Strange Beauty pp 111-132 | Cite as

A Cosmic Imaginarium

  • Alfred K. Siewers
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


The environmental sense of text as image evoked by the color-term glas requires further examining of the Otherworld trope in relation to early medieval visual theory. The “problem” of landscape in Táin Bó Cúailnge and its context in the Ulster cycle provides a place to start. The Celticist Francesco Benozzo notes that Táin Bó Cúailnge offers “mere allusions to landscapes, sometimes so vague that they seem to belong to a stylised convention.” But the Táin’s allusive landscape also has been highlighted by an able translator, Thomas Kinsella (among many others), for showcasing topography, “a continuing preoccupation of early and medieval Irish literature.” While the Táin in successive versions does not feature modern-style landscape, it is grounded and focused on places, spaces, and terrain on Ireland, mythically contextualized around the time of Christ. To read the Táin as a literary landscape that in a modern sense is “not there” but nonetheless integrates tradition with physical topography is necessarily to consider its context in the Ulster Cycle and related stories in the Mythological Cycle, all featuring landscape in which otherworldly and human realms interweave with natural topography. The role of such landscape echoes textually Ernst Gombrich’s view of the function of colors in visual art as Benozzo restates it, métonymic in at once being part of reality and representing it,3 but with words in topography taking the place of colors in images. The landscape of the Táín as textual image related to environment subverts Augustine’s paralleling and hierarchizing of reading over viewing, so influential in the West.4


Bodily Practice Image Courtesy Inverse Perspective Literary Landscape Traditional Cultural Landscape 
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© Alfred K. Siewers 2009

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