From what has been said it will be seen that Dante’s masterpiece is largely based on literature of Irish origin; but there are other superlative exhibitions of human genius of which the same is true. One of these is the story of Tristan and Isolde. Tristan is the paragon of all knightly accomplishments, the most versatile figure in the entire literature of chivalry; while Isolde is an Irish princess. By a trick of fate these two drink a love potion inadvertently and become irresistibly enamored of each other, although Isolde is betrothed to King Mark of Cornwall, and Tristan is his nephew and ambassador. The story that follows is infinitely varied, intensely dramatic, delicately beautiful, and tenderly pathetic. It has been treated by several poets of great genius, among them Gottfried of Strassburg, the greatest German poet of his time, and Richard Wagner; but all the beauty and power in the works of these men existed in the original Celtic form of the tale, and the later writers have only discovered it and brought it to light.
The same thing is true of the Arthurian Legend and the story of the Holy Grail. Dante knew of King Arthur’s fame, and mentions him in the Inferno. To Dante he was a Christian hero, and the historical Arthur may have been a Christian; but much in the story goes back to the pagan Celtic religion. We can find in Irish literature many references that indicate a belief in a self-sustaining, miraculous object similar to the Holy Grail, and the fact that this object was developed into a symbol of some of the deepest and most beautiful Christian truths shows the high character of the civilization and literature of ancient Ireland.
Wright: St. Patrick’s Purgatory (London, 1844); Krapp: The Legend of St. Patrick’s Purgatory (Baltimore, 1900); Becker: Mediaeval Visions of Heaven and Hell (Baltimore, 1899); Shackford: Legends and Satires (Boston, 1913); Meyer and Nutt: The Voyage of Bran, edited and translated by K. Meyer, with an Essay on the Irish Version of the Happy Other World and the Celtic Doctrine of Rebirth, by A. Nutt, 2 vols. (London, 1895); Boswell: An Irish Precursor of Dante (London, 1908).
By E.C. QUIGGIN, M.A.
Among the literary peoples of the west of Europe, the Irish, in late medieval and early modern times, were singularly little affected by the frequent innovations in taste and theme which influenced Romance and Teutonic nations alike. To such an extent is this true, that one is often inclined to think that far-off Iceland was to a greater degree in the general European current than the much more accessible Erin. During the age of chivalry, conditions in Ireland were not calculated to promote the growth of epic and lyric poetry after the continental manner. Some considerable time