The Natural History of Ireland included in Book One of the Zoilomastix of Don Philip O’Sullivan Beare translated from the Latin and edited by Denis C. O’Sullivan ;
published by Cork University Press 2009, hardback, €39.00
The reader of this review might well cry : “Inverted nepotism !” This book was written in Latin in Spain by an O’Sullivan from Bantry Bay , translated by another O’Sullivan from Bantry Bay a medical specialist with a degree in Classics from U.C.C. , and presented here by another O’Sullivan with a degree in Latin from U.C.C. , also from Bantry Bay!
After Kinsale , at the age of 12 , Don Philip , from a family of 17 children , was sent to safety in Spain in 1602 where his father died at almost a hundred years old and was buried in Corunna . Don Philip himself appears to have remained unmarried and died there in 1636 at the age of 48 .
This is Book One of the Zoilomastix ,a name coined by the author from “Zoilos”, a man despised by the Greeks as a detractor of Homer , and “mastix” meaning a scourge or a whip and here Don Philip “scourges” Giraldus Cambrensis for providing an inaccurate topography of Ireland . His Ireland , culled from his 12 year-old memories , combined with those of his parents, other exiles and knowledge from classical sources like the books of Pliny the Elder and Aristotle , is truly magical where flora and fauna are described with a rare lyricism and sense of wonder :the lark flies into the sky “like a javelin that has been thrown upwards,soars
aloft and again like a stone falling by the pressure of its own weight, closing its wings, it descends, but with his body weight so balanced that he settles himself on his legs .”The golden oriole “by a wonderful cleverness sleeps suspended by its feet from a twig; it is held that it protects from jaundice those who spot it”.Don Philip gives ornithological, plant and animal names in Latin, Greek, Spanish and Irish . This is an amazing book , beautifully translated , and a very important example of Irish Latin literature in the Renaissance spirit of