Victim of the Muses: Poet as Scapegoat, Warrior and Hero in Greco-Roman and Indo-European Myth and History

  Compton, Todd M. 2006. Victim of the Muses: Poet as Scapegoat, Warrior and Hero in Greco-Roman and Indo-European Myth and History. Hellenic Studies Series 11. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

Chapter 17. Kissing the Leper: The Excluded Poet in Irish Myth

In 1596, Edmund Spenser wrote,

There is amongst the Irish a certaine kind of people, called Bardes, which are to them insteed of Poets, whose profession is to set foorth the praises or dispraises of men in their poems or rymes, the which are had in so high regard and estimation amongst them, that none dare displease them for feare to runne into reproach thorough their offence, and to be made infamous in the mouthes of all men. For their verses are taken up with a generall applause, and usually sung at all feasts and meetings, by certaine other persons, whose proper function that is, who also receive for the same great rewards and reputation amongst them. [1]

Ireland has a rich dossier of the themes we have been considering so far; in fact, when parallels for Archilochus and the Lycambids are sought, the most striking comparanda have been found in Ireland, whose myth and folklore are full of powerful poets causing death, exile, and regal abdication through their satirical poetry, curses, and spells. [
2] What has received less attention is the question of what happens to such powerful figures in Irish society. Again, the same social mechanisms seem to be in effect: the blame poet in Ireland often cannot be tolerated by society. Irish satirists are often imprisoned, killed, and exiled by political leaders and warriors; there seems to be a continual tension between king (or powerful political figure) and satirical poet, just as there is a mutually enriching bond between the king and poet who specializes in praise. In addition, important ancillary themes we have seen in the Aesop, Archilochus, and related traditions are in evidence here also: for instance, the poet as prophet; the poet as warrior; the poet as victim of inhospitality; and legislation directed against the satirist. If Ireland has a strong note of individuality that it infuses into these themes, it is the note of poetic malevolence. As has been noted earlier, the theme of the unsympathetic blame poet is also found in Greece (notably in the figure of Thersites). [3]

There are parallels to Aesop in this tale; the poet is inhospitably received, and satirizes his ungenerous hosts, who worry about the effect of the satire; so he is unjustly tried and sentenced to death. As an ironic reversal, the Christian monks sentence the poet to crucifixion. The archaic theme of the poet inhospitably received lies behind the Christian overlay.

The story of Nede and King Caier, referred to briefly above, also ends with the poet’s death. Nede, King Caier’s nephew and adopted son, at the urging of Caier’s wife, has caused the abdication and exile of the king through satire that is only technically justified, leaving the king’s face blemished. “Caier fled thence that none might see the disgrace, until he was in Dun Cermnai” (Atloi caieur as arnach nacedh nech fond aithis combæ in dun cermnai …). This is a classic case of the poet creating a regal pharmakos. Nede ascends the throne and marries the former king’s wife. But after a year, a remarkable thing happens. Nede feels guilt or pity for the exiled king: “Grievous unto him was Caier’s torment” (Ba haithrech lais cradh caier). Thus, even in archaic Irish myth, guilt seems to obtrude into a culture in which shame and dishonor are dominant motivating forces. Nede travels to the fort where Caier is receiving hospitality; he drives Caier’s chariot, and is accompanied by Caier’s wife and greyhound. When Caier sees them he inflicts another exile on himself: “Caier fled from them out of the house, till he was on the flagstone behind the fort.” After entering the fort, Nede evidently pursues Caier with his dogs, who track him to the flagstone, under which he is hiding. When Nede approaches, “Caier died for shame on seeing Nede. The rock flamed at Caier’s death, and a fragment of the rock flew up under Nede’s eye, and pierced into his head.” [76]

Thus, we see that, on the one hand, the poet is one of the most important members of Irish society, whose power rivals that of the king on occasion; but, on the other hand, as blame poet, he is often intolerable to the king and society, and must be expelled, exiled or killed (as the cases of Redg, Riches, Laidchenn, Fafne, Aithirne, Dub, and Gris show us). This aspect of the poet—his inability to fit into society, his marginality, his criminality—is expressed in the law discussed above, where the poet is grouped with tramps and the lowest criminals. Thus, in a description of a “DemonBanquet,” poets are ranked among the offscourings of society again: this is a banquet “forfeited” to a demon which is awarded to “sons of death and bad men, i.e. to lewd persons and satirists [caintib] and jesters [oblairaib], and buffoons, and mountebanks, and outlaws [merlechaib], and heathens, and harlots and bad people in general …” [80] It is the satirist, not the eulogist, who is ranked with the worst of society. A similar estimation is given another satirist, the avaricious Fland, “the first professional poet of Ireland.” The Yellow Book of Lecan describes three chief bards: “There were three learned poets of Connaught, Mac Liac and Mac Coise and Fland mac Lonain, that is, the son of God, the son of man and the son of the demon. Fland mac Lonain was called the son of the demon, for his covetousness and surliness; for he never entered a house without causing loss therein.” [81]

A story with the same structure is told of a leprous boy in ragged clothes who accompanies Senchán on another quest.

The company, after some initial hesitation, accepts him in their group. When they reach their destination, a hag starts quatrains and demands that Senchán finish them. But only the diseased boy is able to meet the challenge. When the ollam and the boy return home, the latter turns into a handsome blonde hero in royal clothing, then vanishes. He was “the spirit of poetry.” Dubium itaque non est quod ille poematis erat spiritus, our text explains, slipping into Latin. [
95] Thus this supernatural poet, the spirit of poetry itself, is diseased, leprous, the worst, then experiences an upward peripety, conquers an evil being in a poetic agōn, and becomes Senchán’s savior and a beautiful, royal youth; he encompasses polar opposites. These two stories are worthy of note for their depictions of benevolent, if revolting, poets—benign bards seem rare in Ireland. [96]

Thus Ireland has no paucity of exempla for our central themes: the exiled blame poet, the killing of the poet by king or society, the poet as worst. The poet is too dangerous, or powerful, morally just or unjust, or unclean, to be endured.

