The Celts: History, Culture, Legend

From Galatia in modern Turkey to Galicia in northwest Spain, Celtic peoples dominated pre-Roman Europe, a Celtic past evoked in such place names as Paris, Vienna, and Edinburgh. Celtic culture outlasted Roman military rule and generated a rich archive of art (metal and textiles), religious and cultural traditions, and legends that inspired epic and lyric poetry in Europe’s successor languages. Some Celtic polities (Wales, Brittany) were absorbed into larger national units only in the late medieval period, and Celtic cultural identity remains strong wherever Celtic languages are spoken.

The “Romantic Nationalism” of the 18th and 19th centuries rediscovered Europe’s Celtic past and is the spiritual ancestor of contemporary independence movements (Scotland, Catalonia) that look to early modern Europe’s smaller polities. Since the 18th century Celtic musical and literary contributions to the European culture have been notable—from Thomas Moore, the Bard of Erin, to Seamus Heaney.

In collaboration with the UC Celtic Colloquium and the UC Berkeley Celtic Studies Program

Friday, May 6, 2016, 7:30-9:30 pm

The Celtic World / Daniel Melia (UC Berkeley). Did the druids really burn people in giant wicker statues? Did the Celts worship a mother-goddess? Did they worship trees? Did the Celts build Stonehenge? Was Britain Rome’s Vietnam? Who were these Celts anyway (or were they Kelts)? Where did they come from? And how do we know about them, since they left no substantial written records before the introduction of Christianity in the late Roman Empire? Fortunately, the combination of historical records from the Classical world, modern archaeology, and the discipline of historical linguistics allows us to present a surprisingly full picture of the history of Celtic languages and culture in Europe, though, to be sure, many areas of controversy still remain.

Performance: Patrick Ball presents O’Carolan’s Farewell to Music. Ireland in the 17th and 18th centuries was a troubled, tumultuous place. The old Gaelic order had been shattered by the English, and the poets, the bards and the harp players were set walking the roads. Yet, this dark period of Irish history produced a Celtic harper and composer of such brilliance, grace and character that he is, to this day, regarded as his country’s greatest and most beloved musician—Turlough O’Carolan. Conceived and performed by Patrick Ball, and written by Patrick Ball and Peter Glazer, this one-person musical theater piece brings to the stage the legendary life, the turbulent times and the captivating music of this most celebrated Irish artist. 

Saturday, May 7, 2016, 10:00 am-4:00 pm

Celtic Storytellers and their ‘Bag of Tricks’ Through the Ages Joseph Falaky Nagy (UCLA). Nagy highlights some of the persistent and recurring themes, story patterns, and narrative motifs to be found in medieval Irish and Welsh storytelling, from the middle of the first millennium CE to recent times. Among these story elements with their special Celtic “twists,” some also to be found disseminated throughout Western European literature of the Middle Ages, are the quest, the love triangle, and serial shape-shifting. Nagy will briefly survey the heroic sagas of the so-called Ulster cycle, some early British reflections of Arthurian legend, and the symbiosis of storyteller and hero in Irish and Scottish Gaelic folktales. Consideration will also be given to the functions of storytelling in Celtic cultures.

From Cats to Rattlebags: Medieval Celtic Scribes and Their Books / Elaine Treharne (Stanford). Many significant manuscripts in Latin, Irish, Welsh and Cornish exist from the Medieval period (c. 600-1500). From The Mabinogion to sermons, drama to great national myths, these manuscripts reveal a great deal about the scribes and artists who produced them. The skill and humor, veneration and scurrilousness of insular authors is found in these glorious writings, connecting the present to the past, and bringing to life the things that mattered most to our Celtic predecessors.

Making Celtic Art: Materials and Meaning from the Iron Age to the Internet / Karen Eileen Overbey (Tufts University). How did Iron Age craftsmen fashion intricate gold torcs and richly decorated battle gear – and why did Celtic warriors wear them? What technologies did the Celts use to create the spirals, animal forms, and rich decoration we still recognize (and recreate) today? How and why did medieval Irish artists adapt interlace, triskeles, and other “Celtic” patterns in manuscripts, stone crosses, and metalwork? What do the materials and motifs of Celtic art across the ages tell us about the people that used them? This lecture focuses on the Insular Celts, the medieval Gaelic culture of Ireland, the Irish Celtic Revival of the 19th and 20th centuries, and the modern Celts of the digital age – and explores the role of making in Celtic art across the ages.

