Jul 28, 2010

From the Writers of Old

I thought it would be interesting to post snippets of what authors of historical pieces on Ireland have written. This one is from The Story of the Irish Race: A Popular History of Ireland By Seumas MacManus, published in 1921.

And the fourth century Istrian philosopher Ethicus in his cosmography tells how in his travels for knowledge he visited "Hibernia" and spent some time there examining the volumes of that country—which, by the way, this scholarly gentleman considered crude.

That travellers' tales were about as credible in those far-away days as they are in days more recent, is evident from some of the curious things related about this Island by the early Latin writers —oftentimes grotesque blends of fable and fact. The Latin writer, Pomponius Mela (who was a Spaniard and flourished near the middle of the first century of the Christian Era), says in his cosmography books: "Beyond Britain lies Iuvernia, an island of nearly equal size, but oblong, and a coast on each side of equal extent, having a climate unfavourable for ripening grain, but so luxuriant in grasses, not merely palatable but even sweet, that the cattle in very short time take sufficient food for the whole day— and if fed too long, would burst. Its inhabitants are wanting in every virtue, totally destitute of piety."

The latter sentence is quite characteristic of the Latin writers of that day, to whom the world was always divided into two parts, the Roman Empire with which exactly coincided Civilisation and the realm of all the Virtues, and the outer world which lay under the black cloud of barbarism.

History is colored by those who write it, don't you think? Ancient Ireland was not barbaric, and was even more advanced in some areas such as laws and women's rights. But I had to stop and think. Was this author bias because he was writing about his homeland? It's something modern day historians have to keep in mind when reading historical writings.

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