Monday, June 18, 2007

Bards and the Irish Laws - Part II

The fili or poet (plural filid) was the only lay professional who had full nemed ("privileged") status. His most important function was to praise and to satirize, reflecting early Celtic society's preoccupation with honor and fame. Early Irish literature contains a number of references to the power of a poet's satire to raise facial blemishes on its target or even to kill. Conversely, one of the duties of the the chief poet, or ollam, was to remain in the king's presence in order to protect him from sorcery. The poet was also frequently credited with the power of prophecy, accomplished according to various rituals (compare the prophecies attributed to early Welsh bards such as Taliesin and Myrddin).

The poet received a fee (duas) for each poem he composed, the rate of payment depending on his poetic grade and the form of the composition. For the anamain, or most difficult form, attempted only by the ollam, the payment was a chariot, while the least prestigious form or dian merited only a three-year-old dry heifer and a cauldron. An Irish triad says that the three "whose coffers are of unknown depth" were "a king, the Church, and a great poet." However, standards must be met: if the poet was fraudulent "through overcharging or through inadequacies in the subject matter of his poem," he could lose his privileged status. He was, however, entitled to his fee even though his composition suffered from the fault of rudrach or "monotony."

The law-texts list seven grades of fili, ranging from the ollam or chief poet, who had an honor-price equal to that of the king of a tribe and was accompanied by a retinue of 24 persons, to the lowest grade fili or fochloc, who had an honor price equivalent to a yearling bullock and a two-year-old heifer, and was accompanied by two people. The comparable seven grades of bard, or lower-status poets (16 grades in some texts!) had half the honor-price of the equivalent grade of fili. The essential differences between the two orders, as mentioned before, were the bards' lack of professional training and poetic pedigree.

Next: the training and repertoire of a poet.

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