Poet as Prophet

Poet as Warrior

The Irish goddess of war, Morrigan, appears to Cuchulainn in the persona of a satirist, riding in a chariot, clad in red, and with red eyebrows. A henchman drives a cow in front of her. “I am a female satirist” (Am banchainti-sea em) she tells Cuchulainn, after evading his questions for a time. [113] A description of an Ulster warriorsatirist, Dubthach Chafertongue, shows the paradoxical duality of the martial poet:

Ell n-áilgen issin dara hóil dó, cubur fola fordeirggi issind óil aile dó .i. frecra mín munterda in dara fecht 7 frecra andíaraid in fecht aile … Sleg mór míleta ra aird a gúaland … Cairi dubfhola da lind adúathmar aidchi remi … cu fobairthea cend na slegi sin issind lind nemi sin in tráth na thiced a grith slegi.

This description captures the essential ambiguity of both the warrior and the poet. The state depends upon the warrior’s talent for mayhem, yet it is endangered by it, and finds it difficult to control. A good example is the well-known story in which Cuchulainn, in the grip of battle fury, nearly turns on his own army. [
115] This is one of the primary themes of Dumézil’s investigations into the warrior function in Indo-European traditions. [116] The poet, especially the satirist who uses words as weapons, is equally dangerous and valued.

The Poetic Agōn

A tale from modern folklore offers a complex network of important themes: the poetic agōn; satire as a defensive weapon; art as an aggressive response to aggression; the poet satirizing poet; the poet as possessed:

In the same way, Archilochus, the beautifully singing cicada, responded with bitter satire, the defensive satire of righteous indignation, when he was maliciously tortured; and Hipponax retaliated similarly when an artist lampooned him. This person-to-person artistic combat recalls the earlier combat of Irish poets explicitly in war, Cridenbel trading spells with enemy enchanters. [
143] But the satirist is, as it were, always a warrior. The persistent use of terms implying aggressive blows or weapons to refer to satire is entirely in keeping with this aspect of the satirist’s vocation. In a text on the diction of poetry collected in Robinson we find a number of weapon terms, especially rindad ‘cutting’. [144] Ail, one of the three blemishes raised by satire, is the same as ail ‘stone’ “in the sense of a bump caused by a blow or metaphorically by a slur,” writes Howard Meroney. [145] A poem on satire reads, “It’s extempore bane that will stab in the face anybody it’s flung at! / Not long is the respite from slaughter with spears of injurious gibing!” [146] Glám of glám dícind means ‘attack, gibe’, “the basic idea being to nab or nip—an action of fangs or fingers.” [147] The poet Nede describes his profession as rind feola, “piercing flesh,” and a glossator adds, “faebur a aire hi feoil amail, ‘the edge of his satire like a point in flesh’.” [148] Thus the poet is a warrior wielding razor-sharp weaponry; but he is also a predator whose tooth and claw can be lethal. Poets’ tongues were widely thought of as “sharp” and “keen.” [149] A folk etymology for cáinte ‘satirist’ is from dog, “for the satirist has a dog’s head in barking, and alike is the profession they follow.” [150] The most common word of laughter in early Irish literature, tibid, “combines the sense of ‘laughter’ with that of ‘striking’ or ‘shoving’.” [151]

The Poisonous Poet


[ back ] 1. View of the State of Ireland. 1810:119. He goes on to criticize the Irish poets for siding with the cause of the Irish against the English and fomenting rebellion.

[ back ] 2. See e.g. Hendrickson 1925; Ward 1973; cf. Rankin 1974. For general surveys of Irish satirists and satire, Robinson 1912; Elliott 1960:8–48; McCone 1989; O’Leary 1991; for Irish poets, Caerwyn Williams 1972; Bloomfield and Dunn 1989:30–54; Breatnach 1996:76–77 (for satire, p. 115 with commentary).

[ back ] 3. See above, chapter 16. He represents Greece’s major parallel to many unsympathetic Irish poets, though the Irish poets are more powerful and feared.

[ back ] 4. Rhys 1979:326. See e.g. “The Siege of Howth,” Stokes 1887.

[ back ] 5. Stokes 1893:156, cf. Elliott 1960:29; Chadwick 1934:99, 129.

[ back ] 6. Chadwick and Chadwick 1932 1:613.

[ back ] 7. Flower 1947:75.

[ back ] 8. Geoffrey Keating, History of Ireland, in Comyn and Dineen 1908 3:78ff.

[ back ] 9. Breatnach 1987:89.

[ back ] 10. McCone 1989:128.

[ back ] 11. See Connellan 1860:111–119, cf. Joynt 1931; Mercier 1962:219–221.

[ back ] 12. Robinson 1912:123–124, who collects further tales showing tension between saints and satirists.

[ back ] 13. For the Irish poet as upholder of the law, see Mac Airt 1958:140–141; 145–146; Murphy 1940:201n4; Caerwyn Williams 1972:118; Meid 1974; Robinson 1912:107–108. Cf. Catullus 12 and 42, in which Catullus uses the threat of satire as a weapon to get stolen goods returned. For poet as avenger of oath breaking, see above, chapter 3 (Archilochus), chapter 4 (Hipponax), chapter 9 (Alcaeus). See also below, this chapter, last note, the poet as protector of the community.

[ back ] 14. Gwynn 1940:3.

[ back ] 15. See also Ó hÓgáin 1979:54 (the poet must have a pure heart).

[ back ] 16. Robinson 1912:105.

[ back ] 17. Proceedings of the Great Bardic Institution, in Connellan 1860:31–33.

[ back ] 18. Cf. Simonides in chapter 7.

[ back ] 19. diamad iatson bad chintach ann talumh na tulchi dia slugadh. Translation from Book of Ballymote, in Stokes 1891:119–120; cf. Robinson 1912:109; O’Curry 1873 2:216–226.

