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Studies in Medieval Irish Legal Ancillary Material

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Taylor-Griffiths, Alice 


Preserved in medieval Irish manuscripts are a number of legal texts, which generated a broad range of glosses and commentary. Focus has hitherto generally been on the older strata of material and their immediate glossing. This dissertation begins with in-text glossing, and goes beyond the immediate glossing context to consider other forms of what I call legal ancillary material. It is composed of two major parts: etymological glosses; and glossae collectae (independent sets of glosses). The introduction provides an overview of scholarship thus far on legal ancillary material and sets out the overall aim of this dissertation, which is to examine the purpose, function, and method of the composition and transmission of legal ancillary material. By treating glossarial material as primary sources in their own right, they give an insight into how scribes thought. Questions asked include: how do these glossing methods differ? What was their purpose? Why did scribes consider them relevant? What can they tell us about the way in which legal material was expanded and transmitted? In the ‘etymological glosses’ part of the dissertation, I demonstrate the previously overlooked significance of etymological glossing in a learning environment. Owing to the vast amount of etymological glossing across medieval Irish law texts, I use a sample group of eight legal texts from TCD H 2. 15A (1316) pp. 17a–42b, 47a–66b. As it is syllabic etymology which has drawn the most attention (negative or otherwise), it is this type which forms the core of this first major part of the dissertation. The main body of the discussion is split into two sections: the first is given to process, in which methodological aspects of first and final syllable etymology are examined in detail. The second looks at the purpose of etymological glosses. A key conclusion to arise from this discussion is the scribes’ preoccupation with preserving the consonant structure of the lemma, while the meaning of the lemma is maintained elsewhere in the same gloss. Such a technique is highly suitable for a learning environment to aid memorisation of legal language, and illustrates how legal material was transmitted in an educative context.
Because very little work has been done on glossae collectae, this part of the dissertation begins by providing a summary of the glossae collectae in CIH. The bulk of this section focuses on two glossae collectae: Aidbriugh glossae collectae (TCD H 3. 18 (1337) pp. 61a–62b) and Adhmad glossae collectae (TCD H 3. 18 (1337) p. 422), for which I provide the text and translation. Both glossae collectae use the same base text (Bretha Nemed Déidenach) and - unlike other glossae collectae in CIH - show very little expansion from other base texts, but individually they represent different stages of development. As a result, they provide a point of comparison in how an ancillary document moves away from its primary textual focus and begins to incorporate material from other sources. Of especial use is that a copy of Bretha Nemed Déidenach exists, so that it is possible to identify how and where the scribes extracted lemmata. This dissertation has examined two aspects of medieval Irish legal ancillary material: etymological glosses; and glossae collectae. There is a clear pedagogical purpose in both, as learning aids of different methods and application. Skill and creativity in language, engagement with a variety of topics and texts, and a focus on both understanding legal terminology in context and a broader philological interest mark glosses and glossae collectae as the product of well-educated scholars who took an active interest in both the preservation of language and the rendering of the same into a more accessible format.





Russell, Paul


Medieval, Irish, Glossography, Glosses, Law


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
AHRC (1795384)