EaRLcy Imsh LitercafciRe

mhe early Celts left no written tradition behind them. The acquisition of the art of writing came late in Celtic development, largely because of druidic adherence to a strict code of secrecy to protect their own political power. This promoted and emphasized an oral transmission of history, myth, and belief. Fortunately, because this oral tradition continued for several centuries after the arrival of Christianity, some material was committed to the written word.

As a result, the Christian scribes of Ireland left behind them the oldest vernacular literature in northern Europe. Aspects of this literature, which describe Irish or Welsh society, have a direct association with the older Celtic cultures of Britain and Gaul. This Irish literary tradition is earlier, and less distorted than the Welsh works, such as the Mabinogion, which date from the medieval period.

The earliest Irish forms of literature are poetry, and surviving examples from the early seventh century are fragmentary at best. From the style of these works, it seems clear that they reflect the recording of poetic recitals, a first example of the passing from oral to written traditions. These early fragments are simple alliterative groupings, devoid of any rhyme or rhythm. By the seventh and eighth centuries, a more syllabic form appeared, at a time when the Celtic bards had de\'eloped their own meters.

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