[ back ] 20. See also O’Leary 1991:26 for the poets’ responsibility to “judge” warriors and “reprove” them if necessary. He notes that in the Welsh tradition, the emphasis is on the poet praising good warriors and kings, while in the Irish tradition, the emphasis is on poets blaming. Cf. O’Leary 1991:21n31, for praise “washing” away dishonor in Irish texts.

[ back ] 21. For the power of mockery, dishonor, and shame in Ireland, see O’Leary 1991 and below. But the end of this story (see below) increases its moral complexity, as it shows Nede suffering from guilt, and finally dying as a result of it. Robinson 1912:113. Cf. Elliott 1960:31n33. See chapter 2, summary paragraphs at end of chapter; Ward 1973; also cf. Ward 1982; Elliott 1960:67–77.

[ back ] 22. Robinson 1912.

[ back ] 23. Proceedings of the Great Bardic Institution, in Connellan 1860:79. It should always be borne in mind that this is a Christian source prejudiced against the pre-Christian poet; however, it clearly preserves archaic traditions. Cf. Robinson 1912:96.

[ back ] 24. Book of Ballymote, in Stokes 1891:119–120.

[ back ] 25. Cormac’s Glossary in the Yellow Book of Lecan, Codex B, in Stokes 1862:xxvi–xxx; xxxix–xl; also Meyer 1912:58–60, §698. A condensed translation available in Robinson 1912:113. For an introduction to Cormac, see Russell 1988.

[ back ] 26. “The Wooing of Luaine and Death of Athirne,” see Stokes 1903b; cf. Breatnach 1980; Robinson 1912:117–118. For the blotches, see below.

[ back ] 27. Táin BL 2609–2619; translation in Kinsella 1969:168. Discussion of this passage in Miller (2000:237) who regards it as an example of how the warror can be controlled by satire, and behind that, threat of public shaming (despite the “magical” element in Irish satire). The Táin Bó Cúalnge is found in three major manuscripts, LU, YBL, and BL. The Lebor na hUidre (LU), “Book of the Dun Cow,” dates from the twelfth century, and contains a flawed, mutilated, partial text. The Yellow Book of Lecan (YBL), dated to the late fourteenth century, also includes a partial, flawed text. However, the language of these manuscripts dates from the eighth century, and some of the verse is dated to the sixth century. This has been referred to as Recension I. These manuscripts are the basis of Kinsella 1969. Text and translation in O’Rahilly 1976. The Book of Leinster (BL), dated to twelfth century with language dated at the same time, has the complete Táin (Recension II). See O’Rahilly 1967, text with English translation. Cf. Windisch 1905; Kinsella 1969:ix–x; O’Rahilly 1967:xiv–xvi.

[ back ] 28. Rennes Dindsenchas, see Stokes 1894:334–336; cf. Robinson 1912:121; Cross et al. 1969:596–599.

[ back ] 29. Rennes Dindsenchas, in Stokes 1894:326 (Cross et al. 1969:598), whence the name Dublind, from Dub-lind (lind, ‘pool’), corrupted to Dublin. As Robinson notes, the boundaries between incantation and satire are often very difficult to define in this literature (1912:98–99 and passim). For the magical power of the word in archaic IndoEuropean culture, cf. the spell used by the brahmanic caste (Puhvel 1987:45), and also evidenced in the mythology of Varuṇa (1987:48–49), and associated gods (1987:54, 135). For a comparison of the Celtic poet and druid with the Indic brahman, see Dillon 1947:262, 259–264. See below, chapter 22 (Cicero), the enchanting power of the word in oratory.

[ back ] 30. See Loomis 1982:85–88, poem 21. This poem is a rich compendium of traditional invective themes: Rhys is compared to various animals; we have the emphasis on the belly (43, 59); the vomiting/animal topos (he is compared to a “a noisy pig when he vomited,” Banw chweidwrw ban chwydai, 46); he is a bad poet (31), and a cowardly warrior (54). This savage poem is a response to an obscenely insulting poem by Rhys, see p. 85. See also Stern 1910:25–26; Parry 1952:lxix–lxxii, also Carr 1973, for discussion of how the poet thought of himself as an outcast; and Bromwich 1967:12.

[ back ] 31. Robinson 1912:122; Stokes 1894:299. See also O’Leary 1991:24.

[ back ] 32. fuair bás do neiṁ na naor. Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland, by the Four Masters, see O’Donovan 1856 4:819; Elliott 1960:34. As O’Donovan notes, “An aoir is a poem in which the subject is not only lampooned, but imprecated and cursed.”

[ back ] 33. Dinneen 1900:xxxi. This passage was dropped from the second edition. Dineen gives no source. Cf. poem XXXVIII, a savage satire; here, as often, defensive, a reply to the attack of a rival poet. See also O’Donovan 1846:180n.

[ back ] 34. Cormac’s Glossary, in Stokes 1862:xxxviii. In the story of Aithirne, the malevolent satirist, and Luaine (see “The Wooing of Luaine,” Stokes 1903b:279, cf. Breatnach 1980), they are “Shame, Blemish and Disgrace,” (On 7 Ainim 7 Aithis) and are black, red, and white. In the story of Ferdiad in the Táin, they are “Shame, Blemish, and Disgrace,” ail 7 anim 7 athis, Táin BL 2624; in “The Bodleian Amra Choluimb Chille,” appendix, Stokes 1899:421–422, they are Shame, Blemish, and Defect, (On 7 Anim 7 Esbaid), and are referred to as “poisonous ulcers (cnuic nemi).” Their effect on the victim is that he or she is “recognizable” to every one. Cf. Fafne, in Stokes 1894:306–307; Robinson 1912:114. For the range of meaning applicable to these shame/defect words, see O’Leary 1991:23–25. In Theocritus 12.24, pseudea, ‘lies’ are ‘spots, pimples’ on the nose, cf. LSJ s.v.; scholia and Gow 1965 ad loc. Conversely, the poet who satirized unjustly was subject to the same blemishes, Stokes 1891–1894:421–422.

