Chapter 18. The Stakes of the Poet: Starkaðr/Suibhne

In 1942, the Indo-Europeanist Georges Dumézil published Horace et les Curiaces, in which he treated the battle-fury of the Indo-European warrior. [1] Aspects de la fonction guerrière chez les Indo-Européens (1956) was his first book-length examination of the warrior from a comparative Indo-European perspective; in this book he discussed for the first time the striking theme of the three sins of the warrior—in which the warrior, though bound by ties of loyalty to his king and people, commits a flagrant offense against each of society’s three classes or “functions”—and compared the Scandinavian hero Starkaðr to Heracles in Greece and Indra in India. He revised this book substantially to produce Heur et malheur du guerrier in 1968, another treatment of Starkaðr, Heracles, and Indra. Finally, in 1971, he wrote, as the first part of the second volume of Mythe et épopée, “L’enjeu du jeu des dieux—un héros,” [2] his culminating treatment of the hero-warrior—here, Starkaðr and Heracles are once more dealt with, though at greater length, while in India, Indra is replaced by the evil Śiśupāla of the Mahābhārata. Here the warrior is seen as the “stakes” in a game played by the gods—in the case of Starkaðr, by Odin and Thor, who, toward the beginning of his career, weave his fate in a series of blessings (from Odin) and offsetting curses (from Thor).
These treatments of the warrior have been among Dumézil’s most impressive works. [3] The comparison of Starkaðr and Śiśupāla is especially convincing, as both warriors are generals devoted to specific kings and kingship, who are pruned of monstrous supernumerary appendages by inimical gods (Kṛṣṇa in Śiśupāla’s case, Thor in Starkaðr’s case), who commit grave sins against the king (as part of the canonical sins against the functions), and who die by beheading, bestowing a sort of immortality as they die (and, in Śiśupāla’s case, obtaining a sort of immortality—his essence flows into Kṛṣṇa, and he continues to live through the god who has just killed him). The third member of this martial triptych, Heracles, is not as neat a comparison, though Dumézil makes a reasonable case for him. Like Starkaðr, he is bandied about by the gods, one persecuting him (Hera), the other helping him (Athena, backed by Zeus); he commits a version of the required functional sins. [4] As in the case of the other two warriors, Heracles has a paradoxical link with the divinity who persecutes him, Hera: she nurses him while he is a baby and he derives his name from her; later, in Olympus after his “death” and deification, he will be adopted by Hera as her son and will marry her daughter. Analyzing the persecuting god theme purely from a Greek perspective, Burkert has formulated the pattern: continuity in cult will accompany opposition in myth. [5] (But, in the case of Heracles, we have continuity within the myth itself, for Hera nurses the exposed babyhero. However, this theme of maternal nurturing is turned into a symbol for enmity, for Heracles bites her breast.)
Gregory Nagy, in The Best of the Achaeans, treats the theme of ambivalent enmity between god and hero in the myths of Aesop and Archilochus. In the case of Aesop, he is persecuted by Apollo, who arranges his death, while he is supported by the Muses. Archilochus is killed (in battle) by an Apolline “Crow,” but Apollo then instructs the “Crow” to honor the dead poet with cult. Nagy suggests that the background for this ambivalent enmity may be found in IndoEuropean myth, in the paradigm of the warrior studied by Dumézil in Stakes. [6]
This may be a valuable line of inquiry, since Archilochus, though a poet, is preeminently a warrior, and a therapōn of Ares. Other poets and scapegoat figures (Tyrtaeus, Alcaeus, Androgeus, Codrus, Aglauros) also have strong war associations. And, on the other hand, Starkaðr is a famous poet, the preeminent skald of his tradition. Dumézil treats Starkaðr’s poetic vocation, but only as a comparative note in relation to Heracles—not a strong comparison, since Heracles is not known for his poetic gifts, though he had some association with music and the Muses.
However, David Cohen has proposed a Celtic warrior who fits the Stakes pattern—the mad tree-dwelling wanderer Suibhne Geilt. Suibhne is, for our purposes, a particularly attractive comparison because he, like Starkaðr, is a famous poet. If Suibhne is a valid parallel, we may conclude that the poetic aspect of the warrior may be important to the genetic paradigm; before, with only Heracles as a comparand, the case was not as strong. (Śiśupāla, like Heracles, has little or no reputation as a poet, though he was verbally abusive.)
We may then examine Starkaðr and Suibhne more closely, paying special attention to their poetic vocations, looking for continuities with the themes we have been examining in Greece and Ireland.

Starkaðr: Sacrificer, Sacrifice, Satirist

Starkaðr is the best, extraordinary in many categories. He had an “incredible preeminence of spirit and body.” [7] “Nature had equipped him with a superhuman physique and spiritual endowments to match, so that men believed that in bravery he was second to none.” [8] He was remarkable “for his unusual size, famous for his courage and his artistry in composing songs [or spells].” [9] Like Aesop and numerous other Greek poets, he was ugly and animalistic in appearance:
Hlæja rekkar,
er mik séa,
ljótan skolt,
langa trjónu,
hár úlfgrátt,
hangar tjálgur,
hrjúfan háls,
húð jótraða.
“Warriors laugh who see me,” he complains, “with ugly muzzle, long snout, wolfgrey hair and hanging paws, rough neck and rugged hide.” [10] Nevertheless, he had a saving, culture hero aspect, was “a man regularly at the side of the distressed, one who often happily intervened to rescue people in desperate straits.” [11] Thus he is a remarkable hero in every way, extraordinary in size, courage, generosity; and also extraordinary in his skill in carmina, whether that is translated “songs” or “spells.” Hatherus, Starkaðr’s final executioner, addresses him as “adept composer of native poetry … fluent bard [uates] of a Danish muse.” [12] In the Skáldatal (List of Poets), Starkaðr is the first poet mentioned, the oldest of the poets. [13] Starkaðr receives his poetic gifts from Odin, in the curious consecration scene in which Odin and Thor award him his good and bad fates. The last three fate themes are battle success (Odin), balanced by a wound in every combat (Thor); the gift of poetry (skáldskap) and “improvisation” [14] (Odin), balanced by inability to remember his poetry (Thor); a strong tie to the highborn (Odin), balanced by hatred of the common people (Thor). [15] Thus, his gifts of poetry and war prowess are parallel. [16]
In Starkaðr’s history, there are frequent occasions when he uses his poetry; the link between warrior and poet is not obscure, for Starkaðr is an aggressive satirist. His verbal attack often accompanies physical attack. Starkaðr, incognito, witnesses a goldsmith’s lecherous advances toward a princess; when he “had drunk his fill of rage … he could not restrain his arm any longer” (tantum hauserat irae, ut ulterius cohibendae manus impatiens), so unsheathes his sword and delivers a blow to the smith’s buttock. “After Starkaðr had looked all round and noticed that the household were grieved at the recent defeat of their master, he took care to enlarge the wounded man’s dishonour with insults and began to taunt him.” [17]
A long poem follows, in which Starkaðr reproaches the princess, and attacks the smith for daring to approach a highborn woman. The story ends with the abusive poet turning immediately to his warrior aspects: “After saying these things, Starkaðr, who obtained no less delight from his speech than from action, sought out Haldan again, and embraced soldiery in the closest intimacy [with him], and never shrank from fighting wars, so that he tortured his soul, withdrawn from luxuries, by a continual wielding of weapons.” [18]
Thus verbal attack (in poetic form) and physical attack are strictly parallel, and Starkaðr derives as much pleasure from causing shame in the verbal attack as he does from striking the smith. Both attacks are the result of righteous rage; when the rage has reached its boiling point, it finds expression in verbal and physical aggression. The resulting poem is in the tradition of sexual blame linked with class contempt; its savagery reminds one of Juvenal. [19] The incident is a striking exemplification of the earlier three fates: we have Starkaðr the warrior, Starkaðr the poet, and Starkaðr the enemy of the lower classes.
Another incident again shows rage and shame, seething within him, explode into verbal and physical aggression. The scene is, typically, a banqueting scene, where a man’s honor is so often defined by seating, [20] and where food defines the host’s morals. In this banquet, everything that could possibly happen to humiliate and enrage the visiting hero takes place. While in Sweden, he hears that his old friend Frothi, King of Denmark, has been deceitfully deposed, and that his son Ingel, the new king, far from punishing the deposing party, is friendly with them. Outraged, Starkaðr returns immediately to Denmark; on the way, he carries coals with which, he tells passers by, he will form a keen edge to Ingel’s dull brains—a bit of preliminary verbal abuse. [21]
When Starkaðr arrives at the castle, the king is hunting, and the hero sits down in his accustomed place of honor at a feast. But the king’s wife, not recognizing him dressed in muddy rags, tells him in insulting terms to leave his place lest he dirty the cushions, and not to try to sit with his betters. Starkaðr, by virtue of his astounding selfcontrol, takes this rebuke in silence. But he must give vent to the rage seething inside him, so goes to a deserted part of the castle and hurls himself against a wall—“he flung his body against the stout walls with such a crash that the timbers shook violently and the building was almost brought down in ruins.” [22]
Thus the situation has been set up for defensive satirical attack. Even though Ingel returns home, recognizes the aged warrior, rebukes his wife, and she tries to win Starkaðr’s favor back, he will not forget the snub [23] and takes a horrible vengeance—she afterwards sees the banqueting table “stained with the blood of her brothers” (loca … fratrum suorum cladibus cruentata conspiceret). Ingel induces Starkaðr to sit at the banqueting table and tries to mollify him with exquisitely cooked culinary delicacies. But Starkaðr steels himself against these temptations, for “he had no wish to allow his celebrity as a warrior to be impaired by the enticements of an orgy.” [24] In Dumézilian tems, he shows the need for the warrior class to separate itself from the joys of consumption perhaps representative of the third function. The bad king is here defined as one who has allowed himself to be influenced too much by the third function.
The old warrior manages to find some “smoky, rancid food” that is more to his (moral) taste. [25] The queen further alienates the warrior by offering him her own hair circlet to wear; the warrior is not about to submit to wearing such an effeminate article, and “wisely” throws it back in her face. Then the irascible warrior throws a bone at a flautist the queen has instructed to play to try to soften him. [26] King Ingel, meanwhile, has succumbed to the degenerate foreign (Saxon) food. “With mouth agape after an orgy of stuffing himself Ingel would emit in crude belches the fumes from his last bout of hoggery.” [27]
The scene is set for Starkaðr’s rebuke, the Lay of Ingellus, [28] an abusive satirical poem defining moral kingship. This directly follows an expression of Starkaðr’s pent-up fury—seeing the murderers of the king, “he betrayed in his wild stare the vast rage [furoris magnitudinem] this engendered … the unmasked savagery [aperta … seuicia] of his glances bore witness to the secret tempest within his heart.” [29] This monstrous rage is expressed, not by an immediate physical attack, but by poetry. The long poem is interrupted only by a doublet of the queen’s earlier chapletgift incident. Starkaðr, “disgusted, flung it insultingly back in her face and once more sang in a loud voice” (Quo Starcatherus quam turpissime in os offerentis cum indignatione reiecto, clara rursum voce recinuit). The physical violence and poetic violence are exactly parallel.
