Fall 2021

Visit Celtic courses at the Harvard Course Catalog


Celtic 111. Shapeshifting and Identity in Celtic Traditions. Catherine McKenna. TuTh 10:30-11:45 plus Discussion Section TBA

In Irish, Welsh, Scottish and Breton narratives, humans turn into other kinds of animal (and animals into humans) for many different reasons—as punishment, as escape, as expression of their inner nature, among others. These stories are written into medieval manuscripts, recorded from oral storytellers in the twentieth century, recounted in contemporary film, and embedded in popular music. Is there a stable boundary between the animal and human worlds? We explore shapeshifting stories in all of these modes and media, reading them against a background of texts about animals and humans from their own times and ours. All of our readings are in English or English translation: no knowledge of a Celtic language is required.

Celtic 188. Songs of the Highlander. Natasha Sumner. MW 10:30-11:45    

An introduction to Scottish Gaelic poetry of the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, this course explores poets’ preoccupations and creative impulses in a time of regular conflict and drastic sociopolitical change. Critical issues we will consider include, but are not limited to, the role(s) of the poet in society, tradition and innovation, orality, and intertextuality. All texts will be read in English translation.

Celtic 240. Pursuing Diarmaid and Gráinne: Texts and Contexts. Natasha Sumner. M 12-2:45

Traditions about the love triangle among the aging military leader Fionn mac Cumhaill, his younger subordinate Diarmaid Ua Duibhne, and Gráinne, the daughter of Irish high king Cormac mac Airt, date as far back as the tenth century in the written corpus of Gaelic literature. The protagonists may have their roots in early Celtic deities, and a handful of medieval texts reference the events of the tale. As the story spread across the Gaelic world, it took on new forms. The most celebrated version, the lengthy prose text Tóruigheacht Dhiarmada agus Ghráinne (The Pursuit of Diarmaid and Gráinne), is thought to have taken shape in Ireland in the fourteenth century, around the same time as four lengthy poetic lays exploring aspects of the tradition emerged in Ireland and Scotland. The story also circulated orally, and the collected body of folklore about Diarmaid and Gráinne’s elopement and Fionn’s vindictive rage exceeds two hundred tales, songs, and anecdotes. Evidence of the story’s continued popularity can be found in the over fifty creative adaptations that have come into being since the mid-nineteenth century, including poems, short stories, novels, dramas, a graphic novel, and a feature film.

This graduate seminar will examine the development of this captivating body of narrative, following our tragic lovers as they wend their way through multiple forms and genres, and across seas and oceans, over the past c.1200 years. Situating our readings within the broader literary record, we will explore forms, themes, and parallels, and consider critical issues such as orality and intertextuality. Some translation will be required, but this is not primarily a reading course.  Prerequisites: Participants should be competent in at least one Gaelic language (modern or medieval).

Folklore and Mythology 111. Folklore of Food. Joseph Nagy. MW 12-1:15 plus Discussion Section TBA

A comparative survey of diverse folkloric and mythological traditions concerning food--the getting, growing, preparing, distributing, sharing, and disposing of food, and the varieties of food themselves. "Foodways" have been a rich repository of lore, imagination, and creativity since the beginning of human history, and perhaps no other necessity for our existence has been put to symbolic use more frequently and consistently than food. We will explore what food is and "means" in our lives, cultures, and collective identities.

Irish 132. Introduction to Modern Irish. MTuWTh 9am-10:15am

Irish is the first official language of Ireland, and it has been officially recognized in Northern Ireland since 1998. Today Irish is spoken not only in the western ‘Gaeltachtaí’ (Irish-speaking regions), but also in cities like Dublin and Belfast. There is Irish-language television, film, radio, and print journalism, and many wonderful poets and fiction writers continue into the present a literary tradition that dates back to the sixth century.

The course introduces students to Irish as it is spoken and written today. Class work is participatory and includes conversational role play and games as well as grammar study and drills. Audio and audiovisual resources reinforce pronunciation and aural comprehension. Songs, proverbs, and poems are an integral part of the course, introducing students to the vibrant oral and literary tradition of Gaelic Ireland. Meets 4 times a week.

Irish 200. Introductory Old Irish. Joseph Nagy. MW 3-4:15

An introduction to the language of the eighth and ninth centuries, with elementary readings in prose texts.

Scottish Gaelic 131r. Intermediate Scottish Gaelic. MTuWTh 10:30-11:45

Direct continuation of the fall term course Scottish Gaelic 130.

Welsh 226r. Readings in Middle Welsh Prose. Catherine McKenna. Tu 12-2:45

An exploration of the enormous variety of medieval Welsh prose literature: selections from tales and romances, chronicles, laws, and lore.