Read The Táin by Anonymous Ciaran Carson Online


Dating from the eighth century, The Táin is the oldest Irish epic, a mythic tale on par with Beowulf and The Aeneid. Following legendary warrior Cù Chulainn into his battle against the invading army of Connacht, The Táin is the story of the emergence of a hero, a paean to the Irish landscape, and a bawdy and contentious marital farce. In its first translation in forty yearDating from the eighth century, The Táin is the oldest Irish epic, a mythic tale on par with Beowulf and The Aeneid. Following legendary warrior Cù Chulainn into his battle against the invading army of Connacht, The Táin is the story of the emergence of a hero, a paean to the Irish landscape, and a bawdy and contentious marital farce. In its first translation in forty years, Ciaran Carson brings this seminal work of Irish literature fully to life, capturing all of its visceral power in what acclaimed poets Seamus Heaney and Paul Muldoon individually called one of the best books of the year....

Title : The Táin
Author :
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ISBN : 9780140455304
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 256 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Táin Reviews

  • David
    2019-06-05 15:11

    When I learned that China Mieville had appropriated the title "The Tain" for one of his little apocalypto-dystopic excursions back in 2002, my reaction was something like this: BACK OFF, MIEVILLE, YOU PLUNDERING, PLAGIARIZING SASSENACH GIT! THAT TITLE'S ALREADY TAKEN.Because, as every cultured person knows, "The Tain" (pronunciation "Thoyne") is the name given to the most important story in ancient Irish literature, the collection of tales also referred to as "The Ulster Cycle", or "The Cattle Raid of Cooley". I sputtered with indignation at the thought that someone would steal the name of Ireland's best-known legend for some weirdo post-apocalyptic novella about a race of wraith creatures that humans have subjugated by trapping them in mirrors. Then I learned that "tain" is a legitimate English word meaning "the tinfoil used as backing in mirrors" and I felt pretty stupid. SORRY, CHINA! Like any self-respecting national saga, the (Irish) Tain lacks a single definitive version. Most versions draw on two different ancient manuscripts, from the 12th and 14th centuries, respectively, but its origins are far older. Some of the language dates back as far as the 8th century, and most Celtic scholars believe the the story had a long oral existence before eventually being committed to writing by monastic scribes. Both the content and the style of the narrative place the events in a timeframe that predates the introduction of Christianity to Ireland in 432, possibly as far back as the first century.Most Irish people of my generation are familiar with the 1969 translation of the epic by the poet Thomas Kinsella (with brush drawings by Louis de Brocquy). I read the Kinsella translation at some point when I was in college, largely from a sense of obligation. Its brilliance was completely wasted on me at the time. I recently stumbled across a more recent (2007) translation of the Tain, by the poet Ciaran Carson. I really liked Carson's translation of Dante's Inferno, so I was interested to see what he would make of the Tain. So this past weekend I sat down with both the Kinsella and Carson translations, to reacquaint myself with the legendary exploits of the Celtic heroes of the Tain. Like any self-respecting national saga, whole chunks of the Tain are unreadable. But much of it is hilarious; I had forgotten how weirdly entertaining the story is. A successful national epic will presumably reflect the concerns of the listeners -- people who make a living by taking to the sea in boats worry about sea-monsters, lost ships, threats of a maritime nature. In Argentina, cattle are central to economic survival, no surprise then that the gaucho is the hero of Argentina's national epic, Martin Fierro. Cattle were important in pre-Christian Ireland as well -- at its heart the Tain is the account of a cattle-rustling expedition gone terribly, terribly wrong.The story of the Tain is straightforward; its particular charm lies in the telling. Here are some of the details I find totally kickass:The opening scene, in which Ailill and Maeve, the king and queen of Connacht get swept up in a competitive enumeration of the wealth and possessions each has brought to the marriage, is referred to as the "pillow talk" scene. Maeve loses the competition by a bull and vows to get even; this is the McGuffin that launches the whole disastrous expedition to steal Donn Cuailgne, the great Brown Bull of Cooley, from the neighboring kingdom of Ulster. The men of Ulster are all laid low by "the pangs". Because of a previous incident, involving a distinct lack of chivalry towards a pregnant lady, nine generations of Ulstermen have