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The Colloquy of the two sages
translated by Michael Ragan
© 2001

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part 6 / part 7 / part 8 / part 9

  F or students of pre-Christian Irish culture, the Colloquy gives invaluable insight into the role of the Filidh. It also provides a significant glimpse of a changing culture as well as a philosophic comparison between the optimism of youth to the pessimism of an older generation. The Colloquy seems to have remained a fascinating study since it's inception. Thus, we find it recorded in at least 13 separate surviving manuscripts between the 12th and 17th centuries. The most notable, and least corrupted by copying scribes, are the older versions in the 12th century Book of Leinster and the Rawlinson B. 502 manuscript and the 14th century Book of Lecan. Unfortunately, none of the earlier versions are complete. However, by careful comparison, we can get a fairly complete version.
       In a sense, I have followed the lead of Stokes selection of source. Thus, the first 233 paragraphs are directly from the Book of Leinster (pages 186 through188) with the remainder from the Book of Lecan and the Rawlinsons manuscript. In the matter of translation, however, I must cordially disagree with the eminent W. Stokes (The Colloquy of Two Sages, Librairie Emile Bouillon, Paris, 1905). While he was a noted British Academician, he also seems to have been strongly Christian which caused him to fail to recognize textual modifications by Christian Scribes. Thus, I have undertaken my own translation in which I make comment on what I see as points of interest.


          I. Adna, son of Uthidir, of the people of Connaught and Sage of Ireland in Divination and Wisdom, had a learned son named Néde. The son had traveled to Scotland to study the arts with Eochu Echbél with whom he had a legal agreement.

         II. One day the young man went to the shore of the sea, for here was a place for divination and learning. He heard a sound over the wave that was sorrowful and strange to him. So he used the cuala1 to determine what the matter was. His divination revealed that his father had died and through trickery, a File called Ferchertne had assumed the position and claimed the Ollaves mantle of his father.

         III. The young man then went to the house of his tutor and related what had happened to he with clear vision (that is, Eochu). The tutor spoke from his chair:2 "Travel back to your own country. There is room for but one Doctor of wisdom at the Horn of Divination3 here and your knowledge is that of an Ollamh."

         IV. Thus Néde went boldly forward with his three brothers; Lugaid, Cairpre and Cruttine. A boc bélce4 went by them on the path. One of the men asked, "Why is this thing called a bolc bélce?" Because none was capable of answering, they went back by boat to Eochaid and stayed with him for a month. Once again they returned to their journey. They came upon a simid5 . One of the men asked, "Why is this thing called a "simid.?" Because none was capable of answering, the group went back to the teacher for another month. Again they set out and chanced upon a gas sanais6. Because no one understood its meaning, with the book satchel on (his) back, they returned to Eochaid for another month before they went in their boat across the water.

         V. Now that the smallest part of his questions were answered, Néde and his companions set out for Chind Tire7 , and afterwards to Rind Snoc8 . Afterwards they proceeded to Purt Rig9 from which they went upon the open sea (which was) rough and dangerous until they reached Rind Roiss10: They rose over Semniu11, passed near Latharnu12, near Mag Line, near Ollarbai, near Tulaig Roisc, over Ard Slébe, over Mag Cráib Telcha, over Mag n-Ercaire, across (the river) Bann, behind (along) Uachtar, across Glend Rige, across the territory of hUa mhBresaill13, across Ard Sailech to the edge of Ard Macha, to the side of Emna.

         VI. In this manner, the youth proceeds, with a Silver Staff14 above, because this is the what is used by the Anruth15: A staff of gold is circle over the Ollmnaib16. A branch of bronze over the Filedaib17.

         VII. They journeyed back towards Emain Macha. They chanced to meet Bricriu18 on the green19. He (Bricrui) spoke falsely saying that for a gift of value, he would cant to give Néde the Staff of Ollamh of Ireland with three advices and three prayers. Néde was tricked and gave Bricriu a purple robe with ornaments of silver and gold. Bricrui then tells Néde that he should go and sit in the chair of the Ollamh. And he said that Ferchertne was dead, when in fact he (Ferchertne) was going about north of Emain Macha teaching the beginning of knowledge to his pupils.

         VIII. And Bricriu also said "No man without a beard can hold the Office of Ollamh at Emain Macha." - for Néde was young and inexperienced. Néde took a clump of brown grass and cast a spell upon it and arranged it (on his face) so that all people of the world would see it as a beard. He then went to the seat of the Ollamh and took up the cloak. It was of three colors, that is the middle was of bright bird feathers, the bottom outside was of a variety of mysterious white, and the top half was covered with a golden hue that denoted the rank (of the Ollamh).

         IX. Then Briciu went to Ferchertne and spoke these tidings: "Oh Ferchertne, it is calamitous that today it may be that a cowardly young man has taken the Office of Ollamh at Emain." At that, Ferchertne was angry and he went to the seat (of the Ollammh) and entered the palace and stood on the floor with his hand on the beam (rafter) and thus he spoke: "Who is this Fíe, is he Filidh?"20

         X. Now the place of this contention is Emain Macha, moreover it was in the time of Conchobair Maic Nessa. The persons are Néde, son of Adnai of Connaught, and of the Tuatha de Danann (who speaks in that contention "I am the son of poetry, gift of study") and Ferchertne, Fíle of Ulster. The cause (of the contention) is his magic. That is, the cloak of Adnai which was given to Ferchertne, son of Medb, (and) son of Ailill as the next in wisdom to Adnai. Then Níde, son of Adnai, came from Scotland with the right to sit in the Chair of the Ollamh,21 and Ferchertne entered the palace and upon seeing Néde said:


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part 6 / part 7 / part 8 / part 9

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