[ back ] 35. Laidchenn, in the story of Niall, Laidchenn and Echu, Meyer 1900; Robinson 1912:119; O’Curry 1873 2:70.

[ back ] 36. See O’Grady 1857:297, who discusses a panegyrical poem on the Clannt-Suibhne, or Mac Sweeny’s, by Red Owen Mac Ward (a famous Ulster poet hanged by the Earl of Thomond in 1672). The victim who loses his finger is one of the Mac Sweeny ancestors.

[ back ] 37. “The Siege of Howth,” Stokes 1887:49; cf. Elliott 1960:30; Ward 1973:134.

[ back ] 38. “The Siege of Howth,” Stokes 1887:49, 53; “A Story From which it is inferred that Mongán was Find mac Cumaill … ,” in Meyer and Nutt 1972 1:49.

[ back ] 39. For Laidchenn, see above; Ferchertne, see the Táin, in Windisch 1905 p. 789 (a late passage); Forgol, see “A Story From which it is inferred that Mongán was Find mac Cumaill … ,” in Meyer and Nutt 1972 1:49; Robinson 1912:119.

[ back ] 40. For the king as source of prosperity, see Odyssey xix 110; Ammianus Marcellinus 28.5.14; “The Birth of Cormac,” in O’Grady 1970 2:288–289; Caerwyn Williams 1972:129; Dillon 1946–1947:138–139; Maier 1989:16; Dumézil 1943:64; Bremmer 1980:74–75.

[ back ] 41. Dumézil 1943:230–240, discussing the avaricious Bres; The Second Battle of Moytura, Gray 1982:33–35. See also the poem by MacDaire to O’Brien, of the Elizabethan era, listing the destructive powers of the Irish poet—if he is attacked, O’Donovan 1846:21.

[ back ] 42. As Burnett notes, the poet can create a pharmakos, 1983:58, 97. Ironically, this power is what leads him to become a pharmakos. There are two patterns, in which the poet is just (Aesop) and unjust (Thersites).

[ back ] 43. See Keating, History of Ireland, in Comyn and Dineen 3:78–97. Cf. Flower 1947:3; Robinson 1912:124.

[ back ] 44. “The Siege of Howth” in Stokes 1887:53, 55. For the theme of the poet as cause of wars, see Robinson 1912:118–119, cf. above on Niall’s poet Laidchenn, who causes the strife that results in Niall’s death. The tree musician Fer Fí sows strife among a group of warriors, The Battle of Mag Mucrama in O’Daly 1975:40; Dillon 1946:163; O Daly 1962:81–86; J. Nagy 1985:281n35. Randolph notes: “It is also significant that the Morrigu in her function as a female satirist foments the CattleRaid of Cooley, since stirring up desired quarrels between powerful chieftains and tribes was a major occupation among the male satirists” (1942:81). See also Randolph 1941:190n21. Cf. Thersites’ function, “to make strife against kings,” see above; for the blame poet and the mythology of strife, see chapter 6 (Hesiod).

[ back ] 45. Robinson 1912:103–108.

[ back ] 46. Walsh 1933:186 (this was part of the English attempts to suppress Irish culture); cf. Caerwyn Williams 1972:133.

[ back ] 47. Cf. Robinson 1912:107n51; Elliott 1960:25; chapter 8 (Sappho). On Irish woman satirists, see Randolph 1942; Chadwick 1934:111–112, where mantic inspiration in the Cuchulainn Cycle is seen to be “the special métier of women.” An example would be the prophet-poet Fedelm in Táin BL 220–275, R1 29–112; Kinsella 1969:60–61. For an interpretation of the supernatural as feminine, see J. Nagy 1982–1983:58. The goddess Brig(it), who was a poet herself, was the special patron of poets, and was associated with wailing women, The Second Battle of Mag Tuired, Gray 1982:119. Curiously, she is associated with two antipoetic figures, Bres and the Dagda (of whom she is wife and daughter, respectively). See also on Morrigan, below, this chapter.

[ back ] 48. Robinson 1912:107; Ancient Laws of Ireland 1865–1901 5:456.

[ back ] 49. See Stokes 1894:297 (if poet = druid); Ó hÓgáin 1979:51.

[ back ] 50. O’Donovan 1846:180, citing Leabhar Breac fol. 35,b; O’Daly 1852:17n; Robinson 1912:108. Aesop also accused the Delphians of being lowborn, G 125, a standard topos, see Davies 1985:33.

[ back ] 51. Táin Bó Cúalnge, Kinsella 1969:126; Táin R1 1510–1520; the spear through the back of the head is found only in the Book of Leinster version, 1803–1815. Ocus ní tharnaic úad acht a rád: ‘Is sólom dún in sét sa.’ O’Rahilly translates: “Quickly did we get this treasure” (1967:188). Cf. Robinson 1912:120; Cross et al. 1969:335–337.

[ back ] 52. Mesca Ulad (Drunkenness of the Ulstermen) in Cross et al. 1969:237; cf. Randolph 1942:76–77; J. Nagy 1985:285.

[ back ] 53. See Cross et al. 1969:335–337; Elliott 1960:33.

[ back ] 54. For Laidchenn, see above.

[ back ] 55. Stokes 1894:306–308; Cross et al. 1969:597.

[ back ] 56. Cf. the story of poet Thorleif, who is also wronged by the king and then satirizes him, discussed in Ward 1973:136–137.

[ back ] 57. “Acta Sancti Lasriani,” in de Smedt and de Backer 1888:11, col. 796. Cf. Robinson 1912:124.

[ back ] 58. E.g. the story of Anchurus, who rides into a cleft in the ground opened up by Zeus Idaeus, pseudo-Callisthenes, FGH 124 F 56; Trophonius is also swallowed up by the earth, Pausanias 9.37.7.

[ back ] 59. See above; cf. Stokes 1894:334–336; Elliott 1960:33n36; Randolph 1942:78.

