On Tochmarc Emere
IT is well known that Irish sagas abound in motives which are still current in modern folk tales.1/ The late Alfred Nutt contended (Fians xviii.) that 'Sagas recorded in writing from the seventh to the fifteenth centuries presuppose a background of traditional fancies, beliefs, and conceptions of the same essential character as those still current.' He mentions especially Tochmarc Emere and Tochmarc Eláine. It would be worth while, however, to consider how these traditions were worked into the saga; to note, for instance, how Tochmarc Emere was compiled from different motives.1/
The theme of plot of the story is the quest of the Bride, the main point being that the girl's father is afraid of his prospective son-in-law, for according to a prophecy the latter is destined to kill him; consequently he suggests to him, or more frequently sets him difficult tasks, in order to get rid of him. This plot is also the main theme of the Welsh Story Kulhwch and Olwen (Mabinogion, White Book col. 45 ff.).
Bibliography: Bolte and Polívka, Anmerkungen zu den Kinder- und Hausmärchen der Brüder Grimm, I.II, 1913; Cosquin, Contes populaires de Lorraine; Afanasiev, Rusian Folk Tales, 5 vols.; Leskien and Brugmann, Litauische Volkslieder u. Märchen, [with Vollmer's commentary]; Consiglieri Pedroso, Portuguese Folk Tales (F. L. S., 1882); B. Thorpe. Yule Tide Stories; Campbell, Popular Tales of the West Highlands; Fians, or Stories ... of Fionn ... coll. from J. G. Campbell (Argyllshire Ser. IV); MacInnes, Folk and Hero Tales (ib. II); Jones, Magyar Folk Tales (F. 4. 1889); Wardrop, Georgian Folk Tales; Kirby, The Hero of Esthonia; Kunos, Forty-four Turkish Fairy Tales; Knowles, Folk-Tales of Kashmir; Day, Folk Tales of Bengal; Frere, Old Deccan Days; Schiefner, Tibetan Tales, from the German, 1906; Rink, Tales and Traditions of the Eskimo; Mooney, Myths of the Cherokee (Bureau of American Ethnology, 19th Ann. Report, 1902); as a rule only one or two of the types are quoted. Full bibliographies will be found in Bolte and Polívka, and in Cosquin.
1/ To mention only a few, the motive of asseveration known from the Irish story of Cormac in the other world (by uttering the truth the meat is
In modern folk tales we have two similar plots:
(i) The dreaded son-in-law is sent to Hell, or set some impossible task to get rid of him;1/
(2) An enemy sends the hero on some apparently unobtainable quest; thus an impostor or a calumniator induces the king to send the hero in quest of a princess.2/ Sometimes it is merely the King's caprice that causes the hero to set out on his difficult quest (Afanasiev No. 103 a). In Eastern stories the Rākshasī queen sends her rival's son on various quests.3/ However, in the end the hero always wins the girl and marries her.4/ The oldest type of this story is that of the Argonautica, in which Jason is sent on his quest by his wicked uncle.5/ In some cases, however, the hero already has a supernatural wife, and the envious king wishes to get rid of him in order to marry her (e. g. Afanasiev, Nos. 122,
roasted) is found in Wardrop p. 10 (speaking the truth restores a person to health; Knowles, 386 ff. Schiefner p. 284; cp. also 228. Nala XI. 38). For Etáin cp. Folk-Lore XXVII p. 678, and for the Jataka story referred to, Schiefner 230. For the Koščej motive in Irish, see Ériu VII. 200 ff. (and furher Anecdota from Irish MSS. I. p. 10 f.). A healing well restores a lost eye (Siege of Howth, RC. VIII. 49); this motive occurs especially in the cycle Truth and Untruths (Cosquin I. 84; Bolte and Polívka No. 107, and see also Grimm No. 121). Cuchulinn obtains his first weapons (TBC. l. 546; cp. Campbell I. p. 87); this is a frequent incident in folk tale, (cp. Kirby I. 43) and especially in the Russian type Pokotigorašekъ (see Afanasiev). Cuchulinn could not look upon nude women; compare with this Mooney p. 31920 (the Stone-Man could not look upon menstrual women the sight would kill him), and the ogham letter in Anecdota from Ir. MSS. III. p. 58 (O'Curry MS. Mat. 469); see also Bolte and Polívka I. p. 287, Kathākośa p. 1712.