In the first verse of the poem the sexual implications of the chaplet are made explicit: “Please take away that womanish gift … A hero never puts on chaplets suited only to lovemaking” (Amove, quaeso, muliebre donum … Infulas nemo Venerem decentes / fortis adoptat). The poem continues in lines that use sexual imagery to attack the degenerate food of the evening.
Uxor Ingelli levis ac petulca
Theutonum ritus celebrare gestit,
instruit luxus et adulterinas
praeparat escas.
The wife of Ingel, skittish and wanton,
joys to practice Teuton rites,
devises orgies and
prepares adulterate foods.
VI.173; 189 = 207
The poem, not to miss a standard blame topos, intra-sexual tension, lingers on the queen: “a loathsome female, heedless of decency, priestess of vice.” [30]
The violent abuse is intensely moral, a call to repentance: Ingel is “entombed in vice [uicio sepultus].” “Why, you sluggard,” rebukes the poet, “do you worship feasting, softer than harlots, lean back your belly?” [31] The reason for the poet’s presence is: “To smite … corruption [uicium ferire].” [32] The poem also defines good kingship in its descriptions of Frotho, Ingel’s father.
There is an important emphasis on posture as a defensive satirist: on Starkaðr’s reception he was viciously mocked:
Aulici risu populi lacessor
advenae digno vacuus receptu,
aspero carpor sale, dum loquaci
mordeor ausu.
I am baited by the titters of this courtly throng,
denied the welcome a stranger deserves,
rent with their thorny wit and gnawed by
presumptuous gibing.
VI.171; 188 = 205
Thus the satirist is mocked, and retaliates with interest. The theme of inhospitality is also explicitly brought to the fore.
Starkaðr’s potent abusive paraenesis (Ingel’s guardian’s “urgent exhortations,” monitus sui incitamento) does not fail in its purpose. [33] The king’s courage and integrity, which had been in “exile,” return. He draws his sword and attacks his father’s murderers, whom he had previously been feasting: “Speedily he carved them to pieces and bathed the table-ceremonies in blood.” [34] Ingel’s newfound good character “replenished the goblets with blood instead of wine.” [35] Thus we have a curious double inversion of the sacrality of the feast and guest-friendship: since a good man is feasting evil men, he is justified in defiling the sacrality of the host’s table. A darkly moral sacrificial scene is the result, an inverted sacrament.
Starkaðr accompanies the violence of his words with the violence of his arm, helping Ingel in his slaughter, and displays “outstanding bravery himself” (fortitudinem … in se plenissimam) in killing the evil men. The poet and the warrior are precisely in harmony.
The combination of verbal and physical attack is, indeed, a conscious modus operandi for the hero: “He believed that opponents should be spurned with words first, weapons afterwards.” [36] His penchant for verbal abuse is shown in one of the more comically grotesque incidents in his history. After he has been cut nearly to pieces by nine brothers who had challenged a royal friend, Helgi, [37] for whom Starkaðr serves as a champion, he is offered help by a succession of characters who offend his highly developed aristocratic snobbery—a bailiff, a man who had married a maidservant, and a female mill slave. [38] But he refuses their help as he lies dying with his entrails falling out of his body. He “preferred the torture of his agonizing wounds before the ministrations of those in low walks of life.” [39] After refusing their aid, he verbally abuses them. Rejecting a bailiff partially because “he made jeering language his business” (scurrilitatis officia sectaretur), ironically, “he was not content with rejecting him but crushed him with abuse.” [40] Thus the theme of satirical violence is combined with the theme of satirist attacking satirist.
Starkaðr’s enmity with the lower classes is further documented in the following passages: when Starkaðr is near death, a peasant mockingly asks him for one of his two swords: Starkaðr runs him through (VIII.224; 247 = 268). Once again, Starkaðr is goaded by mockery to violence. Boasting of his deeds, he recalls how he was attacked by common people who had smithed their own weapons: “Here I first learnt what power is contained in the implements of anvils and how much spirit lies in the common people.” [41] The poet associates the inimical common people with smithery. Earlier (VI.160; 178 = 193) he had levelled a verbal attack on smiths, after he had attacked the lecherous goldsmith (auri faber) physically; yet there is still an ambivalence, for smiths who make weapons—whom the warrior obviously must have close ties with—are morally viable (“in my view, they are superior who forge swords and spears for the battles of men,” Me iudice praestant, qui gladios et tela viris ad proelia cudunt). It is only the smith inclined toward luxury, jewelry, and wealth that the stern warrior disapproves of. Starkaðr has a definite anti-aesthetic bias, poet through he may be—he disapproves of the plastic arts here; at the feast of Ingel he attacked the musician.
This ambivalence only points up the complexity of the Indo-European warrior type. As Dumézil and Puhvel have pointed out, the conflict between Odin and Thor over Starkaðr, though it has extrafunctional resonances (Odin as a problematic first function figure, Thor as a problematic second), [42] is primarily an intrafunctional conflict—the dark “destructive” warrior versus the light “constructive” warrior (Puhvel prefers “demonic” versus “culture god” terminology). Starkaðr’s internal ambivalence is most acutely expressed after he murders King Olo for a bribe as Olo takes a bath—a cowardly act that runs against everything Starkaðr has ever preached in his loftily moral blame poetry. “Later he was stung with shame and remorse; his grief over the felony he had committed was so bitter that, if any mention were made of it, he could not restrain his tears. When he came to his senses, his conscience blushed at the enormity of his guilt.” [43] To atone for his murder, he kills those who had bribed him to do it! This guilt paradoxically turns his crime almost into a witness for his loyalty to the idea of kingship, for Olo had been a bad king.
Starkaðr’s first sin against royalty, the execution of Vikar, has a curious relationship with his immediately preceding poetic consecration by Odin and the agonistic fate-allotting of Odin and Thor. After Starkaðr receives all his blessings from Odin, including poetry, the god demands that Starkaðr “send” him king Vikar. The god gives the warrior the death weapon, a spear that will appear to be a reed; Starkaðr deceives the king into submitting to a mock sacrifice. A gallows made of a tree and calf intestine is prepared; the king submits; Starkaðr pierces him with the spear, the intestine becomes withy, and the warrior addresses Vikar: “Now I give you to Odin.” The king dies after being swept by a branch into the tree. [44]
As Dumézil notes, this sacrifice is beneficial to all concerned, Odin, Vikar, and Starkaðr. Vikar receives an honorable death, is received into the presence of Odin, the warrior’s paradise. The god has called a devoted servant into his presence. Starkaðr, in turn, has faithfully followed the commands of a god from whom he had just received great favors; he has helped a friend and king receive a happy afterlife. Yet the sacrifice is still a crime, for Starkaðr feels guilt after perpetrating it:
Skylda ek Víkar
í viði hávum
goðum of signa;
lagða ek geiri
gram til hjarta,
þat er mér harmast
“I was made to dedicate Vikar (the killer of Geirthjof) to the gods high up in the tree. I thrust with a spear into the king’s heart: no act of mine has brought me such pain.” [45] It is one of the sins Thor has cursed him with, and Starkaðr blames that god for forcing him to commit the crime: “I was forced without glory to do evil.” [46] “From this deed Starkaðr became much despised by the people, and was exiled from Hördaland.” [47] Here we have the theme of exile, though it has nothing obvious to do with poetry. Instead he is exiled for deceitful regicide, a godordered sacrifice. [48] He is exiled as sacrificer. But the sacrifice has a relationship to the giving of poetry. Not only is poetry one of the gifts that obligates Starkaðr to perform the regicide, but there is an even tighter link in the myth of Odin’s poetic consecration through hanging on a tree.
In the “Rune Poem” section of the Hávamál, Odin gains secret rune wisdom, poetic skill, by hanging on the world tree, Yggdrasil, for nine days, wounded by a spear. In this case, he is both the sacrificer and sacrificed one:
Veit ek at ek hekk
vindga meiði á
nætr allar níu
geiri undaðr
ok gefinn Óðni
sjálfr sjálfum mér …
… nýsta ek niðr
nam ek upp rúnar
œpandi nam
fell ek aptr þaðan
Fimbulljóð níu
nam ek af inum frægja syni
Bölþórs Bestlu föður
ok ek drykk of gat
ins dýra mjaðar
ausinn Óðreri
Þá nam ek frævask
ok fróðr vera
ok vaxa ok vel hafask
orð mér af orði
orðs leitaði
verk mér af verki
verks leitaði
I know that I hung
on the windswept tree
for nine full nights,
wounded with a spear,
and given to Óthinn,
myself to myself …
I peered downward,
I grasped the runes,
screeching I grasped them;
I fell back from there.
I learned nine mighty songs
from the famous son
of Bölthórn, father of Bestla, [49]
and I got a drink of the precious mead,
I was sprinkled with Ótherir. [50]
Then I began to grow
and gain in insight, to wax also in wisdom:
one verse [orð] led on to another verse,
one poem [verk] led on to the other poem.
Hávamál, Stanzas 138–141 [51]
The poem goes on to describe Odin’s knowledge in magical spells, writing, reading, painting runes, understanding, asking, offering, supplicating, and sacrificing.
The parallel with the death of Vikar is discussed by E. O. G. Turville-Petre and Lee Hollander. [52] Vikar’s death replicates the sacrifice by which Odin gained poetic knowledge, a sacrifice carried out on a world tree. As Turville-Petre interprets, the god gains knowledge by dying, visiting the world of the dead, and returning (which bring the Odyssean catabasis immediately to mind, though Odysseus does not explicitly die). [53] For the link to Starkaðr’s poetic consecration to be even stronger, one would expect for him to be the sacrifice, the hanging, spearpierced victim; instead, he is the sacrificer. But curiously, Odin is also the sacrificer in his own sacrificial poetic consecration. Perhaps Starkaðr and Vikar are both doubles of Odin. Thus the god, through himself, sacrifices himself to himself. Poetic knowledge is somehow connected to this mortal mechanism for sacralization.
Donald Ward has analyzed the sacrifice of Vikar as an attestation of the threefold death theme, [54] in which each aspect of a death corresponds to one of the functions: hanging is characteristic of first function; a blow by a weapon is characteristic of second function; drowning is characteristic of third function (all of which may vary from story to story). Thus, in the sacrifice of Vikar, we have the hanging and the spear blow; Ward suggests that the drowning was in the original version of the tale, but was weakened to falling from a stump. Ward does not compare Odin’s parallel hanging/consecration, in which the god also hangs and is wounded by a spear, but this parallel is so obvious as to be implicit. If we can interpret these two sacrifices as decadent versions of the threefold death theme—and their very closeness might argue against such an interpretation, though not necessarily, as one version might be modified to follow the other—we have, first, a picture of Odin giving Starkaðr a threefold gift, a triple lifespan, in which he will commit three functional sins, then requiring that a royal victim be executed by a trifunctional death. Starkaðr’s execution of the trifunctional death against a king is his sin against the first function. In the second case, a first-function god sacrifices himself to himself by the threefold death, and as a result gains poetic knowledge. In both cases, poetic knowledge depends on the trifunctional death of a first-function figure. Perhaps the complex interplay between king-priest and the entire scope of society is suggested. There is one significant difference between the two accounts; in the first, the warrior sacrificing the king becomes the poet; in the second, the sacrificed king becomes the poet. Yet in the first case, the warrior receives his poetry from a first-function god by killing a first-function figure.
