Note: Nothing is at it appears. “I suspect that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of, in any philosophy.” (J.B.S. Haldane, Possible Worlds 1927.) “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Then are dreamt of in your philosphy.” (Shakespeare, Hamlet.) Perhaps, Plato best captured the idea of this week’s proverb in his Republic.
Behold! human beings living in an underground den .., they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave.
Plato’s concept of the the ideal, or idea, or form was at the heart of his ethics and metaphysics. Greeks like Plato wrote about the Celts. They even coined the term, “Keltoi.”
Some have argued that the Greeks adopted some Celtic philosophy. Celts conquered Thrace in 298 B.C. The English word philosophy comes from the Greek for lover of truth. The Modern Irish word for philosophy is feallsúnacht which comes from the Old Irish for sophistry, after one of the oldest schools of Greek philosophy. The western world owes its philosophy to the Greeks who go started by the Celts.
Note: The most enduring fame achieved in the Irish ‘seanchas béil’ (oral tradition) is when a ‘file’ (poet) composes a poem to commemorate the deeds of a hero. It is a tradition dating from the earliest myths of the Ulster Cycle to the ballad of Kevin Barry. It is even part of the language. The word for hero, or warrior, in Irish is ‘laoch’. Poems about heros are so pervasive in the oral literature that the Irish word for narrative poem is derived from it. A narrative poem in Irish is a ‘laoi’.
Note also: The adjective ‘buaine’ is the comparative degree of ‘buan’, the root word one finds in the dictionary. An adjective’s root form is the nominative singular form (ainmneach uatha) or positive degree (bunchéim). Like all Irish adjectives, ‘buan’ has two different genitive singular forms, one masculine (ginideach firinscneach), is é sin, ‘buain’, and one that is feminine (ginideach baininscneach), in this case, ‘buaine’. The feminine genitive form is used as the comparative form (breischéim) except for a few irregular adjectives.
Note: This week’s proverb is an ancient paragon of Irish word play. It literally means “The life is the strange son.” In Irish, the definite article is used to express abstraction whereas in English the same is done with an indefinite article, or no article at all. This week’s subject and predicate are both abstractions so a better English translation would be “Life is a strange son.”
To ancient Celts, both the clan and the world were composed of living things. For example, recall the Lady of the Lake in Celtic, Arthurian legend. She was the living embodiment of the world’s bodies of water. This is why the word ‘saol’ means both life and world.
Now the word “ait” is a play on words. It means pleasant, likeable, fine, excellent, comical, queer (in the sense of strange). Lengthen the vowel and you get “áit” meaning place. One would expect to hear the world is a strange “áit.”
This concept of a living world explains the subtle word play using ‘son’ as a metaphor. It is common, even today, to use ‘a mhic’ (o son) as a term of endearment for addressing any male. So in this case the author used this metaphor to say the world is strange, but it is also a friend.