1/ Bibliography in Bolte and Polívka II. 28587.
2/ cp. also Thorpe p. 142 f., where the hero vins a troll's treasure and marries the king's daughter; Cosquin No 3; Afanasiev II. 1036, and some incidents in I. 676; Grimm No 126, Kunos p. 164 ff.
3/ Knowles p. 45 ff., Day p. 119 ff.; cp. also those tales where the hero's father endeavours to get rid of him: Arabian Nights, Prince Ahmed and the Fairy Pari Banou; Kunos p. 274 ff., Mother or wife or sister seeking the destruction of the hero; Afanasiev, Nos. 119, 120; Knowles p. 1 ff.; Baudiš, Czech Folk Tales, p. 16 ff; also Leskien and Brugmann, p. 548, where the Stepmother induces her son to undertake a dangerous courtship, see above.
4/ cp. also Day, p. 221, the origin of rubles.
5/ This motive is then followed by the Master Maiden Type (Lang, Custom and Myth p. 87; Bolte and Polívka II. 516). Are we to infer that in some, at least, of these tales, the unfriendly attitude of the maiden's father is due to a prophecy?
123. Jones and Kropf p. i 5, Kunos p. 64). This last type resembles, though only partially, the Irish and Gaelic motive of how a gruagach (or draoidheadóir1/) tricked the hero; the object which the hero of the Irish tales is sent for is usually the sword of light (claidheamh soluis).2/
In Tochmarc Emere the above plot is developed as follows:
(a) Forgall in disguise makes Cuchulinn vow to undertake a dangerous journey (cp. the folk tale motive of impostors or calumniators, who induce the King to send the hero on a dangerous enterprise.)
(b) Cuchulinn starts with several companions, but they lose their way at the beginning of the journey. This incident may be compared with that of some other quest stories, namely the Quest of the Golden Bird or of the Water of life (Bolte and Polívka I. 510. II. 395, cp. also Grimm No. 96 and Cosquin I. 186 ff. and Bolte and Polívka II. 380 ff.), where the two elder brothers fall or go astray. Tochmarc Emere relates that the separation of Cuchulinn's companions was due to Dornoll's sorcery.
(c) Cuchulinn's journey: (I α) Cuchulinn is instructed in different feats3/; (β) and told how to reach the end of his journey.
(ad α) The instruction in chivalry reminds us of certain incidents in the Welsh Peredur tale (especially the hoary man and the two youths. White Book Mab. cols 128 ff.).
(ad β) He is given a wheel which is to bring him over a dangerous route.
This is identical with the ball showing the hero the way. This ball-motive occurs many quest stories (Quest of the lost
1/ [drýədōŕ] (Finck.). Connacht [drihidūr] might have been influenced by Keating's droicheadóir i.e. transl. of L. Pontifex. (Keating II p. 348 gonadh de sin dogairthí Pontifex .i. droicheadóir dhe).
2/ These Irish folk tales have a characteristic introduction in the game, a motive which already occurs in the O. Ir. tale of Eochaid Airem and Mider. But it occurs also in tale, belonging to the Kulhwch type. I have heard in Cornamona, Co. Galway, a story of the Bride quest with such an introduction, in which the stepmother plays cards with her stepson, of the Master maiden type, Campbell Vol. I. No. II, 6th variant. I heard from the same man a story with a similar introduction in which the girl causes her lover to hurl a stone (life-token?) at her father, who is pursuing them. The droicheadóir father is struck by the stone and dies.
3/ Note the feat that Cuchulinn learned from Dornoll; it might be compared perhaps with the gridiron trick mentioned in MacInnes p. 86, 90.