been cursed to suffer the pains of childbirth for five days and four nights "at their moment of greatest difficulty". So, just as the marauding Connacht army reaches their border, all the men of fighting age take to their beds, howling as if each was about to give birth to twins. Oops, make that "all but one" of the men. For unspecified reasons, the hero CuChulainn (aka the hound of Culann the blacksmith, aka Setanta) is exempt from the curse, so it falls to him to keep the marauders at bay until his fellow Ulstermen have recovered from the pangs. It's roughly 30,000 to 1 out there. In other words, a completely unfair set up. The Connacht soldiers don't stand a chance. CuChulainn isn't your average 17-year old. He's Ireland's version of Hercules. Super-endowed physically, not particularly bright, poorly developed emotional control, no impulse control, the boy has some serious combat skilz. With a couple of nifty superpowers thrown in. That cloak of invisibility, for one thing. Those heightened sensory powers. But the worst thing you can to is to make him angry, because that can trigger theriastradh, (the twisting, or contortion), a Hulk-like physical transformation that is followed by a killing frenzy. Kinsella translates this wonderfully as the "warp spasm"; in a rare misstep, Carson tries too hard and comes up with the the "torque" (he wants to evoke the kind of Celtic collar known as a torque, but why?). The killing frenzy proceeds by repeated implementation of the "thunder-feat", wherein enemy soldiers are taken out in increments of 100. I can't imagine that there's not already a video game.CuChulainn's deadly kill-weapon, the Gae Bolga, totally rocks (as does its name). And the passage where he ultimately has no choice but to use it to disembowel his beloved childhood friend Ferdia is simultaneously devastating (OMG, he is forced to kill his best bro Ferdy) and provocative (explicit homoerotic imagery in ancient Celtic texts, who'd a thunk it?) There's also an entertaining array of secondary characters -- backstabbing relatives and courtiers, wild women with the gift of prophecy, assorted figures from Celtic mythology, including the very nasty shapeshifting morrigan, a kind of unpleasant Celtic valkyrie you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley.Both the Kinsella and Carson translations are highly readable. There are slight differences in their choices of what to include. Kinsella's coverage is greater, because he includes full translations of certain key remsceala (backstories), where Carson limits himself to summarizing them briefly in his endnotes. Both authors comment on the particular difficulties posed by certain sections of the manuscript, those written in the specific verse form known as rosc. These sections are apparently so obscure that both authors felt obliged to include an explicit disavowal of accuracy for their attempted translations. Carson tries for a greater fidelity to the original verse form, which makes for a much choppier, less intelligible translation. Obviously I can't judge the accuracy of either translation, but I thought both authors did an impressive job in terms of clarity, fluidity, and readability. Neither translation seems clearly superior - they are just different.I feel obliged to include a caveat. There are certain aspects of the text that make some portions eye-glazingly unreadable. Two features in particular come to mind. The first is a kind of listmania -- the number of warriors taken down by Cuchulainn is enormous, and the authors of this manuscript want you know each one by name. This leads to this kind of incandescent prose:These are the names of their chiefs and commanders: two Cruaids, two Calads, two Cirs, two Ciars, two Ecelss, three Croms, three Cauraths, three Combirges, four Feochars, four Furachars, four Casses, four Fotas, ....(varying numbers of 18 more family names)...., ten Fiachas and ten Fedelmids.The second issue is related. In Carson's words,the Tain is obsessed by topography, by place-names and their etymologies . It's hard to convey just how deep this apparent obsession runs. At times it seems as if the entire manuscript is nothing more than an effort to come up with a (dubious) etymology for the name of every topographical feature of the Irish landscape. Lethan came to his ford on the river Nith in Conaille. Galled by Cuchulainn's deeds, he lay in wait for him. CuChulainn cut off his head and left it with the body. Hence the name Ath Lethan. This kind of stuff is both extraordinarily dull and highly questionable, particularly when one takes into account that the word "lethan" means "broad". One begins to suspect that the brave warrior "Lethan" might not have existed at all. There are huge swaths of this kind of material scattered throughout the Tain. The good news is that it is eminently skippable. Bearing this caveat in mind, I think anyone would enjoy the Tain.

