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The Tain (Penguin Classics) Paperback – February 24, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Loosely translated as The Cattle Raid of Cooley, the Táin Bó Cúailnge is part of the 80-story, multiauthor Ulster Cycle, an Irish epic that dates to the eighth century. Rendered in laconic vernacular prose by veteran poet and translator Carson, The Táin (pronounced toyne) opens on the pillow talk of King Ailill of Connacht and his boastful wife, Queen Mebd. Reckoning that her husband has one greater asset than she, namely, the prize white-horned bull, Finnbennach, the queen enlists the entire army of Connacht to wage war against Cúailnge, a province of Ulster, in order to secure its fine brown bull. As the army moves into Ulster, it is led by Fergus, a former king of Ulster now in exile who remains sympathetic to the Ulster side and to his 17-year-old foster son, Cú Chulainn, whose youthful exploits Fergus recounts. Three-day hand-to-hand combat pits Cú Chulainn against his beloved foster-brother, Fer Diad Mac Damáin; at the climax, the white and brown bulls come face to face. The narrative revels in place names and their etymologies, telling story upon story. Carson's version is a lively and vivid journey through a mythic landscape. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Carson's landmark translation, the first in forty years, brings this literary gem to life in a fresh, modern retelling that rivals Thomas Kinsella's classic translation of 1969."
- Booklist "In vivid prose Carson has harnessed . . . the tale's tremendous artistic power."-Irish Voice

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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Original edition (February 24, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140455302
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140455304
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #294,019 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

115 of 115 people found the following review helpful By John L Murphy TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover
A few weeks ago, I compared (on Amazon under both versions) the new Oxford UP translation from the Middle Welsh by Sioned Davies of "The Mabinogion" with the standard edition by Patrick Ford, from U. of California Press. The Old Irish equivalent of a medieval Celtic epic that for most of us represents the epitome of ancient adventure and mortal combat, "The Táin," now can gain the same comparison and contrast. We can finally study Thomas Kinsella's 1970 Oxford UP edition next to Ciaran Carson's 2008 Viking-Penguin hardcover. As with my comments on Amazon about the two competing Mabinogi, I will select a favorite passage. I will transcribe how Kinsella and Carson render it. Poetic Champions Compose!

Kinsella (pp. 250-51): "Then Medb got her gush of blood.
'Fergus,' she said, 'take over the shelter of shields at the rear of the men of Ireland until I relieve myself.'
'By god,' Fergus said, 'you have picked a bad time for this.'
'I can't help it,' Medb said. 'I'll die if I can't do it.'
So Fergus took over the shelter of shields at the rear of the men of Ireland and Medb relieved herself. It dug three great channels, each big enough to take a household. The place is called Fual Medba, Medb's Foul Place, ever since. Cúchulainn found her like this, but he held his hand. He wouldn't strike her from behind.
'Spare me,' Medb said.
'If I killed you dead,' Cúchulainn said, 'it would only be right.'
But he spared her, not being a killer of women. [Cúchullain watches them depart. The battle is over, the Connacht forces defeated, as Medb tells Fergus. . . .]
'We have had shame and shambles here today, Fergus.'
'We followed the rump of a misguided woman,' Fergus said.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By R. E. Conary VINE VOICE on August 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Táin is Ireland's heroic fantasy of political intrigue, trickery, deceit, and feats of individual daring on a par with the Iliad. The tale's iconic hero, Cú Chulainn (Hound of Culann), a young, hot-tempered, nearly invincible warrior like Achilles, stands alone against the invading armies of Ireland protecting Ulster and the North.

The story, first recorded between the sixth and eighth centuries from oral tales, is a simple one. Medb, queen of Connacht, is jealous that her husband's riches outnumber her own by one prize bull. There's a bull of equal value in neighboring Ulster. Medb and her husband, Ailill, connive to steal the bull. Although all of the warriors of Ulster are bed-ridden by an annual curse, Medb and Ailill take no chances for failure. In secret alliances, they offer their fair daughter, Finnabair, to every leader and king who'll bring an army to help them. And come they do, like the Greeks rushing to Troy for Helen. The one flaw in their plan is the seventeen-year-old Ulster hero, Cú Chulainn. Apparently, the beardless boy is too young to be afflicted by "The Curse," and he harries and stalls the invaders until the Ulster warriors recover and can join in the final battle.

Cú is the prototype of superheroes from Conan to Wolverine. His rages puff him up like the Hulk that no horde can withstand. Yet he'll fight with all the chivalry of a Dumas' hero in single combat: "'It's your choice of weapons until nightfall,' said Cú, `for you were first at the ford.'" The pathos of war is particularly poignant when Cú battles his foster brother, Fer Diad.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan on April 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm a student of medieval epics so, in my humble opinion, this translation of The Tain is a really good one. I knew very little of Celtic mythology, but even without the knowledge, I was able to follow the story very easily.

Even though it's written in Prose, it still retains the elements of oral composition characteristic to medieval epics. Also, the edition provides very helpful annotations and supplemental information that will greatly improve your understanding of the text and expand your knowledge of the Celtic cultures.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Zach J. Kamla on December 9, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Irish mythology tends to focus on phenomenal feats of strength and skill, plenty of whimsy, and yarns full of love and vengeance, but the Tain goes beyond this to comment on some deeper themes, such as how the valiant fight on both sides of a conflict due to misplaced loyalty.

The first half of it is primarily amusing--because of a misogynistic act, the Ulstermen fall under a curse (said to resemble menstruation, but the length of the curse is as long as pregnancy) while the Connachtmen, under orders of the sexy but conniving Queen Medb and her quivering husband Ailill, attack in order to steel a prize bull. Cu Chulainn slows the massive army's progress by challenging its heroes to mortal combat one by one, and none can best him.

Eventually, though, we see characters growing and changing, such as when Medb's beautiful daughter who seduces heroes into fighting Cu Chulainn falls in love with one of them and expresses sincere remorse for sending men to their death. The tone changes as Cu Chulainn proves not to be invincible, and the battle between him and his best friend Ferdiad conveys some strong emotion from otherwise haughty characters.

There's no doubt that this story is perhaps the most highly-regarded work of Irish mythology, the only question is the translation. From what I've read, this is a great translation that sacrifices some of the literal meanings to convey the emotion and wit. I know translators who say that a literal translation of an idiomatic expression can and should be substituted with the equivalent in the target language because what is being said is far more important than how it's being said.
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