Early Irish Literature

TCS Talk | Re-Embodiment in Early Irish Literature | February 28th 2020

G.01, 50 George Square, Edinburgh |  17:00-19:00 (roughly)
Friday 28th February

Do Not Eat Beans, [fol. 25 recto], part of Speculum principis series. Pen and brown ink with watercolour on laid paper, early 16th century. Woodner Collection, National Gallery of Art, USA.

It is a coincidence, though one that is certainly rather apt, that the second gathering of the Traditional Cosmology Society for this Spring season should remind us of the deeply-rooted links between the British Islands and the European continent. In particular, the new TCS talk will explore a fascinating link between the culture of classical Greece and Early Irish literature. Daniel Watson, O’Donovan Scholar at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, will address the Society on February 28th, in a public lecture titled Re-Embodiment in Early Irish Literature: The Case of Mongán Mac Fiachnai.

The prevalence of characters that have the habit of passing from one form of embodiment to another could be said to be one of the more characteristic features of medieval Irish literature generally. In his lecture, Dr Watson will discuss how this evidence has led some scholars to conclude that medieval Irish literature bears witness to beliefs that are similar to the Pythagorean doctrine of metempsychosis. This conclusion, in turn, seems to chime with the attribution of Pythagorean doctrines to Gallic druids by Classical authors.

In trying to establish the veracity and the extent of such conclusion, Dr Watson will review the extant evidence, thus filling an important gap in scholarship. Such a comparison promises to enlarge our understanding of both the Pythagorean and Druidic traditions, however similar or different they are found to be. In this endeavour, Dr Watson will focus on the portrayal on Mongán mac Fiachani in the texts associated with Cín Domma Snechtai, which seem to provide the strongest grounds for equating equating Pythagorean metempsychosis with Early Irish stories of rebirth.