  • Robert
    2019-06-10 07:49

    The Tain is epic. In fact it is Epic - at least as Epic as more famous Epics, such as the Iliad. In fact, the number of correspondences between the Cattle Raid of Cooley and the story of Achilles' rage is remarkable. (It must be - I just remarked it.) Wanna know what they are (at least some of them, anyway)? Oi - you at the back! stop saying, "No."here we go:Illiad: Achilles only vulnerable on one heel.Tain: CuChulain's foster brother only vulnerable to a gae bolga shoved where the sun doesn't shine. (The gae bolga is a mysterious design of spear - the blade had backward pointing barbs - other aspects of the design are obscure and variously interpreted.)Illiad: Lots of riding round in chariots, killing people.Tain: Lots of riding round in chariots, killing people.Illiad: Lots of stomping around on foot, killing people.Tain: Lots of stomping around on foot, killing people.Illiad: Single combat.Tain: Single combat. Generally in a ford that gets its name from the event.Illiad: Riding round in a chariot, dragging the corpse of your enemy behind you.Tain: Riding round in a chariot, dragging the corpse of your enemy behind you.Illiad: Supernatural intervention.Tain: Supernatural intervention.Illiad: Heaps of famous heroes.Tain: Heaps of famous heroes, especially near the end.Illiad: Big fight over a beautiful woman.Tain: Big fight over a prize bull. Okay - not such a close correspondence.Illiad: Javelins.Tain: Spears.Illiad: Achilles chooses a short life but ever-lasting fame. (But maybe this isn't mentioned in the Illiad - I can't remember.)Tain: CuChulain chooses a short life rather than everlasting ridicule. (But not during the Cattle Raid.)Illiad: Achilles' rage.Tain: CuChulain's "warp-spasm".Illiad: Verse.Tain: Mainly prose - some cryptic verse.So, by now you should be convinced that the pagan Celts in Ireland were just as crazy and violent as any ancient Achaen group you care to name and appreciated the stories of their ancestors' crazy violence as much, too.Three fifties of Bards couldn't praise this Epic enough, so I won't even try - just read it and find out how many boys can play hurling on the back of Ulster's prize bull, how CuChulain (the Hound of Culann) got his name and weapons and the name of every ford, hill and rock that figured in CuChulain's almost single handed defense of Ulster from an army of 30,000!

  • Aaron
    2019-05-24 12:04

    The Táin or 'An Táin' (Irish), or complete as 'The Cattle Raid of Cooley' (Táin Bó Cúailnge). Let me just say I have some questions about this translation, and about the original transcribers who more than likely put their own spin on this story. What's more there are multiple modern translations that differ in transliteration and literary style and I'd like to understand the differences. All aside this is a tale that begins with a trivial quarrel of a queen and her lover which escalates to the point of all Ireland getting involved after a cattle deal went bad in the process of settling their domestic dispute. The End.Beyond the explanations for how certain places got their name, it's upon the reader to extract any morals. The most obvious takes are thou shalt not covet, try to talk it out first, don't bite off more than you can chew, and if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.You'll find several instances of absurd Looney Tune like descriptions of violence, there's also just a lot of violence... I enjoyed the descriptive detail of costume and arms down to a man (and a woman or two). There was one point when the men of Ulster were rallying and it was like a role call of medieval superheroes.Battles with the protagonist a.k.a. the boy hero: Cú Chulainn were over the top. When he's pissed he gets his Torque-on ...basically a fit of battle rage that transforms him into some kind of Hell-Hulk who goes on a rampage in his war chariot.By Joseph Christian Leyendecker (1874 - 1951) [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsNo doubts this would make a great movie script, that would probably be a lot harder for Hollywood to screw up as it's all action, and pretty predictable in the drama department.If you're the serious type I don't recommend this, but If you have a morbid sense of humor this will be great fun I'm sure.

