Kuno Meyer (1858-1920)

[Kuno Eduard]; b. Hamburg, ed. Gelehrtanschule of the Johanneum, Jamburg; [var. Edinburgh and] Leipzig under Windisch; appt. Lecturer in German at Liverpool University, 1884-95; appt. Professor, 1895-915; fnd. Zeitschrift fur Celtische Philologie, Berlin, 1896; fnd. School of Irish Learning, Dublin 1903, training Osborn Bergin, T. F. O’Rahilly Eleanor Knott, and others; established Ériu, 1904; succeeded Windisch as Prof. of Celtic Studies at Berlin in 1911;
works include The Irish Odyssey (1885), Bryth and Gael (1896); Liadan and Cuirithir (1902); translations include The Vision of MacConglinne (1892); The Voyage of Bran (1895); Fianaigheacht (1910); and Ancient Irish Poetry (1913); Meyer was a friend and conversational companion of George Moore in Dublin; his lectures on Irish literature in answer to Professor Atkinson were printed in The Irish Catholic (5 April 1902); a bibliography of works was prepared by R. I. Best in 1923;
there is an archive of his papers and related materials at the Sydney Jones Library, Liverpool Univ.; an oil portait by Augustus John is in the National Gallery of Ireland. IF DIH OCIL

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[Editions & translations], Aislinge Meic Conglinne (London: David Nutt 1892); The Voyage of Bran (1895) [cf. The Voyage of Bran and the Celtic Doctrine of Rebirth, with Alfred Nutt, 1897); Stories and Songs from Irish manuscripts (1899); Liadain and Curithir (London 1902); Four Old Irish Songs of Summer and Winter (1903); Triads of Ireland [Todd Lecture Series, l3 RIA] (1906); Fiannaigecht (1910); Selections from Ancient Irish Poetry (London: Constable 1911; 2nd ed. 1913); ed., ‘The instructions of King Cormac mac Airt’, Todd Lecture Series [Royal Irish Academy], Vol. 15 (RIA 1909); Selections from Ancient Irish Poetry (London; Constable 1911; 1913; 1928; 1959; 1994, &c), pb. 114pp [infra]; ‘Uber die alteste irische Dichtung’, parts. 1 & II, in Preussiche Akademie der Wissencschaften (Berlin 1913-14); Bruchstucke der alteren Lyrik Irlands (Berlin 1919); also ed., Aided Chonchobuir [q.d.]. Also ed., Cáin Adamnáin (1905).

Index of works available at Internet Archive - Supplied by Clare County Library

A primer of Irish metrics, with a glossary, and an appendix containing an alphabetical list of the poets of Ireland, by Kuno Meyer
Published in 1909, Hodges, Figgis & Co. [for the] School of Irish Learning, D. Nutt (Dublin, London)
Pagination: vii, [1], 63pp.
Available at Internet Archive

An old Irish prayer for long life, trans. by Kuno Meyer
Published: A Miscellany presented to J. M. Mackay, LL.D. (Liverpool 1914).
Contributor: ed. Kuno Meyer.
Pagination: pp.226-232.
Available at Internet Archive


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R. I. B[est], ‘Kuno Meyer’ [An appreciation], in Eriu, Vol. IX (1921-23), pp.181-86; Seán Ó Lúing, Kuno Meyer 1858-1919 (Geography Publns. 1992), vii, 267pp. [see extract]; also ‘Kuno Meyer’ [chap.] in Ó Lúing, Essays on Celtic Studies in Europe (Dublin: Geography Publ. 2000) [1.p.].

See also encomiastic remarks in Vivian Mercier, Modern Irish Literature, Sources and Founders, ed. Eilís Dillon (OUP 1994).

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Seán Ó Lúing, Kuno Meyer 1858-1919 (Geography Publns. 1992), 275pp., writes: Bitterness ensued between Meyer and Marstrander over the latter’s editorship of the first fasciculus of the RIA’s Dictionary of the Irish Language. Ó Lúing is scrupulously fair to everybody in this celebrated dispute. He used his lecture tour in America as an opportunity to propagandise for the Germans. He was shamefully stripped of the freedom of the city of Dublin in 1915, bestowed on him a few years before. His sister Toni was a constant companion until he maried briefly and unsuccessfully shortly before his death [Books Ireland review]. (Ó Lúing is also the biographer of Arthur Griffith.)