This analysis only hints at the complexity of the situation, which is augmented by the problematic nature of Germanic myth in Indo-European studies.
The sacrificial ideology in Starkaðr’s death, which Dumézil has analyzed skillfully, may be relevant here. The warrior, having committed his last facinus, grows very old; in addition, depressed over his killing of Olo, he voluntarily decides to die. He disdains a peaceful death, seeks a death more in keeping with his martial spirit. [55] After a few encounters with commoners (whom he almost absentmindedly does away with), he encounters Hatherus, the son of one of Olo’s murderers—whom Starkaðr had recently murdered. Hatherus is Starkaðr’s perfect executioner—high born, with a solid motive for killing him; the aged warrior even throws in his blood money to tempt him. After some verbal, poetic sparring, Hatherus agrees to the execution. Starkaðr tells the youth that if he will leap between his head and trunk he will gain invulnerability. (Saxo is quite ambivalent about the meaning of this offer—“It is uncertain whether he said this to instruct his murderer or to punish him.”) [56] Starkaðr extends his neck, and Hatherus beheads him, though he decides not to jump between head and body. Starkaðr’s head “snapped at the soil with its teeth as it hit the ground, the fury of the dying jaws indicating his savage temper.” [57] The old warrior is finally dead.
As Jan De Vries notes, this is a sacrifice: “The decrepit old man extends his head to the youth, as a sacrificial victim, pronam cervicem applicuit, and Hatherus has only to strike.” [58] The identity of Hatherus makes this more interesting, for the youth is connected with Höthr, the god of blind warrior’s fate, a very Odinic god. Thus, “it is Odin himself, the divine Höthr, who recalls Starkaðr to him at the end of his life,” [59] just as earlier Starkaðr, obeying Odin, had helped the god call King Vikar to him.
The motif of passing between head and trunk for invulnerability is given a negative interpretation by Saxo, though he admits to not knowing whether negative or positive interpretation is right. Dumézil argues convincingly that the positive interpretation must be right, for Starkaðr has no enmity toward his highborn executioner, and has, except for the three fated facinora, been a model of military decorum throughout his life. Starkaðr was offering him immortality. On a theological level, manStarkaðr dealing with Höthrgod, “this would be literally a transfusion of the hero into the god.” [60] “A gift and also a fusing, a union.” [61] Odin calls the hero back; he coalesces with Odin, obtains a warrior’s redemption.
Thus, as in the case of Vikar’s death, Odin is seen in every character: Odin calls the Odinic Starkaðr to himself through the Odinic Höthr. [62] Odin executes Odin to himself. The poetwarrior meets his sacrificial fate, sacrificed to the poet-warrior god, fusing with him. There is a definite relationship with the execution of Vikar. Interestingly, though, Starkaðr’s death is not threefold—it is a simple warrior’s death by weapon—Starkaðr remains a warrior to the end. (And in fact, there is a variant account of his death in which he is killed in battle. His head is chopped off, but his body continues to fight! [63] )
In conclusion, Starkaðr is the best (at war, at poetry); ugly; a wandering, wolf-like warrior-poet, wedding physical and verbal aggression; given to violent, nearly uncontrollable rages; sporadically criminal, and suffering intense guilt as a result. He receives a poetic consecration; is a moral satirist; functions by the psychological mechanism of defensive satire, fighting back at inhospitable hosts; acts as general to a king, and is a therapōn, servant, representative of the king. He is exiled once, not for his poetry, but for his enmity to the common people. His death is engineered by an ambiguously friendly god. He acts as priest and victim for the god at different times of his career. Thus, a central figure in the Indo-European mythology of the warrior is a poet, and not only a poet, but a savagely eloquent satirist.
The echoes of Greece are worth considering: ugly poet; poet as wanderer; poet as wolf; poet as warrior; defensive satire connected with inhospitality; poet as criminal; consecration theme; morally justified satirist; poet as general to the king (Aesop, Tyrtaeus); poet as victim of ambiguously friendly god. Such parallels may be typological, and still be valuable on that level, but it is also possible that the Greek traditions are reflexes of an Indo-European heritage. [64]

Suibhne: Warrior, Poet, Madman

In some ways, Suibhne is quite different from Starkaðr. He is a writer of delicate nature poetry; a bizarre madman who “flies” in great hops and roosts in trees. He does not write violent invective; when his poetry turns to blame, it is sadly accusing in tone. [65] Yet in other ways, Suibhne is directly comparable to the Danish hero: he commits a reasonable set of the trifunctional sins; he is a king-supporter; most importantly, for our present purposes, he is a prominent warrior-hero who is also a prominent early poet in the Irish legendary literary tradition.
Suibhne is (before his madness) the best warrior—he volunteers to face the fearsome Oilill Cedach in combat, and leaves him headless [66] —“When there was a fight or a tussle / I was a match for thirty,” he boasts. [67] Loingseachan, his foster brother, calls him a splendid warrior and a noble champion, and refers to his savage, wound-dealing sword. [68]
Suibhne also has kingly aspects, a problem not entirely resolved. We read of a sovereignty that Suibhne had given up (45); he states, “In my auspicious kingship / I was a good, great king” (27). [69] This kingly aspect would seem to at least dilute Suibhne’s credentials as warrior and reduce his value as a comparand to Starkaðr. In fact, Joseph Nagy interprets Suibhne as a king primarily. [70] However, O’Keefe, who notes that there is no historical king Suibhne in the king lists, conjectures that Suibhne was a regent during Congal’s absence. “Suibhne is called king, but the word is used loosely in the annals; the designation of lord may have more closely represented the position.” [71] If Suibhne is king, he is an underking to Congal, whose summons he follows at a moment’s notice, dropping the pressing duties of cleric persecution he was engaged in at the time (5). He also confronts Oilill in response to an invitation by Congal (113). In this loyalty to a king, he is comparable to Starkaðr and Śiśupāla (who is also an “underking”). [72] Heracles is also an underking. [73]
Before his madness, Suibhne is a general, again like Starkaðr and Śiśupāla, and when wandering he misses the military camp: “Ten hundred and ten warriors, that was my host at Druim Fraoch … Gloomy is my night to-night / without serving-man, without camp” (37). [74] This would seem to bring him closer into the “Stakes” orbit than even Cohen has argued.
The kingship aspects, if not dominant, still remain, however. Perhaps the functions of king and warrior always intersect somewhat (warrior-kings are common in Ireland); as Puhvel notes, “Royalty appears to originate in the warrior class (cf. Vedic rājanyà-, and Indra as king).” [75] Whether Suibhne is a kingly warrior or a warrior-king, his warrior aspects are pronounced enough to make him a close parallel to Starkaðr and Śiśupāla.
After a series of offenses against the cleric Ronan, including the murder of Ronan’s foster son by a spear (the sacral first-function sin), the warrior is cursed by the saint to live a life of nakedness and birdlike, subhuman flight, wandering for years throughout Ireland, and then to die by the same kind of spear thrust he had inflicted on Ronan’s foster son. As a result, when he is fighting in the battle of Mag Rath, the clamor of war reaches a peak and the din drives Suibhne mad; he flees the battle (his second-function crime). His life of madness and misery—wandering, naked, “flying” about, living in trees, fleeing from other men—begins. It is interrupted only briefly by two lapses into sanity. Paradoxically, it is only now that Suibhne becomes a poet.
This is perhaps the central theme of Suibhne’s life—the utter misery of his wandering outcast existence. It is expressed frequently in his poetry:
Mór múich a ttá-sa anocht,
rotreaghd mo chorp an gháoth ghlan,
toll mo throighthiu, glas mo ghrúadh,
a Dhé mhóir, atá a dhúal damh.
… anocht robhretait mo bhoill
i nglaic chroinn i nGáille ghlúair.
Rofhuilnges mór ttreas gan tlás
ó rofhás clúmh ar mo chorp,
ar gach n-oidhche is ar gach ló
as mó sa mhó fhuilghim d’olc.
Romchráidh sioc, síon nach súairc,
romthuairg snechta ar Sléibh mhic Sin,
anocht romgeóghain an ghaéth
gan fraech Ghlenna Bolcáin bil.
Utmhall mh’imirce in gach íath …
Dúairc an bhetha bheith gan teach,
as truagh an bhetha, a Chríosd chain …
Tuisledh do bharraibh chraobh ccríon,
imthecht aitin, gníom gan gháoi,
seachna daoine, cumann cúan,
coimhrith re damh rúadh dar raéi.
Feis oidhche gan chlúimh a ccoill
i mullach croinn dosaigh dhlúith,
gan coisteacht re guth ná glór,
a mhic Dé, is mór an mhúich.
I am in great grief tonight,
the pure wind has pierced my body,
wounded are my feet, my cheek is wan,
O great God! it is my due.
… tonight my limbs are racked
in the fork of a tree in pleasant Gaille.
I have borne many a fight without cowardice
since feathers have grown on my body;
each night and each day
more and more do I endure ill.
Frost and foul storm have wrung my heart,
snow has beaten on me on Sliabh mic Sin;
tonight the wind has wounded me,
without the heather of happy Glen Bolcain.
Unsettled is my faring through each land …
Wretched is the life of one homeless,
Sad is the life, O gentle Christ! …
Stumbling from withered tree-tops,
faring through furze—deed without falsehood—
shunning mankind, keeping company with wolves,
racing with the red stag over the field.