  • Alex
    2019-06-06 10:50

    The Tain, sortof a bizarro Irish epic - like all the other Irish epics - was one of my favorite works in college. The definitive translation is by Kinsella (1969), but there's this newish one by Ciaran Carson (2007), which I've finally gotten around to judging.Here's the spoiler-free gist of the Tain: the Irish king Ailill and his wife Medb argue in bed over who's richer, and on the spot they insist on having every item they each own brought to them so they can tally it up - herds and all. They find that Ailill is up by an enormous bull, the equal of which can only be found in Ulster.Here's the rest of the plot, with some (view spoiler)[. Medb offers to sleep with the Ulster cattle-owner if he'll give it to her. He refuses (after some consideration), so they decide to take it by force. (Why Ailill goes along with this is never explained.) For further insight into Medb's character: when she gets her period, she fills three trenches big enough that armies have to ford them. So there's that. Like the Old Testament, one of the Tain's central messages is that women are the root of all evil: "That's what happens when a mare leads a herd of horses - all their energy gets pissed away, following the rump of a skittish female." I would feel offended by this, but it is true that Irish women are pretty slutty. As opposed to Boston women, who are all...mostly Irish.Unfortunately for Ulster, their entire force is currently laid low by a periodic curse that makes them unable to fight, except the 17-year-old prodigy Cu Chulainn, who once got so carried away during battle practice that all Ulster's women had to flash their tits at him to distract him from killing his own friends. He proceeds to hold the entire Irish army back single-handedly via guerrilla warfare, Braveheart-style, and the time-honored Jackie Chan "one at a time" fighting method. (After a while, Ailill and Medb take to betrothing their daughter to volunteers to take on Cu Chulainn, which she seems agreeable to until half the camp realizes they're engaged to her and kill each other; at that point she finally dies of shame.)All the while Fergus, an Ulster exile and foster father of Cu Chulainn, is playing both sides; although technically on the Irish side, he repeatedly warns Cu Chulainn of traps and tries to delay Ailill and Medb. Finally, the Ulstermen get over The Curse - yes, this is the only national epic that's more or less about periods - and, y'know, big-ass battle, and a remarkably perfect ending. (hide spoiler)]It's a terrific, bizarre, filthy story, and I haven't even mentioned that Cu Chulainn is basically the Hulk, prone to fits of rage where his body contorts into shapes that take whole pages to describe. I love the thing.Carson's translation is fine. It modernizes the language, with the usual pros and cons of modernizations: it flows quickly and naturally, but every once in a while you get a line like "Two hearts that beat as one," and if Stacey Q references don't throw you right out of a thousand-year-old epic poem, I don't know what will. He also makes the grave mistake of trying to approach the rhyme of the original's occasional poetry breaks, despite having no rhyme skills whatsoever; witness this disgrace:You've walked into the gap,You're in the danger zone.Sharp weapons will pierce you and cleave flesh and bone.This hero will take youto another placewhere you will find nothing but death and disgrace. (p. 139)Those are some shitty rhymes, man. (And, yes, another 80's music reference.) Compare Kinsella's version, in which he more or less throws his hands up at rhyme:You have reached your doom,your hour is come.My sword will slash, and not softly.When we meet you will fallat a hero's hands.Never again will you lead men. (p. 184)Neither is terrific poetry, but Kinsella's is at least not distractingly awful. Kinsella sporadically uses slant rhyme, which is a much better decision. And can you feel how numbingly rhythmic Carson's lines are? Like Run DMC at their worst, right? Whereas Kinsella breaks his metre up violently, which helps it feel a little less like a poem written by a sixth-grader. Carson is more faithful to the original; but metres that work in one language don't always work in another, and he should've admitted that in English, this sort of two-stress line sounds like nursery.That's one sort of poem that recurs occasionally throughout the Tain. The other is called rosc, and it's entirely weirder. Sortof a show-off / ambiguous prophecy / flyting combination, it's purposefully obscure and pretty much impossible to deal with. Here's a comparison of the two translations, in a passage where Ailill says he doesn't really care that his wife slept with Fergus for no reason other than she's generally a trick:Carson:I know the game welllikewise queens and women true what they saythe first fault theirs their sweet companionable wrathFinnabair's fair shield valorous Fergus (p. 62)Kinsella:I know all about queens and womenI lay first fault straight at women'sown sweet swellings and loving lustvalorous Fergus (p. 105)I chose these two passages at random. In general, both have moments of passable aesthetic value; Kinsella is generally more clear in his meaning, although that also means he's taking more liberty with the exact translation.Overall, Carson's translation is serviceable, except for his crap poetry, and reads fast; I'm not too down on it, but Kinsella is still the king.A bookmarkI made a bookmark out of one of Louis Le Brocquy's amazing illustrations.More on my weird bookmark project here.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>

  • Lanea
    2019-05-27 14:57

    When I came across an actual copy of this book during my visit to Chicago, I was almost afraid to buy it. I had to buy it, of course--it's not often I find real evidence of Celtic Studies works showing up in bookstores, and when I do find titles that fit the bill, I always buy them. Bookstores need to be supported and congratulated for stocking things that are outside of the mainstream.I was afraid to read the book because I was convinced that Thomas Kinsella's translation, graced by Louis le Brocquy's genius illustrations, was the only translation I could ever love. I'm a huge fan of Carson's, so I really wanted his work to shine. Moreover, a few years ago I had a fraught, life-affirming conversation with Carson about translation and poetry and voice where he convinced me with just a few words that I should keep up my own attempts at poetry in translation. So I needed his version of this great work to be wonderful.I needn't have worried. Carson opens the book with an introduction explaining just how hesitant he was to publish a translation of the Táin Bó Cúailnge, in light of Kinsella's masterful work. Carson even calls his translation an homage to Kinsella. Like Kinsella, Carson used Recension I. Carson chose not to include the remscéla, or fore-tales, which are some of my favorite bits, but which aren't physically included in Lebor na hUidre or The Yellow Book of Lecan, the two texts in which The Tain survives.Carson is a wonderful translator. He's fluent in modern Irish, and he's a musician as well as a poet and writer, and I think those skills combine to enrich his translation. He is clearly intrigued by the true characters of Cú Chulainn, Medb, Ailill, and Fergus, and by the mores surrounding sex, violence, honor, ownership, land, family--all the big ones. Having read his and compared it to Kinsella's, I don't think I can read one without the other again. Both convince me to keep struggling through language and myth that is so distant from my daily life.

