Reception and use of Flann Mainistrech and his work in medieval Gaelic manuscript culture
Thanisch, Eystein Patrick
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Flann Mainistrech (active c. 1014 to 1056) is well-attested in medieval and post-medieval Gaelic manuscripts and in early printed works on Irish history as an authority on history and literary tradition. He appears to have been an ecclesiastical scholar, based at Monasterboice (modern Co. Louth, Ireland), but potentially operating within wider ecclesiastical and political networks. Almost fifty texts or fragments of texts, mostly poems, are at some point attributed to him. Their subject-matter includes the regnal history of early medieval Irish kingdoms, legendary material on Ireland and the Gaels’ more distant past, universal and classical history, hagiography, and genealogical traditions. In addition, various sources are extant that concern Flann Mainistrech as a character. Most imply that he was considered a pre-eminent authority; some go further and provide impressionistic sketches of his scholarship and locating him in certain social or political settings. The secondary literature on medieval Gaelic authors like Flann has been largely concerned with establishing what can be securely stated about their historical biographies and with delineating reliable corpora of their works. In addition, there has been much discussion around whether medieval Gaelic literature is to be fundamentally characterised as secular or ecclesiastical. Recently, however, studies have begun to focus less on the literal realities of medieval authorship and more on how authorship was conceived in the Middle Ages, how it functioned as a form of authority, and how it might have been used or constructed within texts’ or manuscripts’ overall argumentation. In response, in this thesis, I survey manuscript materials and early printed works relating to Flann Mainistrech and discuss how his status as an author-figure relates to his identity as an individual, considering how he was interpreted in different contexts, the extent to which later scribes or compilers used or manipulated his identity, and what made him useful or applicable to them. After analysing the textual material in light of these issues, I conclude that Flann was consistently placed in certain definable historiographical and biographical contexts and that his authority may thus have been tied to this specific characterisation. However, presentations of Flann can vary quite dramatically in emphasis, while close examination of material attributed to him and their contexts within compilations and manuscripts reveals appropriation of his perspective, pseudonymous use of his identity, and re-contextualisation of his purported work according to later compilers’ interests and priorities. Relatively consistent treatment of his persona is thus ostensibly juxtaposed with dynamic, creative reading practices. Yet such conclusions are overshadowed by evidence, also considered in this study, suggesting that what survives of the manuscript tradition may well fall short of being representative both of Flann’s actual biography and of his textual persona. As well as offering a case study into medieval Gaelic concepts of authorship, authority, and textuality, this thesis also necessarily presents more basic analyses of previously under-explored and, in a few cases, unedited texts that come to be of relevance. Several such texts are printed and translated in Appendices.