Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
Saltair na Rann (Author: Unknown)



The Saltair na Rann, ‘Psalter of the Staves or Quatrains’, a collection of 162 Early-Middle-Irish poems now for the first time printed, is contained in its entirety only in the Bodleian MS. Rawl. B. 502, ff. 19-40. But there is a copy of one of the poems (No. 10) in the Lebar Brecc, a MS. of the fifteenth century; and corrupt and modernised copies of poems 4, 5, and 6 are to be found in a MS. also belonging to the Royal Irish Academy, marked 23. G. 25, written by one O'Longan about seventy years ago. The Lebar Brecc version of No. 10 will be found at p. 111b of the lithographic facsimile of that MS., Dublin, 1876.

The Saltair, like the Oengusso and other pseudonymous matter, is attributed to Oengus the Culdee, who flourished in the beginning of the ninth century; and his name—‘is me Oengus cele Dé’, ‘I am Oengus the Culdee’ —actually occurs in line 8009. But that this attribution is erroneous follows, first, from the numerous Middle-Irish forms which the poem contains1 and which cannot possibly be due to the transcriber, and, secondly, from its mention, in l. 2342, of an event—the murrain which began A.D. 985— and in ll. 2349-2365 of certain contemporary kings, as well as of Dub-dá-lethe, one of S. Patrick's successors in the see of Armagh, who died A. D. 1061.

Our MS., Rawl. B. 502, is a large quarto, now containing 83 leaves of vellum in a hand of the twelfth century, and 20 leaves of paper. The vellum portion has been so fully described by the late Dr. Todd ( Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, vol. 5, pp. 164-168) and by Mr. Macray ( Catal. Codd. MSS. Bodl., Part V., fasc. J, cols. 719-722) as to render further description unnecessary. Only this opportunity may be taken to note that the ‘Short Tract on Irish Grammar’ stated to occur at fo. 63b is really one of the so-called Brehon law treatises—Coic


conara fugill, 'five paths of judgment,' of which there is (according to Dr. O'Donovan) a fuller copy in a MS. in the library of Trinity College, Dublin, marked H. 3. 18—and that the Latin passage at fo. 53 b. seems to run thus: ‘Hii omnes sancti (sic) inuoco in auxilium meum per intercessionem sanctce Marice et sanctarum et (sanctor)um, quarum et quorum Deus nomina nominauit, et quos praesciuit et praedistinavit conformes fieri imaginis Filii sui in uitam ceternam in Christo Jesu Amen.’ The poems now printed begin at fo. 19 a. 1 and end at fo. 40. b. 2. They are written in double columns, with 50 lines in each.

According to the scribe's note following line 7788 the poems now printed fall into four divisions, (1) the Psalter, (2) the poem on repentance, (3) the poem on confession, and (4) the ten poems on the Resurrection. That note means: ‘Thus far the body of the Psalter of the Quatrains, to wit, the thrice fifty poems (duana). Two after, (one) for confession, and (the other) for repentance; and ten to set forth the Resurrection; so that there are twelve and thrice fifty poems altogether.’ The thrice fifty poems—equal in number to the psalms, and hence ‘the Psalter’—deal for the most part with incidents from the Old Testament. But the first poem contains a kind of description of the universe; poems XI (on the penance of Adam and Eve) and 12 (on the death of Adam) are founded on the Vita Adae et Euae, two texts of which have been published by W. Meyer (München, 1879); and poems 42-50 relate to the life of Christ. Poem 151 expresses repentance for transgression and prays for forgiveness. No. 152 is an expression of ignorance of God and his various works. Nos. 153 to 159 describe the events on each day of the week before the last Judgment. Sense here is so completely sacrificed to metrical requirements that these seven poems are, to a large extent, unintelligible to me. 160 deals with the seven resurrections—namely, (1) that of the apostles, (2) of the prophets, (3) of the confessors, (4) of the martyrs, (5) of the saints, (6) of the virgins; penitents, and baptized infants, and (7) of the rest of the human race. Poem 161 treats of the coming of the demons out of hell to earth, the fall of the idols, etc. The last poem, 162, describes the triumph of the angels over their foes, the rewards of the righteous, the punishments of the wicked.

