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References in classic literature ?
Against the hill, and his great heart broke there, And sent a stream of blood down all the slope; And thus, when all the war and Tain had ended, In his own land, 'midst his own hills, he died."*
(32) In the "theater" that is the Tain and its subsequent performances (imagined but also real, as this is a narrative, and especially a poetic lament, that we know moved back and forth across the oral-literate spectrum) Cu Chulainn as mourning poet adopts a keening woman's speaking position to provide a subversive critique of a violent and rigidly hierarchical society.
Fer Diad and Cu Chulainn find themselves on opposite sides of the Tain's conflict as the result of a king's treacherous behavior--Fer Diad and 3000 others are exiled from Ulster, and these Ulster natives must fight, often unwillingly, against their former leaders, comrades, foster brothers and foster fathers, for the king and queen of Connacht, Ailill, and Medb, who lead the forces of Ireland against Ulster.
In the Tain narrative Cu Chulainn declaims these verses while standing over a pale, bloodstained corpse (lines 3492-94), yet his alliterative and assonating words restore Fer Diad's splendid blush, perfect and fair form, and a bright, clear eye.
(43) That Cu Chulainn acts as both killer and composer of the caoineadh that restores the memory of the slain also exposes the ways in which relationships and bonds which usually hold society together have been torn apart--the Tain describes a heroic society in decline that this episode brings to a devastatingly vivid climax.
Significantly Fer Diad, the "Man of a Pair" is not attested or detailed anywhere outside of the Tain. As the etymology of his name denotes, he can be recognized as playing the role of the universal beloved--he is everyone's other half.
(1) All citations from the Tain are from Cecile O'Rahilly, ed.
Stuart Rutten, "Displacement and Replacement: Comrac Fir Diad within and without Tain bo Cuailnge," in Ruairi O hUiginn and Brian O Cathain, eds., Ulidia 2 (Maynooth: An Sagart, 2009), 313-25.
(5) For the foundational discussion of the different chronological strands contained in the recensions of the Tain, as well as their development, see Rudolf Thurneysen, Die irische Helden- und Konigsage (Halle: M.
(7) It is critical to underscore that the Tain preserves a literary, imagined representation of an oral ritual performance and its poetry, of course, rather than serving as transcript of a historical performance of the keen, as Hollo also notes regarding other medieval representations of lament (Hollo, "Laments and Lamenting," 86).