Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Bards and the Irish Laws - Part III

I'm quoting from another source today, Liam Breatnach's Uraicecht Na Riar - The Poetic Grades in Early Irish Law. This is yet another out-of-print publication from Dublin Institute For Advanced Studies. This text doesn't seem to be available on CELT either, though some of its relatives are.

Only one thing was required of a bard: natural ability. ("A bard, then: without the prerogative of learning, but intellect alone.") By contrast, to qualify as a fili required both ability and study, and ideally proper family background as well. The classification of the filid implies that the various grades could be progressively attained by a course of study sufficient to acquire the knowledge and facility required of that grade. For example, the lowest grade fili, the fochloc, was required to master the four forms of the dian meter and to know 30 tales. The next grade, the macfuirmid, was required to master setrad and know 40 tales. And so it went, up to the ollam, who composed in the anamain form and knew 350 stories, as well as much other "lore" besides. Uraicecht Na Riar does not give the years of study required for all of this, but later documents suggest it could take up to twenty.

To quote from Breatnach (pp 87-89), "[a]n essential feature of the seven grades of poets is that they are the successive stages in a progression which an individual may make in his own lifetime ... The distinction between one grade and another is one of the extent of the poet's learning ... Nowhere, however, do we find mention of the bards progressing from grade to grade." None of the seven grades of filid or the seven (or eight, or sixteen) grades of baird, not even the lowest, are regarded as pupils, because each has his "honor-price, retinue, and powers of protection, which indicates that he is a person of independent legal standing ... Progress up through the grades is dependent on increasing one's learning. He does however have, as it were, a license to practice. That a specific metre, with its corresponding reward is assigned to him ... shows clearly that he practised as a poet ... 'he who does not compose does not learn.'"

On that note, I will temporarily conclude this series of posts, in order to go away and compose. To quote another Irish source (of which more later), "he is not a poet who does not have stories." And I have more to tell.

ADDITION: PART IV: Bards and the Irish Learned Tales

(Note: references cited are listed in the sidebar.)

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