Sleeping of nights without feathers in a wood
in the top of a thick, bushy tree,
without hearing voice or speech;
O Son of God, great is the misery! [76]
“I am the most discontented and unhappy creature in the world,” says the unfortunate poet. [77] Thus Suibhne is an outcast/exile par excellence. He cannot tolerate the company of men for fear they will kill him or imprison him. [78]
In leaving the company of men, he enters the fellowship of animals. As we have seen in the poem quoted above, he is explicitly ornithic—flying, roosting in trees, even growing feathers. [79] Like Alcaeus, he lives with wolves; as a wanderer, he finds the howling of wolves melodious. [80]
Yet Suibhne, having become subhuman, also becomes suprahuman, for as a mad, outcast wanderer he is also a poet, [81] a prophet, and a saint, entirely sacral. Misery and degradation are a requirement, as it were, for gaining sacral inspiration. Joseph Nagy acutely observes that Suibhne hates his animalistic haunts, the forest, the wilderness, open to wind and snow, and this defines his existential misery; yet his story is full of sensitive nature poetry, praising the beauty of extra-urban, extra-human, animal-filled nature. [82]
Suibhne’s poetic persona is obvious throughout his story, which is frequently interrupted by his poems. He was greatly prized as a poet in the later Irish tradition, as was Starkaðr in his tradition, for a tenth-century Irish law tract tells us that one of the triumphs of the battle of Mag Rath was Suibhne’s turning mad. Yet the battle was not a triumph simply because Suibhne turned mad; it was a triumph because his madness caused him to recite stories and poems. [83]
Suibhne’s prophetic aspects include supernatural knowledge and knowledge of future events, specifically of how his death will take place. [84] When St. Moling asks him how he knows the prayer hour has come in Rome, he replies, “Knowledge comes to me from my Lord / each morn and each eve” (139). [85]
Suibhne, originally demonic, [86] has become a saint by the end of his story. St. Moling castigates the swineherd who has killed him: “Woe to him who has slain by dint of his strength / the king, the saint, the saintly madman.” [87] He has been “without reproach” since his madness (149). The end of Suibhne’s life is filled with motifs of sacralization and redemption. When he first comes to Teach Moling, St. Moling welcomes him with joy, and enjoins him to visit him each night to tell him of his experiences—a tacit acknowledgment that his experiences as a madman are edifying and praiseworthy to the Christian saint. [88] After Suibhne has been assaulted by the swineherd, it is prophesied repeatedly that the poet will attain heaven, [89] and his story ends when, after having been lifted from a “death-swoon” by Moling’s handclasp, and after being brought by him to the church, he touches the doorpost, dies in the doorway—an extraordinarily liminal death [90] —and his spirit immediately flees to heaven. The transformation of this bellicose cleric tormentor into a cleric-guided, heavenly soul is no less striking, perhaps, that its obvious Indo-European parallel—the transformation of the demonic Śiśupāla into the substance of Kṛṣṇa. [91]
The physical means of Suibhne’s death—he is killed by a swineherd, [92] Mongan, whose wife feeds Suibhne milk from an indentation in manure, after the swineherd has been falsely led to believe that Suibhne has committed adultery with her [93] —offers a parallel to the death of Hesiod. Both poets are killed where they had accepted hospitality, after wandering far from home; both are murdered because of a false accusation of sexual wrongdoing with a woman of the household. The murderers both die prematurely as a result. [94]
Another parallel is the theme of the double death, attested in the legends of Aesop and Hesiod. After Suibhne’s extended, almost operatic, death scene, ending with a long poem, he experiences a “death-swoon” (táimhnéll) [95] and Moling and the clerics all place a stone on Suibhne’s tomb. Moling recites a lament full of praise for the poet. Then he calls on God:
Masa chead le re Rígh na reann
éirigh agus imthigh leam,
tucc dhamh, a chridhe, in do lámh
ón lighe agus ón leachtán.
If it be the will of the King of the stars,
arise and come with me,
give me, O heart, thy hand
from the grave and from the tomb!”
Then Suibhne rose out of his “swoon” (niull, from néll),” only to die for the final time moments later as he touches a church (157–158).
It is not absolutely clear that the “death-swoon” is a real death, though many details suggest that it is—the association with a tomb, the funeral lament, the call of Moling for the poet to give him his hand “from the grave and from the tomb.”
This double death could be simply a narrational doublet; but it may also be interpreted as a shamanic motif. The shaman, undergoing initiation, often had to die symbolically, through some sort of sickness. This is often a swoon: “In general … the shaman’s symbolic death is suggested by the long fainting spells and lethargic sleep of the candidate.” [96] Suibhne’s double death is a close parallel to this; Hesiod’s double death, we have seen, has also been interpreted in a shamanic context. [97]
Another important aspect of the Suibhne tradition is its association with the theme of the threefold death we have seen in the Starkaðr saga. While Suibhne does not die by the threefold death, the threefold death is prominent in stories related to the Suibhne legend. [98]
Thus Suibhne is, like Starkaðr, a famous warrior-champion-general for a king; he is also a famous early poet. Like Starkaðr he was a wanderer, uncouth; unlike him, he does not specialize in invective, and his poetic aspect is clearly separated from his warlike aspect. He is a remarkable example of our central theme: the poet as exile, outcast. As soon as Suibhne becomes mad, he flees all social intercourse and lives with animals, as an animal, in the wilds. There his poetic manticism is balanced by his utter misery, or perhaps is produced by it.

Śiśupāla as Satirist

Though Śiśupāla is not overtly a poet, his close parallels to Starkaðr and Suibhne invite an examination of his story for poetic or satirical, verbally abusive aspects. Such a search is quickly rewarded, for the Mahābhārata [99] portrays him as engaging in a long, intricately abusive speech before his death. Though Śiśupāla is not a poet strictu sensu, he is skilled at verbal attack, and his blame offers close parallels to the poetic aspects of Starkaðr especially. In both their cases, physical violence is matched by verbal violence; [100] and in both their cases, their abuse is an attack on those who have, in their opinions, downgraded royalty.
Śiśupāla, after his early career, including ninety-nine crimes, of which five are recognizably functional, is invited to the anointing of Yudhiṣṭhira, along with all the kings of the world. Yudhiṣṭhira, on Bhīṣma’s advice, offers the most honorable guest gift to Kṛṣṇa, who is not a king. At this juncture, Śiśupāla “berated Bhīṣma and the King Dharma in the assembly and went on to insult Vasudeva [Kṛṣṇa].” [101] Ironically, in defending kingship, Śiśupāla attacks the true universal king, Yudhiṣṭhira; this is in keeping with his demonic nature. Starkaðr is diametrically opposite, if pursuing the same theme; the good warrior, he upholds true kings and kingship, except in his fated criminal lapses, in which he is a serial regicide. David Cohen insightfully proposes that the prelunatic Suibhne is defending royal prerogatives as he tries to keep Ronan from encroaching on royal land. [102] If so, he is an exact parallel to Śiśupāla in his demonic support of kingship. Starkaðr’s violent support of kingship in the feast of Ingellus, causing hospitality to dissolve into a feast of blood, is perhaps not far off from this demonic pattern.
Śiśupāla’s speech runs through the gamut of blame themes: the offending parties are stupid [103] and religious transgressors—Kṛṣṇa is a cow killer (98 [2.38.16]); Bhīṣma ignores the Law (99 [2.38.21]); the goose of a fable he tells is hypocritical and commits an unholy crime (99 [2.38.37,40]). Śiśupāla uses typical animal similes for abuse, as when he compares Janādana to a dog eating a sacrificial offering [94 [2.34.19]); he compares Bhīṣma to the scavenging bhūlinga bird (98 [2.38.17], 102 [2.41.18–19], compare the fable, 99 [2.38.29–40]); he uses sexual slurs (Bhīṣma’s celibacy is a lie that he maintains because he is either inept or impotent [99 [2.38.24–25]); like Starkaðr, he emphasizes his victim’s effeminacy (100 [2.39.8]).
Also like Starkaðr, he is an enemy of the lower classes, and this is a key theme of his blame; the whole point of his speech is that honor has gone incorrectly to a man of inferior caste. Kṛṣṇa is “a vicious serf” (103 [2.42.4]); [104] Śiśupāla praises King Jarāsaṃdha for refusing to fight with Kṛṣṇa, “saying he was no more than a serf,” (99 [2.39.1]); [105] he is a mere herdsman (102 [2.41.17]).
In the fable Śiśupāla uses to attack Bhīṣma (99), the birds bring food to a lawpreaching goose, and leave their eggs for him to guard; when the birds find that the goose has been eating the eggs, they band together to kill him. This is a strangely Aesopic motif, the abusive animal fable in the last speech before death, accusing and threatening the object of the blame. Everything is inverted though; the blamer is evil, accusing falsely; the victim of the attack is righteous.
The violence of Śiśupāla’s verbal attack hits its targets; Bhīma is thrown into a war rage, and is restrained with difficulty by Bhīṣma (100 [2.39.10–15]). Just as Śiśupāla’s fable had predicted the kings’ collective killing of Bhīṣma, the kings become filled with fury, and threaten to kill Bhīṣma like a sacrificial animal, or by burning. (103 [2.41.29]). Thus Śiśupāla’s last speech is military paraenesis used on behalf of the ideology of kingship.
At this point, Bhīṣma calls upon the kings to duel with Kṛṣṇa, and hot-blooded, aggressive (103 [2.42.1]) Śiśupāla takes up the challenge, not knowing that he has committed his one hundredth crime and is vulnerable to his enemy. But the time for the physical combat has not yet come—another stage in the verbal duel must take place. Vasudeva, eagerly accepting Śiśupāla’s challenge, takes the opportunity to revile the demonic warrior, listing his many crimes.
The effect on the kings is immediate; in a curious reversal, they turn against Śiśupāla and begin to revile him (104 [2.42.16–17]). Śiśupāla is unconcerned, bursts into laughter, and jeers at them. He accuses Kṛṣṇa of having married a defiled woman; while he has barely begun this final attack, even as he speaks, violent words escalate into violent acts: Kṛṣṇa throws his discus and slices off his opponent’s head—an argument that proves entirely persuasive. There follows the mystical scene in which Śiśupāla’s body gives forth a “sublime radiance” that enters into Kṛṣṇa:
tathā bruvata evāsya bhagavān madhusūdanaḥ
vyapāharac chiraḥ kruddhaś cakreṇāmitrakarṣaṇaḥ
sa papāta mahābāhur vajrāhata ivācalaḥ
tataś cedipater dehāt tejo ’gryaṁ dadr̥śur nr̥pāḥ
utpatantaṁ mahārāja gaganād iva bhāskaram
tataḥ kamalapatrākṣaṁ kr̥ṣṇaṁ lokanamaskr̥tam
vavande tat tadā tejo viveśa ca narādhipa
tad adbhutam amanyanta dr̥ṣṭvā sarve mahīkṣitaḥ
yad viveśa mahābāhuṁ tat tejaḥ puruṣottamam
anabhre pravavarṣa dyauḥ papāta jvalitāśaniḥ
kr̥ṣṇena nihate caidye cacāla ca vasuṁdharā
He was still speaking when the blessed Madhusūdana, scourge of his enemies, irately cut off his head with his discus. The strong-armed king fell like a tree that is struck by a thunderbolt. Thereupon the kings watched a sublime radiance rise forth from the body of the king of the Cedis, which, great king, was like the sun rising up from the sky; and that radiance greeted lotus-eyed Kṛṣṇa, honored by the world, and entered him, O king. When they saw that, all the kings deemed it a miracle that that radiance entered the strong-armed man, that greatest of men. In a cloudless sky heaven rained forth and blazing lightning struck and the earth trembled, when Kṛṣṇa slew the Caidya.
Mahābhārata 104 (2.42.22)
There are numerous remarkable elements in this account—especially the verbal violence paralleling the physical violence, producing war madness, berserker behavior. The conflict of blame between Bhīṣma and Kṛṣṇa on the one hand and Śiśupāla on the other is also notable; the execution of Śiśupāla by weapon seems merely an extension of verbal violence, a tool of the verbal violence. Most interesting, though, is the final isolation of the blame poet, after an unpredictably swift peripety, when all the kings turn against him and revile him. He who had the power nearly to make another man a sacrifice is suddenly himself the center of collective hostility and will be beheaded in a moment. It is his power to make another a victim that has made him a victim. He undergoes a typically ambiguous death, for our hero type: killed by his divine enemy, he flows into the god, and receives salvation.
Śiśupāla as master of violence-generating invective, deployed in support of kingship, is particularly close to Starkaðr as poet, and thus enables us to view Śiśupāla as a blame poet, and a valuable parallel to Starkaðr and Suibhne.


