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109 of 109 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How does Carson compare to Kinsella?
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,"...
Published on February 25, 2008 by John L Murphy

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3.0 out of 5 stars It is probably the easiest version to read, but ...
It is probably the easiest version to read, but still cumbersome. I finished it, but it was a task more than a pleasure.
Published 4 months ago by Kelsey Quinn


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109 of 109 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How does Carson compare to Kinsella?, February 25, 2008
This review is from: The Tain (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. 'It is the usual thing for a herd led by a mare to be strayed and destroyed.'"

Carson:(pp. 206-07)

"Then Medb got her gush of blood.
'Fergus,' she said, 'cover the retreat of the men of Ireland, for I must relieve myself.'
'By god',' said Fergus, 'you picked a bad time to go.'
'I can't help it,' said Medb, 'I'll die if I don't go.'
So Fergus covered the retreat. Medb relieved herself, and it made three great trenches, each big enough for a cavalcade. Hence the place is known as Fúal Medba, Medb's Piss-pot.
Cú Chulainn came upon Medb as she was doing what she had to.
'I'm at your mercy,' said Medb.
'If I were to strike, and kill you,' said Cú Chulainn, 'I'd be within my rights.'
But he spared her, because usually he did not kill women. [. . . .]
Now that they had lost the battle, Medb said to Fergus:
'The pot was stirred, Fergus, and today a mess was made.'
'That's usually what happens,' said Fergus, 'when a mare leads a herd of horses -- all their energy gets pissed away, following the rump of a skittish female.'"

To me, Kinsella opts with alliteration like "shame and shambles," and "shelter of shields" to convey a balance, a slightly archaic register. Hypotactics heighten orderly parallelism like "strayed and destroyed" and "was stirred" and "was made." A dignity remains despite the scatological content. For Carson, an edgier, conversational tone stresses slightly the bitterness that Fergus feels, and the gloating that Cú Chulainn indulges, when the hero's finally cornered his arch-foe-- only to catch her with her skirt down.

The two editions complement each other. Carson notes in his introduction that he had resisted initially the temptation, but wound up peeking at his predecessor and eventually "checked every line of mine against Kinsella. I trust my translation is different." As I found with Davies and Ford, so with Kinsella and Carson. In the latter poet's estimation, you can see that "there are occasions when my words do not differ a great deal from his. That is inevitable when more than one translation emerges from more or less the same text. And for better or for worse, my translation will be seen as a commentary on Kinsella; I hope it will also be taken as a tribute." (xxv)

The two editions use the same base text, Recension I. Carson re-orders some episodes, and adds a bit to Kinsella's content. Both authors package the many small sections of the original Old Irish into chapters; Carson has one fewer than Kinsella. Kinsella prepared seven 'remscéla' or prefatory tales; Carson summarizes these in end-notes. Both try for, Carson explains, a non-literal translation. But, where Kinsella allowed some "relatively free verse, I have kept to the original syllable-count of the lines," with a few exceptions that proved impossible. (xxvi) Rhyme and assonance, Carson adds, had to differ too from the original's 'aabb' pattern that would've been "difficult and tedious to replicate in English." He sticks to Cecile O'Rahilly's scholarly recensions in their spellings. These names dependably provided ironic commentary on the action, embedded for an Old Irish audience.

Both editions feature brief introductions, a translator's prefatory note, end-notes, and a pronunciation guide. The elegant design in the earlier Oxford UP paperback that incorporated Louis le Brocquy's magnificent brush drawings, and the typographical elegance of the 1969 Dolmen Press original, along with three handsome maps. Kinsella matches his denser end-notes to the text's pages; Carson uses numerical indicators keyed to fewer end-notes. Kinsella remarks on topography and the manuscript's tradition. Similarly, Carson discusses "landscape as metronymic map" and the concept of 'dindsenchas,' or place-name lore, helpfully. Neither translator gets bogged down in this topic, but they nod to it meaningfully. Their end-notes treat it at more length. Therefore, both poets strive to keep the integrity of the text primary, and relegate helps for us today to their own separate niche, as is both helpful and proper.

Carson's book weighs in at just over two hundred pages, about eighty less than Kinsella's. That version, of course, featured illustrations and typographically and graphically keeps its advantage. Carson's, smaller in heft and on less durable paper (even in the hardcover, disappointingly), otherwise remains neck-and-neck in both style, scholarship, and swiftness.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heroic fantasy at its best, August 1, 2008
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This review is from: The Tain (Hardcover)
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.

Fer Diad is tricked into fighting Cú; Mebd and Ailill tell him lies that Cú had besmirched his honor, and they offer him their daughter (as they had to nearly everyone else) as a reward.

Cú and Fer Diad fight for several days, meeting each morning to let one or the other choose the weapon and fighting until night; then sharing food and succor as their horses grazed together and their charioteers shared the same fire. "For every amulet and spell and charm that was laid on Cú Chulainn's cuts and gashes, he sent the same to Fer Diad on the south side of the ford. And for every piece of food, and pleasant, wholesome and reviving drink that the men of Ireland gave Fer Diad, he sent the same to Cú Chulainn."

Their battle brings to mind two modern instances:

Winfield Scott Hancock and Lewis Addison Armistead, close friends and soldiers before the Civil War, bid each other tearful farewells after the fall of Ft. Sumter only to come together again on opposite sides during Pickett's Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg. Wounded, Armistead's only concern is for his friend Hancock, and hearing that Hancock has also been wounded mournfully cries, "Not both of us on the same day."

The "Christmas Truce," 1914: On Christmas eve and Christmas day, British and German troops, who had been fighting and killing each other daily, take a momentary pause from chaos. Spontaneously, along the front lines, they come together in comradeship sharing songs, stories, food and drink in "no man's land," knowing full well that afterward they would have to return to slaughter.

The Táin is a wonderful tale of intrigue, honor, sacrifice and the worthlessness of war.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars In my opinion..., April 9, 2011
By 
Jonathan (Dorado, P.R.) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Tain (Hardcover)
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lot more than what I was expecting!, December 9, 2012
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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. Others may appreciate the colorful idioms and poetic devices that were used in the Gaelic which don't work well in English in order to get a feel for the linguistics. If you disagree, I'm sure there are translations on Amazon which will better suit your desired experience, but I found this translation able to roll a film in my head and am pleased with my choice.
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4.0 out of 5 stars great old Celtic story, October 12, 2013
By 
Jean Cowan "yoga student" (Crofton, MD United States) - See all my reviews
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Well written and interesting interpretations of the old, old myths. I have no idea if the translations are accurate or not.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wow!, October 2, 2013
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Never read anything quite like this before. Still not sure how I feel about the story, but definitely recommend to anyone with an open mind.
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3.0 out of 5 stars It is probably the easiest version to read, but ..., July 29, 2014
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Kelsey Quinn "Orion" (Laurel, MD United States) - See all my reviews
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It is probably the easiest version to read, but still cumbersome. I finished it, but it was a task more than a pleasure.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, August 8, 2014
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bought as a gift & the gifted already had it !
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3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars, November 15, 2014
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This review is from: The Tain (Hardcover)
no problems.
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The Tain
The Tain by Ciaran Carson (Hardcover - February 21, 2008)
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