It may be well to give a précis of the three most important of the poems, namely, 1, 11, and 12.


1.2 The creation of the world (line 3), the sun (5), heaven (13), earth (15), light and darkness (17,18), day and night (19, 20), the earth separated from the primal material (29, 30), surrounded by the firmament (34), the world like an apple (36), the mists, the current of the cold watery air (44), the four chief winds, the eight sub-winds (45-52), the colours of the winds (53-80), the distance from the earth to the firmament (97-101), the seven planets (101-104), the distance from the earth to the moon (105-112), the radiant heaven, that from moon to sun (113-116), the windless, ethereal heaven, the distance between the firmament and the sun (121), the motionless Olympus or third heaven (125-128), the distance from the firmament to heaven (133-136), from earth to the depths of hell (141), the five zones, the firmament round the earth like its shell round an egg (165-169), the seventy-two windows in the firmament (181, 182), with a shutter on each (188), the seventh heaven revolving like a wheel (199), with the seven planets from the creation (204), the signs of the zodiac (205-220), the time—30 days, 10 hours—that the sun is in each, the day of the month on which it enters each, the month in which it is in each sign (233-256), the division of the firmament into twelve parts, the five things which every intelligent man should know—namely, the day of the solar month, the age of the moon, the height of the tide, the day of the week, saints' festivals.

11. The Penance of Adam and Eve. For a week after the expulsion Adam was without fire, house, drink, food, or clothing (1483-1486). He laments to Eve their lost blessings (1491-1530), and admits his fault (1531-1534). Eve asks Adam to kill her, so that God may pity him the more (1535-1546). Adam refuses to destroy his own flesh and blood (1547-1560). Then, at Eve's request, Adam goes to seek for food and finds nought but herbs (1561-1572), 'the food of the lawless beasts.' He proposes to Eve to do penance, to adore the Lord in silence, Eve in the Tigris for thirty days, Adam in the Jordan for forty and seven, a flagstone under their feet, the water up to their necks, Eve's hair dishevelled and her eyes directed to heaven in silent prayer for forgiveness (1573-1628). Adam prays the Jordan 'to fast with him on God' (co troisced lais for Dia) with all its many beasts, that pardon


may be granted to him. The stream ceases: gathers together every living creature that was in its midst; and they all supplicate the angelic host to join with them in beseeching God to forgive Adam (1629-1652). Forgiveness is granted to Adam and to all his seed save the unrighteous (1653-1660). When the Devil hears this, 'like a swan, in the shape of a white angel,' he goes to Eve as she stands in the Tigris and gets her to leave her penance, saying that he had been sent by God. They then go to Adam, who at once recognises the Devil and reveals the deceit to Eve (1661-1716). Eve falls half-dead on the ground, and reproaches Lucifer (1717-1756). Lucifer defends himself, repeating at length the story of his expulsion from heaven for refusing to worship Adam (1757-1872). He concludes by threatening vengeance to Adam and his descendants (1873-1880). Adam then leaves the river and Lucifer departs (1884). Adam and Eve then live alone for a year on grass, without proper food, fire, house, music, or raiment; drinking water from their palms and eating the green herbs in the shadow of trees and in caverns (1885-1896). Eve brings forth a beautiful boy, who at once proceeds to cut grass for his father, and whom his father called Cain (1897-19 IQ). God at last pities Adam and sends Michael to him with various seeds, and Michael teaches him husbandry and the use of animals (1913-1932). Seven years afterwards Eve brings forth Abel (1933). In a vision Eve sees Cain drinking the blood of Abel. Adam therefore builds a house for each of the brothers (1941-1956). Gabriel announces the murder of Abel and foretells the birth of Seth (1957-1968). Adam's seventy sons and seventy daughters are born to him after the transgression (1969). The signs set in Cain's forehead (1997-2000). Cain's death in the Valley of Jehoshaphat, which is thenceforward barren (2005).

