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SOME THEORIES OF IRISH LITERARY INFLUENCE
AND THE LAY OF YONEC
LTHOUGH it is universally recognized that there is in the so-called Breton Lays and in the early French chivalric romances a mass of material which has been derived from oriental and classical sources, this fact and the important problems to which it gives rise receive scant attention from those scholars who maintain that the primary source of these early French poems is to be found in Irish literature. The fact they recognize, of course, and whenever the appearance of this extraneous matter in a French poem, which in their opinion is certainly Irish in substance, would seem to run counter to their theory, they explain the presence of this non-Irish matter on the ground that it has been substituted by the French poet for matter in his Irish source which he did not understand; or else, that it had been amalgamated with Irish matter on Irish soil, put into literary form, and then passed on to the continent. When Professor Brown, for example, argues1 for an origin of the Welsh Owain independent of the French version of Chrétien, he is bothered by the appearance in both versions of a magic ring, since the difference in the handling of the ring episodes forms one of the supports of his thesis. Because magic rings do not occur in early Irish literature, the logical method would seem to demand that he look elsewhere for examples of a magic ring employed as the ring is employed in the Ivain story; he would not, of course, have had to search far, as there are many examples in tales which are certainly not Irish in origin and which Chrétien must have known, the Salomon and Morolf story, for instance. Professor Brown is sure, however, that the Welsh Owain is derived directly from a Brythonic märchen worked up into literary form, and he suggests, therefore, that the magic ring which in Chrétien's version, Laudine gives to Ivain, has been substituted for the magic branch which in the Irish Imram Brain is a talisman which admits the bearer to the other world; hence in the original version of the 1 ROMANIC REVIEW, III, 1912, 143 sq.
Ivain story, the ring must have been such a talisman. He discovers the evidence of this original function in "the way in which Ivain finds himself powerless to restrain Lunete from taking away his ring when she comes for it" (Ivain, 2704 sq.), an episode to which he finds "a striking parallel in the behavior of the magic branch" in the Voyage of Bran (I, 16); here the fairy lady takes the magic branch from Bran: "the branch sprang from Bran's hand into the hand of the woman, nor was there strength in Bran's hand to hold the branch." It makes no difference, of course, that there is not the slightest similarity between the two episodes, that there is no hint, either in the French or the Welsh versions of Ivain, that the ring was a magic talisman "endowing its owner with the marvellous power of penetrating to the other world"; that Laudine expressly tells Ivain when she presents him with the ring that it will protect him from sickness and imprisonment, the only actual hindrances which, he has said, will prevent him from returning to her; that, when he does not return as he has pledged himself to do, and when Lunete, in the name of her mistress demands the ring, he makes no effort to retain it, as, it would seem, Bran did do in the case of the magic branch; it makes no difference that there are countless tales, certainly not Irish, in which appears a magic ring possessing exactly the properties ascribed to this ring, notably, for example, the ring in Floire et Blancheflor. Moreover, since the ring as a protective talisman or love pledge, occurs in both the French and Welsh versions (the latter omits it at the parting scene but retains it in the scene where Luned denounces Owain, p. 187, II, 31) it must have had a place in the source, x, which, according to Professor Brown's hypothesis, was the original of both the French and Welsh versions. This source "was not pure Welsh" but it certainly must have been put into literary form by some one familiar with Irish and Welsh literature and traditions, especially with Irish stories dealing with the other world, since the Welsh version contains "a great number of primitive details" which, he maintains, must have come from such tales. It is difficult to see, however, why the author of r should have substituted for the magic branch, which must have been entirely familiar to him from its occurrence in other world stories which he knew well, the magic
ring which not only has no place in such stories but no place in Irish literature.
In a similar fashion Professor Cross explains2 features in the Lay of Yonec which he cannot find in those Irish tales which he argues furnished the material for the poem. He shows that the belief that supernatural beings could have intercourse with mortal women was common among the ancient Irish, as also was the belief that such beings appeared in the form of birds. These facts, however, do not prove that these ideas came to Marie or to her source from Irish tales, since there were accessible to the author of Yonec a host of tales, certainly not Irish, based upon these same ideas. "The sons of God came unto the daughters of men," says the author of Genesis, VI, 3, and this belief is echoed more than once in Holy Writ, in lives of the Saints, in the exempla of preachers. And there is Ovid telling again and again how supernatural beings visit mortals either in the form of mortals or in the form of animals and birds. Jupiter takes on the form of a woman and appears as the huntress Diana when he rapes Callisto (M., II, 425); Mercury, flying idly through the air, beholds Herse the beautiful and loves her; "vertit iter, caeloque petit terrena relicto," and in human form, a regular cultus adulter, enjoys her; her sister discovers the secret and tries to prevent his visits; he turns her into stone and "terras linquit et ingreditur iactatis aethera pennis" (M., II, 708 sq.); Jupiter takes on the form of a bull, carries off Europa across the sea, and then lays aside his disguise and "se confessus est" (M., II, 845 sq.); he becomes a swan and begets from Leda the fair Helen (Her., XVI, 41 sq.); Juno takes the form of Beroë, the old nurse of Semele, and urges her, on the ground that "multi nomine divorum thalamos iniere pudicos" (M., III, 28), to demand proof of the divine character of the lover who comes to visit her, and the god then descends as god. Then again there are the stories which certainly come from oriental sources; the story of the wizard Nectanebus and his union with the mother of Alexander in the various versions of the Alexander romance; the story of the devil who usurped the form and throne of Solomon; the story of that same devil, now an angel, in the famous tale of the Emperor
2" The Celtic Origin of the Lay of Yonec," University of North Carolina, Studies in Philology, 1913, pp. 26 sq.
