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The Táin: From the Irish epic Táin Bó Cúailnge
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The Táin: From the Irish epic Táin Bó Cúailnge

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  2,864 Ratings  ·  193 Reviews
The Táin Bó Cúailnge, centre-piece of the eighth-century Ulster cycle of heroic tales, is Ireland's nearest approach to a great epic. It tells the story of a great cattle-raid, the invasion of Ulster by the armies of Medb and Ailill, queen and king of Connacht, and their allies, seeking to carry off the great Brown Bull of Cúailnge. The hero of the tale is Cúchulainn, the ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published November 21st 2002 by Oxford University Press (first published 1000)
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Aug 13, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2011
When I learned that China Mieville had appropriated the title "The Tain" for one of his little apocalypto-dystopic excursions back in 2002, my reaction was something like this:


Because, as every cultured person knows, "The Tain" (pronunciation "Thoyne") is the name given to the most important story in ancient Irish literature, the collection of tales also referred to as "The Ulster Cycle", or "The Cattle R
Oct 11, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: myth-legend-saga
The Tain is epic. In fact it is Epic - at least as Epic as more famous Epics, such as the Iliad. In fact, the number of correspondences between the Cattle Raid of Cooley and the story of Achilles' rage is remarkable. (It must be - I just remarked it.) Wanna know what they are (at least some of them, anyway)? Oi - you at the back! stop saying, "No."

here we go:
Illiad: Achilles only vulnerable on one heel.
Tain: CuChulain's foster brother only vulnerable to a gae bolga shoved where the sun doesn't s
There are some questions I have about the translation and about the original transcribers who more than likely put their own spin on this story. What's more there are multiple modern translations that differ in transliteration and literary style and I'd like to understand the differences.

All aside this is a tale that begins with a trivial quarrel of a queen and her lover which escalates to the point of all Ireland getting involved after a cattle deal went bad in the process of settling their do
The Tain, sortof a bizarro Irish epic - like all the other Irish epics - was one of my favorite works in college. The definitive translation is by Kinsella (1969), but there's this newish one by Ciaran Carson (2007), which I've finally gotten around to judging.

Here's the spoiler-free gist of the Tain: the Irish king Ailill and his wife Medb argue in bed over who's richer, and on the spot they insist on having every item they each own brought to them so they can tally it up - herds and all. They
Dec 11, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I came across an actual copy of this book during my visit to Chicago, I was almost afraid to buy it. I had to buy it, of course--it's not often I find real evidence of Celtic Studies works showing up in bookstores, and when I do find titles that fit the bill, I always buy them. Bookstores need to be supported and congratulated for stocking things that are outside of the mainstream.

I was afraid to read the book because I was convinced that Thomas Kinsella's translation, graced by Louis le Br
Mary Kate
Feb 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a lovable epic tale from early Ireland. Like the Iliad, the Tain is replete with magical realism and war. But the Tain is freaking hilarious.
(1) In the Tain, it is a bull that launches the proverbial thousand ships. It spurns being owned by a woman and defects from the queen's herd to the king's. So the queen raises an army to capture a new bull - because gender inequality is bullshit. She is ruthless, and during the final battle, she pees so hard that she creates three great trenches f
Aug 03, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
Imagine someone took you for a walk from the North to the South of the USA, from New England across the Mason-Dixon line and onward to Georgia, all the while using cues from the landscape to narrate the Civil War. The Táin does this, guiding the reader through an interactive map where the story and the landscape are inseparable.

While undeniably a "classic" epic, the unity of place, narrative, and heritage gives The Táin the feel of classic Indian epics, like the Bhagavad Gita and Ramayana, couc
Mar 23, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people who think they know the Irish
I just read this book for the third time, and finished teaching it this morning. I always kind of forget how very, very weird the Irish were. We just spent 30 minutes in each section talking about sex, and then 20 on whether this is a credible source or not for the 1st century. Cuchulainn kills people in the most interesting ways. Anyway, I love this book - it just is such a reminder that people think about the world differently.
Kinsella's translation is also interesting - no notes marked in th
Sep 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Giving this stars seems kind of ridiculous. But I will, anyway.

It is a minor embarrassment that I had not read The Táin until last week. When my sister found out she made me, which is fair enough. We are quite immersed in many of the stories surrounding the Ulster cycle during our education: the young Cúchulainn, Medb and Ailill. We are even told a vastly simplified version of the Táin Bó Cúailnge, mostly focusing on the two bulls and not the war going on around them.

