ASNC graduate student Myriah Williams writes:
The Celtic Studies Association of North America held its annual meeting this year March 6–8 in Roanoke, Virginia. Organized by Charlene Eska and Joseph Eska, both of Virginia Tech, the conference was a three day flurry of activity filled with papers from established academics and postgraduate students alike. Topics were wide-ranging, from the Medieval British Isles to the Classical world, from politics to saints, and they attracted interest from an equally wide variety of people. The plenary speakers were David Stifter (NUI Maynooth), Edel Bhreathnach (The Discovery Program, Ireland), and Peter Schrijver (University of Utrecht). David Klausner (University of Toronto) led us through the seminar text Cyff Clêr, and there was even a reception to celebrate the surprise launch of a Festschrift in honour of Daniel Melia (UC Berkeley).
The first session, composed largely of former ASNC students, gave rise to discussion of cultural boundaries, textual transmission and appropriation of people and materials. Claire Adams (Harvard) began with ‘Constructive Conflict? Warring, Raiding and Fighting in the Early Medieval British Isles’, in which she provided an archaeologist’s perspective on the formation of kingdoms. Lindy Brady (University of Mississippi) explored what Bede can tell us about life in Mercia and the Marches in ‘The Welsh Frontier in Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum’. Bede provided a nice transition into ‘The Transmission and Use of English Sources in Medieval Welsh Chronicle Writing’ by Georgia Henley (Harvard). Her paper provided a discussion of the transmission of texts from England to Wales and their use in Welsh chronicle writing. Joshua Byron Smith (University of Arkansas) concluded the session with ‘Walter Map’s Welsh Reception: How a Twelfth-Century Cleric became a Great Man of Letters in Nineteenth-Century Wales’, moving us on to an antiquarian’s view of the past, specifically Iolo Morgannwg’s take on the twelfth-century cleric Walter Map.
The first plenary session of the conference was ‘In the Thicket of Times’, given by David Stifter, in which he discussed several ways in which modern research on Old Irish can help to disentangle us from several linguistic thickets.
A session on Irish literature followed. The first speaker was Anna Pagé (UCLA) presenting ‘Ambiguity and Taboo in the Conception of Irish Heroes’. She took us through her construction of different categories under which the conception of heroes occurs in Irish literature, and explored what that implied for their nature and social status. ‘Eochaid Feidlech’s Family and the Framing of the Táin’ was the final paper of the session, given by Mattieu Boyd (Fairleigh Dickinson University). In his paper, he focused on the Táin and issues of family and sexual violence as key plot points in Early Irish literature.
Anne Connon (Ohio Dominican University) opened the Politics session with ‘Carving up Crúachan: The Division of Ceremonial Sites between Rival Septs in Early and Later Medieval Connacht’, a talk on the division of Crúachain, examining the relationship between the various branches of the Síl Muiredaig dynasty and how that translated onto the land. Another genealogy was discussed in ‘International, Political, and Cultural Connections in Do Feartaib Cairnich’ by Patrick Wadden (Belmont Abbey College). This genealogy was raised in the context of its role in the international relations of Do Feartaib Cairnich, which Wadden demonstrated deserved better than its antiquarian designation as ‘a useless tale’. Daniel Melia (UC Berkeley) wrapped up the session and the day with an idea that he first had many years ago, namely that ‘Lady Macbeth was Right’, and more specifically that Shakespeare has a better control of medieval Scottish dynastic politics than has been previously thought.
A reception was held for us at the end of the day in the Appalachian Room of the hotel, where we were treated to a generous variety of wines and soft drinks, as well as hors d’oeuvre. The evening was not only about celebrating the conference, however; when the theme song to Jeopardy, the popular American quiz show, began to play, that was the signal to celebrate Daniel Melia and the launch of this year’s CSANA yearbook, a Festschrift which honours the contributions that he has made to the field of Celtic Studies.
