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Title: Chasing the deer : hunting iconography, literature and tradition of the Scottish Highlands
Author: Wiseman, Andrew E. M.
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2009
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Hunting inspired some of the greatest songs and stories of Gaelic literature and tradition - a theme which runs from the earliest Old Irish sources down to the literature of Modern Scottish Gaelic. This thesis examines the cultural history of hunting in the Scottish Highlands stemming from the late-medieval period through to the early modern. The three main areas covered are the iconography, literature and tradition of the chase. Many hunting topoi appear upon late-medieval west Highland sculptures, remarkably similar to those on earlier Pictish sculpture, which are complimented by the Gaelic literature and lore of hunting contained within Fenian ballads and narrative stories. The apogee of Gaelic hunting motifs are contained within panegyric poetry and verse of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, sustained in the main by a late manifestation of an heroic age. Such imagery reinforced and perpetuated the identity of the chief as the paragon of pre-modern Gaelic society, who was always seen as a hunter-warrior. Hunting themes and motifs are also prevalent within Gaelic folksong tradition. Although this overlaps in terms of content with the bardic imagery of professional poets, the vernacular folksongs offer a more emotive and direct response to moments of crisis or celebration. The scale of these great hunts in the Highlands, borne out by the literary evidence, from the medieval period onwards, reflects a complex matrix of power, patronage, politics and ultimately propaganda. As well as being a surrogate for war the tinchel, in Gaelic terms, was a seasonal mobilising of the sluagh, or host, who followed the fine, the Gaelic nobility. This enhanced their status while reinforcing clan solidarity in a shared symbol of sporting endeavour, by chasing the noble quarry of the deer. Notable, also, is illegal, or covert hunting which masked a complex deer-culture, and marked the familiar tension of exploiting natural resources by the many against the privileged few who tried to implement their inherited rights to hunt. Inevitably, superstition pervades much of the traditions of the hunt, as it would in any given belief system centred upon age-old customs. Hunting was an integral part of European culture, and it was a theme reflected in Gaelic literature, song, and tradition more evidently than in many other European cultures of a comparable period. This was because it reinforced strongly and perpetuated the idealised image of a warrior-hunter, the archetypal leader engendered within Gaelic cultural identity.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available