Myth Reading Group 26 January: Maeldune

The Myth Reading Group meets on ‘Zoom’ on Wednesday 26 January 2022, 5:30-6:30 pm (UK time). The link to join is posted in the comments for this post. All are welcome.

Monochrome illustration. A tall women, standing on land, seen from behind, holds a long, thin cord connected to a sailing boat on a stormy sea.
John D. Batten, “The Queen of the Magic Clew”. Illustration from The Book of Wonder Voyages, edited by Joseph Jacobs (Putnam, 1919), p. 117.

An immram is an Early Irish sea-adventure, in which sailors driven from their intended destination find themselves visiting unknown islands. On these islands the travellers encounter many supernatural wonders that encompass a variety of familiar, migratory motifs based on the workings of mutation and magic.

“The Voyage of Maelduin” is an immram that accommodates fearful monsters and friendly hosts. Among the former are those that pelt the sailors with rocks, while among the latter are beautiful women attracted (and attractive) to their captain. The crew suffer for their transgressions, but at the end of the voyage, under the protection of a guardian deity, the hero arrives safely at his destination and is re-integrated with the community.

The version chosen for the next session of the Myth Reading Group is from The Book of Wonder Voyages, based on “The Voyage of Mael Duin’s Boat”, translated from MSS sources by Whitley Stokes. The Irish text and Stokes’ English version were published in Revue Celtique (1888-89),

Tennyson’s “The Voyage of Maeldune”, in Ballads, and Other Poems (1880), is a free adaptation (“Founded on an Irish Legend, A.D. 700”) in which he “added to the legend the increasing disillusionment of the travellers and the perpetual killing” (Palgrave Literary Dictionary of Tennyson, p. 324). Tennyson’s source was P. W. Joyce, Old Celtic Romances (1879), which had only recently been published.

Stokes commented that Tennyson’s poem, “full of colour and music ­– full, too, of wise counsel for the Irish”, bears “only a remote relation to the original” (Revue Celtique IX, 450) and that Joyce’s “so-called translation […] is intended for popular reading, not serious criticism” (ibid.).

Note: The Myth Reading Group may wish to pay particular attention to sections XVII and XXVIII of “The Voyage of Mael Duin’s Boat” (pp. 108-111 and pp. 115-118) in which the eponymous hero visits islands that share elements with those of Odysseus’ sojourn in the company of Calypso and Circe in Books 5 and 10 of the Odyssey, respectively. Tennyson does not allude to these islands directly, but stanza IX of his poem refers to the Island of Witches, whose “musical cry” is reminiscent of the Siren episode in Book 12 of Homer’s epic.

Primary reading:

Secondary reading:

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3 Responses to Myth Reading Group 26 January: Maeldune

  1. ὑποκείμενον says:

    Join Zoom Meeting

    Meeting ID: 958 3994 4582

  2. Sian says:

    What a wonderful start to our 2022 reading, and I look forward to the discussion next Wednesday! Sian

  3. Luis Alberto says:

    It is great to see you are back! I’ll see you next week! 🙂

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