Fiery Shapes

Fiery Shapes : Celestial Portents and Astrology in Ireland and Wales 700-1700

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The presentation of the magical and mantic in Celtic literature has persistently been dogged by misunderstanding and over-romanticized readings. Among the misconceptions about the ancient and medieval Celtic peoples, the notion of a specifically 'Celtic' astrology remains widespread in the popular mind. This study aims to counter such myth-making, and to demonstrate how a number Irish and Welsh literary writers in the medieval and Early Modern period conceived of
portents in the heavens - comets, blood-coloured moons, darkened suns - and what they knew of the complex art of astrology.

Early Irish churchmen felt that the end of the world was imminent, and this book explores the ways in which they saw signs in the heavens as evidence of impending apocalypse, and how they adapted such millenarian imagery for use in native sagas in Irish. It then moves on to an extended discussion of the cloud-divination ascribed to Irish druids in high medieval literary texts; this has sometimes naively been taken as evidence for the actual customs of the druidic caste, but it is shown here to
be a development of the later Middle Ages, long after the druids' disappearance. Turning to Wales, the cosmological knowledge of two linked figures is scrutinized: the super-poet Taliesin, and King Arthur's prophet Merlin, whom Geoffrey of Monmouth represented in the mid 12th century as an
astrological sage with a purpose-built observatory. Evidence for the knowledge of astrology amongst the learned poets of later medieval Wales is then laid out, with an analysis of a powerful late 15th century poem indicting the evil influence of the planet Saturn; such knowledge seems to have been largely medical in nature, and the book concludes with an examination of a number of Welsh astrological texts in manuscript, setting them against the longest astrological poem in a Celtic language,
the mid 17th century Puritan mystic Morgan Llwyd's spiritualizing and evangelical 'Heavenly Science'.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 250 pages
  • 163 x 241 x 21mm | 526g
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • English
  • Six black-and-white halftones
  • 0199571848
  • 9780199571840
  • 2,260,631

Table of contents

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS ; ABBREVIATIONS ; PREFACE: LITERATURE, PORTENTS, AND ASTROLOGY ; 1. Celestial portents and apocalypticism in medieval Ireland ; 2. Druids, cloud-divination, and the portents of Antichrist ; 3. Taliesin and Geoffrey of Monmouth's astrological portents ; 4. Comets, portents, and astrology in late medieval Wales ; 5. Morgan Llwyd and the spiritualization of astrology ; AFTERWORD ; BIBLIOGRAPHY ; GLOSSARY OF CELTIC AND ASTROLOGICAL TERMS ; GENERAL INDEX
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Review quote

Mark Williams has given us a new, serious, and painstaking study * Andrew Breeze, Mediaevistik * this is a well-produced, well-written work not only of professional scholarship but of love, for which both Mr Kenyon and his publishers can be congratulated. * Gerald Morgan, Welsh History Review * Recommended for all university libraries and gives students and scholars of medieval literature and the history of science a good survey of the prevailing views and controversies of the fields without firmly resolving many of them except in a provisional way. It is also a potential gold mine for writers of medieval fantasy, since there is so much material with enormous lacunae to be filled in imaginatively. * Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts * important contribution to an under-studied, and often marginalised, area of literary-historical study. * Marginalia *
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About J. Mark G. Williams

Mark Williams studied Classics and English at Oxford before completing graduate work in Celtic Studies. He is a currently a Research Fellow at Peterhouse, Cambridge, where he teaches medieval Irish, Welsh, and English Literature.
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