Thursday, August 12, 2010

Saint Patrick On Nipples

I've just started 'Ireland: A History', by Thomas Bartlett. I'd read a couple of reviews and it sounded interesting, the kind of history I might actually read through (instead of making my way through the first 50 pages then setting it down to get a cup of coffee, never to raise it again). The reviewers noted, however, that he is rather scanty on the earlier bits, covering the pre-medieval period (431, St. Patrick's arrival, to 1541: Protestant Ireland) in under 80 pages. But I am greatly encouraged by passages such as the following, in which Bartlett quotes then comments on an odd phrase from the writings of Patrick (about his initial sojourn in Ireland, as a slave):
Lastly, as an aside, Patrick discloses than when he sought to flee Ireland on the ship, he entered into terms with the sailors, but that he 'refused, for fear of god, to suck their nipples'. This startling remark – given matter of factly – has been a cause of some embarrassment to Patrician enthusiasts, but it has to be seen in the context of Patrick's detestation of 'cults or idols and abominations' which he had dedicated his life to overthrowing. What Patrick was doing was pointing to the prevalence of pagan practices – sucking nipples was a way to pledge loyalty – and in doing so he was making the obvious point that the Ireland in which he had been a slave was largely pagan.
It is for revelations such as these that I persist in my lifelong battle to educate myself.

No comments: