I recently had the great pleasure of touring Ireland, seeing the great Book of Kells and learning more about the many Irish writers (4 Nobel laureates, Yeats, Shaw, Beckett, Heaney). We also visited several prehistoric sites. Anyway, this gave me pause to reflect on their own particular glyph learning curve (first presented here on 11/6/14 with a follow up on 12/5/14). The Celts who settled Ireland were mainly illiterate. Their priests/historians/storytellers were forbidden from writing down any of their lore; all had to be memorized and recited frequently to maintain the memory. They had a strong bardic tradition, which the Christians later tried to banish until St. Columba returned from his exile on the Scottish isle of Iona to be their champion (he had been trained as a bard himself). Druid initiates studied for many years to memorize the requisite lore before becoming full fledged priests or bards. And then Christianity arrived as the Dark Ages were settling into the rest of Europe and many libraries were razed. Thomas Cahill documented the rise of Irish monks copying the books upon which much of western culture is founded in his book, How the Irish Saved Civilization, as these monks diligently copied books and later carried them back throughout Europe, thereby keeping some flame alive.
So the Irish went from primarily illiterate to great writers and book preservers in a few centuries. I have enjoyed pondering this change because at some point you have to acknowledge their gift of gab, love of words, and respect for glyphic communication. 10,000 years ago in the middle east the first glyphs appeared so:
5000 years ago the Irish seemed to have only the Ogham symbols like these carved into a foundation stone at New Grange, a fabulous passage tomb.
And then around 800 C.E. we have not just books but illustrated, illuminated books. The Irish monks did not just copy, they also sought to present the symbolic spirit of the writings, like this from the Book of Kells.
Not bad for only a few centuries of literacy, but clearly their love of oral language carries forth even into today.
And by the bye, we had fabulous weather for our two weeks over there. Only one day was it showery and then we had this:
More on the humanity of this last picture in later post. Travel on.