325 word min, 975 words max
Three short book reviews on
1 Indo-European studies title
1 preferred ethnic study (Hearth Culture) title
1 Modern Paganism title.
Adequate/Meets Criteria Requirements:
Correct books used
Convinces reader that student has read the books
Covers entire scope of books
This is the third book required for the Dedicant path.
The book I decided to read was
Kinsella, Thomas and Louis Le Brocquy. The Táin: From the Irish Epic Táin BóCualinge. Oxford University Press, 2002. [ISBN: 0192803735, 9780192803733]
‘The Táin, or Cattle Raid, is the nearest approach to a great epic that Ireland has produced’ (Kinsella, vii).
This is as good an introduction as any for this amazing tale. While the vast majority of Irish literature is lost some stories such as The Tain have survived but the origins of the Tain are deeply ancient. As this translator mentions, the language used of the earliest form of the story is dated to the eighth centry and some passages may be two centuries older. This is indeed an ancient tale.
Upon completion of this story I was surprised at the overall complete lack of Christian themes as is so often the case with Celtic/Irish literature written down years after they had been Christianized.
The tale of the Tain starts with a bedroom spat between husband and wife. Queen Medb
and King Ailill start a “who has the most power/wealth/possessions” sort of spat that results in them both comparing each of their assets only to discover in the end that the King has only one thing that can best his wife, a prized Bull named Finnbennach. This sparks jealousy in Medb and she seeks out to find an equal to this bull for her own. She locates an equal The Brown Bull of Cuailnge but when she asks for a loan of this bull from Uster, they refuse.
This incites Medb to war and she and her husband (who is not totally okay with helping his wife in this mission to obtain a bull that will set their assets equal) assemble a great army and the Tain Bo Cuailnge begins as they march on to Ulster to proquire this Bull.
What follows is a lot of traveling, a lot of fighting and the encounter with the grand warrior Cúchulainn as prophesized by the woman Fedelm. Before the Tain, we learned of this warrior and how he was brought up and trained by one of the best warriors of all time, a woman, named Scáthach.
The 17 year old Cúchulainn takes out thousands of Medb’s army single handedly (often with one of the Morrigan, the Goddess Nemain’s frenzied help) There is a pact made that Medb will send one of her warriors a day to face Cúchulainn and he slays each and every one with his super hero-like warrior talents. Often times Medb uses herself and the marriage to her beautiful daughter Finnabair as incentives to incite these warriors to fight against the boy, but each fall at the hands of Cúchulainn. At one point in the tale Cúchulainn encounters the Goddess Morrigan who requests him have sex with him. He declines saying he has wars to fight, not women to bed and she vows vengeance. She comes at him in three forms, a Wolf, an Eel and a Heifer to try and disrupt his winning streak in battle. She does not upset his fighting too terribly but he wounds her each time. Injuries that she later tricks him into healing her from.
The epic ends shortly after Cúchulainn is forced to have a very emotional three day battle with his foster brother and dear friend Ferdiad. In the end Ferdiad is killed but Cúchulainn’s spirit and body is deeply wound in the process. The war between Medb and Ailill’s army and Ulstermen continues and Medeb does manage to bring the Brown Bull of Cuaineg back home only for him to fight Finnbennach, killing him and then dying himself.
Rendering the entire tale….somewhat anti-climactic. Thousands of soldiers die over a bedroom spat between husband and wife, and in the end, neither win the spat.
This epic is fantastic to me for several reasons. The first reason is that it is ripe with humor as well as with the reality of war. It is full of fantastic battle scenes that are far beyond the scope of reality and above all else, it is full of very strong women. Medb is portrayed, to me, as more powerful as a war leader than her husband Ailill. Cúchulainn and his foster brother Ferdiad are trained by the very powerful, female warrior Scáthach. Women are often sexualized in this tale but in nearly every case it is impossible to see them as purely submissive pretty little things which is very much so against the Christian idea of women. The Warrior Goddess’s the Morrigan, Nemain, and Badb are shown as strong goddesses of war as well.
Although it was sometimes hard to keep up with all of the deaths at the hand of Cúchulainn (and they can seem very repetitive after a while), and with each death the naming of providences and locations in Ireland, it was an amazing tale of an ancient culture and I could imagine the story telling of the fantastical elements from generation to generation. I learned a lot I did not know from this epic and for that I am truly thankful I read it