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INTRODUCTION


The version given in the following pages of the well-known tale of Deirdre has been translated from the Irish text of the Book of Leinster version as printed by Windisch in Irische Texte, vol. i. Readings from the two parallel texts of the Book of Lecan, and Egerton, 1782, have been used where the Leinster text is deficient or doubtful, but the older MS. has in the main been followed, the chief alterations being indicated in the notes. The only English translation hitherto given of this version is the unreliable one in Atlantis, vol. iii. There is a German translation in Thurneysen's Sagen aus dem alten Irland which may be consulted for literal renderings of most of the verse portions, which, however, are sometimes nearer the original than Thurneysen's renderings.

It was at first intended to place beside this version the much better known version of the tale given by the Glenn Masain manuscript and its variants; but, as this version is otherwise available in English,[FN#38] it has been thought better to omit most of it: a verse translation of Deirdre's final lament in this version has, however, been added for the purpose of comparing it with the corresponding lament in the Leinster text. These two poems are nearly of the same length, but have no other point in common; the lament in the Leinster version strikes the more personal note, and it has been suggested that it shows internal evidence that it must have been written by a woman. The idea of Deirdre as a seer, which is so prominent in the Glenn Masain version of the tale, does not appear in the older Leinster text; the supernatural Druidic mist, which even in the Glenn Masain version only appears in the late manuscript which continues the story after the fifteenth-century manuscript breaks off, does not appear in the Book of Leinster; and the later version introduces several literary artifices that do not appear in the earlier one. That portion of the Glenn Masain version immediately following after Deirdre's lament is given as an instance of one of these, the common artifice of increase of horror at a catastrophe by the introduction of irrelevant matter, the tragedy of Deirdre's death being immediately followed by a cheerful account of the relationships of the chief heroes of the Heroic Period; a still better example of this practice in the old Irish literature is the almost comic relief that is introduced at the most tragic part of the tale of the murder of the son of Ronan.


[FN#38] See Irische Texte, vol. ii., and the Celtic Review, vol. i. 1904-1905.




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