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Language 

Opening of Rí Oidiopús (King Oedipus), translated by Pádraig de Brún (1928) from the Greek original by Sophocles.

How is Irish usage of Greek and Latin tied to the use of the Irish language in a politicized way? 

This project investigates the connections between the use of classical languages for politicized expression, their representation of multiple voices, and their links to the politics of the Irish language.

Unlike other countries colonized by Britain, Ireland had an extensive history of indigenous expertise in classical scholarship dating back to the medieval period. The Irish could thus claim ownership over classical languages in a way other colonized nations could not, but how do Greek and Latin fit into the language politics of Ireland? Authors from varied backgrounds, often Irish speakers, could and did use classical languages in provocative ways.

Selected examples

  • In 1772 An Essay on the Antiquity of the Irish Language was published by the Protestant soldier and antiquarian Charles Vallancey (1725?-1812). Proposing that the Phoenicians had colonized Ireland in archaic prehistory and arguing that Irish was a form of Phoenician, Vallancey includes an Irish translation of the Punic speech from Roman playwright Plautus’ Poenulus thus linking the Irish language to ancient Phoenician through a classical Latin text.
  • Catholic Archbishop of Tuam, John MacHale (1791-1881) concluded his translations of Homer’s Iliad into Irish (begun in 1844) in 1871 with Iliad 8, where the Trojans dominate the war. By giving the last word to the Trojans, future founders of Rome often associated with imperial Britain, MacHale underlines the loss of life among the Greeks and, by analogy, the Irish in the years after the Great Famine (1845-9).
  • The 1920s Irish translations of Sophocles’ Oedipus the King and Oedipus at Colonus by Pádraig de Brún (1889-1960), which reflect on an ailing state and the prospect of civil war, were timed to coincide and compete with the English versions of W.B. Yeats. Reportedly performed with great success and to large audiences, de Brún casts Oedipus as Árd Rí (a medieval Irish ‘high king’) in Rí Oidiopús, while the Eumenides, whose grove is the setting of Oidiopús i gColón, are reconfigured as ‘An Triúr Móirriogan’, the terrifying trio of war goddesses from Irish mythology.