Douglas Hyde: Hyde wrote of Kuno Meyer and others - ‘But unfortunately, distracted as we are and torn by contending factions, it is impossible to find either men or money to carry out this simple remedy, although to a dispassionate foreigner - to a Zeuss, Jubainville, Zimmer, Kuno Meyer, Windisch, or Ascoli, and the rest - this is of greater importance than whether Mr. Redmond or Mr. MacCarthy lead the largest wing of the Irish party for the moment, or Mr. So-and-So succeed with his election petition.’ (On the Necessity for De-Anglicizing Ireland, 25 November 1892; rep. in Mark Storey, Poetry and Ireland since 1800: A Source Book, London: Routledge 1988, pp.78-84; p.81.)

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The Monk and His Pet Cat (Pangur Ban)”: ‘I and my white Pangur / Have each his special art: / His mind is set on hunting mice, / Mine is upon my special craft. / I love to rest better than any fame! / With close study at my little book; / White Pangur does not envy me: / He loves his childish play. When in our house we two are all alone / A tale without tedium! / We have sport never-ending! / Something to exercise our wit. // At times by feats of derring-do / A mouse sticks in his net, / While into my net there drops / A difficult problem of hard meaning. // He points his full shining eye / Against the fence of the wall: / I point my clear though feeble eye / Against the keenness of science. // He rejoices with quick leaps / When in his sharp claw sticks a mouse: / I too rejoice when I have grasped / A problem difficult and dearly loved. // Though we are thus at all times, / Neither hinders the other, / Each of us pleased with his own art / Amuses himself alone. // He is a master of the work / Which every day he does: / While I am at my own work / To bring difficulty to clearness.’ (For further translations see attached.)

Irish literature: ‘The stream of Irish literature ran deep and broad, and iif in its course it carried along with it some earthy matter, such slight admixture did not affect the general purity of the waters, from which none need hesitate to drink deeply. The literature of no nation was free from occasional grossness, and considering the great antiquity of Irish literature and the primitive lifne which it reflected, what would strike an impartial observer is not its licence or coarseness, but rather the noble, lofty, and tender spirit which pervaded it.’ (Lectures on Irish Literature, rep. in The Irish Catholic, 5 April 1902; quoted in Tymoczko, p.309.)

Love of nature: ‘These poems occupy a unique position in the literature of the world. To seek out and watch and love Nature, in its tiniest phenomena as in its grandest, was given to no people so early or so fully as the Celt.’ (Quoted in Seamus Heaney, ‘The God in the Tree’, Preoccupations, London: Faber 1980, p.182; note that the reference in Heaney’s title is to a line in Patrick Kavanagh’s The Great Hunger.)

Selections from Ancient Irish Poetry (Constable & Company Ltd. 1911), Introduction: ‘In Nature poetry the Gaelic muse may vie with that of any other nation. Indeed these poems occupy a unique position in the literature of the world. To seek out and watch and love Nature, in its tiniest phenomena as in its grandest, was given to no people so early and so fully as to the Celt. Many hundreds of Gaelic and Welsh poems testify to this fact. It is a characteristic of these poems that in none of them do we get an elaborate or sustained description of any scene or scenery, but rather a succession of pictures and images which the poet, like an impressionist, calls up before us by light and skilful touches. Like the Japanese, the Celts were always quick to take an artistic hint; they avoid the obvious and the commonplace; the half-said thing to them is dearest.’ (pp.xii - xiii; quoted by Mitsuko Ohno, ‘Hokusai, Basho, Zen and More: Japanese Influences on Irish Poets’, in Journal of Irish Studies, IASIL-Japan, XVII, 2002, p.27 [on Cathal Ó Searchaigh], with the comment: ‘This passage from the famous introduction is endlessly drawn upon by Gaelic scholars. It is always assumed that Meyer was referring to haiku, but that word is not found in this paragraph written before the First World War. [... &c.]

Ancient Irish Literature (q.d.): ‘Like the Japanese, the Celts were always quick to take an artistic hint; they avoid the obvious and the commonplace; the half-said thing to them is dearest.’ (Quoted by Padraic Colum, in Anthology of Irish Verse, 1922, Introduction - with remarks: ‘This is said of the poetry written in Ireland many centuries ago, but the subtility that the critic credits the Celts with is still a racial heritage.’

An Old Irish Prayer for Long Life

We know so little of the beliefs and practices of Irish paganism that the following prayer or invocation of undoubtedly pagan origin, here fully edited and translated for the first time,^ will come as a welcome addition to our knowledge. Though published more than twenty years ago by Rudolf Thurneysen in ' Irische Texte ' III, p. 53, from the only two manuscripts in which it has come down to us,^ it has never received that attention to which its age and contents entitle it. /It is cited in an old-Irish metrical treatise, the oldest portion of which dates from the eighth century. [...]