We should look briefly at Heracles, the third leg of Dumézil’s triptych. Discussion of Greek myth in the context of Dumézil’s trifunctional comparative analysis is complicated by “the problem that was Greece,” as C. Scott Littleton puts it. [106] The inherited Indo-European traditions in archaic Greece were complicated by Greece’s intercultural complexity (including much influence from the Near East, Crete, and Asia Minor) and its creativity, by the brilliance of its poets, who had a tendency to shape myth to their own individual purposes. As Puhvel puts it, the Greek pantheon is more remarkable for its originality than for its preservation. [107]
Nevertheless, Greek is fully an Indo-European language, and there is certainly a strong strain of Indo-European tradition in Greek myth and religion. Greece was never the center of Dumézil’s analysis; nevertheless, he did not neglect it, as his treatment of Heracles shows. Indo-Europeanists have continued to analyze its wealth of myth and epic. [108]
Heracles has a deity who persecutes and then helps deify him, Hera. [109] Her persecution of the hero starts early; while he is still in the womb, she delays his birth so that Eurystheus rules over him (Iliad XIX 95–125). Then when Heracles is in swaddling clothes, the malevolent goddess sends monstrous snakes to murder him, a story attested as early as Pindar Nemean Odes 1.33–72: “but the queen of the gods in her heart’s anger sent two snakes against him straightway.” [110] The infant hero throttles them, of course.
As a result of Eurystheus’ Hera-engineered rule, Heracles must humiliate himself and serve him. The goddess then causes Heracles to go mad and kill his wife and children, which produces a defilement that forces him to undergo the labors. [111] In the labors themselves, she is instrumental in trying to endanger him, for she nurtures the monsters Heracles must face. Hesiod writes, “And again she [Echidna] bore a third [child], the evil-minded Hydra of Lerna, whom the goddess, white-armed Hera nourished, being angry beyond measure with the mighty Heracles.” [112] She also nurtures the invulnerable Nemean Lion. [113]
For Heracles’ ties with Hera, we first have his name. [114] As a baby Heracles was nursed by Hera, despite her enmity. [115] After his apotheosis, Hesiod writes,
καὶ] θάνε καί ῥ’ Ἀΐδ[αο πολύστονον ἵκε]το δῶμα.
νῦν δ’ ἤδη θεός ἐστι, κακῶν δ’ ἐξήλυθε πάντων,
ζώει δ’ ἔνθά περ ἄλλοι Ὀλύμπια δώματ’ ἔχοντες
ἀθάνατος καὶ ἄγηρος, ἔχων καλλ[ίσ]φυρον Ἥβην,
παῖδα Διὸς μεγάλοιο καὶ Ἥρης χρυσοπεδίλου·
τὸν πρὶν μέν ῥ’ ἤχθηρε θεὰ λευκώλενος Ἥρη
ἔκ τε θεῶν μακάρων ἔκ τε θνητῶν ἀνθρώ[πων,
νῦν δ’ ἤδη πεφίληκε, τίει δέ μιν ἔξοχον ἄλλ[ων
ἀθανάτων μετά γ’ αὐτὸν ἐρισθενέα Κρ[ο]νίωνα.
And he died and went down into the house of Hades. But now he is a god, and he has escaped all evils. And he lives in the same place as others having homes on Olympos, immortal [athanatos] and ageless, having fair-ankled Hebe, daughter of great Zeus and golden-sandled Hera. Before, the white-armed Hera hated him above all the other gods and mortals, but now she loves him, and honors [tiei] him above all the other gods after mighty Kronion himself.
Fragment 25.25–33 M-W [116]
Just as Heracles seems to fit as the Indo-European warrior to a certain extent, but not neatly, so he only fits problematically as poet. Heracles is definitely a singer, aoidos, a mousikos anēr. [117] Yet he is not a thoroughgoing poet, like Starkaðr or Suibhne. His poetic aspects are merely a component in his all-around heroic persona, just as the warrior Achilles will take time out to play the lyre on occasion. Starkaðr, on the other hand, is given to savage satire that parallels, and often leads to, his warlike aggressiveness, and is known as a famous poet; Suibhne is primarily a poet. Archilochus, primarily a poet and warrior, is a much closer parallel to the Starkaðr/Suibhne poetic warrior type. And a closer parallel to Heracles as poet is Cuchulainn or Lugh, who, though they are primarily warriors, have strong poetic aspects.
However, the fact that both Heracles and Achilles, the two most prominent heroes of the Greeks, were to some extent poets, may have more than incidental importance. Perhaps Heracles made into an aoidos, albeit a violent aoidos, and Achilles (whose personality is dominated by his wrath, his mēnis) singing to himself, may be the atrophied remnants of an earlier, stronger tradition of the poetic warrior. In addition, some have interpreted Odysseus the storyteller as a poet. [118] The Greek hero as, in part, poet is perhaps more central to the Greek tradition that has been realized in the past.

Four Heroes

We may now analyze our four heroes, from a poetic perspective, and see how they add up. All of the figures are famous warriors, and commit a version of the trifunctional sins; they are all buffeted like pawns by friendly and inimical gods—moreover, by gods ambiguously inimical and friendly. [119] Śiśupāla receives deification through the weapon of his enemy, Kṛṣṇa, who had earlier ridded him of monstrous supernumerary limbs; Starkaðr receives a similar treatment of congenital monstrosity from the inimical Thor, who accounts for all his evil fate. Suibhne also is shorn of his violent proclivities and given his sacral manticism by his “divine” enemy, St. Ronan. Heracles also has a persecuting tutelary deity, Hera.
Suibhne and Starkaðr are overt, versifying, famous poets. Śiśupāla is a “blame poet” in theme; Heracles is a poet, if something of a dilettante. Starkaðr and Śiśupāla are specialists in invective; Suibhne’s poetry has its blame aspects.
Starkaðr and Suibhne are revolting in appearance; they are both lonesome wanderers; they are both associated with the wolf—this lupine association expresses both their grizzled ugliness and outcast, wandering temperaments, as well as associations with the Männerbund, perhaps. Starkaðr and Suibhne both express powerfully the misery of wandering in their poetry. Heracles also was a wanderer.
The themes of the poetry of Starkaðr, Suibhne, and Śiśupāla closely parallel each other. Starkaðr and Śiśupāla both employ violent invective and praise in support of kingship. This supports their functions as ambiguous king supporters, a function shared by Suibhne. All three are also generals in armies, warrior underkings for higher kings in the cases of Suibhne and Śiśupāla. Both Starkaðr and Suibhne act as champions for kings in combat situations.
A related poetic theme, hatred of common man, is found strongly expressed in the invective of Starkaðr and Śiśupāla. The common people drive Starkaðr into exile on occasion. Starkaðr and Suibhne also share misogyny as a poetic theme.
Madness is a characteristic of poets: all four of our figures suffer forms of lunacy, often connected with poetry. Starkaðr has frequent rages bordering on madness, rages leading both to violent poetry and violent deeds. Śiśupāla’s rage is quite similar; he expresses fury through invective, and incites others to violence with it. Heracles has frequent bouts of violent insanity (one directed against his music teacher, Linus, whom he kills with a lyre). Suibhne’s madness, in contrast, is mantic, a characteristic of his liminal state on the way to redemption, partaking of both humiliation and holiness. However, he was also given to violent rages before his liminal manticism.
Suibhne would seem to be our only overtly mantic poet. However, the theme of divine poetic consecration creates the mantic poet, and Starkaðr receives his poetic consecration from Odin, as Suibhne receives his consecration (an ambiguous “curse” that makes him both a miserable outcast and sacral) from his “bright god,” St. Ronan. Both these poets are given to violent rage, and have mantic aspects, though in opposite proportions. Heracles’ association with the Muses may have aspects of poetic consecration.
At the moment of death, Suibhne, Śiśupāla, and Starkaðr grow close to their poetic aspects as they deliver long final speeches. Suibhne’s and Starkaðr’s are intertwined with poetry; Śiśupāla’s includes an insulting animal fable.
As Puhvel has noted, Starkaðr is perhaps the most archaic figure in this pattern, as he shares important binary isothemes with each of the other two primary figures. [120] My poetic analysis has developed along the same lines: Starkaðr has strong poetic connections with both Suibhne and Śiśupāla, who in turn are fairly dissimilar to each other. The Germanic hero is closest to Suibhne: both are famous poets, both are wanderers, and express it in their poetry, both are wolflike, both are uncouth in appearance, both receive a divine poetic consecration, both are champion warriors, and generals for kings.
Yet the Starkaðr–Śiśupāla connection is more close than one would expect, considering that Śiśupāla has no reputation as a poet. Both are violent abusive verbalists, masters of invective; they both attack enemies of kingship, those of lower caste, in their invective; their poetic madness expresses their rage and causes violence. Both are generals for kings.
The Suibhne–Śiśupāla axis is not strong. Their strongest common trait is their dominantly demonic nature, and this may derive from the hostile sectarian environment in which their stories have been preserved. However, they were both generals for kings, underkings themselves.
Heracles does not link strongly with anyone, though he was a general (of sorts), warrior (of sorts), and a poet (of sorts). He was also a wanderer, and a savior figure, as was Starkaðr. He also had a persecuting/protective deity, Hera.
Thus we have, perhaps, an archetype, a poet-warrior given to violent rages and violent poetry, in some ways a liminal manticist, a general of kings and a supporter of kingship in poetry and life. A weary, lonesome wanderer; inspired by a god in poetry and life, and persecuted by another god (who, however, helps civilize him); a noble warrior figure who yet commits execrable crimes against the range of society, especially against the king he so fanatically supports, and who is finally killed by the god who inspired his poetry and civilized him. He delivers a final dramatic speech before death.
There are significant parallels here to our theme of legendary Greek poet as scapegoat and warrior, protected and persecuted by ambiguously malevolent/benevolent gods. This similarity is strengthened by the fact that Starkaðr and Suibhne are famous poets in their own right, and that Starkaðr and Śiśupāla are masters of violent invective, Śiśupāla even employing a blame-oriented animal fable in a last speech. All of these “poets,” incidentally, are outcasts, all examples of the poet as exile or scapegoat, each in his own unique way.

The Warrior-Poet

We may briefly probe some of the implications of the warrior-poet that have been examined. First, why is this odd warrior figure, always latently demonic, always grotesque and violent, also such a pronounced poet? Conversely stated, why is the poet associated so strongly with the most violent level of society? [121]
The central figure, Starkaðr, perhaps supplies the clearest answer to the question, for his story gives us a striking picture of a hero driven by aggressive impulses. This aggression finds expression in violent speech and violent acts; often the violent speech prepares the way for physical violence. [122] Thus, in a society in which war was a dominant aspect of existence, poetry had to serve a precise functional purpose: military paraenesis—or rather, the paraenesis of violence. And as violence was dependent on a special kind of war madness, so poetry also was dependent on madness (of course, the word “mantic” is related to “mania”).
