr. Kinsella April 22 1998
Kinsella does an excellent job of bringing the ancient epic to life. You can almost imagine an old Irish bard reciting the tale in front of a peat fire. Kinsella includes not only the Tain, but stories leading up to the Tain and a brief story about how the Tain was once again learned:
"If this your royal rock
were your own self mac Roich
halted here with sages
searching for a roof
Cuailnge we'd recover
plain and perfect Fergus."

The above was spoken by the poet Muirgen at Fergus's grave, and summoned the spirit of Fergus to... Oh, just buy it and read it.

The epic of the Tain is starting to creep back into our lives. Only recently a software company calle Bungie included many Irish myths as a foundation for one of their most popular games to date. The Tain is also once again being performed by storytellers and it's an excellent tale either oral or written. On a side note, the pronunciation guide is a bit lacking, you'll have to do some leg work to get the proper pronuciation of some Irish words and names.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Finally, a Definitive Version of the Tale Aug. 31 2001
The Tain is probably beyond dispute the most important piece of Old Irish literature, perhaps even of all literature in the Irish language. It has waited a long time to have a really definitive English translation; previous versions are either paraphrases or are so bowdlerized as to be almost unreadable. Kinsella is never turgid or sentimental in the nineteenth century sense, which is so true of many of the older reworkings of Irish literature.
As one other reviewer noted, it used to be that if you wanted a good rendering of Old Irish you almost had to turn to German translations. The tide is turning, and much good material is now available in English. My only complaint about this version is that I would have liked to see more notes. But then admittedly Mr. Kinsella was seeking to provide a version that was literary but not recondite. If you're interested in Irish literature this book belongs in your library.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Best of Ancient Mythology
This is one of the greatest mythological tales recorded. Unlike what the summary says, it is not the 'closest thing Ireland has to a national epic'. Read more
Published on March 31 2004 by Surreal
5.0 out of 5 stars Much easier to read than the direct translations
This is a great story.
Published on Aug. 15 2002 by Brennan T. MacDowell
4.0 out of 5 stars This is GOOD!
Having heard it referenced so many times (and finally figuring out how to pronounce it!)I finally bought The Tain. Read more
Published on May 18 2002 by Amazonbombshell
4.0 out of 5 stars Useful and nicely written
The Tain is an important resource for anyone interested in ancient Ireland, offering tantalizing insights into a history and culture that will forever remain mysterious. Read more
Published on Oct. 28 2001 by Jane Raeburn
3.0 out of 5 stars An old story translated into Modern English
This book is good if you're interested in old Irish and Celtic mythology. However general audiences will probably be frustrated by dissonant storyline and the confusing lists of... Read more
Published on Sept. 7 2001 by Patrick Mcgranaghan
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
I've read a dozen different versions of the Tain, mostly fiction but I've also seen some almost indecipherable translations out there. Read more
Published on July 24 2000 by Robert A. Hans
5.0 out of 5 stars A must in the search to understand the early Irish culture.
This book is a necessity because of it's early date. (The original version stemming from c.500 BC) From a part of the world that does not have a great literary tradition, we... Read more
Published on Oct. 21 1998 by
5.0 out of 5 stars Lock up your cattle, the Ulstermen are here.
This is a literary masterpiece to match the 5th(?) century manuscript: action, adventure, deceit, love, death, life, marriage, and hurling! What more could I ask for? Read more
Published on March 30 1998
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best of the Cúchulain-Ulster Cycle Irish Epics
Around the time Jesus walked the Earth, a child-warrior
from Ulster, named Setanta, went to a feast. Read more
Published on Jan. 7 1997
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