Táin bó Cuailnge

Táin bó Cuailnge
(The Cattle Raid of Cooley)
(ca. sixth century)
   The central narrative of the Old Irish ULSTER CYCLE (a heroic cycle of tales concerned with the deeds of the great hero CUCHULAIN), the Táin bó Cuailnge is the closest thing in Old Irish to a traditional national epic. Though made up of alternating passages of prose and verse, and though the textual state of the tale does not give a complete and unified early version of the narrative, nevertheless the Táin holds in Irish literature status and influence comparable to the Homeric epics in Greek. The earliest extant text of the Táin dates from an 11th-century manuscript called the Book of the Dun Cow. This text seems to be based on an earlier, ninth-century written version. Ultimately the story probably had a long oral tradition, preserving features from the Irish heroic age, including the use of chariots and the practice of headhunting. Although a late 12th-century manuscript (the Book of Leinster) preserves a later,more coherent version of the story, it is the earlier version, known as Recension 1, that has been the focus of scholarly attention. The complex narrative begins when Mebd, queen of Connacht, determines with her husband Ailill to raid Ulster in order to win a marvelous, magical, prized black bull. An army is assembled from all over Ireland to make war on Conchobar, king of Ulster. At its head rides Fergus, a great Ulster hero who, along with Conchobar’s son Cormac, wants revenge on the king for deceiving them into luring the sons of Uisliu to death (see Exile of the Sons of Uisliu). Fergus, feeling compassion for his homeland, leads the army by a circuitous route while sending a warning to Ulster. But Conchobar and the men of Ulster are unable to respond. They are all afflicted with an illness caused by the goddess Macha, whom they had insulted. Only the young warrior Cuchulain is immune, and is left to defend Ulster single-handedly against Mebd’s entire army.
   Cuchulain begins by leaving an OGHAM warning on a twisted oak tree.When this is not heeded, he kills four warriors and mounts their heads on the fork of a tree. Fergus recognizes that this is the work of Cuchulain, his foster son. As the army advances, Cuchulain continues a kind of guerrilla warfare, picking off warriors on a regular basis. When the army reaches Cualnge, the river rises and wipes out 100 chariots, and Cuchulain attacks and kills another 100 warriors.
   Cuchulain continues to kill 100 soldiers every night and will accept no terms from Queen Mebd. But Fergus proposes that Cuchulain agree to the challenge of single combat: Every night a new warrior will be sent to do battle with Cuchulain— and the army will advance only so long as the combat lasts. Cuchulain agrees, and this goes on until Fer Diad, Cuchulain’s own foster brother, is chosen to fight him. For three days the two heroes do battle, until on the fourth day Cuchulain chooses to fight in the ford of the river. Here Cuchulain is most invulnerable, for here he can use his mysterious weapon, the gae bolga—a kind of spear that makes 30 wounds. He releases it in the water and it destroys Fer Diad, and Cuchulain laments his foster brother’s death in a moving poem.
   While Cuchulain recovers from his wounds, the recovered Ulster army finally comes to face the army of Queen Mebd, and Fergus does battle with Conchobar himself. But now the wounded Cuchulain rises and enters the battle. Fergus, who has sworn never to do battle with his foster son, retires from the field, and with him go all but the men of Connacht.Cuchulain defeats this entire army himself, and forces Mebd and Ailill to surrender. The saga ends with a climactic battle between the great black bull of Cualnge and the champion bull of Connacht, in which both are killed, and a peace is established for seven years.
   Cuchulain is certainly a hero of epic status, his strength holding up the kingdom of Ulster.His su-perhuman powers suggest that in pre-Christian Ireland he had something of a divine status, though that is played down in written versions of the text, necessarily produced under the Christianity that had brought Roman writing to Ireland. Aside from its epic dimensions, and the fascinating window it provides on ancient Irish heroic society, the Táin is worth reading because of its intriguing characters with complex motives—people like the apparently amoral Queen Mebd and the conflicted hero Fergus. For people like William Butler Yeats and the founders of the Irish literary renaissance, the Táin was a text of prime significance in the national literature of Ireland.
   ■ Dillon, Myles. Early Irish Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948.
   ■ Kinsella, Thomas, trans. The Táin. London: Oxford University Press, 1970.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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  • Táin Bó Cúailnge — Táin redirects here. For the genre of early Irish literature, see Táin Bó. Cú Chulainn in battle, from T. W. Rolleston, Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race, 1911; illustration by Joseph Christian Leyendecker Táin Bó Cúailnge (Irish pronunciation …   Wikipedia

  • Táin Bó Cuailnge —   [tɔːjn boː kuːlnji, irisch »Der Rinderraub von Cooley«], frühirische Heldensage des Ulsterzyklus (irische Sprache und Literatur), schildert den Raub des Stiers Donn Cuailnge (»der Braune von Cooley«) aus Ulster durch die Königin Medb von… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Tain Bo Cuailnge — Táin Bó Cúailnge Littérature Par catégories …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Táin Bó Cúailnge — [ˈt̪ˠa:ɲ bo: kuəlʲəɲɟə] o, en castellano El robo del toro de Cuailnge (en inglés Cooley, península del condado Louth), es una famosa leyenda del Ciclo de Ulster, formando parte de la Mitología celta de origen irlandés. En parte, narra cómo por… …   Wikipedia Español

  • Táin Bó Cuailnge — Die Táin Bó Cúailnge (irisch [t̪ˠaːnʲ boː ˈkuəlʲɲə], Rinderraub von Cooley, oft kurz Táin genannt) ist die zentrale Sage des Ulster Zyklus, eines der vier großen Zyklen der mittelalterlichen irischen Literatur, als deren wichtigste Erzählung die… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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  • Táin Bó Cúailnge — noun The central tale in the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology …   Wiktionary

  • Táin Bó Flidhais — („Das Wegtreiben von Flidais Rindern“), auch Táin Bó Flidais oder Mayo Táin, ist der Titel einer Erzählung aus dem Ulster Zyklus der Irischen Mythologie. Überliefert ist eine altirische, aber kürzere und eine etwas längere Version aus dem… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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