The ambiguities of warrior and poet are also related—just as society often cannot tolerate the violence of the warrior in times of peace (thus the conflict of the warrior with the farmer and pastoralist, even with the king), so it is hard to tolerate the violence of the blame poet. As the Irish myths show, it is most useful to have satirical poets in wartime; but if a king’s poets turn their verbal weapons against him, the poet cannot be tolerated. Either the king must abdicate, or the poet must be exiled or killed.
One wonders if poetry is characteristically linked with the second function, considering its strong associations with the archetypal IndoEuropean warrior. One might suggest that the blame poet, the Archilochus, the wielder of verbal weapons, is peculiarly suited to war, while the praise poet, the Pindar, might be applicable to other levels, aspects of society. However, as we have previously noted, there probably is no such thing as a pure praise or blame poet. Archilochus can write military paraenesis and love poetry; Sappho can write iambics.
Starkaðr mixes venomous blame of the slothful, vice-burdened king with praise of good kings, good kingship. A good deal of the warrior’s poetry is devoted to kingship; thus it plays a part in the intricate interplay between the classes of society. In the same way, in Dumézil’s studies of praise and blame in Rome and Ireland, poetry seems to emanate from the third function, the farmers and herdsmen, but is directed toward controlling the quality of kingship. If the land is unfruitful, the king must be blamed. The poet here represents the populous lower classes, a first tool of democracy, as it were. The poet, as prophet and priest, can also be associated with the first function, the class of magico-religious sovereignty. There is a small, but interesting, dossier of kings who are also poets. The persistent association of Odin with poetry is worth noting, for he is somewhat of a first-function figure, though with warlike leanings. [123]
Finally there is the question of how the study of Starkaðr, Suibhne, and the others sheds light on our original question, why the poet is seen as a pharmakos. One avenue of approach to the subject is the tendency for these warriorpoet heroes to act as champions in battle—sometimes generals for overkings, but sometimes literally substitutes for the king in dangerous battle—thus, therapōn, servant, the ritual substitute for the king. Perhaps the king was originally the best warrior—an extension of the strongest man of the tribe, the leader of the pack, as it were. Anthony Snodgrass writes: “The kings of Sparta were called not only ‘kings’, but also by the old title ‘war-lord’ or ‘commander’ (archagetas) … The original and most important raison d’être of Greek kingship had been for the king to lead the tribe and (where he survived in existence long enough) the state in warfare.” [124] There is also evidence that the archaic Indo-European king (Latin r ē x, Sanskrit rājā, Irish , rīg [genitive]) originally came from the warrior class (as Indra, the warrior, became king of the gods), and the “best warrior” became king—originally in times of crisis, such as invasions. Later the “best warrior” became the permanent leader. Even later, the king became more associated with ruling and priestly functions, with war only one of his responsibilities. [125]
Eventually the warrior, the specialist in violence, became the king’s substitute. The warrior would have to have almost a supernatural loyalty to the king; but, if he had any intelligence, he would always feel ambivalent about his role, as he had to undergo the danger of violent death on another’s behalf.
This suggests Burkert’s scenario for the scapegoat, though not exactly. Burkert envisions a herd of animals dogged by predators, who are forced to exclude one of their weakest, youngest, or lamest members so they can survive. [126] A war is a threatening disaster like plague, and Burkert gives numerous example of scapegoats given up in times of war. Soldiers sent out to battle are, as it were, scapegoats sent to die to uphold society, to defend the king. They do have a tendency to be young; but they also have a tendency to be strong, unlike Burkert’s scapegoats. Society and the king are sending out the best, the strongest to face the threatening predators.
One remembers the role played by Aesop when Croesus besieges Samos. He is the best in the city, but when the Croesus threatens the destruction of the city unless they give up Aesop, they are first willing to sacrifice him, then they they become unwilling; but Aesop voluntarily goes, and persuades the king to spare the city. Thus a city threatened by the disaster of war seeks to give up their best citizen, not their worst. There is ample ambiguity here, though, as anyone considered expendable can also be considered the worst in society’s eyes. Aesop the best riddle warrior is also the worst in terms of physical ugliness.
In addition, the best warrior might also be the most skillful in weaponry, and even the shrewdest, trickiest fighter. There is evidence in the following cognates that the IndoEuropean ruler was related to the intelligent, skilled craftsman: Latin faber ‘adept’; Old Church Slavic dobrŭagathos’; Armenian darbin ‘smith’; Hittite tabarna- < *dhobhro-no- ‘ruler’. The PIE word is perhaps *dhabhronos. [127] Some have posited a second type of warrior, the trickster, the intellectual, as a contrast to the warror given to violent furies, Odysseus as opposed to Achilles. [128]
This pattern—sending out the warrior, strongest, most possessed, cleverest, to face the enemy—would explain the warrior as scapegoat, ritual substitute. The poet, then, could be selected because, as we have seen, the aggression and madness of the blame poet is related to the aggression and madness of the warrior in archaic cultures. The verbal weaponry is parallel to the physical weaponry. The warrior must be a specialist in the madness that makes him invincible in battle; this exaltation is linked with poetry; in fact, is often produced by it. [129] Thus the poet is a crucial figure, as is the warrior; in fact, he often is the warrior. In the case of Aesop, as in that of Starkaðr, the poet-warrior is a key stakes in the games of society and the gods.


[ back ] 1. On Dumézil, see Littleton 1982; Puhvel 1987; Mallory 1989. Dumézil developed the theory that embedded in myths, rituals, formulae, and epics in the Indo-European traditions were references to three social “functions”: first, priest-sovereign; second, warrior; and third, herder-cultivator. Thus we have a kind a social structuralism influenced by Durkheim. Often these “functions” have complex (and often prickly) interrelationships, and interdependencies. For instance, both kings and warriors are dependent on the herder-cultivators for food. The first and third functions rely on the warrior when the tribe is menaced by outsiders. But the warrior is difficult to control, and sometimes is an internal menace to the rest of society, see below. In Dumézil’s view, by comparing similar themes in myths from different Indo-European countries, we can work back to genetic Proto-Indo-European myth.
[ back ] 2. Translated as The Stakes of the Warrior (1983).
[ back ] 3. According to Littleton, Aspects “must indeed be ranked among Dumézil’s most significant publications” (1982:127). See Puhvel, “The Warrior at Stake,” in Puhvel 2002:30–38, which summarizes Dumézil’s accomplishment in pursuing the warrior theme, but warns of the dangers of over-imposing the three sins pattern.
[ back ] 4. Diodorus Siculus 4.9.6, 4.10.1; Etymologicum Magnum p. 435, 10ff., cf. Photius Library p. 147b, 16ff.
[ back ] 5. See Burkert 1975; cf. above, chapter 16 (Apollo kills Achilles).
[ back ] 6. Nagy 1979:303.
[ back ] 7. Saxo Grammaticus (died ca. 1204), History of the Danes VI.151; 170, Fisher translation = Holder ed., 182: ob incredibilem corporis animique prestanciam. Translation in Fisher and Davidson 1979 vol. 1, including the first nine books of the History of the Danes. Translations of Saxo in this chapter are from Fisher, unless otherwise noted. The Latin text is from Holder 1886, or from an online version from the Danish Royal Library,
[ back ] 8. Ibid. Siquidem excellentius humano habitu corpus a natura sortitus, ita id animi magnitudine aequabat, ut nulli mortalium virtute cedere putaretur.
[ back ] 9. VI.152; 171=184: inusitata prius granditate conspicuum, non solum animi fortitudine, sed etiam condendorum carminum pericia.
[ back ] 10. Gautrekssaga, see Turville-Petre 1964:206. Translation thanks to Randall Gordon, who remarks that the literal translation makes the wolf persona very obvious. For the poet as wolf (as in the case of Alcaeus, chapter 9) i.e. outsider, see Kershaw 2000:133–179. Another notable theme surfaces in this passage: ugliness making the poet the victim of mockery (as in the case of Hipponax, chapter 4). Cf. Pálsson and Edwards 1968:41.
[ back ] 11. VI.162; p. 179=194: … qui indigentibus adesse et tristes plerumque casus felici interventu redimere soleat.
[ back ] 12. VIII.226; p. 249=271: patrias solitus scriptare poeses … Danicae vates promptissime Musae.
[ back ] 13. Turville-Petre 1964:212, cf. Clover 1980:452.
[ back ] 14. Óðinn mælti: “Ek gef honum skáldskap, svá at hann / skal eigi seinna yrkja en mæla.” Pálsson and Edwards (1968:39) translate, “I give him the art of poetry, so that he shall compose verses as fast as he can speak.”
[ back ] 15. Gautrekssaga chapter 7, pp. 28–31, cf. Dumézil 1983:14–15. For Starkaðr as an Odin or Thor hero, see Turville-Petre 1964:326 (de Vries vs. Dumézil), 205–211; Polomé 1990.
[ back ] 16. Thor’s last three curses form a trifunctional pattern, if poetry is linked to the first function: war, poetry, common people.
[ back ] 17. VI.158; 176–177= 191, translation by Fisher, Cumque Starcatherus circumspectam undique familiam recenti hospitis iactura indoluisse cognosceret, ignominiam saucii invectivis exaggerandam curavit insultandoque sic coepit.
[ back ] 18. Ibid. 179, my translation, His dictis, Starcatherus, non minorem ex voce quam opere voluptatem sortitus, Haldanum repetit eiusque militiam promixa familiaritate complexus numquam bellorum exercitio abstitit, ita ut abstractum deliciis animum continua armorum intentione torqueret.
[ back ] 19. Some have seen the influence of Horace and Juvenal in Saxo, and particularly in the poems Saxo has Starkaðr recite (see Fisher and Davidson 1979 2:106n89, 135n81). Was Saxo drawing on Roman models because they were comparable to poetic traditions connected with Starkaðr, or did he simply apply Juvenal and Horace to a poet with a general reputation for abusiveness? In Starkaðr’s long poem on the miseries of old age, comparable to Juvenal’s tenth satire, there are no close verbal echoes, as Fisher notes. Davidson 1981:39 admits the classical influence in Saxo, but writes that his heroes “were, after all, breathing a northern air, with their feet firmly set on Danish soil, in a region which had remained outside the domination of Rome.” Speaking specifically of Starkaðr’s poetry, she writes that Saxo has “combined the use of language … in the classical manner with the rich traditions of his own background and the verbal skills of the North” (1981:50). FriisJensen 1981b, speaks of that poem spoken by Starkaðr “rising from a fruitful combination of Nordic and Latin tradition.” See also Gudnason 1981:79–93, esp. 85, on Starkaðr (with useful bibliography).
[ back ] 20. Cf. O’Leary 1984.
[ back ] 21. Cf. Fisher 1979 2:105n81.
[ back ] 22. VI.166; 184=200: adeo ipsa parietum robora demissi corporis impulsu contudit, ut tectum ruina paene eximia tignorum trepidatione submitteret.
[ back ] 23. VI.168; 185=202.
[ back ] 24. VI.167; 185=201: ne bellicam claritatem convivalibus illecebris absumendam permitteret.
[ back ] 25. fumidoque ac rancidulo cibo. The theme is immorality expressed by excessive cookery—Starkaðr [ back ] particularly disapproves of meat that has been both roasted and boiled (VI.167; 185=201; VI.169; 186=204). The question of Juvenalian influence must again be considered. But food and sexuality are standard targets at which blame is directed. If Ingel is immoral, his food will define him.