  • Jason
    2019-05-23 11:00

    Imagine someone took you for a walk from the North to the South of the USA, from New England across the Mason-Dixon line and onward to Georgia, all the while using cues from the landscape to narrate the Civil War. The Táin does this, guiding the reader through an interactive map where the story and the landscape are inseparable. While undeniably a "classic" epic, the unity of place, narrative, and heritage gives The Táin the feel of classic Indian epics, like the Bhagavad Gita and Ramayana, couching stories within stories and relying on a body of tales outside of the work at hand for reference. The resulting diverted and allusion-filled text offers a satisfying richness, a remarkable accomplishment given how starkly the text was written (or translated?). It paints the Irish world with a few strokes.Indeed, one thought I had reading The Táin was a genuine surprise that neither the BBC nor the SciFi channels had thought to remake the story in mini-series form. The bare bones nature of the tale had me hungry to see the work fleshed out. I can dream, can't I?

  • Laura
    2019-06-16 12:16

    I just read this book for the third time, and finished teaching it this morning. I always kind of forget how very, very weird the Irish were. We just spent 30 minutes in each section talking about sex, and then 20 on whether this is a credible source or not for the 1st century. Cuchulainn kills people in the most interesting ways. Anyway, I love this book - it just is such a reminder that people think about the world differently. Kinsella's translation is also interesting - no notes marked in the text, but lots of notes at the end (this is a pet peeve of mine, as you might be able to tell). Because of the nature of our sources, he has to choose which bits of the different manuscripts to include, and try to reconcile the mess of a story that is left (some people die several times, for example). So, it's an interesting reminder that even this book is someone's interpretation of the story.

  • Pierce
    2019-06-02 07:17

    Giving this stars seems kind of ridiculous. But I will, anyway.It is a minor embarrassment that I had not read The Táin until last week. When my sister found out she made me, which is fair enough. We are quite immersed in many of the stories surrounding the Ulster cycle during our education: the young Cúchulainn, Medb and Ailill. We are even told a vastly simplified version of the Táin Bó Cúailnge, mostly focusing on the two bulls and not the war going on around them.My first shock was how blood-thirsty the epic is. They certainly excised that aspect of the tales in school. My second was how funny it was. And I'm still not sure if the humour is intentional. There's a section where Cathach comes back after riding his chariot off into battle alone, and he's been ripped to bits. Cúchulainn sends for healers and 15 (some say 50) of them come and each says he's done for, and every time one of them says that Cathach kills them with a fierce punch. Eventually Cúchulainn says "Come on Cathach, you can't be killing healers." A healer eventually comes and agrees to treat Cathach, and he begins describing each wound, and each awful wound he mentions Cathach describes the man or men who inflicted them, and Cúchulainn says "Oh! I know them! That's the brothers so-and-so, they're the son of this guy and have killed that guy." This goes on for three pages, in exactly the same repetitive structure. And it's so long and elaborate that it seems like it must be comic, but I'm just not sure.These tales were written down by monks in the 12th century from spoken stories that had been passed down for hundreds of years, since perhaps around 0AD. So they are very like Homer's works, and that you can see the repetition and exaggeration that would be characteristic of such stories. So much of Irish storytelling shows its roots in this work.Also: the depiction of women in these stories is really interesting. There are warrior queens. Strong women. Girls decide who they will marry. Men must pursue them and gain their approval. It is simply a fundamentally different relationship to the gender roles Christianity brought to this country.A couple of times men make harsh statements about women in general, but it's always born out of a frustration with the fact that, e.g. Medb wont stop sending warriors to kill them. Bloody women!

  • Nikki
    2019-06-14 13:12

    I haven't read much Irish mythology at all, so it was high time I got round to reading The Táin. It's an epic based around the feats of Cù Chulainn, as he defends the land of Ulster from the armies of Ailell and Medb. It's (here's one of my favourite words again) hyperbolic and, well, it's an epic, what do you expect? There's verse and one-on-one combats and ridiculous feats of arms involving throwing spears through boulders and so on. I was actually surprised by how little I knew about The Tain. I'm sure I've read plenty about Cù Chulainn, but knew very little about what goes on in the Cattle Raid.The translation seems clear and is very easy to read, though I can't comment on accuracy. The introduction is helpful, and the notes are comprehensive and informative.

