Understanding the Universe in Seventh-Century Ireland

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Author: Marina Smyth

Publisher: Boydell Press

ISBN Number: 978-0851153131

Publication Date: 1996

Reviewed by: Astrocelt


This is a revised version of a 1984 PhD dissertation undertaken by Marina Smyth for the ‘Studies in Celtic History’ series, originally submitted to the University of Notre Dame, Paris.

The contents of the book concentrates on the concepts and perceptions, of how the universe within 7th century Ireland was viewed, imagined or thought about from a philosophical and theological level. Extracted from various prime Latin texts these being, De mirabilibus sacre scripture, produced by the Irish Augustine c.654-655 AD/CE; Commentary on the Catholic Epistles, Anonymous prior to 708 AD/CE; Libra de Ordine Creaturarum, where a native origin is suggested prior to 700 AD/CE; Egloga Moralium in lob by Lathcen mac Baith c.595 AD/CE; the Hisperica Famina credited to being influenced by Isidore of Seville c.650 AD/CE, and finally Altus Prosator attributed to ColmCille.

Well written and presented, readable even with its extensive references for future study and collaborations to the authors findings. Those of greatest interest are the scholarly tweaking out of insular and native views of the cosmos, some of which covers its many working parts, from the base elements to the later and more favourable concepts, of earth, sea and sky.

I would highly recommend this book; it might be a little pricey (print on demand), but the insight and knowledge which can be gleaned from Marina Smyth work, is well worth it. It also brings about a new understanding of how we might view the inhabitants of Ireland during this period with a new light.

Cosmology, Elements, Ireland, Maina Smyth, Seventh-Century, Universe,
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kproefrock's picture

Yes, Thank You, Astrocelt!

I tracked this book down after Astrocelt's review of it here and it is even better than I expected!

Especially intriguing, for me, is the implication in the "Firmament" chapter that the early Irish belief system presented the cosmos as a living organism.

The thought experiment presented throughout the text of considering the origins of many of the cosmological concepts that we take for granted in our modern age is extremely enlightening.

Definitely one of the most satisfying reads that I have had the pleasure of working through in a very long time.

Thank you again, Astrocelt!

Green Forests and Blue Skies!




Morri's picture

Thanks for this Astrocelt!

Thanks for this Astrocelt! Hubby was just last night asking what he could buy me for my birthday (yes, a bit belated) and this would be perfect. Sounds like a very interesting read!