Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Kings Arise to Battle!

   If you’ve read a lot of translations of Celtic stories you not doubt have encountered numerous passages that end in “……..”.  Sometimes there is good reason for these frustration gaps in stories or poems.  The original text may have been damaged for example.  But other times these “……” are parts of difficult text that have simply not been translated into English.  There is one particular “…..” that has always particularly frustrated me.  It’s a part of the Cath Maige Tuired were the Morrigan appears to strengthen and rally the warriors of the TuathaDanann.  In all the English translation texts she says “Kings arise to battle!”  and then those annoying dot, dot, dots, appear.  Well what did she say after that?  How does the Great Queen inspire the hosts in the middle of the fray?  I’ve always wondered what was in that deleted part.  Luckily I came across someone who went about translating some of that difficult text.  If you haven’t already check out their wonderful blog/podcast, Story Archeology. http://storyarchaeology.com/2013/01/27/poems-of-the-morrigan/

   There are several things I find interesting about the Morrigan’s speech.  While much of it is her describing the battle, and stating that it will be both bloody and the stuff sung of by bards, there are a few lines that stand out.  She tells us “I see all who are born [in the] blood-zealous vigorous battle”.  Well a battlefield is a rather odd place to be talking about birth.  Could it mean she is saying one is not truly alive until one has done battle?  Or perhaps the warriors are born into the spirit world as they fall in battle, reflecting her role as a psychpomp. 
   I also like the line “In the mossy margins / the helpful raven drives / strife to our hardy hosts.”  While mostly self-explanatory I think it says a great deal about the Morrigan’s nature within the battle.  She is the helpful raven who brings victory to those who favors and strife to the enemy.  She is victory to some and terror to others. 


Poem A: Section 137, Lines 683-693
Translation by Isolde Carmody:

"Kings arise to [meet] the battle

Cheeks are seized

Faces [honours] are declared

Flesh is decimated,

Faces are flayed

 [incomplete word] ?? of battle are seized

Ramparts are sought

Feasts are given

Battles are observed

Poems are recited

Druids are celebrated

Circuits are made

Bodies are recorded

Metals cut

Teeth mark

Necks break

 [A hundred] cuts blossom

Screams are heard

Battallions are broken

Hosts give battle

Ships are steered

Weapons protect

Noses are severed

I see all who are born

 [in the] blood-zealous vigorous battle,

raging [on the] raven-battlefield [with] blade-scabbards.

They attempt our defeat

over our own great torrents

Against your attack on the full [compliment] of Fomoire

In the mossy margins;

the helpful raven drives

strife to our hardy hosts

mustered, we prepare ourselves to destroy

To me, the full-blooded exploits are like

shaking to-and-fro of hound-kills"


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