[ back ] 26. The effeminacy of such music is emphasized; all of the warrior’s temptations, food, clothing, and music are defined by effeminacy.
[ back ] 27. VI.170; 187=204: quod nimiae saturitatis usu oscitans partam edendo crapulam foeda ructatione exhalaret.
[ back ] 28. VI.170ff.; p. 180ff.; cf. Friis-Jensen 1981b.
[ back ] 29. VI.168: Videns autem Starcatherus eos, qui Frothonem oppresserant, in summa regis dignatione versari, concepti furoris magnitudinem acerrimo oculorum habitu prodidit internosque motus externo oris indicio patefecit, occultam animi procellam aperta luminum saevitia testatus. For the “war fury” of the Indo-European warrior, see on Cuchulainn in chapter 17. All these warriors had a dark, demonic side. I have not yet seen Frédéric Blaive, Impius Bellator: Le Mythe Indo-Européen du Guerrier Impie (1996), but see a review by Miller 2001b.
[ back ] 30. VI.173; 190 = 208.13–14: neglegens morum vitiique cultrix, / femina turpis.
[ back ] 31. VI.172; 188 = 206.1–2: Quid dapem deses colis otioque / mollior scortis stomachum reclinas? Cf. ibid., lines 23–24: “the joys of an obese belly” (obesi gaudia uentris).
[ back ] 32. VI.172; 188–206.
[ back ] 33. Starkaðr is, as Dumézil notes in dealing with this episode, “imperiously and didactically, a true educator” (1983:38).
[ back ] 34. VI.178; 194 = 213: His namque continuo trucidatis, sacra mensae sanguine involvit.
[ back ] 35. VI.178; 194 = 213: cruore quam mero calices imbuens.
[ back ] 36. VI.163; 181 = 196: … aduersarios prius dictis quam armis contemnendos putabat. One can compare this military blame with military paraenesis; see the nine brothers who bark at Starkaðr like dogs and “were animating one another for the fight [with Starkaðr] by mutual encouragement.” See following note.
[ back ] 37. And he, true to form, has attacked them verbally before dispatching them with physical violence. The treatment of these brothers is striking—they are portrayed as a pack of dogs, a canine Männerbund (see previous note, for their mutual military paraenesis). Starkaðr seems to find their berserker-type madness degraded (cf. Fisher 1979 2:105n73): VI.162; 180 = 195.
[ back ] 38. Curiously, though, he finally accepts help from a farmer’s son, and he praises the farmer’s life as honest labor. Thus the warrior’s attitude toward the lower class may be complex—just as he has an ambivalence toward kingship (he kills two kings, but is their passionate champion and defender), he also has an ambivalence toward the third function. He disapproves of their excesses of sexuality and eating, which would tend to sap a warrior’s strength, make him unfit and unprepared for battle, but will allow for the necessity of the food producer within certain limits.
[ back ] 39. vulnerum acerbitate cruciari quam sordidae condicionis hominum ministerio uti praeoptans.
[ back ] 40. VI.164; 182=197: spernere non contentus etiam convicio proculcavit.
[ back ] 41. VIII.227; 250 = 272: Hic primum didici, quid ferramenta valerent incudis, quantumve animi popularibus esset.
[ back ] 42. Aside from the question of how functional gods may be applied to Starkaðr, here we face the problem of Germanic functional slippage, see Puhvel 1987:191–192.
[ back ] 43. VIII.221; 244 = 265: Postmodum paenitentia ac pudore perculsus, tanta animi acerbitate commissum facinus luxit, ut, si mentionem eius incidere contigisset, a lacrimis temperare non posset. Adeo culpae atrocitatem resipiscens animus erubescebat.
[ back ] 44. Pálsson and Edwards 1968:40. Saxo has a slightly different, less precise and convincing, version of Vikar’s execution, VI.152–153; 170=184.
[ back ] 45. Translation by Pálsson and Edwards 1968:41.
[ back ] 46. Gautrekssaga, stanzas 31, 32, cf. Dumézil 1983:28. hlaut ek óhróðigr / illt at vinna.
[ back ] 47. Af þessu verki varð Starkað mjök / óþokkaðr af alþýðu, ok af þessu verki varð hann fyrst / landflótti af Hörðalandi.
[ back ] 48. For the ambiguity of sacrifice, which is at the same time paradigmatically sacred and at the same time an act of profane violence, cf. Burkert: “Sacrament and sacrilege merge in every act of sacral killing” (1985:81, cf. 57, 58).
[ back ] 49. See Turville-Petre 1964:49.
[ back ] 50. See Chadwick and Chadwick 1932 1:620.
[ back ] 51. Cf. verses 144 and following. Translation from Turville-Petre 1964:42, except for the last verse, which is from Hollander 1962:36, slightly modified. Turville-Petre, in the last two lines, speaks of words and deeds, not verses and poems. See also below, chapter 19, on Odin’s consecrations.
[ back ] 52. Hollander 1962:36n67; Turville-Petre 1964:44–50. Cf. Puhvel 1987:194, who emphasizes shamanic aspects of this sacrifice/consecration.
[ back ] 53. The classic problem in Norse myth, the degree of Christian influence, must also be considered here. One could also think of Prometheus, as a hanging, suffering demigod. However, Turville-Petre concludes that all of the elements of the Norse account are authentically Scandinavian; even if they were influenced by the New Testament or Greek myth, the theme of poetic consecration is entirely absent from the crucifixion or Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound.
[ back ] 54. Ward 1970.
[ back ] 55. VIII.223–224; 247=268. Dying through illness was regarded as dishonorable by warriors, Saxo explains. The volition is explicit: “voluntarium … exitum … proprio … arbitrio.”
[ back ] 56. VIII.228: Quod utrum instruendi percussoris gratia an puniendi dixerit, incertum est.
[ back ] 57. Quod corpori avulsum impactumque terrae glaebam morsu carpsisse fertur, ferocitatem animi moribundi oris atrocitate declarans.
[ back ] 58. Quoted in Dumézil 1983:48.
[ back ] 59. De Vries, quoted in Dumézil 1983:48.
[ back ] 60. Dumézil 1983:49.
[ back ] 61. Dumézil 1983:46.
[ back ] 62. Note the theophorous name: Stark(h)athr ‘Strong as god’, like Heracles, cf. Puhvel 1987:247, 250. Thus Starkaðr is priest, victim, and god at the same time. Cf. chapter 19, on poet-priests of Odin.
[ back ] 63. Poetic Edda, “Helgakviða Hundingsbana” II (Stanza 20–21) as cited in Polomé 1990:270.
[ back ] 64. For further on Starkaðr, see Polomé 1990 and Miller 1991 (both on the duality of the hero, divided between loyalty to functions one and two).
[ back ] 65. He is forgivably peevish toward Mongan, the herd who has speared him by mistake, O’Keefe 1913:147–151; all subsequent citations of Buile Suibhne will refer to the O’Keefe edition by page number. There are also elements of misogynist blame in his poetry, see J. Nagy 1982–1983:57n76; however, Suibhne’s relationships with women are very ambivalent, as Nagy shows. One must also bear in mind that the lampoons of Irish blame poetry are often so subtle that only the initiated can perceive them, cf. Ward 1973:136; Robinson 1912:106 (white, black, and speckled satire).
[ back ] 66. He boasts of this in a poem, O’Keefe 1913:113–115. See also 11.
[ back ] 67. 113: áit ina mbíodh treas nó troid / robsam comhlann do thríochaid.
[ back ] 68. 57, 59, 54.
[ back ] 69. 27: ar mo ríghe raith / robsam rígh maith mór. Cf. 3, 145.
[ back ] 70. See 1982–1983:59n84. Cf. 3, 145.
[ back ] 71. xxxi, cf. Cohen 1977:115–116.
[ back ] 72. See Dumézil 1983:59, 54, 57.
[ back ] 73. Odyssey xxi 25; Rose 1959:211: “The real Herakles was indeed a lord of Mycenaean times, but a vassal of the greater lord of Argos or of Mycenae.”
[ back ] 74. Deichneamhar is deich cét laoch / rob é mo shlúagh ag Druim FraochMúichnidhe mh’aghaidh anocht / gan giolla is gan longphort.
[ back ] 75. 1987:242; and though the king later became detached from a purely militarist focus, the military aspect always remained. We may compare Yudhiṣṭhira, Mitraic king, who takes part in battle, though his brothers Bhīma and Arjuna are military specialists. See Dumézil, who discusses the weapons of all five Pāṇḍava brothers, including Yudhiṣṭhira and other sovereign figures in IndoEuropean myth (1968 1:99–100). Even if weapons define sovereignty, they are still weapons of war. See also Oguibenine 1978, and below, this chapter.
[ back ] 76. Translation adapted from O’Keefe 1913:119–120.
[ back ] 77. 133: uair as meisi dúil as anshádhaile & anshocra. Cf. 25–29, 125–127, 135.
[ back ] 78. See 133.
[ back ] 79. Cf. 13. See J. Nagy 1982:50, for further references and discussion. Nagy treats the theme as shamanic; for further on Suibhne and shamanism, see Benesch 1961. For shamanism in IndoEuropean culture, Closs 1968. See above, chapter 16, on poet as prophet/shaman.
[ back ] 80. See p. 153; Kershaw 2000:133–143. Cf. chapter 9 (Alcaeus); chapter 19, on Odinic berserkers.
[ back ] 81. Suibhne’s poems are scattered throughout his story. Like Starkaðr, he will break into verse periodically, often in moments of crisis.
[ back ] 82. “While many of the Suibhne poems are laments about life in the wilderness, others are virtual paeans to his wild existence in isolated places” (J. Nagy 1982–1983:51, see O’Keefe 1913:63–83). Suibhne even praises the watercress and strong wind that elsewhere cause him special agony, p. 71.
[ back ] 83. See O’Keefe 1913:xvi–xvii; cf. J. Nagy 1982–1983:44n3. In Tom Stoppard’s Travesties, James Joyce rebukes a Dadaist by remarking that without Homer Troy would now be nothing but dust and broken pots (1975:62). Much of Suibhne’s poetry is agonic—e.g. 101, 134–135, 137–141. In this last passage, Suibhne trades couplets with St. Moling to make up quatrains; their competitive, riddling nature is clear. Often Moling asks questions, which the poet answers; often his answers “cap” the saint’s, as is shown by their frequent use of comparatives: “More delightful … more wearisome … more grievous.”). The poetic dialogue is explicitly mantic, for in it Suibhne displays supernatural knowledge, predicts his own death, and commends Moling’s prophetic gifts.
[ back ] 84. 141; cf. J. Nagy 1982–1983:45n7. For further on the mantic nature of geilt, see Chadwick 1942; for Suibhne’s prophetic nature, see 110.
[ back ] 85. Fios tig dhamh óm Thigerna / gach madain ‘s gach nóin.