My first shock was how blood
I haven't read much Irish mythology at all, so it was high time I got round to reading The Táin. It's an epic based around the feats of Cù Chulainn, as he defends the land of Ulster from the armies of Ailell and Medb. It's (here's one of my favourite words again) hyperbolic and, well, it's an epic, what do you expect? There's verse and one-on-one combats and ridiculous feats of arms involving throwing spears through boulders and so on.

I was actually surprised by how little I knew about The Tain
Sep 19, 2016 rated it liked it
It's fascinating to read texts like this, because it's ALMOST like reading about what militant secularists wish were the case: a world with NO religion. In this pre-Christian epic, we see how people make meaning of their lives without their perspective being "muddled" by ideas about God, heaven, hell, right and wrong. What would it be like?

Much to the chagrin of an atheist/secularist/anti-Christian activist, life is hell-ish without religion.

Take sex. Secularists say Christianity spoils sex for
Sep 12, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of a set of pre-Christian Irish epics, part of the Ulster Cycle, the events of which allegedly took place in the 1st century AD, the earliest written manuscripts dating from the 12th century AD. Written mostly in prose, it nonetheless is similar in many ways to the Greek and Indian heroic epics, complete with hyperbolic language, magic, and many formulas characteristic of bardic oral traditions. It is a most entertaining read, with humor, gore, implausibility, and wild exaggeration. ...more
Aug 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pre-20th-century
This is a really accessible translation of the main story from the Ulster Cycle of early Irish myths. Except for the purposefully obscure roscata (a feature of Celtic myth consisting of fragmented prose-poetry), it is fairly easy to follow the action and sequence of events in this myth, which is important because sometimes the story depends on seemingly supernatural events or actions.

The story itself does a good job of retaining traces of an oral storytelling tradition, like highly stylized desc
Sep 04, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: celtic, mythology
I didn't really care for this even though I wanted to. I had heard it was the Irish legend to read. The part I didn't like was pages and pages of names and places over and over again, it got to where I just skipped over the names and places. I found it monotonous and boring. The core of the story, (the war on Ulster by Queen Maeb, the magic bulls and my favorite champion, Cuchulainn) was good but could have been written better. I'm sure, at the time when this was an oral tradition, it was fantas ...more
Jul 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
The best epic story ever !
Sometimes it makes me sad to think that 'The Táin' is not as known as Homer's Iliad and The Odyssey !
Even if this is a medieval text, it doesn't look so : there are no priests, no church , no knights in shining armour, no chrisitan strict rules in the hole narrative . So it doesn't matter if you don't like medieval history : you're going to like this story the same way!
Dec 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
To keep it short and sweet this is a must read for anyone interested in Irish history and culture, Celtic Heathenry, Odinism, mythology or general Celtic studies. One of the most essential texts for learning about any of these things but besides that the saga of Cuchulainn is a great entertaining story too.
Audrey Webster
Feb 05, 2017 rated it liked it
*3.5 stars
Jul 20, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
On ne peut manquer d'être ému quand on pense que ce texte nous viens de si loin, mais quelle violence! Elle est à un degré qui m'a fait penser à l'Illiade ou à certains passages des métamorphoses d'Ovide.
Feb 24, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
Uhg mac blech.
Oct 21, 2012 rated it liked it
Aesthetically it bears more resemblance to the Greek/Latin epic than the traditional Northern European heroic saga, displaying mythological elements far more muted in the sagas of the Icelanders, etc. In terms of form, the most immediate comparison might be to Egil's Saga-like Egla, The Tain is populated by poets, and lengthier dialogue is generally in the form of verse. The verse is stark, at least when judged against the more ornamented forms of the period. Kinsella’s translation is generally ...more
Dec 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I may be stirring a hornet's nest here, but I prefered this to the Kinsella. Been a while since I read his translation though.
Thought this flowed very well.
My only gripe was that there weren't enough notes. There were a fair few times that I got a ref to some other tale and was surprised that it didn't have an explanation in the notes. This doesn't spoil the tale, but if you've not read, or heard, other old tales you may miss out on some of the depth that wee hints imply. (For instance the battl
May 18, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This curious tale is one of the oldest and longest ancient Irish tales. It recounts the exploits of Irish hero Cu Chulainn as he repels an army come to steal the Ulstermen's prize bull, the Dun Cuailnge. I'm pretty sure it is the most violent piece of literature I've read, and I've read Blood Meridian. Heads are lost, men are cut in twain, and a few are speared through their "rear portal." And those are the most normal ways people die. The story freely takes in the hyperbolically heroic, to the ...more
Sep 23, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am glad I read this book. I believe this translation (Kinsella) to be excellent; the notes were helpful; and unlike the other modern translation (which puts the backstory in footnotes), this version begins with each of the tales that comprise the backstory of the epic.