12. Adam's death. Adam, being 930 years old and feeling his death at hand, tells Eve of his approaching end (2021-2032). Eve regrets that she does not die first (2033-2037). Adam comforts her by saying she will die in nine months, and tells her how to act after his death (2040-2076). Michael comes at Eve's entreaty to cleanse Adam's soul and take it to heaven (2077-2152). God comes to receive Adam's soul, which remains in the third heaven, named Ficconicia (2153-2208), till the Resurrection. Adam's body is anointed with the Oil of Mercy and buried in Hebron (2217-2228), where it remained


till the Deluge. His head was then swept to Jerusalem, and remained in the gateway till Christ's cross was planted therein (2229-2240). Enos, Noah, and other patriarchs are then mentioned (2241-2292). The numbers of years from Adam to the Deluge, from the Deluge to Abraham, from Adam to the birth of Christ (2293-2336), the number of years to the murrain, the names of some of the leading princes reigning about that time in Ireland and in Scotland, those of Eadgar on one side of the English Channel and Hlothair on the other, an allusion to the ravages caused by the Danes from Denmark (2337-2380): the rest till the day of doom nobody could declare except the high King of the sun, whose life never ends (2381-2388).

The tradition mentioned in lines 7529, 7530, that Christ was born from the crown of the Virgin's head, is worth noting3; and the description of some of the signs at the Crucifixion (7761-7772) may be quoted as a specimen of the style of the poem (I omit two chevilles), and as illustrating Sophus Bugge's theories about the Baldr-saga:—

    1. Darkness sprang over every plain:
      Earth's dead arose:
      Dear God's elements were afraid
      When the veil of the temple was rent.
      Every creature wailed
      Heaven and earth trembled:
      The sea proceeded to go over (its) bounds:
      Hearts of black rocks split.
      The King who suffered in (his) fair clay,
      A cross for sake of Adam's children,
      Thereafter took a prey (of redeemed souls),
      So that he overcame Hell.
The metre in which the bulk of the Saltair is composed is deibide, each line of the quatrain consisting of seven syllables, the second and

fourth ending with a word exceeding in the number of its syllables the words respectively ending the first and third; the first and second lines rhyme together, as do the third and fourth. Alliteration is frequent, and a word in the middle of one line often rhymes with a word in the beginning or middle of the following line (e.g. rúinib, dúilib, lines 9, 10, sorcha, dorcha, 17, 18). Poem 152 is in a different metre, rannaigecht mór, each line ending in a monosyllable, and only the second and fourth lines rhyming. In 153-162 the first and third lines of each quatrain regularly end in rhyming trisyllables, the second and fourth in rhyming dissyllables. Internal rhymes are frequent, e. g. fogur, domnuch, 8021, 8023, luaichthi, cruaidi, 8037, 8039. The first, second and third words in the first line of a quatrain sometimes rhyme respectively with the first, second and last words of the third line; see e. g. 8125-8127, 8137-8139.

The text has been printed with the utmost care. It is right to say that in the MS. several of the marks of length are so faded that they can be discerned only by the keenest eyes and in the most favourable light. I may, therefore, have undesignedly omitted some of these marks. Contractions have been extended, and the extensions represented by italics. The text has also been punctuated, proper names spelt with initial capitals, apostrophes have been used where vowels have been omitted, and hyphens introduced to separate the transported t and lt from words beginning with vowels.

In conclusion, though several of the words are explained in the Index, it contains so many new vocables as to the meanings of which I am either doubtful or quite in the dark, that I have called it an Index Verborum rather than a Glossarial Index. It will, it is hoped, be useful to future Irish lexicographers.