As those who have studied or worked with Daniel know, his accomplishments measure to much more than his Jeopardy wins, and this is evidenced by the contributors to the Festschrift. The forward was written by Annalee Rejhon, a long-time colleague at UC Berkeley, with articles coming both from other Berkeleyans and from academics across the US, the UK and Ireland. The new volume was jointly edited by Georgia Henley, a former student of Daniel’s, and Paul Russell (ASNC).
Day two of the conference began with a session on Medieval Literature. Geraldine Parsons (University of Glasgow) opened with ‘Editing the Acallam: A Single-Witness Edition of Rawl. B. 487’. She treated us to a discussion and images of Rawlinson MS B. 487, a late medieval manuscript which contains a fragmented version of Acallam na Senórach (‘Colloquy of the Ancients’). Parson’s was followed by ‘Visible Raven, Virtual Wolf: Deirdre as Satirist and Fénnid in Longes mac nUislenn’, a talk by Elizabeth Gray (Harvard). In her paper Gray presented an analysis of the raven and wolf metaphors employed in Longes mac nUislenn (‘The Exiles of the Sons of Uisliu’). Amy Mulligan (Notre Dame) then spoke on ‘A Transnational Irish Sea Current: Cædmon, Cenn Fáelad, and Vernacular Literary Origin Myths’, comparing modes of literary origins in Ireland and Anglo-Saxon England. Charles MacQuarrie (UC Bakersfield) then ended the session by asking ‘Is the Early Celtic Poetry of Scotland any Good?’.
Edel Bhreathnach presented the second plenary lecture. The lecture was titled ‘Senchas: How was History Created and Used in Medieval Ireland’, and in it she discussed various types of written sources which blur the modern lines between history and literature, including the different branches of senchas, the Táin and versified genealogies.
After the plenary, Eric Graff (Pontifical College Josephinum) began the session on Saints with ‘On the Hidden Chronology of the Catalogus Sanctorum Hiberniae and the Implications of a Rehabilitated Text’. He discussed the Catalogus Sanctorum Hiberniae, comparing how the changing practices of the three orders of saints described in the text reflect a chronology. Julianne Pigott (ASNC) followed with ‘Cumann Comnae: Setting the Boundaries of Salvation in the Lismore Life of Saint Senán’, a talk on the Lismore Life of Saint Senán. Pigott used this text as an example of the insight that hagiography can provide for the study of the eucharist. Unfortunately the final speaker of this session, Máire Johnson (Elizabethtown College) was unable to attend, but her paper, ‘The Injuries for Insult: Punishing Verbal Assault in Ireland’s Medieval Hagiography’, was read by Dorothy Bray (McGill University) to a warm reception.
The Law and Medicine session was appropriately started with Medieval Welsh and Irish law expert Robin Chapman Stacey (University of Washington) who presented ‘Revisiting the Burlesque (in Medieval Welsh Law)’. In her paper, Stacey mined the Welsh laws for burlesques language and imagery, and showed how these are used to provide comic commentary on the laws in which they are found. Lizabeth Johnson (University of New Mexico) presented ‘Coverture in Medieval Wales’, discussing evidence from the Dyffryn Clwyd Court Rolls for when the wife’s legal rights were subsumed under those of her husband. Deborah Hayden (DIAS) turned our attention to the medical side of the session with ‘Observations on the “Doors of Death” in an Irish Medical Catechism’, in which she traced descriptions and explanations of the ‘doors of death’, the points of the body through which it was believed that a person was easily killed or taken over by the devil, through medieval Irish medical tracts and religious texts. Bridgette Slavin (Medaille College) concluded with ‘An Irish Medieval Murder Mystery? Duinetháide in Early Irish Legal and Literary Texts’, in which she discussed the sense of this term for secretive killing.
