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Satire, Praise and the Early Irish Poet

Liam Breatnach
Ériu
Vol. 56 (2006), pp. 63-84
Published by: Royal Irish Academy
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/30007051
Page Count: 22
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Satire, Praise and the Early Irish Poet
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Abstract

The role of the fili in the composition of praise-poetry in the pre-Norman period has been questioned. This paper begins with an examination of its negative counterpart, satire, and then goes on to look at the connection between satire and the fili, and the connection of satire with praise, before proceeding to discuss the evidence from the law texts, which shows that the composition of praise-poetry was indeed an important function of the fili. The striking contrast between the wealth of praise-poems from the post-Norman period in Ireland and the paucity of such poems surviving from the pre-Norman period has been commented on by a number of scholars, and various attempts have been made to account for this. In all of these attempts, the question of the role of the fili in composing panegyric naturally has had to be addressed. While actual surviving examples of panegyric verse will of course not be ignored in this paper, I propose to approach the question obliquely, as it were, and concentrate firstly on the role of the fili as satirist and secondly on what the law texts have to tell us about the role of the fili as praise-poet. In a society where honour was so valued, the weapon of der 'satire' was especially to be feared.2 Moreover, it is to be expected that the law would be concerned with controlling the use of this weapon and with laying down the proper procedure for its lawful use, whether on behalf of the poet himself or on behalf of others. Although it is clear that a certain amount of relevant material has been lost,3 the surviving law texts still provide a remarkably detailed source of information on the uses of satire in early mediaeval Ireland.4 The procedures relating to satire have recently been examined by the present writer (Breatnach, 2004), and it is important to note that the lawful use of satire as an ultimate sanction is the prerogative of the fili rather than the bard²

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