In both MSS [Laud 610 and Book of Ballymote] the poem is introduced by the sentence: Nuall jer fia forset sensum fonicairt (font cart B) immaig ncesa (amaigh neasa B), which I would emend and translate as follows: Nuall Fir fio for set sensum font chilairt i mmaig desa (or i mmag n-desd) "The cry of Fer fio upon the road, may it bless me on my journey in (or 'into') the Plain of Age." Here Nuall Fir fio is the special title of our poem.

The proper name Fer fio is very rare. Indeed I know of only one other instance. In the Annals of Ulster it occurs as ( that of an abbot of Conry in Westmeath, who died a.d. 762. I do not consider it altogether incredible that an ecclesiastic should have recast an ancient and probably popular pagan prayer by adding Christian tags to it. Those familiar with early Irish Christianity know that it often exhibits a strange admixture of pagan elements, and that the early Church treated ancient popular superstitions with a very lenient hand. Nor is there anything in the language of the poem that would speak against its having been composed in the first half of the eighth century. I would therefore suggest that Fer fio of Conry was the author of the revised version. [...; Description follows here.]

In printing the Irish text I have so arranged the lines as to show their parallel structure at a glance.

I. Admuiniurs echt n-ingena trethan / dolbte snathi macc n-aesmar. /Tri bas uaim rohuccaiter! / tri aes dam dorataiter! / secht tonna tacid dam dorodalter! / Nimchoillet messe fom chuairt /i llurig lasrien cen leniud! / Ni nascthar mo chlu ar chel! / domthi aes! nimthi bas corba sen. (...; p.229.)

[Diacriticals and superscript note refs. omitted here].

I. I invoke the seven daughters of the Sea
who fashion the threads of the sons of long life!:
     May three deaths be taken from me!
     May three periods of age be granted to me!
     May seven waves of good fortune be dealt to me!
Phantoms shall not harm me on my journey in flashing corslet without hindrance!
My fame shall not perish!
Let old age come to me! death shall not come to me till I am old!

II. I invoke my Silver-champion who has not died, who will not die!:
     May a time be granted to me of the quality of white bronze!
     May my double be slain!
     May my right be maintained!
     May my strength be increased!
My grave shall not be ready!
Death shall not come to me on an expedition!
May my journey be carried out! [213]
  The headless adder shall not seize me,nor the hard-grey worm,
     nor the headless black chafer!
Neither thief shall harm me, nor a band of women, nor
     a band of armed men.
Let increase of time come to me from the King of the  Universe!

III. I invoke Senach of the seven periods of time,
whom fairy women have reared on the breasts of plenty!:
     May my seven candles not be extinguished!
      I am an indestructible stronghold,
      I am an unshaken rock,
      I am a precious stone,
      I am the luck of the week.
     May I live a hundred times a hundred years, each hundred of them apart!
I summon their boons to me.
May the grace of the Holy Spirit be upon me!
Domini est salus (three times), Christi est salus (three times).
Super populum tuum, Domine, benedictio tua.


[Available at Internet Archive - online; on source, see note, infra.]
Ricorso note: White bronze in the translation corresponds to the phrase findruni feba in the Irish original. (No variant in orthography between MSS versions is cited in the philological footnotes.) This, then, is the term "findrinny" which circulates in Anglo-Irish literature between Yeats and Joyce - the latter a parody of the former. See under W. B. Yeats > Notes 2 > Wanderings of Oisin > findrinny - infra.

