Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Mystery Táin: How Ireland's epic is like a crime story

(Cuchulain heads
for military school
)
So, how is The Táin like a crime story? (And yep, I know Táin doesn't rhyme with train, but I couldn't resist.)

Its protagonist is a fearsome physical specimen, but mainly he's clever. I mean, you don't want to mess with a guy who
"struck off their four heads from themselves Eirr and Indell and from Foich and Fochlam, their drivers, and he fixed a head of each man of them on each of the prongs of the pole."
but it's his cunning that makes him stand out. When just a child, he overhears from a great distance a priest's instructions to his pupils, then uses those instructions as the authority to obtain arms not normally available to one of his age. "Hey," he as much as says when caught, "the priest said so," earning him in my edition the angry epithet of "bewitched elf-man."

My edition gives the English translations of some of character names in brackets after the originals. Some of those names are epithets, and the effect is like that of colorful Mafia nicknames: "Bascell ('the Lunatic')."

And finally, after mentioning Declan Burke's allusions to Irish myth in his more than fine new novel Slaughter's Hound, I noted this passage in The Táin: "And Culann came out, and he saw his slaughter-hound in many pieces."

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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13 Comments:

Blogger Susan said...

Amazon.ca has a cool cover version of The Tain by Ciaran Carson! It's kind of available....so I'm going to try. I would never have found this except you are having so much fun reading it and linking it to crime mysteries! lol

April 12, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ciaran Carson's version comes highly recommended. I read a bit of it on the Amazon site. He seems to have a nice eye and ear for the story's jokes. I'm still going to look for his version even though I'm reading one of the older ones. The language in my translation is a bit on the old side.

April 12, 2012  
Blogger Kevin McCarthy said...

Not to mention that Cuchulain began his career of violence at an early age by knocking a slitoir (hurling ball) down the throat of King Cullan's marauding guard dog...in self-defence, bien sure. Dogs feature alot in these tales.

Incidentally, for the outdoor-minded out there, you can hike/walk/bike some or all of the landscape of the Cattle Raid of Cooley. Walk the crime scene as it were. It's a really beautiful and undiscovered part of Ireland, the Northeast Leinster/Ulster border area. Here be da website: http://orieltrail.com/?cat=4

April 12, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Here's the Decemberists version of the Tain:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UOYZuaLg0J0

They've also got a song about the Shankill Butchers.

This is curious because they're from Portland, Ore.

April 12, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, that looks like a cool video, though its argument between Ailill and Medb is a lot more voluble than the version I read. I likened them to Nick and Nora Charles. The video makes them more like Stanley and Stella Kowalski.

May I say, too, that the following is my favorite juxtaposition of the week:

They've also got a song about the Shankill Butchers.

This is curious because they're from Portland, Ore.

April 12, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kevin, do contemporary editions carry a warning that reads: "No animals were harmed in the accretion of tales that constitutes this national epic"?

I watched the 2008 All-Ireland hurling final on my first trip to Ireland, and I learned that Cuchulain had played the sport. I was especially tickled to read the relevant passages in The Táin. If the present versions of the tale date from the twelfth century, do they use the same terms for the implements of the game that are used today?

And thanks for the tourist information. I'll have a few days after Crimefest in Bristol next month, so I could do some exploring then.

April 12, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

Not to mention that Cuchulain began his career of violence at an early age by knocking a slitoir(hurling ball)

Kevin McCarthy may well be a genius, but the fecker can't spell to save his life. Sliotar or sliothar are ok or as Chandler would have it 'okey' but 'slitoir' is not ok.

Not that spelling matters a lot. In fact, I despise myself for even making this comment.

I just watched the '56 version of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. Good movie. The star, who does a reasonably good job, is called Kevin McCarthy. Any relation, I wonder?

April 12, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, the only spelling that I recognize is "hurling ball." Except for "hurley," the terminology of the sport is a closed book to me. As it happens, "slitoir" does turn up a time or two in searches, at least once in a post written in Irish.

I don't know if Kevin speaks or writes the language. Perhaps his spelling is influenced by English pronunciation of the word. (How is it pronounced, by the way?) I also don't know if Kevin is related to Kevin, Mary, or Charlie McCarthy.

April 12, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kevin: Legs of the trail on the link begin and end in Mullingar. I could retrace the route of "Rocky Road to Dublin" in addition to the Tain.

April 12, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter, I've never trusted McCarthy's spelling or his attention to detail since he left this comment on your site:

William Golding's (Goldberg's?) golden rule about Hollywood and what makes a hit film: Nobody knows anything

William Golding is a Nobel prize winner who wrote Lord of the Flies. William Goldberg is a no account diamond dealer. The fellow Kevin was looking for was William Goldman. It's not hard to get something like that right. If you had been wearing you copy editing hat, I think you'd have cut him off at the knees for saying something as careless as that. And he would have deserved it.

And while I'm at it, his suggestion that he's providing some revisionist version of Irish history is risible. That kind of revisionism of Irish history has been going on for over forty years. His version of Irish history is perfectly in tune with the current 'official' version of Irish history.

Still, you can't blame a fellow for trying.

April 12, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, I know too little to assess his views of Irish history. As to the Goldman/Golding glitch, maybe the man just needs a copy editor. Modesty forbids ...

April 12, 2012  
Blogger Kevin McCarthy said...

From now on and ever further I shall A) have my daughters check my Irish spellings and B)never again confuse a Nobel Prize winner with...umm, that H'wood screenwriter guy...Goldstein? Didn't he do the screenplay for the latest Sandler film? He's had a hard time getting work since the flop that was The Spire... and C)toe the party line re Irish history. Less revision, more revelation!

Yeah, Peter, the Tain (sic) trail covers serious milage round Leinster and bits of Ulster. As I said, very beautiful and not touristy at all. I plan to do it on my bike one of these days.

Adrian, the Decembrists are brilliant, as is the Shankill Butchers song but I've never been entirely comfortable listening to it. Is it too arch, maybe, for the subject matter? Would it be different if they were from B'fast rather than Stumptown?

April 17, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I wrote in another post that Ciaran Carson's translation picked up on Medb's sexuality a lot more than the earlier translation did. The Decembrists' video takes care of that neatly and economically, with Medb's legs kicking joyously in the air. Sometimes pictures can be more efficient than words.

Resurrection Man does a nice job with Lenny Murphy and the Shankill Butchers, I thought. Can a pop song deal as sensitively with such a subject? Maybe I'll set aside some time to read some unltra-dark noir and listen to pop songs about psychotic killers.

April 17, 2012  

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