[ back ] 86. Perhaps he is portrayed as demonic because of the sectarian (Christian) coloring of the received Suibhne tale, just as the Śiśupāla tradition comes to us only with sectarian overlay, making him entirely demonic, too (Puhvel 1987:250, 253). On the other hand, Starkaðr has his pronounced demonic aspects. One detail that might point to a more positive coloring in the original Śiśupāla tradition is his name, which can mean ‘protector of the small’ (Dumézil 1983:57)—paralleling Starkaðr’s and Heracles’ soteric aspects; Heracles’ role as culture hero, destroyer of destructive monsters, is well known. However, Śiśupāla can also be interpreted as ‘smalllord’, a Sivaistic epithet, “Junior Śiva” (Puhvel 1987:247).
[ back ] 87. 144: mairg domharb a los a neirt / an rígh, an náomh, an náomhgheilt.
[ back ] 88. 143. He later, after Suibhne’s deathswoon, recalls the joy and pleasure Suibhne’s association gave him (155). Suibhne’s life in nature, outside of human intercourse, has obvious monastic overtones. Much of his nature poetry has close parallels in Irish medieval poetry praising the isolated monastic life.
[ back ] 89. 145, 147, 151 (twice).
[ back ] 90. This death in a door emphasizes the theme of death as passage, a liminal rather than terminal experience. Cf. J. Nagy’s “Liminality and Knowledge in Irish Tradition,” 1981–1982. Comparable is the death-swoon, see Eliade, 1964:33ff., for death and resurrection as a shamanic theme. The death-swoon would be part of an initiatory, liminal experience. Nagy interprets Suibhne as a sacral man (king) who experiences a different, less social kind of sacrality (shamanic madness) as an “end in itself.” For my view of Suibhne as an underlord, see above. He is also associated with asacral, violent, clericpersecuting, warmongering (Ronan had tried to make peace between kings, and Suibhne had intentionally flouted the saint’s ban on bloodshed). Thus there is a simpler symmetry in the story: evil, warriorking, enmity with a saint; wandering, subhuman, asocial, mantic madness; death, reconciliation and salvation, friendship with a saint. The middle state is truly liminal, a state of passage, for Suibhne looks back in misery on his glory days as a warrior, yet his poetic/mantic aspects point him forward to his final meeting with Moling.
[ back ] 91. See below.
[ back ] 92. In light of the importance placed on the warrior’s executioner in the cases of Starkaðr (an Odin double), and Śiśupāla (the warrior’s opposite, the righteous Kṛṣṇa), one may consider the possibility that Mongan as executioner has some connection with the mystical stature of the swineherd in Ireland, see Ni Chatháin 1979–1980. Thus, Suibhne would be killed by a shamanic figure; Mongan is already a member of Moling’s household. The “friendly” “god” is behind Suibhne’s death. In some traditions, Suibhne’s killer suffered the threefold death, see above.
[ back ] 93. 143–145.
[ back ] 94. See 151, 147. Mongan’s life is literally shortened in Moling’s prophecy—a safely clerical equivalent to murder. Hesiod’s murderers undergo sacrificial execution—see above, chapter 6.
[ back ] 95. 154.
[ back ] 96. Eliade 1964:53. See also ibid., pp. 33–66; Benesch 1961:317–318, who compares Suibhne’s death to the burial of a shaman, not the initiation.
[ back ] 97. Cohen 1977:118 admits that his case would be stronger if there were an actual sexual sin, not just an accusation, in this crime against the third function. “There is no totally convincing means to explain away this discrepancy.” If there were a variant tradition of Starkaðr being guilty of sexual sin, as in the case of Hesiod, one could explain this equivocal theme. (For variant traditions in Suibhne’s life, cf. e.g. the tradition that has him killed in the battle of Mag Rath, see Cohen 1977:116.) See above, chapter 3 (Archilochus); chapter 17, the poet DonnBo killed in battle, and the various poetic victims of Cuchulainn.
[ back ] 98. In St. Moling legends, Suibhne’s murderer suffers the threefold death, see Ward 1970:136–137; in the Wild Man of the Wood stories, of which Suibhne’s legend is an example, the hero often dies by the threefold death, see Cohen 1977:120. Suibhne’s death by spear is possibly a remnant of an original threefold death tradition. On the other hand, we may note the strong parallel with our other warriors in Suibhne’s death by weapon only; Starkaðr and Śiśupāla also die by means of weapons alone, fitting warriors’ deaths. (Heracles, as often, is anomalous in this group, dying by fire and poison.)
[ back ] 99. Mahābhārata, book 2, The Book of the Assembly Hall, 33–42; van Buitenen 1975 2:93–104. Subsequent references to the Mahābhārata will be to van Buitenen’s edition.
[ back ] 100. Śiśupāla is described as “berserk in battle” (89). See Mahābhārata 2.31.14: śiśupālo mahāvīryaḥ saha putreṇa bhārata / āgacchat pāṇḍaveyasya yajñaṁ saṁgrāmadurmadaḥ (Śiśupāla of great gallantry, and berserk in battle, came with his son, O Bhārata, to the sacrifice of the Pāṇḍaveya). The violence of his words nearly leads the kings at Yudhiṣṭhira’s coronation to a violent riot, 103. See above, chapter 17 on “war fury” in Ireland.
[ back ] 101. Van Buitenen 1975: 93, Mahābhārata 2.33.32: sa upālabhya bhīṣmaṁ ca dharmarājaṁ ca saṁsadi / apākṣipad vāsudevaṁ cedirājo mahābalaḥ. Dumézil notes the parallel with Irish feast strifes over points of honor; cf. Starkaðr’s slighting reception at the feast of Ingellus, see above.
[ back ] 102. Cohen 1977:121.
[ back ] 103. P. 93, Mahābhārata 2.34.3. bālā yūyaṁ na jānīdhvaṁ dharmaḥ sūkṣmo hi pāṇḍavāḥ. “You are children, you don’t know! For the Law is subtle, Pāṇḍavas!”
[ back ] 104. ye tvāṁ dāsam arājānaṁ bālyād arcanti durmatim / anarham arhavat kr̥ṣṇa vadhyās ta iti me matiḥ. (In their folly they honored you, a vicious serf, not a king, as though you had earned the honor, Kṛṣṇa. Yes I hold I must kill them!).
[ back ] 105. śiśupāla uvāca / sa me bahumato rājā jarāsaṁdho mahābalaḥ / yo ’nena yuddhaṁ neyeṣa dāso ’yam iti saṁyuge. (Śiśupāla said: Highly did I esteem him, the powerful King Jarāsaṁdha, who refused to give battle to this one, saying he was no more than a serf).
[ back ] 106. Littleton 1980.
[ back ] 107. Puhvel 1987:129.
[ back ] 108. See Strutynski 1980; Puhvel 1987:126–143; Dumézil 1994:209–286; Sergent 1998; Miller 2001.
[ back ] 109. Diodorus Siculus 4.39.2–3; Homer Odyssey xi 601–626; Hesiod Theogony 950–955; Pindar Nemean Odes 10.18.
[ back ] 110. Translation by Lattimore, ἀλλὰ θεῶν βασίλεα / σπερχθεῖσα θυμῷ πέμπε δράκοντας ἄφαρ.
[ back ] 111. See Euripides, Heracles Crazed.
[ back ] 112. Hesiod Theogony 313–315, translation by Evelyn-White, τὸ τρίτον Ὕδρην αὖτις ἐγείνατο λυγρὰ ἰδυῖαν / Λερναίην, ἣν θρέψε θεὰ λευκώλενος Ἥρη / ἄπλητον κοτέουσα βίῃ Ἡρακληείῃ.
[ back ] 113. Hesiod Theogony 328–332; Bacchylides 9.6–9.
[ back ] 114. See Pindar fr. 291, Apollodorus 2.4.12 (the Delphic sibyl renames Heracles); scholion on the Iliad XIV 324; Diodorus Siculus 4.10.1. Pötscher 1971 (who suggests a chronological division of Hera’s enmity and friendship for Heracles); Davidson 1980; Cook 1906, which is unconvincing for Heracles as husband of Hera, but valuable for surveying the close ties between the two deities. For enmity between hero and goddess, see p. 371.
[ back ] 115. Lycophron 38–39, 1327–1328; “Eratosthenes” Constellations 44; Hyginus Astronomy 2.43; Pausanias 9.25.2; Diodorus Siculus 4.9.6. Evidence from art shows that this theme predated the Hellenistic era, Gantz 1993:378.
[ back ] 116. Translation by Gantz 1993:461.
[ back ] 117. See above, chapter 16.
[ back ] 118. Starting with Eumaeus, Odyssey xvii 514, 518–521. Cf. Nagy 1979:234; Bergren 1982:44, 57–58; Segal 1994. If we accept Odysseus as a kind of storytelling poet, he becomes the wandering poet who is denied hospitality as the hosts, especially Antinous, offer him inadequate food and insult him, Nagy 1979:232. Odysseus blames Antinous, and violent retribution comes to the satirist, in the form of a thrown footstool. The inhospitable hosts pay a horrible price.
[ back ] 119. See Dumézil 1983:135–144, cf. Puhvel 1987:244–255.
[ back ] 120. 1987:251.
[ back ] 121. For other warrior heroes who were also poets, such as the skald Egil, Gunnlaugr Serpent-Tongue, or Finn, see Miller 2000:232–238, 251–254. Some skalds were anti-monarchical, 235, 252–253, though one could argue that abuse of a bad king supports the insitution of just monarchy.
[ back ] 122. For the combination of verbal and physical attack in epic, see Miller 2000:234–236.
[ back ] 123. See Dumézil 1973:32–37. As Puhvel notes, Odin “does not ‘embody’ martial ecstasy, he dispenses it … an orchestrator of conflict rather than a combatant” (1987:193). Thus we have the warrior Starkaðr influencing kings, and the king of gods and men influencing the warrior class. The king’s control of the warrior is a crucial element of his power, as Latin American politics, with its democratic governments often overthrown by military strong men, still shows. One thinks of Agamemnon, the Greek overking, stalking the Greek battle lines in the Iliad, dispensing military praise and blame to ensure optimum fighting efficiency, see above, chapter 17, Lugh exhorting his troops. For kings as poets, see below, chapter 19, Odin as king and poet.
[ back ] 124. Snodgrass 1980:98, 97.
[ back ] 125. See Winn 1995:130–131; Puhvel 1987:242–243; Dillon 1946–1947:260.
[ back ] 126. 1979:71.
[ back ] 127. Eichner 1975:81; Puhvel 1989:360. For the poet as craftsman in the archaic Greek and Indo-European traditions, see Nagy 1979:297–300; Durante 1971–1974 II:170. Thus Odysseus polutropos, as storyteller/creative artist/poet, shrewd, tricky warrior, and ruler has special interest. For smiths in epic legend, Miller 2000:260–266.
[ back ] 128. Dumézil 1968:50 examines a pattern in which there are complementary pairs of warriors, one more violent than the other: Slugger and Runner (Wind), Force and Quickness. See also Miller 2000:280–281.
[ back ] 129. See above, chapter 11 (Tyrtaeus’s poetry creates “divine fury” [enthousiasmos] in young Spartan soldiers approaching war); chapter 17, on Dubthach Chafertongue.