Wife; of the Water of Youth; of the Wonderful Bird, etc. cp. Afanasiev II. pp. 6. 17. 209. 264. III. Nos. 122. 123; Czech Folk-Tales p. 75.1/
II. The Bridge and the jeurney:
As regards the Bridge itself, cp. A. C. L. Brown, Ivain (Harv. Univ. Stud. VIII) esp. pp. 75 ff. and also the sword bridge in Crestien'e Lancelot (3021 ff.).
Tbis difficult journey is of frequent occurence in tales of the adventures of a hero in the other world2/. So it is quite natural that we should find it in stories2/ where the Strong Man has to make his way to the monsters palace (e. g. Kunos p. 80),3/ or where the place is connected with the outer world only by a bridge.4/ That this adventure goes back to some conception of the other world is clear (note the description of the Aztec spirit land, where the soul wades across the river of death and climbs mountains of knives (cp. Tylor, Mythical Beliefs as Evidence in the History of Culture).
It is again characteristic of Cuchulinn5/ that he crosses the bridge by his own skill,6/ whereas in same modern stories the
_________1/ A wheel helping the wife on her journey (Amor and Psyche) Grimm No. 127, cp. also Afanasiev No. 150 c. (ball.) As to the gaming wheel, see. Mooney 246.
2/ Another of Cuchulinn's expeditions to the other world may be represented in Siaburcharpat Conculaind, with which compare Arthur's expedition to Annwfn (Skene, Four Books of Wales II. 181). In folk tales the expeditions are especially represented in the above mentioned type the "Strong Man in the Subterranean kingdom; (Cosquin Nos. I. LII. Hahn's formula 40/b/2). This tale is directly told as a journey to Hades in Kalevipoeg Canto XIV. (Kirby I. 94); its continuation (Canto XV) is however the type of the boy who stole the giant's treasure (see below). The first part of the tale of the Strong Man is found in Canto XVII, and is there supplemented by a regular Harrowing of Hell (Canto XVIII). (It must be remembered that the arrangement of the Kalevipoeg motive, is modern, as in the Kalevala, but the O. Irish story-tellers proceeded perhaps analogically.) How far the wonder voyages were influenced by medieval Latin literature (such as Alexander Stories, etc.) and vice versa, is beyond the scope of the present investigation.
3/ As to this type, see the last note.
4/ See Jones p. 65, but cp. also Rink No. 100, p. 448 (boiling pot) and p. 461. For a steep mountain, cp. Afanasiev II. p. 6.
5/ Cp. Ériu VII p. 205. It is worth noting that a heroic tale does not permit the hero to make use of magic help so frequently as does the folk tale (cp. Kalevipoeg's burning of the magic hat etc., Kirby, p. 92).
6/ It needs courage only in Kunos, p. 80.
hero obtains help (e. g. a horse, or as soon as he starts to climb the mountain iron claws attach themselves to his feet).
(d) Cuchulinn and the Lion. This passage reminds one of the comic story known as the valiant chateemaker (Frere, No. 16. or Kunos p. 56; bibliogr. in Cosquin I. p. 97 ff. and Bolte and Polívka I. p. 148 ff.). In all these stories the hero rides much against his own inclination on a vicious animal, and so comes to be regarded as a hero. This situation is hardly in keeping with Cuchulinn's character. It may be, however, that this motive is due to the Underwonld or the Spring of the Water of Life being guarded by some wild animal on dragon. (So the abode of the ravisher of maidens: Afanasiev II. p. 7, cp. also Jones p. 65, Grimm 121). In some cases again the hero, who is in quest of the Wonderful Bird, is helped by a wild animal which brings him to his destination, e. g. a wolf (Afanasiev No. 102), a fox (Grimm 57) (cp. also Leskien and Brugmann 530 ff.). Accordingly, the hero in same quest stories having to ride a wild animal may be due to confusion with the valiant chateemaker (as Kara Mustafa) motive, introduced in this form.
(e) Cuchulinn and Scáthach. The main object of Cuchulinn's journey is to be instructed in arms; the fact that his instructor is not easy to approach, reminds one of Peredur and the witches of Gloucester (see also below).1/
(dd) Accompanying motives at this part of the story:
(i) Cuchulinn being instructed by the daughter how to get the better or her mother recalls the Master Maiden, but it occurs also in other stories, e. g. The Strong Man Type, etc. see supra.