  • Anne
    2019-06-17 15:05

    It's fascinating to read texts like this, because it's ALMOST like reading about what militant secularists wish were the case: a world with NO religion. In this pre-Christian epic, we see how people make meaning of their lives without their perspective being "muddled" by ideas about God, heaven, hell, right and wrong. What would it be like? Much to the chagrin of an atheist/secularist/anti-Christian activist, life is hell-ish without religion.Take sex. Secularists say Christianity spoils sex for everyone - why does have to come with promises and love and all that? Just let people have fun without moralizing everything, they say! (Except rape. Rape is wrong. That's when we're allowed to be moral. *eye roll*)You think we live in a rape culture NOW? You think taking the morality out of sex makes it more fun? You should have lived in Ireland in the early centuries. You'd see that sex free from morality was anything but fun, ESPECIALLY for women. Men - because they call the shots, because they're bigger and stronger - make the rules. Men used sex to relieve themselves and baits fools into traps. Women were their pleasure toys. At best, women bore men sons, who could then grow up and fight and use women just like their fathers did.The female characters with agency only obtain agency by acting as horribly as the men do. They're violent, glory-hungry, and evil. There's bloodthirsty Queen Medb, who's obsessed with one-upping her husband and leads thousands of men to their death for the sake of her pride. She has sex with Fergus to keep his military loyalty, and doesn't care that her husband knows about it. (Sounds a bit like contemporary feminist logic, doesn't it? "Two wrongs make a right!" *eyerolleyeroll*) Then there's the witch Morrigan, who randomly comes and and tries to shame Cuchulainn while he's single-handedly defending his country from Medb's men. He doesn't let her get away with it, though. Not all women have this "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" sexual survival strategy that Medb represents. Beautiful Derdriu, after being taken captive by her husband's murderer, refuses to have sex with him - which is strange, since he earned her sex through violence, of course. When he can't get her to have sex with him, she's shipped off to have sex with his best friend. In one of the only true romantic moves of the epic, she throws herself onto a boulder and is smashed to pieces to preserve her honor and stay faithful to her husband's memory. Sex DOES mean something to her, and she'd rather die than validate a worldview in which power trumps love. Another miserable women, Finnebair (Medb's daughter) learns how many men died after they were promised sex with her (hundreds). Humiliated and traumatized, she dies of shame on the spot. Her sex was only bait and a fun time to everyone except her. Rather than conform her worldview to theirs, she dies, and shows us that, despite society's opinion, sex MEANS something to her.I could go on about this, but Wendy Shalit can probably say this all better than me. Basically, I think contemporary secularists want to believe that if only we could get rid of all this stupid Christian meaning, sex could be fun again. Well, sex was anything but fun before all the Christian meaning came along. And with girls today still killing themselves, cutting themselves, getting eating disorders, and getting raped, I think we'd better stop and wonder if we're really doing anyone any favors by trying to bring a Christian/religion free sexual landscape back to society. Another quick note: Derdriu's suicide is actually one of the ONLY moments in the epic that features people acting as if anything other than fame and victory matters. Touchingly, another rare moment like this happens when Cuchulainn kills his foster brother Ferdia. After growing up together and fighting side by side many a battle, they now have to fight to the death. Cuchulainn begs Ferdia not to fight, since he loves him and doesn't want to kill him, but Ferdia fights anyways (because he's been promised sex with Finnebair). After Cuchulainn slays Feria, he lays by his body and weeps. This is a shocking moment, since Cuchulainn has slain hundreds of men with extraordinary violence without thought. The epic also doesn't devote any special narrational time to most deaths. It just reads "then so and so's guts spilled out and he died, and maybe a hill was named after him or something." Then we move on. But here, we get a whole monologue from Cuchulainn:"All play, all sport,until Ferdia came to the ford.I thought beloved Ferdiawould live forever after me-yesterday, a mountain-slope;today, only a shade.I have slaughtered, on this Tain,three countless multitudes:choice cattle, choice men,choice horses, fallen everywhere!The army, a huge multitude,that came from cruel Cruachanhas lost between a half and third,slaughtered in my savage sport.Never came to the battle-field,nor did Bamba's belly bear,nor over sea or land camea king's son of fairer fame."After killing a friend, Cuchulainn learns the meaning of death. He's killed "a half and a third" of an army and not given anyone's life much thought, but Ferdia's death wakes something up in him. It *means* something to him. Like Derdriu and Finnebair, Cuchulainn life begins to have meaning after heartbreak. He becomes reflective, and even wise: "yesterday, a mountain-slope; / today, only a shade" implies a towering question: what is this all for? Life, no matter how glorious, ends for everyone; what do we make of that? What do we think? To me, this epic is a heartbreaking, haunting, and warning portrait of what man without religion is like. He's empty, desperate, and violent. The world is cruel and life is short. But man, in the face of all this, is also questioning. Derdriu, Finnebair and Cuchulainn bring the reader sudden moments of reflection.What is life? Does love matter? What does it mean that we die?Is it any wonder that Christianity spread like wildfire throughout Ireland, after lives like these?

