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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 382 pages of information about The Religion of the Ancient Celts.

[504] Fitzgerald, RC vi. 254.

[505] See p. 243, infra.

CHAPTER VIII.

THE FIONN SAGA.

The most prominent characters in the Fionn saga, after the death of Fionn’s father Cumal, are Fionn, his son Oisin, his grandson Oscar, his nephew Diarmaid with his ball-seire, or “beauty-spot,” which no woman could resist; Fergus famed for wisdom and eloquence; Caoilte mac Ronan, the swift; Conan, the comic character of the saga; Goll mac Morna, the slayer of Cumal, but later the devoted friend of Fionn, besides a host of less important personages.  Their doings, like those of the heroes of saga and epos everywhere, are mainly hunting, fighting, and love-making.  They embody much of the Celtic character—­vivacity, valour, kindness, tenderness, as well as boastfulness and fiery temper.  Though dating from pagan times, the saga throws little light upon pagan beliefs, but reveals much concerning the manners of the period.  Here, as always in early Celtdom, woman is more than a mere chattel, and occupies a comparatively high place.  The various parts of the saga, like those of the Finnish Kalevala, always existed separately, never as one complete epos, though always bearing a certain relation to each other.  Lonnrot, in Finland, was able, by adding a few connecting links of his own, to give unity to the Kalevala, and had MacPherson been content to do this for the Fionn saga, instead of inventing, transforming, and serving up the whole in the manner of the sentimental eighteenth century, what a boon would he have conferred on Celtic literature.  The various parts of the saga belong to different centuries and come from different authors, all, however, imbued with the spirit of the Fionn tradition.

A date cannot be given to the beginnings of the saga, and additions have been made to it even down to the eighteenth century, Michael Comyn’s poem of Oisin in Tir na n-Og being as genuine a part of it as any of the earlier pieces.  Its contents are in part written, but much more oral.  Much of it is in prose, and there is a large poetic literature of the ballad kind, as well as Maerchen of the universal stock made purely Celtic, with Fionn and the rest of the heroic band as protagonists.  The saga embodies Celtic ideals and hopes; it was the literature of the Celtic folk on which was spent all the riches of the Celtic imagination; a world of dream and fancy into which they could enter at all times and disport themselves.  Yet, in spite of its immense variety, the saga preserves a certain unity, and it is provided with a definite framework, recounting the origin of the heroes, the great events in which they were concerned, their deaths or final appearances, and the breaking up of the Fionn band.

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