ancestor so described is of central
epic importance to the founding of a Heroic-age kingdom. Thus we have Drust, son of Erp, a
traditional, prehistoric king of the Picts (prehistoric in the sense that he flourished
before the advent of written records in the sixth century) also described in the Pictish
regnal lists as one who "fought a hundred battles." A similar epithet is
probably at the root of the traditional "twelve battles of Arthur," and
therefore these should not be interpreted literally (as they have been, often at great
length) by writers and historians unfamiliar with the oral nature of Heroic society.
However, such a stock phrase from oral tradition might be, and probably was, incorporated
into a half-literate tradition of dynasic propaganda in the sixth and seventh centuries.
The point is that we should avoid the anachronistic assumption by which we apply the
modern literate mind’s bias towards literal history automatically on the oral
or half-oral mind of the past.
The political struggles in Scotland between Episcopalianism and
Presbyterianism, which culminated in the final defeat of the Stuart kings in 1746, reflect
in part the deep cognitive tension between the oral and the literate mind. With the coming
of the Scottish Reformation in the sixteenth century, the collective mysticism of a highly
syncratic church was replaced by literal interpretations of scripture by individuals. The
old Celtic pattern of literate priests serving an oral culture was assailed by the
literate mind of the Lowlander—just as the easy cognitive flow of grammatical
parataxis, which served the cultural mind, was replaced by the implosive neurosis of
complex sentence subordination, which served the individual. The age of reason was
attacking the Gothic past, setting the stage for the literary dichotomy between
Neoclassical form and Romantic transcendentalism (to the Romantic mind, Shelley’s
Neo-Platonic prophet was replaced by the minions of a harsh bureaucracy).
In the Gaelic linguistic culture of the Scottish Highlands can be found
the last Germano-Celtic bastion of the unrepentant oral mind—a mind once shared by
cultures to the south. Thus the mysticism of the Celt is foregrounded to the literate
mind. The proud spirit of the Gael, Irish and Scottish, recorded by Samuel Johnson in his Journey to the Western Islands of
Scotlandthe Western Islands of
Scotland, is aptly reflected in the dying words of the celebrated Gaelic bard
Aodhagan 0 Rathaille, who, though destitute in the wake of the destruction of Gaelic
Ireland, refused to recite his songs to any but the sons of kings.