The first session of the final day of the conference was concerned with Medieval Welsh Sources. NLW MS Peniarth 50 (Y Cwta Cyfarwydd) was the first topic discussed, in a paper by Helen Fulton (University of York), ‘NLW MS Peniarth 50 and the Medieval March of Wales’. She examined the manuscript in the context of the Marches of Wales, because despite being copied by a single hand, the manuscript contains both English and Welsh prophetic material concerning contemporary (fifteenth century) political events. Moving back in time to the thirteenth century, in ‘Ys celuit ae dehoglho: Interpreting a Dream?’, Myriah Williams (ASNC) argued that the second poem of NLW MS Peniarth 1 (The Black Book of Carmarthen) had undergone several layers of transformation into a composite text before being copied into the manuscript in its present form. Nahir Otaño Gracia (University of Massachusetts) concluded the session with ‘Reappropriating Wales, Reappropriating Arthur: Brut y Brenhinedd as a Rewriting of the Historia Regum Brittaniae’, in which she presented the perspective that Brut y Brenhinedd, the Welsh translation of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae should be read as an attempt by the Welsh to reclaim their history and culture.
Peter Schrijver presented the final plenary lecture, ‘Linguistic Light on Dark Age Britain: The Loss of Cases in Latin and British Celtic’. The topic of discussion was the loss of cases in British Latin and British Celtic. Though detailed, Schrijver made the lecture accessible to non-linguists in the room, and demonstrated some issues with existing solutions for the loss of cases, and offered some of his own potential solutions in their place.
The seminar text was a Cyff Clêr, which comes from a tradition wherein lesser bards compose a series of poems in mockery of their master, in this case Gruffudd Hiraethog, concluding with a rebuttal by the master himself. Such roasts were performed at wedding feasts, and rewarded with a prized doublet. This series is found in NLW Peniarth 81, and is sadly the only example of its kind left to us. As we found in discussion, it is a highly amusing and interesting text for many reasons, not the least of which is a running joke that relies on a familiarity with English. The jokes are bawdy – the aforementioned one finds its humour in Welsh tyst and test intending to recall ‘testicles’ in English – and relentless; they present a good idea about what the atmosphere at a wedding feast might have been like. The greater skill commanded by the master poet over his students, the elegance with which he shames each in turn, is also apparent when their works are side-by-side. The Cyff Clêr was certainly a good choice for a seminar text, both for its entertainment value and for the discussion it raised.
We ended the day, and the conference, with a session on The Classical World. Michael Meckler, (Ohio State University) was the first speaker, and he jumped right into the important issue of ‘The Introduction of Wine among the Irish’ (gearing everyone up for the dinner to follow, of course). From wine to Ovid, Paul Russell (ASNC) spoke next about re-evaluating the evidence of Ovidian texts in Wales. In ‘Knowledge of Ovid in Medieval Wales: What They Knew and What We Think They Might Have Known’, Russell drew parallels with the invocation of the names Virgil and Donatus in Welsh texts, and presented the argument that perhaps references to Ovid in the literature may carry a more generic meaning than specifically recalling the Classical poet himself. The final speaker of the session was Timothy Bridgman (SUNY Binghamton and SUNY Broome) speaking on ‘Names and naming Conventions of Celtic Peoples in Pliny the Elder’s Naturalis Historia II’ considered how Pliny named Celtic peoples in his works.
At the Business meeting, Paul Russell stood down as President after his two-year stint to be succeeded by Charlene Eska, and Michael Meckler was elected Vice-President.
The jam-packed long weekend drew to a close over a relaxing three-course dinner, where discussion of the conference papers continued until the goodbyes began. It was great to bridge the gap over the Atlantic, if only for three days, and to be reminded about how important it is that Celtic scholars maintain contact despite physical distance. We are a specialized field, and in sharing knowledge we will all benefit. Many thanks should be extended to Charlene Eska and Joe Eska for organizing the conference this year, as well as for their gracious hosting; it is safe to say that the conference was enjoyed by all. May next year’s CSANA conference in Berkeley prove as fruitful as this one.