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Thread: Cú Chullainn's battle frenzy

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    Cú Chullainn's battle frenzy

    Someone must have noticed this before me so I'd love to know more. I was reading the Táin in English a few months back (I only wish I could read it in the original; I've got Ciaran Carson's lively Penguin translation) and underlined many passages in what I found to be an enthralling read full of gripping fights on chariot. One thing that interested me was the description of Cú Chullainn in his battle frenzy:

    ‘The Torque seized him. His hair stood on end: you’d think each hair had been hammered into his head. Each hair seemed tipped with a spark, so sharply did they shoot upright. He closed one eye as narrow as the eye of a needle; he opened the other as wide as the mouth of a goblet."

    And later:

    "Then he made a red cauldron of his face and features: he sucked one of his eyes so deep into his head that a wild crane would find it difficult to plumb the depths of his skull to drag that eye back to its socket; the other popped out on to his cheek. His mouth became a terrifying, twisted grin."

    Not long after I was leafing through Cunliffe's The Ancient Celts one weekend evening and was struck by this image (below) of the pattern on an Iron Age terret ring (a horse harness fitting for charioteers) from northern France, or Gaul. It's on P113 if you've got the book. Look familiar?

    I'm sure a lot of you know this already, but the introduction to my Táin points out:

    "There may be some justification for seeing the Táin as ‘a window into the Iron Age’. Whether or not it is an Irish Iron Age is another question. For instance, it is undeniable that the social and warfaring practices embedded in the narrative bear remarkable similarities to those of the Gauls or ‘Celts’ of continental Europe, as described by Diodorus Siculus in around 60 BC: 'In their journeyings and when they go into battle the Gauls use chariots drawn by two horses, which carry the charioteer and the warrior… They first hurl their javelins at the enemy and then step down from their chariots and join battle with their swords...'
    The passage is especially telling when one considers that for all the chariot-fighting in the Táin, the archaeological evidence for chariots in Ireland is almost entirely lacking."

    So I'm left wondering whether the image is one of a kind of proto Cú Chullainn celebrated throughout the ancient Celtic world...

    Screenshot_20180919-231743-432x124.png
    Last edited by JonikW; 09-19-2018 at 11:21 PM.
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    They did use chariots in Ireland for a time. The Romans noted it. It's typical of many British and now Continental "authorities" to take Ireland's entire tradition away from it, and failing mega f****** hard since around 2015 (or a little before). In any event they do have a Celtic Studies program at Uppsala University in Sweden where you can even learn Old Irish and Middle Welsh.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nibelung View Post
    They did use chariots in Ireland for a time. The Romans noted it. It's typical of many British and now Continental "authorities" to take Ireland's entire tradition away from it, and failing mega f****** hard since around 2015 (or a little before). In any event they do have a Celtic Studies program at Uppsala University in Sweden where you can even learn Old Irish and Middle Welsh.
    I guess that's what "almost entirely lacking means". But what I was interested in doesn't hinge on whether they used chariots in Ireland. I celebrate that country's unparalleled traditions.
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    Quote Originally Posted by JonikW View Post
    I guess that's what "almost entirely lacking means". But what I was interested in doesn't hinge on whether they used chariots in Ireland. I celebrate that country's unparalleled traditions.
    I see. Thanks. And it does have its faults too. Certain traditions would also earn it the name Isle of Acrimony. A number of important old families survive, for example, but they often don't treat each other or the Anglo-Normans or the remaining English very well, and this all makes it even easier for the government to ignore whomever as much as possible.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nibelung View Post
    I see. Thanks. And it does have its faults too. Certain traditions would also earn it the name Isle of Acrimony. A number of important old families survive, for example, but they often don't treat each other or the Anglo-Normans or the remaining English very well, and this all makes it even easier for the government to ignore whomever as much as possible.
    I'm sure you've got a point; there are fools and good people everywhere. But Ireland is one of the best places I've ever visited and I love its history. I've been doing some research on my Galway line recently... But anyway, the Táin was one of the best books in the Celtic tradition that I've read. Throughout it captivated me more than the Mabinogion, despite my Welsh blood.
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    Quote Originally Posted by JonikW View Post
    I'm sure you've got a point; there are fools and good people everywhere. But Ireland is one of the best places I've ever visited and I love its history. I've been doing some research on my Galway line recently... But anyway, the Táin was one of the best books in the Celtic tradition that I've read. Throughout it captivated me more than the Mabinogion, despite my Welsh blood.
    Well the core branches of the Mabinogi, or what survives of them, were really intended for a youth audience according to the scholarly consensus. I find the First (Pwyll lord of Dyfed) my favorite because of Arawn of Annwfyn (for our curious readers) and the lessons the story teaches. Arawn's authority is recognized immediately at some level and thus Pwyll must give his own name first. And then course the Welsh poetic tradition has its own fascination with Annwfyn. My favorite Irish legend for its raw archaic worldview is Togail Bruidne Da Derga.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nibelung View Post
    Well the core branches of the Mabinogi, or what survives of them, were really intended for a youth audience according to the scholarly consensus. I find the First (Pwyll lord of Dyfed) my favorite because of Arawn of Annwfyn (for our curious readers) and the lessons the story teaches. Arawn's authority is recognized immediately at some level and thus Pwyll must give his own name first. And then course the Welsh poetic tradition has its own fascination with Annwfyn. My favorite Irish legend for its raw archaic worldview is Togail Bruidne Da Derga.
    I found the Dream of Macsen to be my favourite Mabinogion tale. I've posted about it before. A vision of Wales in a dream, the supposed link back to Roman times and two mind-blowing one-line letters from Rome and back. But the Táin was truly enthralling and I'd like to hear some views on it.
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    Quote Originally Posted by JonikW View Post
    I found the Dream of Macsen to be my favourite Mabinogion tale. I've posted about it before. A vision of Wales in a dream, the supposed link back to Roman times and two mind-blowing one-line letters from Rome and back. But the Táin was truly enthralling and I'd like to hear some views on it.
    Well, central to the Tain is Cu's descent from Lugh of the Tuatha De Danaan. Lugh is partly equivalent to Odin of Germanic tradition, and they share the spear (and eyes) as weapon as well as "altered states". Among other things I'm a retired mythologist or mythographer by profession and my colleagues will begin stealing from me anytime now... whether I continue or not.

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    I have read the Tain and the Mabinogion, though, it has been many years. I think the Mabinogion was my favorite of the two. You are correct about the interesting description of Cúchulainn's eyes and mouth when in his battle frenzy. I also found his relationship with the Mór-Ríoghain very interesting. When my brother was young he would fly into a crazy rage, he called it red rage, because, his face would turn red and he would loose it. So of course we would pick on him until he lost it. But I have always wondered if the description of his face is somehow, trying to describe a sort of out of control rage.
    Last edited by Webb; 09-21-2018 at 03:22 PM.

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    I see an unusual Romano-Celtic figurine holding a torc has recently been found in Cambridgeshire which reminds me of the shared art of Britain and the Ireland of the Hound.

    https://www.archaeology.org/news/725...opper-figurine
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