The Celts in Modernist and Contemporary Irish Literature / Catherine Flynn (UC Berkeley). From W.B. Yeats’ visionary Celtic Twilight to James Joyce’s taunting “cultic twalette,” Professor Flynn’s lecture examines strikingly different representations of the Celts in Irish literature in the 19th and 20th centuries. As Irish writers from Yeats to Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill and Seamus Heaney struggle to form an ethos, a national identity and an aesthetics in a shifting political, social and economic landscape, the Celts are reimagined as mystics, craftsmen, hags, and bog bodies. These Celtic figures allow us to understand these writers’ changing moods and ambitions as they emulate, mock, dig up and speak to a reanimated past.

Panel Discussion with the Presenters

4 pm Conclusion

Shakespeare & Cervantes
Shakespeare & Cervantes

Shakespeare & Cervantes

Miguel de Cervantes (1547–1616) and William Shakespeare (1564 –1616), two of Western civilization’s greatest writers, helped to define modern forms of literature, while enriching the power and expressiveness of their respective languages. They lived amid the tumultuous interconnected histories of the Spanish Golden Age and the Golden Ages of Jacobean and Elizabethan England. On the 400th anniversary of their deaths, we celebrate the enduring themes and vivid characters in the timeless stories they created.Their respective literary contributions have become deeply embedded in world culture and remain influential to this day.

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Friday, February 26, 2016 | 7:30-9:30 pm

The Renaissance World of Cervantes and Shakespeare / Roland Greene (Stanford). If one were born into the Spain and England of 1547 and 1564, as Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare respectively were, what events in history, intellectual life, and literature would have mattered in the making of one’s early work as a writer? Roland Greene explores the common elements in the world-views of these two European contemporaries who came to define the literature of their time. Both of them lived under absolutist monarchs, observed changing intellectual paradigms, pondered the challenges of the Americas, and explored several available literary genres as ways of capturing a complex reality. At the same time, their differences—in religion and national perspective, among other things—are important too. Weighing likenesses and differences, we will approach an understanding of these two figures in relation to each other and to the world they had in common.

PerformanceCrosscurrent: Renaissance Music from England and Spain /  Shira Kammen directs Gallimaufry, the new chamber chorus,performing music from the time of Cervantes and Shakespeare, including settings of their texts. With Peter Maund (percussion) and Michelle Levy (vielle

GALLIMAUFRY chamber chorus: Shira Kammen. director, bowed strings; Michelle Levy, bowed strings; Peter Maund, percussion; Singers: Dorothy Manly, Beth Summers, Marcia Hofer, Dave Watt, Lynn Haug, Chelle Cockle-Persoff, Victoria Varieur, Theresa Nelson, Greg Tinfow, Susan Moreno, Patti Cobb, Michelle Levy, Prentiss Williams, Max Ziff, Stephen Pitcher, Scott Robinson, Melissa Leverton, Alice Benedict, Sarah Lamb, Sarah Rose Cohen, Larry Schmehl, Melanie Spiller, Asher Davison, Lisa Gartland

Where Griping Grief (from Romeo & Juliet)          Richard Edwards (1524-1566)

John Come Kiss me Now (instrumental)                John Playford (1623–1686/7)

Jog On (from A Winter’s Tale)                                  Anonymous


Oy Comamos y Bebamos                                           Juan del Enzina (1468 – 1529)

Recercada (instrumental)                                          Diego Ortiz (c. 1510 – c. 1570)

Caballero de aventuras                                               Anonymous

Rodrigo Martinez                                                        Anonymous


Full Fathom Five (from The Tempest)                      Robert Johnson (c. 1583 – 1633)

Willow Song (from Othello)                                        Anon., from the Roxburgh Book of Ballads

Give me my Yellow Hose (referred to in Twelfth Night)      Anon.

