Clarke, Michael, “The choice of Cú Chulainn and the choice of Achilles: intertextuality and the manuscripts”, North American Journal of Celtic Studies 5:1 (Spring, 2021): 1–29.

  • journal article
Citation details
“The choice of Cú Chulainn and the choice of Achilles: intertextuality and the manuscripts”
North American Journal of Celtic Studies 5:1 (2021)
North American Journal of Celtic Studies 5:1–2 (Spring-Autumn, 2021), Ohio State University Press.
Abstract (cited)

It is a familiar cliché, even a trope, to characterise Cú Chulainn as 'the Irish Achilles' and to exemplify this by citing the shared motif of the hero choosing an early death and eternal fame in preference to a long inglorious life. Building on Brent Miles' insight that knowledge of the 'choice of Achilles' story could have come to the Irish literati through the commentary on Vergil known as Servius Auctus, this article aims to reconstruct the reading strategies that might have been applied to this text in the period when Táin bó Cúailnge was taking shape. The argument is pursued by examining two manuscripts of Servius Auctus (MSS Bern, Burgerbibliothek 167 & 172), of which other sections preserve direct evidence for Irish engagement with Virgilian poetry in the form of marginalia focussed on the word picti in connexion with the British race known as the Picts. The picti material provides the model for a hypothetical reconstruction of how the literati might have interpreted and re-contextualised the Achilles material in these or similar annotated manuscripts of Vergil. This encourages a revised assessment of how and why the makers of the Táin may have been engaging creatively with the perceived parallelism between Cú Chulainn and Achilles.

Subjects and topics
History, society and culture
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Cú ChulainnCú Chulainn
Young Ulster hero and chief character of Táin bó Cuailnge and other tales of the Ulster Cycle; son of Súaltam or Lug and Deichtire (sister to Conchobor); husband of Emer (ingen Forgaill)
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Dennis Groenewegen
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March 2022