(2) Cuchulinn and Scáthach's wrestler; as for the way of treating his opponent's watchman cp. MacInnes p. 80, 47. It may be that the killing of the wrestler is a reminiscence of stories in which the hero (of the Harrowing of Hell) first kills the servant of the Lord of Hades (cp. Kalevipoeg Canto XVIII., also Afanasiev, Nos. 726 ff. It is, however characteristic that Cuchulinn offers his
1/ In modern Irish tale, or the type compared above, the object is not instruction but the learning of another person's secret. Sometimes this person is in possession of the sword of light. Cp. also the type Tuairsgéul Mór (i.e. Wervolf story; cp. Bisclavaret of Marie de France). Learning the secret of a dangerous man, occurs also in the Bride-wager stories (e. g. Wardrop p. 46 f.).
own services instead of those of the dead enemy;1/ the same motive occurs in the story of Cuchulinn and the Hound of Culann, where Cuchulinn volunteers to take the place of the dead hound.
(3) Cuchulinn and Aife. This incident seems to be a doublet of the motive (d) itself. There are, indeed, stories where the hero wins a powerful maiden on whom he begets a son, and then leaves her, and the son afterwards goes in quest of him. In modern tales it is usually in the Cycle Quest of the Water of Life (see above).
So Cuchulinn achieves in one expedition two objects, each of them being usually a theme in itself.
(i) In one case he enters a horrible country and visits a being who does not materially differ from Rākshasī of the Indian stories, or Jagababa of Russian folk-lore, and reminds us even of Maui's ancestress in the Polynesian traditions2/ (Grey, p. 3-4).3/ He gets the better of her and wins her daughter.
(2) In the other case (αα 3) he wins an Amazon. We do not hear anything of the Water of Life, etc., but the whole story as told in modern tales has several incidents in common with the first type. Yet it is not necessary to infer that the motive of the Water of Life was suppressed here. Aife herself reminds us of the Brunhild type,4/ and so the story of Aife may have been influenced by some Quest story (and the Strong Man type). It is noteworthy that in the Irish tales the hero wins the female warrior unaided, but always by a trick (see also Gerould, Grateful Dead).
If any conclusion is to be drawn, the following points may be noted: (i) There are incidents common to 'quest' stories; (2) Aife and Cuchulinn is a theme in itself, and was perhaps preceded by some of the quest-story incidents; (3) Consequently the main plot ot Tochmarc Emere would be that Forgall is afraid of Cuchulinn
_________1/ But cp. also the prose Edda: Odin and Baugi's mowers.
2/ Note the fact that Cuchulinn is informed by Scathach of his future. (Cp. also the answers the hero obtains fromthe devil with the golden hair, though they are in the nature of advice, not prophecies.)
3/ Maui goes of his own accord to learn the secret of his parentage and he approaches his parents as the formidable beings that they were (Grey p. 21), then he goes to meet his formidable ancestress Muri-ranga-whenua, who behaves like an ogress in the tales (p. 23).
4/ Cp. especially Afanasiev No. 116 and Wardrop p. 132 ff.
and wishes to get rid of him, and so induces him to undertake a dangerous journey to a supernatural being, from whom Cuchulinn learns his future and by whom he is instructed in different feats. So far it recalls, in addition to the types already mentioned, the second part of the type known as the Devil with the three golden hairs (Grimm No. 29). In both tales the wicked father-in-law finally meets with retribution, but in Tochmarc Emere it is a direct consequence of the prophecy (fulfilled prophecy motive, see above). Cuchulinn's journey is successful because of the favour of Scáthach's daughter. Whether this is part of the original story or was taken over from another (like the Master Maiden and some types of the Strong Man) cannot at present be decided. How Forgall induced Cuchulinn to undertake his journey is not made clear. It may be that the foreigner who obtained Cuchulinn's promise belonged to the Cuchulinn and Aife story as well.
