Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Saints, Warriors, Queens, and Cows


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The literature of medieval Ireland (600-1400 A.D.) is rich in tales about war and adventure, pagan gods, and otherworld voyages. The sagas of kings and queens sit side by side (sometimes in the same medieval manuscripts) with stories of holy men and women, and exquisite poetry in praise of nature or persons. We will explore this largely unfamiliar but fascinating world through careful reading of the primary texts, backed up by some secondary works on history, myth, and society. In addition, the influence of early Irish literature on such later writers as W.B. Yeats and Flann O'Brien will be investigated. Readings include heroic stories of Finn and Cú Chulainn; the Cattle Raid of Cooley; the Voyage of Bran; satires; bardic praise-poems; monastic poems; and Sweeney Astray (Buile Shuibhne). Each week our in-class discussions will focus on the close reading of texts supplemented by audio and visual materials. Seminar participants will write two response papers during the course of the term, and one longer research paper based on a 15-minute presentation on a topic chosen in consultation with the instructor.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Richard Martin

"Poetry and story-telling are my major interests. They have led me to do scholarly work on the epics of Homer (which beautifully combine both), as well as on medieval and modern Greek and Irish literatures. A Classicist and Celticist by training, I have further interests in the history of the novel; literary theory; folklore; and interpretive anthropology. All these areas, and more, can be fruitfully applied to the continually amazing work of James Joyce. I am eager to voyage once more through the novel with a hard-rowing crew."