Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Irish proto-crime tale is a lot of bull

[Road sculpture, Táin Bó Cúailnge (the Cattle
of Cooley), County Louth, Ireland.
From the blog
"Pictures of Ireland."]
I like to post, seriously or not so seriously, about classics of world literature that remind me of crime fiction. These range from Voltaire's Holmesian interlude in "Zadig" to speculation that Herodotus was the father of the gentleman thief and a post about the Epic of Gilgamesh that I called "Sumer time, and the living is easy."

I am pleased to add Táin Bó Cúailnge  (The Cattle Raid of Cooley or, simply, The Táin) to the list, and Cúchulain hasn't even started doing his thing yet.

The opening of this old Irish tale is a heist story, Ailill and Medb, king and queen of Connacht, planning to steal Donn Cúailnge, the great brown bull of Cooley, and assembling their crew with all the care of Richard Stark's Parker. And Ailill and Medb (Maeve) themselves have to be the most fun fictional couple I've run into since Nick and Nora Charles. The tale begins in one of its two main recensions, or versions, with pillow talk between the two, a disagreement over which is richer. (Women could hold onto their own property in old Ireland.)
The Táin is available in several English translations, including versions by the Irish poets Ciaran Carson and Thomas Kinsella. Several older versions are available free online. For evidence that Irish myth can still excite Irish crime writers, look no further than Requiems for the Departed (Morrigan Books, 2010)

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Blogger Susan said...

You make this sound so interesting - looking at this as a heist! I like it! I'm hoping to find a copy of Requiem for the Departed tomorrow (at least Amazon.ca has it), and maybe our library will have this. I can hope anyway. You realize that calling Ailill and Medb like an Irish Nick and Nora Charles is irresistible, right? and a fun way to look at this myth.

April 12, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, my tongue was at least halfway in cheek, but I do think this indicated how much suggestive fun the Tain can be.

Ciaran Carson's version, which you mentioned in another comment, includes the opening pillow-talk episode with Ailill and Medb, a serious but good-natured bragging contest about which one is richer.

April 12, 2012  

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