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The Tain: From the Irish epic Tain Bo Cuailnge Paperback – Sep 1 2002

4.5 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford Paperbacks (Sept. 1 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192803735
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192803733
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 2.3 x 12.7 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 259 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #141,369 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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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.


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Format: Paperback
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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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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Format: Paperback
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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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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