Jovinian in which the angel takes the place of the emperor and is received by the Queen as her husband whether or not he plays the husband's part. Why, therefore, is it necessary to cite as evidence of the Irish character of Yonec, a tale from the Book of Fermoy, fifteenth century, in which the god Manannán mac Lir assumes the form of King Fiachna Lurga and with the latter's permission visits his wife; the lover in Yonec or in such tales as those just cited does not ask such permission. Or why cite, as a parallel to the change of sex of the lover in Yonec, a passage from the fourteenth century Book of Ballymote in which a messenger from Mannannán takes on the form of a woman in order to visit Tuag, daughter of Conall, and carries her off? Even granting that this passage occurred in the original version of the Dinnshenchus, a fact which is by no means proved since such a detail might easily have been added during the course of the centuries, what has this in common with the situation in Yonec? We are not told in the earliest version of the Irish tale that Tuag was kept "apart from men"; these words are found only in a sixteenth century manuscript, and the messenger does not become a bird in order to gain access to the maiden, but a woman, just as Jupiter does in the Callisto story. There is certainly no parallel here to the bird-lover Muldumarec, who as a bird gains access to the wife imprisoned in the tower, and who takes on the form of a woman merely in order to receive the sacrament from the hands of a priest. Under the circumstances what other form, pray, could he have assumed?
As far, then, as the appearance of supernatural beings to mortals goes and their assumption either of the form of mortals or of birds, these features of Yonec were certainly known to the author of the poem from many sources equally accessible and well known as any possible Irish source.
This statement is eminently true, also, of the inclusa-motif which is not in harmony with early Irish customs and is generally admitted to be oriental, although it is common, also, in classical stories. This feature, therefore, Professor Cross concedes is not Irish, but, in order to establish a point of contact between this nonIrish motif and Irish tradition, he considers it worthy of note that in some Irish tales maidens (not wives) are kept apart from men. and visited by supernatural lovers in the form of birds. He cites,
as proof of this, the story of Tuag, to which I have referred, and describes it, p. 48, as "representing the woman as being kept in an isolated dwelling," and as "being brought up apart from men," by which males are meant. Is this, however, a fair statement of the case? The version in the fourteenth century manuscript tells us simply, "she was reared in Tara with a great host of Eriu's kings' daughters about her to protect her," and only in a sixteenth century manuscript do the words "apart from men" occur. In the earlier version, at least, I fail to see any hint of "an isolated dwelling." His other example is the story of Mess Mucchalla, the daughter of King Cormac whom either he or the stepmother of the child,— the matter is doubtful as we shall see,-orders to be slain. The babe is given to two thralls of the king who, however, feel pity for her and, according to the version in the Yellow Book of Lecan, fourteenth century, they hand her over to a cowherd of Eterskel, king of Tara, by whom she is brought up. This cowherd, from fear of discovery, keeps the child in a house of wickerwork having an opening in the roof only, and through this opening enters the supernatural lover in the form of a bird, casts off its plumage and enjoys the maiden; from the union was born Conaire the Great, whose birth and name the lover announces before his departure. This episode occurs only in the Yellow Book and later MSS., but, it is argued, it may go back to the ninth or tenth century, (1) because the saga,-not this episode,-the Togail Bruidhe Dá Derga, in which this episode is found in the Yellow Book, is mentioned in the Book of Leinster (1150); (2) because the death,— not the birth,-of Conaire is referred to in the version of the Serglige Conchulainn, contained in the Lebor na h’Uidre (1106); (3) because the LU version of the saga, which deals with the death. of Conaire, not his birth, describes this death in language very similar to that in the version contained in the Yellow Book; (4) because the LU version may have been written down in the ninth or tenth century. The point at issue, however, is, not whether this saga, which tells of the fight at Dá Derga's Hostel and the death of Conaire, is ancient, no one doubts this, but whether the bird-lover and the birth of Conaire had a place in the early versions of the Cf. Stokes, Revue Celtique, XXII, 1901, pp. 9, and following, for text and translation.