  • Bruce
    2019-06-05 13:10

    This is one of a set of pre-Christian Irish epics, part of the Ulster Cycle, the events of which allegedly took place in the 1st century AD, the earliest written manuscripts dating from the 12th century AD. Written mostly in prose, it nonetheless is similar in many ways to the Greek and Indian heroic epics, complete with hyperbolic language, magic, and many formulas characteristic of bardic oral traditions. It is a most entertaining read, with humor, gore, implausibility, and wild exaggeration. When reading such a work, I think it is important, at least at first, to suspend one’s critical faculties, pretend that one knows the plot and outcome, and listen as if one were listening to an oral recitation, enjoying the individual variations on epic formulae and a familiar story. And read it slowly with an ear to recognition. In a nutshell, and a very small nutshell, this is the story of a raid on Ulster by the forces of the rest of Ireland, the object being to steal a prize bull. The Irish forces of Mebd and Ailill are opposed by the teenaged super-hero Cuchulainn alone until the Ulster forces are able to muster themselves and come to the rescue. I found the work delightful. The book contains preliminary material that orients the reader and gives the story a context.

  • Phillip
    2019-05-20 11:04

    This is a really accessible translation of the main story from the Ulster Cycle of early Irish myths. Except for the purposefully obscure roscata (a feature of Celtic myth consisting of fragmented prose-poetry), it is fairly easy to follow the action and sequence of events in this myth, which is important because sometimes the story depends on seemingly supernatural events or actions.The story itself does a good job of retaining traces of an oral storytelling tradition, like highly stylized descriptions of people, repeated phrases, and long catalogues of deeds and people. However, this text also demonstrates the complex interplay of culture because these pagan Celtic myths were recorded by Christian monks centuries after Ireland converted to Christianity. This means that some of the elements of Celtic paganism were probably mediated (or culturally colonized) by the monks who had a vested interest and were steeped in the mythology of Christianity.

  • Jackie
    2019-06-04 06:52

    I didn't really care for this even though I wanted to. I had heard it was the Irish legend to read. The part I didn't like was pages and pages of names and places over and over again, it got to where I just skipped over the names and places. I found it monotonous and boring. The core of the story, (the war on Ulster by Queen Maeb, the magic bulls and my favorite champion, Cuchulainn) was good but could have been written better. I'm sure, at the time when this was an oral tradition, it was fantastic hearing your own family name in the story often but these are different times. I could have done without the repetitive names and places and just enjoyed an awesome story.

  • Pedro
    2019-06-18 13:55

    The best epic story ever ! Sometimes it makes me sad to think that 'The Táin' is not as known as Homer's Iliad and The Odyssey ! Even if this is a medieval text, it doesn't look so : there are no priests, no church , no knights in shining armour, no chrisitan strict rules in the hole narrative . So it doesn't matter if you don't like medieval history : you're going to like this story the same way!

  • Cwn_annwn_13
    2019-05-20 08:09

    To keep it short and sweet this is a must read for anyone interested in Irish history and culture, Celtic Heathenry, Odinism, mythology or general Celtic studies. One of the most essential texts for learning about any of these things but besides that the saga of Cuchulainn is a great entertaining story too.

  • Yann
    2019-05-31 12:53

    On ne peut manquer d'être ému quand on pense que ce texte nous viens de si loin, mais quelle violence! Elle est à un degré qui m'a fait penser à l'Illiade ou à certains passages des métamorphoses d'Ovide.

  • Mike
    2019-06-20 09:53

    Uhg mac blech.

  • William
    2019-06-14 11:01

    Aesthetically it bears more resemblance to the Greek/Latin epic than the traditional Northern European heroic saga, displaying mythological elements far more muted in the sagas of the Icelanders, etc. In terms of form, the most immediate comparison might be to Egil's Saga-like Egla, The Tain is populated by poets, and lengthier dialogue is generally in the form of verse. The verse is stark, at least when judged against the more ornamented forms of the period. Kinsella’s translation is generally unremarkable, and is most impressive in the early, ‘pre-Tain’ selections. His Exile of the Sons of Uisliu is an excellent rendering of an exemplary work.

  • Old-Barbarossa
    2019-06-06 06:57

    I may be stirring a hornet's nest here, but I prefered this to the Kinsella. Been a while since I read his translation though.Thought this flowed very well.My only gripe was that there weren't enough notes. There were a fair few times that I got a ref to some other tale and was surprised that it didn't have an explanation in the notes. This doesn't spoil the tale, but if you've not read, or heard, other old tales you may miss out on some of the depth that wee hints imply. (For instance the battle between the Wee Hound and his son is hinted at, but no details in the notes.) I think this would have helped put the tale in the correct context for the interested general reader.Still, I loved this.The idea of the Torque (Kinsella calls it a warp-spasm) is as gruesome as ever, and makes Viking Berserkers seem like wee old ladies sitting knitting by comparison.It doesn't shy away from the horrors of war, pretty much everyone kills non combatants. Yet there is a horrible slapstick to some of the fights.As the Wee Hound says: "I come like a wild boar to overthrow the rule of armies."

