The Tain

The Tain

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by Ciaran Carson

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'[A] brilliant and altogether engaging new translation' (Los Angeles Times) of the greatest epic in Irish literature

The Tain Bo Cualinge, centrepiece of the eighth-century Ulster cycle of heroic tales, is Ireland's great epic, on par with Beowulf and The Aeneid. The story of the emergence of a hero, a paean to the Irish landscape, and

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'[A] brilliant and altogether engaging new translation' (Los Angeles Times) of the greatest epic in Irish literature

The Tain Bo Cualinge, centrepiece of the eighth-century Ulster cycle of heroic tales, is Ireland's great epic, on par with Beowulf and The Aeneid. The story of the emergence of a hero, a paean to the Irish landscape, and a bawdy and contentious marital farce, The Tain tells of a great cattle-raid, the invasion of Ulster by the armies of Medb and Ailill, Queen and King of Connacht, and their allies, seeking to carry off the great Brown Bull of Cualige. The hero of the tale is Cuchulainn, the Hound of Ulster, who resists the invaders single-handed while Ulster's warriors lie sick. In its first translation in forty years, Ciaran Carson brings this seminal work of Irish literature fully to life, capturing all of its visceral power in what acclaimed poets Seamus Heaney and Paul Muldoon individually called one of the best books of the year. 

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Loosely translated as "The Cattle Raid of Cooley," the Táin Bó Cúailngeis 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.)

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Kirkus Reviews
The Irish poet and author best known in the United States for his wonderful autobiography The Star Factory (1998) offers a new translation of his country's ebullient epic tale, also known as "The Cattle Raid of Cooley."It's actually one segment of the larger Tain B- Cuailnge, itself part of the 8th-century Ulster Cycle, which celebrates the deeds of the prehistoric inhabitants of Northern Ireland. In an introductory section, Carson mostly suggests that his Tain be viewed as "commentary" on and "tribute" to Thomas Kinsella's near-legendary 1969 translation. Yet the elegant introductory section bespeaks his authority as much as do the vigorous rhythms of the agreeably blood-drenched narrative he translates: a combination of prose and verse, as it happens, with roots in and debts to the epics of Homer and Virgil and the stories of the Christian Bible. The story begins when Queen Medb of Connacht, jealous of her husband King Ailill's possession of a fertile white bull, negotiates the loan of a great brown bull owned by the king of Ulster. When it is learned the men of Connacht were prepared to use force, agreements are voided and a catastrophic "raid" ensues-in which Ulster's stalwart teenaged hero Cu Chulainn prevails in single combat against successive Connacht challengers (including those who shape-shift into fearsome nonhuman creatures). Hyperbole attends both the combatants' frequently exchanged boasts and the core narrative (e.g., "In that great massacre . . . Cu Chullain slew seven score and ten kings as well as innumerable dogs and horses, women and children, not to mention underlings and rabble"). Ominous visions attend the climactic three-day battle between Cu Chullain andConnacht's champion Fer Diad (the former's foster brother and friend)-which is succeeded by the clashing of the great bulls themselves, then the arrangement of a peace between Ulster and Connacht. A great story, too little known in this country, and an invaluable treasure for both its suggestive contemporary relevance and its elemental beauty and power.
From the Publisher
"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

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.74(w) x 8.54(h) x 0.93(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

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The Tain 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
R_E_Conary More than 1 year ago
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.
Quan-Kun More than 1 year ago
I purchased this title in hopes of an action fantasy... Though it was a quick read, it was not enjoyable for me. Half of the book was spent reciting names of people whom are only mentioned once. While I understand and respect the "history" behind the title. I think it would be better suited under a "historical fiction" title as opposed to pure fiction.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
helpful book