I can finish playing with the poem. Ask three basic questions.
What does it tell me about Irish concepts of fate in the 9th century?
What does it tell me about magic?
What can I learn about social organization?
I seem to have at first what seems like an advance on nothing. Fate in the poem at least appears to be somewhat open and forms part of a collective decision making process in arrving at judgement.
Thats an entirly rehetorical answer. I reached it playing with the text and thinking about in terms of performance and situation, its a non-historical observation.
If I had gone for straight historical comparison I suspect I may have reached the same conclusion, effectivly playing the same game without any awareness. Normally this activity is not something I have to pay any attention to, I don’t have to catch sight of what I am doing and note its effect.
The supernatural theft of crops and dairy produce. Question here, is this a physical activity i.e. the crops are physical taken from the owner. Here a phantom is envoked, later its an activity witches often undertake in a range of animal form’s from hedgehogs to hares.
The other alternative its related to quantity and the extraction of some essential property. The idea that if I have more someone has less.
Land is measured not in terms of space and size but in terms of what it will yeild. Early documents demonstrate how important such knowledge was for anyone who moved through the landscape, king’s, poets, priests.
Each locality is measured in exacting detail, noting how many people and families can be sustained. Also how many guests can be supported and fed.
Small scale nature of society and its related dependance on what land can produce meant a king could be limited traveling on circuit with two other officials.
What land yeilds is a source of close and constant monitoring. Any changes here at any point in the system are not going to escape close scrutiny.
Knowledge here is going to move through a network at speed, overtime its going to develop a range of narratives and inflections. Given the nature and its relationship with survival, its to be suspected clear understanding and good judgement are an overriding requirment.
One thing a society this close to the breadline needs to do, it has to function effectivly. No second chances here.
This form of narrative is one that can be identified by later comparison with local dispute. Form’s part of the rhythms of social disorder and order, tension and its resolution within local communities.
Again the determination of individual fate is a carefully monitored processes, marked in memorable language and resolved (here I am trying to make my rhetorical way in to the subject look historical: for the moment I appear to have fooled myself in to believing its working).
Perhaps the most dangerious idea as the poem ends with the most ‘apparant’ thing I know about early Irish society.
Social mobility is generaly downwards. Its reflected in the form of the vision at the end of the poem, which conjures a picture of a young man, clearly without land, contemplating a settled existance or a life on the hills as a landless warrior, a member of the fianna.
It also fits a dramatic end, as a general generational downwards shift as property fragments through subdivision, effected all social classes.
It appears to indicate a broad social fault line and source of potentialy high anxiety.
The poem ends with a quality that can be easily reached for within anyone sitting round the fire.
It also raises some messy questions.
Warriors were of the tribe. How were they supported within it? Some are clearly not supported and instead are found eyeing up stags on the hill with hungry eye’s.
Location is everything here, as when the warrior moves from a home within a tribe to a home within the kings hall.
It suggests a significant alteration in the status and function of kingship. It also alters the postion of poets as they also move from a position of tribal offical to official of the king.
Shift from the fireside to the mead bench alters the performance space and this must radically impact on the way things sound.
Kings hall alters the landscape and its organization, praise and the hero will come to alter the soundscape motivating and ensnaring souls within this change of form.
These alterations have no fixed space in historical time.
It suggests a significant shift in the nature of dispute and in the use of violence.
Landscape and its altering sound, may be a response to something sighted within the water.
The coming of the dragon ship and the Men of the North.
Whatever the poem may signify it is doing so within a very fluid and altering landscape.