Research on Old Irish law was from the very beginning related to specific epistemological and political contexts in which Celtic and Indo-European Studies emerged as scientific disciplines at the end of the 19th century. The premise of historical linguistics that the Indo-European languages derived from a common ‘origin’ had far reaching implications for studies on medieval Celtic law tracts. Since linguists had discovered significant parallels between Old Irish and Sanskrit, the legal traditions of Ireland and India were believed to preserve archaic Indo-European continuities as well. Against this background, and in a particular political context, Irish scholars of the 20th century argued for the autonomy and isolation of Old Irish law which was supposed to be unaffected by the Latin and Christian literature of continental Europe. However, later researches departed radically from this national perspective and emphasized the impact of Canon law, hagiography and the Bible on Irish written culture. This article takes up a different perspective by focusing on the persistence of a legal imagery that was by no means essentially Indo-European but still provided conceptual tools for the interpretation and ‘translation’ of texts, as they occur in vernacular adaptations of Latin literature.
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