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Fraser's Scottish Annual
Antiquity of the Celtic Speech


When the student of Celtic literature has made himself familiar with the history of the Gaelic Albanic Duan, the Erse Psalter of Cashel, and the Welsh poems of Ancurin and Taliesin, ascribed to the eleventh, ninth, and sixth centuries respectively, lie imagines he has reached the Ultima Thule of his subject. Yet he must know that the ancient history, largely regarded as mythical, which appears in Fordun's Scottish Chronicle, in Geoffrey of Monmouth's British History, and in Keating's History of Ireland, cannot but have come down from a period of high antiquity, through traditions, either oral or written, in forms of Celtic speech. The Irish Annals of Tighernach and of The Four Masters contain many metrical scraps attributed to the fifth century. Beyond that point, till a few years ago, the world's acquaintance with Celtic literary remains did not extend.

Rather more than fifteen years have passed since the writer, in the course of Etruscan decipherment, analyzed the inscriptions on the Euguhine Tables, which are seven bronze plates or tablets, that were disinterred, in the year 1444, on site of the ancient Umbrian city of Iguviuin in Italy. These plates are inscribed partly in Roman characters, partly in the not very dissimilar Etruscan, although the phonetic equivalents of apparently corresponding characters are quite distinct. Careful study sufficed to make a complete translation of the Etruscan tablets. Then the writer's general knowledge of philology was enough to convince him that the remaining or Umbrian plates were written in archaic Gaelic, expressed in the well known Roman character. Being, fortunately, possessed of the intimate friendship of the Rev. Dr. Neil MacNish of Cornwall, Ont., who is facile Princelbs in Celtic researches, on either side of the Atlantic, he sought and obtained his invaluable collaboration. By degrees, the interpreters succeeded in translating the whole of the 'Umbrian inscription; a philological and historical introduction to which, under the caption "Umbria Capta," Dr. MacNish published in the Transactions of the Canadian Institute, Toronto. With his consent, the writer issued the English text of the Umbrian, along with his own translation of the Etruscan inscription, in the Transactions of the Celtic Society of Montreal, published in 1887.

The Umbrian inscription, with notes, covers thirty-four octavo pages of the Celtic Society's Transactions, thus affording to the student of Celtic antiquities a large field for investigation, both philological and historical. The Unibrian and Etruscan texts, with literal translations and grammatical analyses, are ready for publication, so soon as opportunity permits. The date of these literary documents is 177 b.c.; they were composed by Herti, King of Umbria, and by a nameless Etruscan prince of Arretiuni, respectively: and their contents are all account of their military operations, in subduing revolted Celtic and Etruscan colonies, extending from the moun tai us of Switzerland and the Tvrol to the Gulfs of Genoa and Venice, and from the French Alps to Carinthia and Trieste. Evidence is thus afforded of the existence, though in quasi-subjection to Rome, of all Celtic empire in northern Italy and beyond it, in the beginning of the second century before Christ; and of the literary use of a Celtic tongue mediating between Scottish and Irish Gaelic, before Terence had appeared, and while Roman letters were yet in their infancy. This antiquity, however, is trifling compared with that which is to follow.

In the Transactions of the Celtic Society of Montreal, published in 1892, Dr. MacNish has a paper entitled "A Gaelic Cuneiform Inscription." This is one of the Tell-el-Atnarna tablets, discovered some years ago, and preserved in the Boulag Museum. Most of the tablets found in this Egyptian ruin are written in Semitic lingua franca, not unlike Hebrew, but in cuneiform characters, the phonetic values of which are known through Babylonian and Assyrian studies. The transliteration of the cuneiform into European characters may thus be generally trusted. Taking this transliteration, Dr. MacNish has placed under it, line by line, its modern Gaelic equivalents, and their literal translation, and thereafter has given a free rendition of the. text, with verbal and historical notes. Thus enlarged, without the free translation and notes, the text covers three pages of the Transactions. It is a letter from Tarkhundara, or Tarkhun the Second, of Ur in Chaldea, to the Pharaoh Ainenliotep IV., then reigning in a city on the site of Tell-el-Amarna, telling of presents lie was sending to him, of the intrigues of a colleague named Khalugari, no doubt an Ossianic Colgar, and of Tarkhundara's desire to espouse Pharaoh's daughter, the Princess Akh.

The father of this second Tarkhun is called Urukh on his own monuments, being the Orchamus of Ovid ; and Tarkhundara is called Dungi. Expelled, like the second Tarquin, from his oriental kingdom, he settled in Egypt; and, under the name of Tutankh-Amen, was recognized as a Pharaoh, being the husband of Ankh-nes-Paaten, daughter of Amenhotep IV., and the Akh of the Gaelic letter. The reason of his writing to Ainenhotep in Gaelic is found in the fact, that Pharaoh's mother, Queen Thi, was a Celtic princess, whom his father espoused, when a wanderer among the Mitanni, or ancient Ne-Medians, on the banks of the Euphrates. Brugsch gives the date of Amenhotep's accession to the crown of Egypt as 1466 B.C.; but Lenormant and other Egyptologists take it hack to the sixteenth century, and they are doubtless right. Here then, before the time of Moses, are Celtic kings and queens on the Euphrates and on the Nile ; and literary Gaelic as a vehicle of royal correspondence. Thus does Gaelic take its place among the classical languages of antiquity, antedating by many centuries the oldest fragment of Greek composition.

The names of Herti, or Art, of Umbria, and his rebellious vassal, Eno O'Gar, or Eana O'Gara or O'Hara; and those of the oriental Dungi or Tarkhundara, of Khalugari or Colgar, of the queens Thi and Akh ; all in their purely Gaelic setting, suggest long pages of yet un- written Celtic history. When the time comes to set them forth, it will be found that, before the nations of classical antiquity were in their childhood, the Gael was a maker of history and a king of men.

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