[ back ] 60. See above; cf. Stokes 1894:334–336; Cross et al. 1969:598; Randolph 1942:78; like Gris, she is killed by a hurled stone.

[ back ] 61. Cf. Stokes 1903b; Breatnach 1980.

[ back ] 62. Gray 1982:28–31; Stokes 1891:64–68, cf. McCone 1989, who suggests that a Christian overlay heightens Cridenbel’s villainy.

[ back ] 63. Cf. Androgeos and Aesop, in chs. 1 and 2 above.

[ back ] 64. Page numbers are from Meyer 1892; the story is also in Cross et al. 1969:551–587.

[ back ] 65. a matadu ocus a latrannu ocus a c[h]onu cacca .i. a muinter C[h]orccaige!

[ back ] 66. Perhaps a reference to a deformity.

[ back ] 67. See above, chapter 1 (on therapōn as ritual substitute); chapter 3 (Archilochus).

[ back ] 68. Ecmaic atgeóin-sium for erlabrai ind ḟir combo drúth. Srethis liic telma boí ina láim fair con sescaind ina c[h]end co tuc a inc[h]ind ass . Táin R1 1580ff., 2480ff.; Kinsella 1969:140–141, cf. 271; Táin BL 2461–2472. For the theme of champion as scapegoat, Táin R1 2495ff. = Kinsella 1969:164. Soon after, Cuchulainn asks for someone to meet him in battle; the Connachtmen reply, “No scapegoat [cimbid] is owed by my people” (Ní dlegar cimbid dom chenéol). O’Rahilly 1967:207. Cimbid (cimmid), means ‘victim, captive, someone to be killed, sacrifice’, used of Jesus in the Irish Bible, Vendryes 1987:C-100.

[ back ] 69. Lines 67–70: ocus do mind-su for mo chind 7 t’erred immum.

[ back ] 70. Lines 63–64: Comchosmail crotha 7 delba in drúth fri Mac Con.

[ back ] 71. The Battle of Mag Mucrama, see O Daly 1975:41–43. Cf. Stokes 1892; Dillon 1948:78–79; Carney 1959. I am indebted to Leslie Myrick for these references.

[ back ] 72. See Gurney 1977:56; Kümmel 1967:10–11. The prisoner is not killed, but is led back to his own city. The word for the ritual substitute here is tar-pa-al-li.

[ back ] 73. For Patroclus as therapōn, see above, chapter 1; G. Nagy 1979:292–295. For other parallels between the two epics, see Murphy 1966:117; Watkins 1976:271; Clader 1976:9n12; Melia 1979:255–261; Sergent 1998:126–127. Cuchulainn, like Achilles, chooses short life and glory over long life without it—Táin BL, 929ff.; Iliad XVIII 94–126, discussion in Miller 2000:129–132, 332. For the Hittite scapegoat, see Kümmel 1967, with plentiful bibliography, 19–21; 36; for tarpassa, van Brock 1959:117–146; Gurney 1977:52–58.

[ back ] 74. The list of undesirables quoted below lists jesters immediately after satirists; in the lives of the saints, the fili is referred to as joculator (see above); in the Second Battle of Moytura 36 (Gray 1982:33), Bres is condemned for not providing poets, bards, satirists, musicians, jugglers, or fools in his household. In Mercier 1962:113, the “‘touch of satire’ is attributed to the saintly fool Mac Dá Cherda.” Cf. O’Keefe 1911. The crosan is ‘juggler, buffoon, satirist’, Meyer 1906, under crosan; Todd 1848:182; Robinson 1912:104. Cf. another murdered fool (druth) in Stokes 1893:176, s.v. orc treith, (a talking head story; the poet is murdered after loyally telling Finn, his master, that Finn’s wife has been unfaithful to him); Chadwick 1934:118; also Redg, a satirist and jester (see above), another casualty of Cuchulainn’s battle prowess.

[ back ] 75. For a seriously satirical fool, cf. King Lear.

[ back ] 76. Translation by Stokes 1861:xxxvi–xl. consela caier uaidib astigh corraba forsind liic iar cúl in duine … Atbad caier ar fele la aicsin nede. Rosich 7 rolassai innail la ec caier 7 rosescaind blog dind ailig fo suil nede co ro imid ina cend.

[ back ] 77. It is almost as if Nede destroys himself. But, in the parameters of the story, Nede is not the original moving force for the crime. Just as Eve gives Adam the apple, here Caier’s wife has given Nede a silver apple for his love (see Robinson 1912:114n73), and led him to usurp the kingdom. Cf. the Oresteia myth, where a male seduces the queen and leads her to murder the king: D’Armes and Hulley 1946; Davies 1969. In addition to the dossier of murdered poets listed above, there is also Suibhne, who will be dealt with more fully in chapter 18; Oircbél/Cethern, in “The Boyhood Deeds of Finn,” translation in J. Nagy 1985:216, cf. 166, 171; Casmáel, in Gray 1982:119.

[ back ] 78. Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland, see O’Donovan 1856: 1572 AD, p. 1657.

[ back ] 79. O’Donovan 1846:180; O’Reilly 1820:clxx.

[ back ] 80. Ancient Laws of Ireland 1865–1901 III.24–25. do macaib bais ocus drochdainaib .i. do druthaib, ocus caintib, ocus oblairaib, ocus bruidiraib, ocus fuirseoraib, ocus merlechaib, ocus geintaib, ocus merdrechaib, ocus drochdainaib arcena …

[ back ] 81. Tri hollamain Chondacht .i. mac Liacc 7 mac Coisi 7 Fland mac Lonain .i. mac De 7 mac duine 7 mac deamain. Fland mac Lonain, mac deamain side ara geri 7 ara duilgi, uair ni deachaid a tig riam cen easba aire do denum and. Gwynn 1991 3:532. Cf. Flower 1947:68–69. We are told that Fland went to a hell, but a contradictory account places him in heaven, a nice encapsulation of the dual reputation of many satiric poets.

