Sunday 25 November 2012

Old Irish Wisdom Attributed to Aldfrith of Northumbria

Old Irish Wisdom Attributed to Aldfrith of Northumbria: an edition of Bríathra Flainn Fhína maic Ossu, edited and translated by Colin A. Ireland (Arizona Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies).

Although it was published only in 1999, this book is available in full on the Internet Archive here. The text comprises a series of maxims attributed to Aldfrith, King of Northumbria (c.685-705) under his Irish name Flann Fína. The editor provides a general introduction to wisdom literature as a genre and to the specifically Irish texts which survive. He also has a more technical discussion of the various surviving manuscripts of this particular collection, of the style of language used and of its implications for the dating of the work. The reputed author, King Aldfrith, had an Irish mother and Bede tells us that he was educated among the Irish. In this particular case however, King Aldfrith shares the authorship with a legendary figure, Fíthal, said to have been a third-century poet and judge in the time of King Cormac mac Airt. It is thus interesting to see one historical personage and one legendary connected with the same work.

Here's a sample of the sort of pithy maxims to be found in the text:

2.3 Be obliging so that you may be loved.

2.4 Be generous so that you may be renowned.
2.4a Be generous so that you may be charitable.

2.5 Be hospitable so that you may appear decorous.

2.6 Be grateful so that you may experience increase.

2.7 Be humble so that you may be exalted.

The author's love of learning, something which endeared him to the Irish, can also be seen:

7.1 Learning is a beneficial occupation.

7.2 It makes a king of a poor person.

7.3 It makes an accomplished person of a landless one.

7.4 It makes an exalted family of a lowly one.

7.5 It makes a wise person of a fool.

7.6 Its commencement is good.

7.7 Its end is better.

7.8 It is respected in this world.

7.9 It is precious in the next.

7.10 It is not despairing concerning the end,

7.11 i.e. bestowing heaven upon him.

However, as it also says 'The conversation of women is a catalyst for folly' (4.13), I shall say no more!

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