  • Andrew
    2019-05-31 09:16

    This curious tale is one of the oldest and longest ancient Irish tales. It recounts the exploits of Irish hero Cu Chulainn as he repels an army come to steal the Ulstermen's prize bull, the Dun Cuailnge. I'm pretty sure it is the most violent piece of literature I've read, and I've read Blood Meridian. Heads are lost, men are cut in twain, and a few are speared through their "rear portal." And those are the most normal ways people die. The story freely takes in the hyperbolically heroic, to the extend that it almost reads like an ancient comic book. As an artifact of ancient Ireland it is compelling. As a piece of literature, I'm less sold. It simply doesn't hold up to the style, complexity, and power of Beowulf or The Odyssey, for example. It is no epic. But that's not to say it isn't really good and interesting. It's unadulterated grandiosity is amazing, and its hybrid forms of prose, poetry, and "other" and very interesting. Not for the faint of heart or those not interested in things ancient/medieval and epic.

  • John
    2019-06-11 08:03

    I am glad I read this book. I believe this translation (Kinsella) to be excellent; the notes were helpful; and unlike the other modern translation (which puts the backstory in footnotes), this version begins with each of the tales that comprise the backstory of the epic.Now as to the merits of the work. It is the major Irish epic -- about a cattle raid. If I could sum it up in one word, it is weird and gory, with some low humor (I think it was meant as such) and a number of inconsistencies due to the state of the text. There is also a lot of explanation of the origins of place names which can be skimmed (similar to the Iliad's catalog of ships) and some obscure prophecy poetry.If you like this kind of stuff, are Irish or interested in Irish history/mythology, you should probably read this work at some point, and I believe a modern translation will give you the full flavor of the epic.

  • Kevin
    2019-06-16 09:57

    Lookit, I think it is fairly ridiculous to give this book stars since it has long surpassed ratings or the need of reviews, the tale speaks and exists by itself and on its own terms. If you are not already familiar with the events of the greatest Irish epic that we know of, then I would advise you to get your hands on it. The only elements of the story that readers would fine discouraging would be the excessive lists of place-names and ancestors of people. This is a common trope of Irish myth as they were of immense importance to society and especially to the kings and poets.It is surely the best story in the Irish mythological cycles and is definitely the most well know. The Táin Bó Cúailnge is legendary and even should a person with no interest in mythology or Ireland will still be entertained by this compelling story of war, honour and betrayal.

  • Steve
    2019-06-09 11:53

    Magnificent. I've meant to read this for years and I'm so glad I finally did, so now I can look forward to rereading it. It's hilarious and bloody and epic (of course), as chaotic in form and style as it is in content. There are all sorts of ways to belabor the similarities to other national epics and myths, and just as many ways I'm certainly lacking the context to see everything, but it's just a great read overall. As many reviewers note, there are a number of points at which the text gives over to long, repetitive listing, sometimes hilariously and sometimes a bit tediously, but never to the point of it becoming a problem.

  • Kori Klinzing
    2019-06-05 14:55

    Not a bad translation, all told, but not very easy reading, especailly when you get to the points where all they do is list everyone who just got their asses handed them by Cu' Chulainn, but I'm sure that's how the Gaelic version went too. I would have liked it better if Carson had included all the little pre-stories, rather then just adding the pertinent ones as footnotes. But all an all, a great translation of this epic story.

  • Mark Adderley
    2019-06-05 15:15

    This is the Irish Iliad--Cuchulainn defends Ulster against everyone. Single-handed. It's a great story, but if it has a flaw, it's that it gets a little repetetive when Cuchulainn is fighting against the succession of heroes. That shouldn't detract too much--battle scenes in the Iliad and the Morte Darthur aren't terribly interesting either.

  • Barbara
    2019-06-03 12:03

    Fascinating look into the lives of the Celts in Ireland. But repetitive. You have to have an appreciation for the layered meanings for the places and the characters to enjoy (or understand) it at all. Still, for an early account of how life was experienced and perceived in early Celtic Ireland, there is no better primary source account.

  • Kaila
    2019-06-19 13:17

    Translated by Thomas Kinsella.Really great story here - I actually enjoyed Before the Tain, about the first 40 pages or so of the book, more than the actual Tain. The second half of the book gets pretty repetitive. There was this guy - then he died. Then this other guy - then he died. Then another guy - then he died. That happens like 10 times.Cuchulainn is pretty awesome.

  • Diana
    2019-05-28 09:14

    Another read for my British literature class. I really enjoyed reading this part of early Irish literature/folklore. The translation was easy to understand and made it a quick read. If you enjoy early literature, I suggest putting this one on your TBR pile.

  • Daniel
    2019-05-22 07:54

    If you cast Odysseus, Paul Bunyan and Rambo in a Tarantino movie set in prehistoric Ireland, you'll have a decent approximation of what it's like to read about the prodigiously hyperviolent exploits of Cú Chulainn. It's great.

  • Audrey Webster
    2019-05-29 10:17

    *3.5 stars