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Welsh History Review


Vol. 17, nos. 1-4 1994-95

L'irlande au moyen age: Giraud de Barri et la Topographia Hibernica (1188). Book review.

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excellent contribution on Culture and Ethnicity in his discussion of the Viking Age (pp.
194-202) is a case-study in common sense which also provides a rare example of an
approach yielding an integrated study of place-names, archaeological evidence and the
historical significance of patronage as revealed in the sculpture of the region. Finally,
this magnificently presented book is worth £ 25 just for its colour plates of
Northumbrian landscape. Here the reader is presented not with flat pictures of fields
and hedgerows but with evocative images which lead the mind into a three-dimensional
medieval world of mountain, field and dale.
University of Kent
(1188). By Jeanne-Marie Boivin. Nouvelle Bibliotheque du Moyen Age, 18; Librairie
Honore Champion, Paris, 1993. Pp. 414. FF.338.
The Topographia Hibernica was the first major prose work composed by Gerald of
Wales, and it broke new ground as the first book ever written about Ireland by an
outsider. Moreover, to judge by its manuscript transmission, it was a literary
success-even if some readers, such as William de Montibus at Lincoln, threw up their
hands in horror at its descriptions of excessively intimate encounters between humans
and animals! Gerald, too, held the work in high esteem, revising and expanding it
almost until the end of his life, with the result that the fourth and final recension of
c. 1220 is over twice as long as the first recension of 1188.
Modern commentators have, however, been unimpressed by the changes made to the
original version of the text. Thus, according to J. F. Dimock in the preface to his Rolls
Series edition of 1867, the additions, which included further moralizing passages as
well as the multiplication of quotations from earlier writers, were 'wearisome beyond
measure to the reader' and 'have as much to do with Ireland or its people as with the
moon and the man in it'. This attitude helps to explain the absence hitherto of a
translation of the final, complete, recension: whereas it has been the practice to
translate the latest versions of Gerald's celebrated works on Wales, the Itinerarium
Kambriae and Descriptio Kambriae, only the first recension of the Topographia is
available in a reliable modern translation (by J. J. O'Meara). Fortunately, this
situation has now been rectified by Jeanne-Marie Boivin in her new book, which
provides a translation of Dimock's edition of the final recension of the Topographia
and adds appreciably to our understanding of it both in a substantial introduction and
in numerous notes. As Dr Boivin convincingly argues, to condemn the material added
to the first recension as irrelevant is misconceived: further details were in fact
introduced about Ireland, and even the additional material not concerned directly with
Irish matters contains much that is valuable, reflecting Gerald's interest in topics as
diverse as animals, music, and theology.
The introduction to L'Irlande au moyen age occupies almost 150 pages and is
divided into three parts. The first two deal, respectively, with Gerald's life and writings
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