Farewell Dear Love (from Twelfth Night)                   Robert Johnson


Calata ala Spagnola (instrumental)                              Joan Ambrosio Dalza (fl. 1508)

Amor con Fortuna                                                           Juan del Enzina


When that I was and a little tiny boy (from Twelfth Night)  Anon.

Saturday February 27, 2016, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm

Why Everyone Should Read Don Quixote / Adrienne Martín (Harvard)Although most people are familiar with Don Quixote through cartoons, films, ballet, television, or the musical Man of La Mancha, fewer have actually read the eponymous novel. Nonetheless, Don Quixote is recognized by most contemporary writers as the first modern novel and the best one ever written. What makes it so and why should everyone read it? Cervantes’s masterwork is the first self-conscious book about books, about reading and writing and the relation between reading and living, and about how life can imitate art. Ultimately about the joys—and the dangers—of reading, Cervantes takes readers on a philosophically profound, yet extremely funny road trip punctuated by adventure, mad lovers, forceful women and odious nobles. Highlighting themes such as the nature of reality and illusion, heroism, adventure, male bonding, freedom, racial tolerance and love, Don Quixote is as relevant today as it was in 1605.

Shakespeare’s Stage / Shakespeare’s Works / Stephen Orgel (Stanford). Shakespeare’s drama occupies a central place in the modern imagination, as a touchstone not merely for theater but for literature itself. The Collected Plays have been, for almost three centuries, the most canonical work in English, rivalling even the King James Bible. Paradoxically, Shakespeare wrote for performance, not for publication. His plays were scripts for a particular troupe of actors, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, later called the King’s Men, whose colleague he was for two decades. Shakespeare’s plays are deeply imbued with the conditions of his theater. What was that theater like, what was involved in writing for such a company, and—most important for our modern sense of Shakespeare—what happened when the scripts became books and the stage became literature? 

Cardenio and its Spanish Connection / Barbara Fuchs (UCLA). The lost Shakespeare/Fletcher Cardenio serves as the absent marker for a literary phenomenon that we have largely ignored: the strong English fascination with Spanish literature even during the periods of greatest animosity between the two nations. By reconstructing the context for the missing Cardenio we can recover the powerful intellectual and literary connections that thrived despite Protestant suspicion and imperial rivalry.

Performance: Shakespeare’s Cardenio? / Bruce Avery and Lana Palmer

Bruce Avery and Lana Palmer entertain with scenes from Double Falshood, thought to be the mis-titled Cardenio.

The Baroque World of Cervantes and Shakespeare / Roland Greene. The European and transatlantic world saw a considerable number of changes after 1600: in politics and society, in technology, in the arts, and in the general state of knowledge, as a generation of thinkers came to realize that they knew more about the world than the classical authorities to whom they had been conditioned to look for guidance. We sometimes call this era of change the Baroque, and while it includes the entire careers of a number of important figures across the disciplines, this lecture will ask what it meant for these two writers, Cervantes and Shakespeare, whose world-views were established in the preceding era, known as the Golden Age in Spain and the Elizabethan age in England. How does a playwright, novelist, or poet adapt to the Baroque in late career? How does an understanding of the seventeenth-century Baroque contribute to our understanding of the late Cervantes and Shakespeare?

Panel Discussion with the Presenters

Conclusion 4 pm

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Dawn of the Renaissance
Dawn of the Renaissance

Dawn of the Italian Renaissance (1275-1400)

The Italian Renaissance represents a high point of early Western European culture. Italian writers and artists first recaptured and reinvigorated the artistic accomplishments of classical antiquity. The republican communes erected monumental civic palaces and other major architectural works, such as fortifications and public fountains. Duccio, Giotto, Simone Martini, and Giovanni Pisano entered new territory in painting and sculpture, paving the way for later artists such as Masaccio and Brunelleschi. Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio wrote their masterpieces in verse and prose, which Chaucer would later retrieve and reimagine in the English language. The music of the Trecento and Ars Nova paralleled the significant achievements in art, architecture, and literature. 

Commemorating the 750th anniversary of Dante’s birth and presented in collaboration with the Consul General of Italy in San Francisco, the Italian Cultural Institute, the Leonardo da Vinci Society, and the Department of History, Stanford.

