More on Cuchulain

This is just an addendum to Natalia’s post on Cuchulain. The description of his battle fury (or “warp spasm” in Kinsella’s translation) will give you a sense of how different Irish epic is from, say, the Iliad. There is no interest whatsoever in realism:

The first warp-spasm seized Cúchulainn, and made him into a monstrous thing,
hideous and shapeless, unheard of.

His shanks and his joints, every knuckle and angle and organ from head to foot,
shook like a tree in the flood or a reed in the stream.
His body made a furious twist inside his skin,
so that his feet and shins and knees switched to the rear
and his heels and calves switched to the front.

The balled sinews of his calves switched to the front of his shins,
each big knot the size of a warrior’s bunched fist.
On his head the temple-sinews stretched to the nape of his neck,
each mighty, immense, measureless knob as big as the head of a month-old child.

His face and features became a red bowl;
he sucked one eye so deep into his head that a wild crane could not probe it onto his cheek out of the depths of his skull;
the other eye fell out along his cheek.

His mouth weirdly distorted:
his cheek peeled back from his jaws until the gullet appeared;
his lungs and liver flapped in his mouth and throat;
his lower jaw struck the upper a lion-killing blow,
and fiery flakes large as a ram’s fleece reached his mouth from his throat.

His heart boomed loud in his breast like the baying of a watch-dog at its feed
or the sound of a lion among bears.
Malignant mists and spurts of fire flickered red in the vaporous clouds
that rose boiling above his head,
so fierce was his fury.

The hero-halo rose out of his brow,
long and broad as a warrior’s whetstone,
long as a snout,
and he went mad rattling his shields, urging on his charioteer
and harassing the hosts.

Then, tall and thick,
steady and strong,
high as the mast of a noble ship,
rose up from the dead center of his skull
a straight spout of black blood,
darkly and magically smoking.

In that style, then,
he drove out to find his enemies
and did his thunder-feat
and killed a hundred,
then two hundred,
then three hundred,
then four hundred,
then five hundred…
From The Tain, translated Thomas Kinsella, from the Irish epic Táin Bó Cuailnge. c. 1969 Thomas Kinsella

I took this from the website of a composer named David Heuser; you can also listen to his spoken voice/electronic version Warp-Spasm.

Here too is the statue of Cuchulain that stands in the GPO (General Post Office) in Dublin, where the rebels of 1916 made their stand.

Dying Cuchulain, by Oliver Sheppard

Dying Cuchulain, by Oliver Sheppard

Cuchulain ties himself to a stone, so that he can go on fighting even as he is dying; I’ve always thought that there was an analogy intended to James Connolly, who as you will recall was actually tied to a chair to be executed. As you can see, one of Cuchulain’s bronze feet is all shiny from where generations of people (including myself) have touched it for luck.