[ back ] 82. See especially chapter 1, “Finn, Poet and Outsider” (1985:17–40).

[ back ] 83. J. Nagy 1985:19.

[ back ] 84. J. Nagy 1985:20. For associations of Finn and the fénnid with the wolf, see pp. 44, 245n22. For the wolf and its symbolism in Ireland and Indo-European countries, see McCone 1986, 1987, 1985, and 1984; Reinhard and Hull 1936; Puhvel 1986; Przyluski 1940; Lincoln 1975a:98–105; Gershenson 1991. See above, chapter 9 (Alceaus).

[ back ] 85. Proceedings of the Great Bardic Institution, in Connellan 1860:103. For Marbán as poet, see Proceedings of the Great Bardic Institution 89; Colloquy of the Two Sages, in Stokes 1905:50; Elliott 1960:22; cf. J. Nagy 1985:29, 31 (the swineherd “is both exile and fili extraordinaire”), 32, 36. For the mantic status of the swineherd in Irish legend, see Ní Chatháin 1979:200–211.

[ back ] 86. See above; on blind poets, see above, chapter 16, on Thamyris, Demodocus and Tiresias; chapter 5 (Homer).

[ back ] 87. See Flower 1947:7.

[ back ] 88. Proceedings of the Great Bardic Institution, in Connellan 1860:31; cf. Randolph 1941:189; Thurneysen 1921:65. See also Ford 1990, who links the blindness to the poet’s mantic propensities and to mantic rites such as imbas forosnai, where the poet composes in the dark.

[ back ] 89. Ro ás a brú iarum combo méit adbul teig móir. … 7 a smucli asa ṡróin inna beolu. Ba dub a chroccend. … Ba glasbán a aged. … Batir laebladracha a thraigid. … ba mellach cnámach carrgarb a druim. Nibó cáemduine samlaid.

[ back ] 90. Translation from Ford 1990:28–30. See also Best et al. 1954–1983 2.435, lines 13565–13617; Amairgein means “born of amar ‘singing, lamentation, wailing’.”

[ back ] 91. Connellan 1860:111–119.

[ back ] 92. Connellan 1860:113. J. Nagy 1985:32, notes that the poet’s name, “Little Wood,” may refer to his eremitic, exiled way of life.

[ back ] 93. Literally, “a boy of appearance.” Variant texts have gillae ecuisc anindustae/ anindustai, “a boy of ill-conditioned appearance.” I am indebted to Randall Gordon for this insight.

[ back ] 94. Stokes 1893:181–185; cf. Ford 1990:32; Elliott 1960:22.

[ back ] 95. Stokes 1893:184. Senchán was named Senchán Torpéist after this péist ‘monster’ (183). Cf. Sanais Cormaic, in Meyer 1912 vol. 4 #1059; J. Nagy 1985:32; 239n39. Thomas Mann frequently equated poetic gifts with disease, cf. Hoffmann 1965; Politzer 1961.

[ back ] 96. On benign poets, see above, on the ambiguity of Irish poets.

[ back ] 97. Chadwick 1952:5–6; see also Ó hÓgáin 1979; cf. J. Nagy 1985:23–27; 137–138, 155–161, 234n4; also O’Rahilly 1946:318–340; Chadwick 1934.

[ back ] 98. See Caerwyn Williams 1972:101, 113; Chadwick and Chadwick 1932 1:606, 612–614; Rees and Rees 1967:141; Murphy 1940:200–207; Mac Airt 1958:139–152; J. Nagy 1985:237n26, with bibliography cited there; Breatnach 1987. For shamanic themes in Celtic poetics, see Closs 1968:298–299; J. Nagy 1985:25 and J. Nagy 1982–1983; Chadwick 1952:58; Ó hÓgáin 1979; Eliade 1964:179; Benesch 1961; Chadwick 1934:120–126; Kittredge 1916:177–187 (the latter two references deal with Irish mantic heads); Dodds on mantic heads in Ireland (1951:147); Harrison 1922:468; J. Nagy 1990. Curiously, Eliade simply ignores Ireland in his survey of shamanism in the Indo-European traditions; Closs gives it a scant couple of paragraphs. For shamanic themes in Greek legend, and for Orpheus’ mantic head, see above, chapter 16.

[ back ] 99. Cf. Welsh gwel ‘see’; Murphy 1940:200; Caerwyn Williams 1972:113; J. Nagy 1985:24. The word druí (druid) may come from a root meaning ‘to know’, Rees and Rees 1967:111; cf. Chadwick and Chadwick 1932: 1.611n1, also 606; Ní Chatháin 1979:210–211. The prophetess of the Bructeri is “Veleda,” Tacitus Histories 4.61.

[ back ] 100. Murphy 1940:200, who gives examples of filid who are referred to as fátha. The Welsh word for ‘poetry’ (later ‘mockery’, see Robinson 1912:102n24), gwawd, is related to the Irish fáith. See also Wagner (1970), whose main theories, however, are not convincing; Kershaw 2000:69, 77.

[ back ] 101. See Ó hÓgáin 1979:57.

[ back ] 102. O’Rahilly 1946:326–340.

[ back ] 103. O’Rahilly 1946:328.

[ back ] 104. O’Rahilly 1946:329, 331. See also Ó hÓgáin 1979:56–58 and 1985:229; Henry 1979–1980; Ní Chatháin 1979:210–211; J. Nagy 1985:291n83; 290n81; 279n30; and J. Nagy 1981–1982. For drinking of liquor in a poetic ritual, see ibid., 137. For the mantic ritual of composing in the dark, Ó hÓgáin 1985:230–231.

[ back ] 105. Ó hÓgáin 1985:229.

[ back ] 106. Rees and Rees 1967:141; J. Nagy 1985:293, with crossreferences: “The otherworldly ‘fire’ and power of martial valor parallels the otherworldly ‘fire’ and power of poetic inspiration.” Just as the mantis was consulted before battle in Greece, so in the Táin, a female prophet is consulted before battle, see above. On the poet’s mantic ecstasy, cf. Ó hÓgáin 1985:232.