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Stephen Brown, Ireland in Fiction (Dublin: Maunsel 1919), gives bio-data: b. Hamburg, ed. there and Liepzig; lecturer in Teutonic Langs, Univ. Coll., Liverpool, 1884; Prof., 1895; founded Zeitschrift für Celtische Philologie, 1895; and with Whitley Stokes, Archiv. fur Celtische Lexigographie, 1898; fnd. School of Irish Learning, Dublin, 1903; Prof. Celtic in Univ. of Berlin, 1911. WORKS, Cath Fintraga, or the Battle of Ventry (OUP 1885), xxiv, 116pp; The Irish Odyssey (Merugud Uilix Maicc Leirtis, Kilcormac MS [AD1300, script. Frankford King’s Co.] (Nutt 1886), xii, 36pp.; The Vision of Macconglinne, a 12th century Irish Wonder-Tale (Nutt 1892), trans. Meyer, Literary Intro. by W Woolner; Hibernica Minora (OUP 1896), xvi, 104pp. [ed. from psalter, incl. ‘MacDatho’s Boar’, ‘Excuse of Gulida’s Daughter’, and another]; The Voyage of Bran, son of Febal, to the Land of the Living, ed. and trans., notes by Meyer; with an ‘Essay upon the Irish Vision of the Otherworld and the Celtic Doctrine of Rebirth’ by Alfred Nutt [Grimm Library, vols. 4 & 5], Vol. 1, The Happy Otherworld (1895), xviii, 331, Vol. II, The Celtic Doctrine of Rebirth (Nutt 1897), xii, 352pp.; Liadain and Cuirthir (Nutt 1902) [Brown notes poetic version by Moira Rox, 1917); The Death Tales of the Ulster Heroes (Dodges Figgs 1906), viii, 52pp. [Todd Lect. Ser. XIV, deaths of Conchobar, Loegaire, Búadach, Celtchar, Fergus Mac Róich and Celt macMagach, Irish trans. and text opp.; Fianaigecht, Todd Lect Ser. XIV (Hodges Figgs 1910), xxxii, 114pp., ed. with trans., introd. refers to this as ‘oldest accounts of Finn and to the gradual gorwth of the cycle connected with him;, and lists ‘all accessible tales, poems, and references bearing on the cycle known to me’ [from 8th to 14th c.; also Meyer and Stokes, Irish Text[s], vols. issued at Leipzig, 188[?]-1904, containing texts chiefly in Old Irish, viz 1900, Acallamh na Senorach, with trans of those parts omitted from version in Silva Gadelica.

W. B. Stanford, Ireland and the Classical Tradition (IAP 1976; 1984), cites K. Meyer, trans., Merugud Uilix Maicc Leirtis: The Irish Odyssey (London 1886); also R. T. Meyer [sic], Merugud Uilix Maic Leirtis (Dublin 1958), and ‘The Middle Irish Odyssey, Folktale, Fiction or Saga’, in Modern Philology, 1 (1952), 73-78.

Sean Lucy, Irish Poets in English (1973), lists Meyer, Selections from Ancient Irish Poetry (Constable 1911) in bibliography. Also, Maurice James Craig, ed., Cats and Their Poets (Lilliput 2003), commences with Meyer’s translation of “Pangur Bán”.

DIAS Catalogue (Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies/Celtic Studies 1994) lists rep. edns. The Death Tales of the Ulster Heroes, orig. Todd Lecture Series 14, publ. RIA 1906, 1937 (twice); vii, 53pp; Meyer, Fianaigecht, being a collection of hitherto inedited Irish poems and tales relating to Finn and his fiana; with an English translation, by Kuno Meyer (1910, 1937 [two times]), xxxi, 115pp.; also The Vision of MacConglinne: A Middle Irish Wonder Tale [rep. of 1894 edn.] (NY: Lemma Publishing Corp. 1974). See also note also Kenneth H. Jackson, ed., Aislinge meic Conglinne (DIAS 1990), Middle Irish text, with notes and intro. in English.

Three Geese Books (1999 Cat.) lists Cath Finntraga [Anecdota Oxoniensia] (1st ed. 1885); Early Relations between Gael and Brython, in Y Cymmrodor, Vol. IX (1896); Selections for Ancient Irish Poetry (1st ed. 1911).

Various sources, Learning in Ireland in the Fifth Century and the Transmission of Letters (Dublin 1913) [another source]; Expulsion of Dessl (1901).

Ulster Univ. Library (Morris Collection) holds Contributions to Irish Lexicography, Vol.1, Pt.I [A-C] (Halle as Niemeyer; London: David Nutt 1906), 574pp; A Primer of Irish Metrics (1909).

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A namesake, Meyer of Munich, manufactured stained glass windows used in Irish churches including Maynooth in the 1890s, and was criticised as a ‘German Jew’ by Arthur Griffith (though he was not).

D. A. Binchy: The personal library of D. A. Binchy [[q.v.]] included a separately bound copy of ‘An old Irish prayer for long life’ by Kuno Meyer, being a reprint from A Miscellany presented to J. M. Mackay, LL.D. (Liverpool UP; London: Constable 1914), [420pp.], pp.226-32 [= front mat. and 1p. publisher’s listing]. The cloth-bound pages were previously held in the Library of Daniel Binchy [sic] and now in the J. M. Kelly Library of Toronto University, with an insert bookplate stating that the ‘presence of this book has been made possible through the generosity of Stephen. B. Roman.’ [Available at Internet Archive - online; accessed 20.04.2024.).

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