Friday, October 23, 2015 | 7:30-9:30 pm

Tim Rayborn

How the Renaissance Began / Paula Findlen (Stanford). What inspired the creative impulses that we associate with the Italian Renaissance? When we consider the age of Leonardo, Machiavelli, and their contemporaries, we see the Renaissance in its maturity without fully understanding how such a world began. The roots of many features of the Italian Renaissance can be found in a world of commerce, politics, faith, and culture that emerged during the Middle Ages. The world before and immediately after the arrival of plague in western Europe in 1347-48–shaped by ambitious merchants, a papacy absent from Rome, new experiments in politics– gave birth to a society that would ultimately see itself as being “reborn” in some fundamental sense at the dawn of an era that came to be known as the Renaissance.

Performance: The Ars Nova and Beyond: Italian Music from the Borders of the Renaissance / Shira Kammen (early strings and voice), Tim Rayborn (percussion, lute, and voice), and Phoebe Jevtovic Rosquist (voice). 

Saturday, October 24, 2015 | 10:00 am to 4:00 pm

Courtly Culture at the Dawn of the Renaissance / Carol Lansing (UC Santa Barbara)

In the early Renaissance rising, urban merchants adopted models derived not only from Antiquity, but also from multi-cultural southern Italy. This is a lost history: after 1260 and the defeat of the Emperor Frederick II and his sons, it was politically easier to imagine that culture came from France and the north. But in truth, the vibrant southern mix of Greek, Jewish, Muslim and Latin influences produced fascinating worlds, major centers of intellectual and artistic life. Frederick and his sons were military leaders who also wrote treatises and exquisite love poetry. Frederick travelled in the north for decades, building a chain of massive forts that included elegant palaces decorated with classicizing sculpture. Frederick’s travelling court included not only his elephant and hunting leopards and his troop of Muslim archers, but his gold and enamel throne. This culture profoundly influenced the fascination of young townsmen like Dante and his contemporaries with love poetry, knighthood and courtliness.

Italian Civic Palaces in the Age of the City-Republics / Max Grossman (University of Texas at El Paso). With the death of Emperor Frederick II in 1250 and the subsequent defeat of his Hohenstaufen successors by the Angevins and their Guelph allies, the city-states of central and northern Italy enjoyed a long period of political autonomy and economic prosperity that paved the way for what has come to be called the “Italian Renaissance.” During the century leading up to the Black Death of 1348, major Italian cities projected their power and authority by constructing monumental civic palaces, which were embellished with sumptuous marble ornament and sophisticated cycles of frescoes. The Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Palazzo Pubblico in Siena, and Palazzo Ducale in Venice are among the most celebrated examples. An analysis of their architecture and decorative programs reveals much about the culture and civilization of the republican age.

The Subtle Art: Courtly Love at the Beginning of the Renaissance / Calextone, with Allison Zelles Lloyd (voice and medieval harp), Frances Blaker (recorders and hackbrett), Letitia Berlin (recorders anddouçaine), and Shira Kammen (vielle and rebec

Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio: The Perspectives of Literature in the Early Renaissance / David Lummus (Stanford). The literary works of the “three crowns of Florence” have long been recognized as monumental achievements of human genius. Their works, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Petrarch’s Canzoniere, and Boccaccio’s Decameron, all respond to crises, both individual and cultural, of human solitude, historical isolation, and the uncontrollable events that shape the lives of men. They are poetic universes that provide new perspectives on the world and help confront, if not answer, the fundamental questions of human life. This lecture will address how each author uses literature to try to come to terms with mankind’s changing place in the cosmos. It will conclude by addressing how their works and worldviews were translated and transmitted across Europe, becoming–from Chaucer onward–models for using the powers of the imagination to understand and perhaps overcome the limitations of human existence.

Performance: Dante Across the Centuries. Featuring Julija Zibrat (violin), introduced by Kayleen Asbo

  • Violin Sonata No. 2, “Obsession”   (Eugene Ysaye, 1923)
  • Violin Sonata No. 2, “Melancholia” (Eugene Ysaye, 1923)

Panel Discussion with Presenters

4 pm Conclusion