[ back ] 107. Caerwyn Williams 1972:132n5.

[ back ] 108. J. Nagy 1985:164; text of “Boyhood Deeds of Finn,” 209–218, also in Cross et al. 1969:360–370.

[ back ] 109. See “Warriors and Poets in ThirteenthCentury Ireland,” chapter 2 in Murphy 1948.

[ back ] 110. See Cohen 1977. For Suibhne as warrior, see 118n21; for Suibhne as poet-shaman, see 116n12; Benesch 1961. Suibhne will be a chief character in chapter 18, below.

[ back ] 111. As a member of the Túatha Dé Danann, he prepares for a battle in the Second Battle of Moytura, and is one of the four Túatha Dé Danann chosen to fight Carmun and her sons, Gray 1982:120. He fights them with poetry, though: see Stokes 1894:311; Robinson 1912:122. Cf. chapter 19.

[ back ] 112. Gray 1982:119.

[ back ] 113. “The Cattle-Raid of Regamna,” text in Stokes and Windisch 1887:242–244. Gray 1982:129–130; Randolph 1942:79; cf. Gulermovich Epstein 1997; Hennessy 1870. One of the Morrigan’s functions is to “incite warriors to battle by performing poety,” Gulermovich Epstein (1997:120).

[ back ] 114. The Intoxication of the Ulstermen, in Cross et al. 1969:229–230. Irish text from Hennessy 1889:32–33. We may compare the well-known furor heroicus of Cuchulainn, in which we have similar emphasis on abnormal, dissimilar eyes, blood, and supernatural light (fiery particles burst around Chafertongue’s spear). See Táin, rec. 1:428–434; Henry 1982. For supernatural light as a symbol of poetic inspiration, see J. Nagy 1985:293. Cf. Miller 2000:219, 305, 287, who includes Dubtach in a section on the “red knight,” with red signifying “the destructively heated potentiality of the warrior.” See below, chapter 18, on Śiśupāla in battle.

[ back ] 115. Táin, Kinsella 1969:92, see discussions in McCone 1984:15, Sharpe 1979:82–87; J. Nagy 1984:27 and Lowe 2000.

[ back ] 116. See e.g. Dumézil 1970b:43, 63; cf. chapter 18 below.

[ back ] 117. Lloyd-Jones 1948:169–170.

[ back ] 118. blawt glyw glewyd diwahart / blaengar bleituar bletynt uart. y dan llafnawr lleith wotew / y dan llassar glas llas llew. Morris-Jones et al. 1971:177. Quoted in Lloyd-Jones 1948:169. The Irish poet DonnBo was also killed in battle, Battle of Allen, in Stokes 1903b:53 (#11); Chadwick 1934:123. See above, chapter 3; and below, chapter 18 (the poet Suibhne killed in battle of Mag Rath in a variant tradition).

[ back ] 119. Bromwich 1961:11. Morganwg and Probert 1977 #73; 40.

[ back ] 120. Gray 1982:39, #53. Ógláech cóem cruthach co n-imscigg ríog …

[ back ] 121. Cf. O’Rahilly 1946:326; Mac Airt 1958:140.

[ back ] 122. Gray 1982:#115. Degén-sai gláim ndícind dóuib, 7 nusóerub 7 nus-anfíalub cona gébat frie hócu trie bricht mo dána-sa.

[ back ] 123. “The Destruction of Dá Derga’s Hostel,” in Stokes 1901:294. Unfortunately, the text of this tale in Cross et al. 1969 is abridged. Cf. Robinson 1912:121.

[ back ] 124. See above; also Robinson 1912:120, 121.

[ back ] 125. Gray 1982:#129, cf. Gray’s notes and bibliography, p. 106. Boí Lug og nertad fer n-Érenn co roferdais go dícra an cath fo dégh ná beidis a ndoíri ní bod sírie. Ar ba ferr dúoib bás d’fhogáil oc díden a n-athardho indás beith fo doíri 7 fou cís amal rouhátar. Conid and rocan Lug an cétal-so síos, for lethcois 7 letsúil timchell fer n-Érenn.

[ back ] 126. Guyonvarćh 1964, 1965:441–446; 143–144, #82. See also de Vries 1958; Gray 1982:106. For further on Irish military paraenesis as a poetic theme, see Mac Airt 1944:143, Poem 35; Caerwyn Williams 1972:130, 95–96; Stokes 1903a:44–45 (Fergal’s army will not go into battle without the poet Dunnbo). Cf. Chadwick 1942:131. For the glám dícenn, see above.

[ back ] 127. Iliad IV 241, translation by Lattimore: τοὺς μάλα νεικείεσκε χολωτοῖσιν ἐπέεσσιν.

[ back ] 128. Cf. chapter 9, above, on Alcaeus.

[ back ] 129. Táin, Rec. 1, 500; Kinsella 1969:80. Cf. Hennessy 1870. See Jullian 1902:321, for the use of invective in battle among the Celtic tribes.

[ back ] 130. See above, on Caillín and Senchán.

[ back ] 131. Book of Leinster 117a–b, translated in Rhys 1979:332. Cf. Robinson 1912:116–117, with bibliography on verse-capping; Gummere 1901: 287–297, 396–405.

[ back ] 132. Connellan 1860:93.

[ back ] 133. “The Colloquy of Two Sages,” in Stokes 1905; cf. Ó hÓgáin 1979:46.

[ back ] 134. Cf. Taliesen’s besting of the court poets in the Tale of Gwion Bach and the Tale of Taliesin, in Ford 1977:171. On the need for deciding precedence in Irish society, where the exact hierarchical station is a matter of intense importance for one’s honor or shame, see O’Leary 1984; Gray 1982:94; Bromwich 1967:13–16.

[ back ] 135. Ó hÓgáin 1979:47, see also Ó hÓgáin 1985:224–228.