The journey itself seems to be a combination of both cycles, most probably the fact that these journey motives were common to both cycles contributed to the fusion of the two. We must not suppose, however, that these contaminations were always intentional or due to the compilatory zeal of the scholar, for even the illiterate storyteller has them. This may be illustrated by the episode of Cuchulinn and Derbforgaill; a similar tale (Andromeda type, cp. Hartland's Legend of Perseus) occurs as an episode in the quest of the Water of Life (Afanasiev No. 104). In one case the hero directly refuses the hand of the princess and asks as bhs only reward a free passage to the Upper World (cp. Wardrop p. 81 in the tale of the Strong Man and his unfaithful companions, i. e. Cosquin's Jean de l'ours type).
As for Cuchulinn's attitude to Derbforgaill, it may be observed that in the Esthonian Strong Man story as represented in Kalevipoeg (Canto 1314) the hero does not marry any of the liberated maidens, but leaves them to their friends1/ (see the note in Kirby I. p. 93). On the other hand, it is also quite clear that the literary compiler would work in all that he had heard of Cuchulinn and his journey to Scáthach and Aife, and would naturally try to harmonise different versions.
The Introduction. The meeting of Emer and Cuchulinn is an example of the riddle in the Bride-wager stories. For example the
1/ And so the assumption that there was a Western Dragon slayer-variant according to which the hero did not marry the girl proves groundless.
prince puts the following riddle: "I saw a good thing in our good thing." (Meaning, we saw a purse lying on the road) "and we put it in our good thing" (i. e. in our pocket) (Afanasiev 116 a); or, "I lifted a bad thing (= serpent) from a bad thing (i. e. fire) with a bad thing" (i. e. a spear or sword). These riddles are practically of the same character as the poetic speech of Cuchulinn, the difference being that Cuchulinn wants to marry Emer because she understands these riddles, while in modern folk tales the princess must marry the sultan because she fails to solve the riddles,1/ or because the suitor solves her riddles. In some cases the hero wins the princess because he is able to hold his own in conversation with her; the conversation is however by no means a poetic speech (ibid.). The first type of the riddle stories is very often combined with the quest of a powerful maiden (Brunhild type).
We see then that nearly all the incidents of Tochmarc Emere are to be found elsewhere in folk tales, but they are arranged somewhat differently. This is mainly due to the fact
(i) that the literary compilers often fused together two stories containing similar incidents, a procedure which is common to the illiterate story teller as well, and
(a) that the older types, though similar to or identical with the modern as regards the plots, and even the ensemble of incidents, duffer frequently as to the arrangement and sequence of the motives: the Egyptian tale of the Doomed Prince, or the tale of the Two Brothers, furnishes good examples of these variations.
This last point brings us to the question: How did the compilers work the folk talse into the epics? A modern folk tale, when amalgamating different cycles, combines different themes into one, the object being to produce a long interesting tale. (Cp. Shipwrecked Prince in Knowles, pp. 355 ff., or Gullala Shah ib. pp. 449 ff.) The Irish compiler, however, proceeded otherwise, because his object was different, namely to harmonise the various exploits or the heroes in the local Epic, and so it was only natural that he combined similar, or even identical themes, with slightly different incidents into one tale. The LU version of Fled Bricrend fully illustrates this process. Zimmer has already pointed out that this story deals
1/ See also WHT. II. 36 ff. and cp. Bolte and Polívka I. 189 ff., particularly p. 200 f.; also Grimm No. 114, Bolte and Polívka II. 58 f., Child No. I.
with the general theme: "the youngest hero proves the best of the three." Now, modern folk tales usually treat the question of precedence as a mere motive, the interest being directed to the main plot of the tale, namely, whether the hero wins the wonderful maiden, or a magic bird, etc., and if so, how; or how he fought the dragon, etc. (Afanasiev Nos. 76 ff.).
On the other band Fled Bricrend treats the question of precedence explicitly, making a story out of what would otherwise be only a developing motive of the folk tale, whereas the incidents upon which the main interest of the folk tale depends, as, for example, fighting the "dragon" (Windisch, Ir. Texte I. pp. 294 f.) are merely told as matter of fact; not that they are always dealt with briefly, but the attention is concentrated on the question of precedence. This was of course natural with people who mainly wanted to state facts.
