“Mistakes of all Kinds”: The Glossography of Medieval Irish Literary Texts Paul Russell “Mistakes of all kinds, misinterpretations, careless transcribing such as mistaking one letter for another, wrong extensions of contractions &c. abound in these glossaries”1 “ . . . it helps to assume that the authors of the proto-versions were lively, complicated Irishmen who knew what they were doing (even if we can’t quite make out what they were up to) . . .” 2 Much has been written about the vibrant culture of vernacular glossing and commentary in medieval Ireland particularly in relation to Latin texts, the vernacular legal texts, and the early poetry, notably Amra Coluimb Chille.3 But less, if any, attention has been directed at the glossography of medieval Irish prose texts. One not unreasonable response to this observation might be that there is not much to say as there is not much to talk about. This assumption derives, as does much of the negative impression of the medieval Irish glossographical enterprise, from the scholarship of the early twentieth century. Bergin’s much-quoted views are well known and need not detain us here. 4 Referring more specifically to the type of material under discussion here, Eleanor Knott was firm in her view of medieval Irish glossaries: “as guides to the meanings of words some of them do not even pretend to be useful, and those that do are frequently unreliable”. 5 In this view she was following Kuno Meyer whose opinion is offered in the first quotation at the top of this paper; it comes from the only article which even attempts to grapple with the detail of the texts we are considering here.6 Times have moved on and nowadays we are inclined to be more sympathetically disposed to the efforts of these glossators and commentators. John Kelleher’s remark (quoted above) was made in that spirit and, although it was made in the context of writing about early Irish humour, it is of more general application and was a forerunner of those scholars who went on in subsequent years to make compelling 1 Kuno Meyer, “The Sources of some Middle-Irish Glossaries,” Archiv für celtische Lexicographie 3 (1905–7): 138–144, at 140. For most texts under discussion, references will be provided to the relevant section of the late Donnchadh Ó Corráin’s Clavis Litterarum Hibernensium. Medieval Irish Books & Texts (c. 400–c. 1600), Corpus Christianorum Claves, 3 vols. (Turnhout: Brepols, 2017) (henceforth CLH). 2 John V. Kelleher, “Humor in the Ulster Saga,” in Selected Writings of John V. Kelleher on Ireland and Irish America, ed. Charles Fanning (Carbondale & Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 2002), 187–204, at 203 (first published in Veins of Humor, ed. Harry Levin, Harvard English Studies 3 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1972), 35–56, at 56). 3 Liam Breatnach, “The Glossing of the Early Irish Law Tracts,” in Grammatica, Gramadach and Gramadeg. Vernacular Grammar and Grammarians in Medieval Ireland and Wales, ed. Deborah Hayden and Paul Russell, SIHOLS 126 (Amsterdam and Philadelphia: Benjamins 2016), 113–32; Liam Breatnach, ed. and trans., “‘The Cauldron of Poesy’,” Ériu 32 (1981): 45–93; Paul Russell, “In aliis libris: Adaptation, Re-working and Transmission in the Commentaries to Amra Coluimb Chille,” in Authorities and Adaptations: the Reworking and Transmission of Sources in Medieval Irish Textual Culture, ed. Elizabeth L. Boyle and Deborah Hayden (Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 2014), 63–93. 4 Bergin quoted by Daniel A. Binchy, “The Linguistic and Historical Value of the Irish Law Tracts,” Proceedings of the British Academy, 29 (1943): 195–227, at 212 (= p. 20 in the separate publication); reprinted in Celtic Law Papers, ed. Dafydd Jenkins (Brussells: Les Éditions de la Librairie Encylcopédique, 1973), 73–107, at 90–1. For discussion, see Paul Russell, “Read it in a Glossary”: Glossaries and Learned Discourse in Medieval Ireland, Kathleen Hughes Memorial Lectures 6 (Cambridge: Hughes Hall and the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic, 2008), 2–4. 5 Eleanor Knott, “O’Clery’s glossary and its forerunners. A note on glossary-making in medieval Ireland,” in S. O’Brien (ed.), Measgra i gcuimhne Mhichíl Uí Chléirigh .i. Miscellany of Historical and Linguistic Studies in Honour of Brother Michael Ó Cléirigh, O.F.M., Chief of the Four Masters, 1643-1943 (Dublin: Assisi Press, 1944), 65–9, at 67. 6 Meyer, “Sources of some Middle-Irish Glossaries”. MISTAKES OF A

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