[ back ] 136. See Ó hÓgáin 1979:46–47; Dillon 1947:262; Lloyd-Jones 1948:173; Gonda 1950:57–61.

[ back ] 137. Huizinga 1955:110; cf. 122–123.

[ back ] 138. Ó hÓgáin 1979:46–47, Henry 1979–1980:117, 126; MacAirt 1958:152n1. For the knowledge of the satirist specifically, see Amairgein’s poem, quoted in Chadwick 1934:108; cf. Macalister and MacNeill 1916:262f.; Macalister 1938–1956 5:110–113; Rees and Rees 1967:98.

[ back ] 139. Furthermore, in archaic Vedic ritual, the riddles involved cosmogony or theogony. Huizinga 1955:106.

[ back ] 140. Huizinga, 1955:105, 108–110. See Davidson 1983; Kuiper 1960; Gaster 1981 2:495. Cf. chapter 6 (Hesiod); chapter 18, on Suibhne as agonic poet; chapter 2 (Aesop as riddle warrior).

[ back ] 141. Thus he is somewhat comparable to the Hollywood cliché of the gunfighter who has given up his former profession and is trying to live peaceably, often incognito.

[ back ] 142. Ó hÓgáin 1979:58; ó Duilearga 1961:107–108. Cf. Ó hÓgáin 1985:233 for a very similar story with different characters.

[ back ] 143. The comparison between poetic agōn and hand-to-hand combat is made by Caerwyn Williams 1972:91, with reference to Scandinavian flytings. See also Clover 1980.

[ back ] 144. Robinson 1912:103–106.

[ back ] 145. Meroney 1949–1950:207.

[ back ] 146. Meroney 1949–1950:99, 107 (#50). As reicne nguin, gaífi forgnúis cáich gus·mbrogad; / ní móranad ní[th]o co [n]gaíbh gláime gonadh!

[ back ] 147. Meroney 1949–1950:217.

[ back ] 148. Meroney 1949–1950:217. For other examples of satire as cutting weapon or defensive weapon (spear, point of spear or sword, shield), see O’Leary 1991:26n59.

[ back ] 149. Ó hÓgáin 1979:50.

[ back ] 150. ar iscend con forincáinte ocamastraig. 7 isinand dán fogníít. Cormac’s Glossary, in Stokes 1862; Robinson 1912:110.

[ back ] 151. O’Leary 1991:22, with a number of examples of satire and laughter words meaning an attack or blow.

[ back ] 152. Cormac’s Glossary, in Stokes 1862; cf. Meroney 1949–1950:118, 224; Robinson 1912:110. For further on the duality of praise and blame in Ireland, see Henry 1979–1980:122 (black and white poetry, satire vs. praise); Robinson 1912:102, 106. Diodorus Siculus (5.31.2) writes of Celtic bards that, “These men, singing with instruments similar to lyres, praise [humnousin] some, but they abuse [blasphēmousi] others” (εἰσὶ δὲ παρ’ αὐτοῖς καὶ ποιηταὶ μελῶν, οὓς βάρδους ὀνομάζουσιν. οὗτοι δὲ μετ’ ὀργάνων ταῖς λύραις ὁμοίων ᾄδοντες οὓς μὲν ὑμνοῦσιν, οὓς δὲ βλασφημοῦσι).

[ back ] 153. Meroney 1949–1950:222.

[ back ] 154. neim laidhe: Meroney 1949–1950:105 (#27), 107 (#58). Meroney compares the phrase neimtenga ‘poison-tongue’ (118); see also O’hO’gain 1979:51–52. An Old Irish fragment refers to “a bag of poison on the tongues of poets,” ibid. 52; Stokes and Meyer 1900 1:272, uath n[e]ime for tengthaib na filed. There is a poet named Bricriu Poisontongue (Nemthenga), see “Bricriu’s Feast,” Henderson 1899; Stokes 1905:13n1; Chadwick and Chadwick 1932 1:49.

[ back ] 155. Meroney 1949–1950:118 (#50). The brew that induces poetic inspiration in The Tale of Gwion Bach (Ford 1977:163) is potent poison except for the three poetic drops.

[ back ] 156. “Dar ar cubus is nemnech in tuarascbáil,” ar Medb. “Is nemnech cách ‘sa tuarascbáil,” ar Cú Ruí.

[ back ] 157. See especially Bricriu Poisontongue’s role in “Bricriu’s Feast,” Henderson 1899.

[ back ] 158. See on prophecy above; Robinson 1912:122–123, for the inviolability of the poet’s person; cf. the Indo-European poet as inviolate herald, Caerwyn Williams 1972:107. The cognate for Greek kērux (Dor. kārux) ‘herald’ is Vedic kārú ‘singer, poet’. See also Dillon 1973:4–5 (on royal staff); Meroney, 1949–1950:128 (poet’s wand); Hesiod Theogony 30–31 (cf. West’s notes), see above, chapter 6.

[ back ] 159. Cf. Mac Cana 1968:181 (the poet blesses the king at inauguration and receives his garment); Ní Chatháin 1979–1980:207; Dillon 1947:262 (the earliest fili corresponds to the Hindu brahman); Caerwyn Williams 1972:98–102; Thurneysen 1921:69–71; Maier 1989:26. For the poet’s role as sanctioner of law, see above, this chapter. See also below, chapter 19 (Odin’s poets are priests); and above, chapter 8 (Sappho).

[ back ] 160. Watkins 1976:271 and 1995. See also Caerwyn Williams 1972; Dillon 1973; and above on Sappho as praise poet, chapter 8.

[ back ] 161. See Ó hÓgáin 1985:236 for positive aspects of the poet in Irish traditions—poet as “protector of the community,” who banishes sickness, ghosts, curses rats, and is the enemy of landlords and oppressors. Ó hÓgáin remarks on “the moral basis of anger” in poets who satirize: “He stands fair and square within the circle of righteousness” (1985:246). Ó hÓgáin is chiefly working from later folklore, but see the discussion of moral Irish poets at the beginning of this chapter.