Now as to the merits of the work. It is the major Irish epic -- about a cattle raid. If I could sum it up in one word, it is weird and gory, with some low humor (I think it was meant as such) and a number of inconsistencies due t
Sep 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Lookit, I think it is fairly ridiculous to give this book stars since it has long surpassed ratings or the need of reviews, the tale speaks and exists by itself and on its own terms. If you are not already familiar with the events of the greatest Irish epic that we know of, then I would advise you to get your hands on it. The only elements of the story that readers would fine discouraging would be the excessive lists of place-names and ancestors of people. This is a common trope of Irish myth as ...more
Dec 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: translations
Magnificent. I've meant to read this for years and I'm so glad I finally did, so now I can look forward to rereading it. It's hilarious and bloody and epic (of course), as chaotic in form and style as it is in content. There are all sorts of ways to belabor the similarities to other national epics and myths, and just as many ways I'm certainly lacking the context to see everything, but it's just a great read overall. As many reviewers note, there are a number of points at which the text gives ov ...more
Kori Klinzing
Not a bad translation, all told, but not very easy reading, especailly when you get to the points where all they do is list everyone who just got their asses handed them by Cu' Chulainn, but I'm sure that's how the Gaelic version went too. I would have liked it better if Carson had included all the little pre-stories, rather then just adding the pertinent ones as footnotes. But all an all, a great translation of this epic story.
Mark Adderley
May 23, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is the Irish Iliad--Cuchulainn defends Ulster against everyone. Single-handed. It's a great story, but if it has a flaw, it's that it gets a little repetetive when Cuchulainn is fighting against the succession of heroes. That shouldn't detract too much--battle scenes in the Iliad and the Morte Darthur aren't terribly interesting either.
Apr 12, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating look into the lives of the Celts in Ireland. But repetitive. You have to have an appreciation for the layered meanings for the places and the characters to enjoy (or understand) it at all. Still, for an early account of how life was experienced and perceived in early Celtic Ireland, there is no better primary source account.
Translated by Thomas Kinsella.

Really great story here - I actually enjoyed Before the Tain, about the first 40 pages or so of the book, more than the actual Tain. The second half of the book gets pretty repetitive. There was this guy - then he died. Then this other guy - then he died. Then another guy - then he died. That happens like 10 times.

Cuchulainn is pretty awesome.
Another read for my British literature class. I really enjoyed reading this part of early Irish literature/folklore. The translation was easy to understand and made it a quick read. If you enjoy early literature, I suggest putting this one on your TBR pile.
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Comparison with Thomas Kinsella's translation 1 8 May 20, 2014 12:10PM  
Goodreads Librari...: Cover Missing (The Táin) 2 21 Feb 14, 2014 02:12PM  
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“Courage has a brutal core.” 1 likes
“The first warp-spasm seized Cúchulainn, and made him into a monstrous thing, hideous and shapeless, unheard of. His shanks and his joints, every knuckle and angle and organ from head to foot, shook like a tree in the flood or a reed in the stream. His body made a furious twist inside his skin, so that his feet and shins and knees switched to the rear and his heels and calves switched to the front. The balled sinews of his calves switched to the front of his shins, each big knot the size of a warrior’s bunched fist. On his head the temple-sinews stretched to the nape of his neck, each mighty, immense, measureless knob as big as the head of a month-old child. His face and features became a red bowl: he sucked one eye so deep into his head that a wild crane couldn’t probe it onto his cheek out of the depths of his skull; the other eye fell out along his cheek. His mouth weirdly distorted: his cheek peeled back from his jaws until the gullet appeared, his lungs and liver flapped in his mouth and throat, his lower jaw struck the upper a lion-killing blow, and fiery flakes large as a ram’s fleece reached his mouth from his throat.” 1 likes
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