Fiona Macintosh, Dying Acts: Death in Ancient Greek and Modern Irish Tragic Drama (Cork UP 1994)

CONTENTS: Introduction: Irish Literary Revival and the Classical Tradition; Representing Death; Dying into Death; Last Words: The Big Speech Convention [much on O’Casey]; Reported Deaths [Riders to the Sea, pp.165-70 et passim]; Responses to Death.

Notes that ‘in a damning review by a classical scholar with nationalist sympathies – the anonymous reviewer was in fact Mahaffy’s ex-pupil Oscar Wilde – the “political bias and literary blindness” in Mahaffy’s attempts “to treat the Hellenic world as ‘Tipperary writ large”’, are condemned outright [ref. To Greek Life and Thought, 1887; ‘Mr Mahaffy’s New Book, Pall Mall Gazette, XLVI, 7066, 9 Nov. 1887, rep. Ellmann, The Artist as Critici, 1970, pp.80-84; here p.5.

Notes that Mahaffy glosses the failure of the Homeric Greek to tell the truth if this contravenes a code of politeness in terms of the Irish peasant, in Socil Life, 7th ed. 1913, p.25; here p.6; ‘the pure Celtic, who is always a Catholic, has less regard for truth than the Protestant, with his touch of Anglo-Saxon breeding.’ (Ibid., p.99.)

I cannot help regarding this [heroic age] and the great personages moving therein as incomparably higher in intrinsic worth than the corresponding ages in Greece. In Homer, Hesiod, and the Attic poets there is a polish and artistic form, absent in the existing monuments of Irish heroic thought, but the gold, the ore itself, is here massier and more pure, the sentiment deeper and more tender, the audacity and freedom more exhilariting, the reach of the imagination more sublime, the depth and the power of the human soul more fully exhibit themselves …’ (History of Ireland, 1881, I., p.201; here p.8.)

Yeats: ‘The Greeks looked within their borders, and we like them, have a history fuller than any modern history of imaginative events; and legends which surpass, as I think, all legends but theirs in wild beauty, and in our land, as in theirs there is no river or mountain that is not associated in the memory with some event or legend’ (‘Ireland and the Arts’, Essays and Introductions, p.205; here p.10.)

Rhys, Lectures and Growth of Religion as ill. By Celtic Heathenism (1880) infl. Literary revival writers; adopted comparative method and was heavily indebted the Friedrich Max Muller’s solar theory of mythology, making Cuchullain a sun-god. [11]

It is clear that if Celtic traditions are to be an active influence in future Irish literature they must seem to us worthy of the same compliment as that paid by Europe to the Greeks; we must go to them rather than expect them to come to us, studying them as closely as possible, and allowing them to influence us as they may.’ (‘What Shd be the Subj, of National Drama, in Eglinton, et al., 1899, pp.11-12; here 16.

Deane, On Yeats: ‘His poems will easily withstand rebuke from any countering image of Ireland but Ireland would not easily survive his heroic prescription for its future and destiny. We are not Greeks in a Roman wolrd. To try to behave so, in politics or in poetry, would be absurd. That sort of theatricality is best left to California.’ (‘A Yeats Symposium’, Guardian, 27 Jan. 1989, p.25; here p.18.)

W. K. Sullivan on professional mourners, in Introduction to O’Curry, Vol. 1, p.cxxxiv; cited here p.34; Cf, J. M. Synge, ‘When [the grave] was nearly deep enough, … &c.’, Aran Islands, Coll. Works, II, p.161; here p.35

‘In Ireland, then, as much as in ancient Greece, it is the conception of death as a process that makes death and dying a part of the processes of living in a way they have ceased to be in most western societies. But it is also the conception that brings the dead themselves into the world of the living. As in ancient Greece, there is a lack of specificity about the Otherworld in Irish folk tradition: it can be in the north, in the west, in fairy dwellings or on some enchanted island. And it is clear that the Irish dead, like the dead in ancient Greece, had no definite home for the simple reason that they had an important function to fulfil as custodians of the living. The dead continued to exist alongside the living, with whom they could make contact officially at Samhain – the feast at the beginning of November when the boundaries between the two worlds were eliminated entirely – but unofficially they could make contact with the living at any time. The relationship betweent the living and the dead was by no means one-sided: as the dead were at liberty to call upon the living, the living could equally well call upon the dead for their assistance; and special events very often became collaborative ventures and it is hard to determine who was in fact responsible for securing victory – the dead – [37] hero or the living one.’ [Quotes Yeats on Cuchullain and Pearse in the Post Office.] (pp.37-38.)

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