What then, is the difference between the O. Ir. folk tale and the genuine O. Irish epic? It seems to me that the difference lies mainly in the subject and in the point of view of the narrator. Several texts containing the old Irish epic with folk-lore incidents are rather attempts at gesta or romantic histories of certain personages. So also are some of the genuine epics; though they are, not so much concerned with an exciting plot as with various incidents. They are concerned rather with a particular feat which is to them the only interesting fact of the epic; the situatian is depicted, but the plot and the sequence of the incidents are secondary matters. A noble feat of olden days is remembered and commemorated, and one feat is put beside the other as beads are loosely strung together. So we see the main difference is in the manner of the telling. The 'romantic' tale confines itself to a smaller number of exploits, but works out the plot and the sequence of the incidents. At a time when the beliefs expressed in the folk-tales were still accepted, by some at least, both types were equally interesting to the auditor, who was familiar with the culture of the period. But from an artistic point of view sit venia verbo there is a great difference, for one type deals with facta and the other with plors. This also explains why we had in the literary tradition that the pure epic tales are unquestionably the oldest (for instance the Iliad). The folk-tale penetrates into the epic tradition when there arises a literary interest in plots, and so it happens that subjects which from the point of view of folk
tradition are sometimes the oldest, appear in literature in a saga form, and are preceded by the pure saga literature. The literary form of these romances, however, is later than the sagas.
The psychological reason as to why the saga, which deals with certain great events, is the older, is obvious. Public interest as a rule centres on events, whereas individual interest is cencentrated on plots.
Finally it is worth noticing that tales which set out to relate a hero's life story do not follow the artistic scheme of the types, and there is often very little sequence between the incidents. This may be due to the primitiveness of the narrator, as in savage tales, but it does not cover the whole ground. It is obvious that facts relating to the same person often stand in no logical relation to each other, being simply a contaminatio of different stories. This may for instance be seen in the Kalevipoeg, where the incidents in themselves are certainly artistic, but the story as a whole is much inferior, as regards the construction and the development of the plots, to the folk-tale, though the compiler was a highly educated man. What is the reason of this? Simply that there are too many incidents to be worked into one tale. Under similar conditions the old Irish compilers arranged their heroic tales. In so far then the modern folk-tales represent a higher artistic stage, a survival of the fittest.1/
Before concluding these notes I would like to show as briefly as possible how a folk-tale may explain a romantic tale, or at least bring it nearer to us and make it more human. For instance the tale of Condla Caem, a beautiful story, but wholly romantic. There is a similar theme in Aino folk-lore (Chamberlain, Aino Folk-lore p. 40 ff.): A handsome young hunter loses his way among wild mountains, where he eats some fruit, is transformed into a serpent, and falls asleep. To him then, in a dream, the goddess of the pine tree appears and advises him how he may regain his human form. On reaching home, he went to bed, and dreamt a second time. The same goddess of the pine tree appeared beforne him and said: "I have come to tell you that you cannot
1/ Sometimes the folk-tale is even wilder, though this is rather more original, as for instance the Island of Women in Maelduin's Voyage, and a similar theme in an Aino folk-tale (Chamberlain No. XXXIII. p. 37 ff.). That the epic usually discarded many barbarous incidents, is shown in Lang's introduction to Cinderella (pp. XIIXIII).
remain in the world of men after having eaten of the grapes and mulberries of Hades. In Hades is a goddess who wishes to marry you. She it was who assuming the form of a bear lured you into the cavern and thence to the Underworld. You must make up your mind to Come away". And so it happened. The man awoke; but a grave sickness overpowered him, and he quickly died. M. D'Arbois de Jubainville was thus right in postulating that the beautiful maiden of the Condla story was the goddess of death; only we must remember that Hades does not mean death, but another form of life, and so it differs in no way from the Fairyland of the other World.1/
1/ It should be remarked here that folk-tales have much in common with literature: many modern tales go back to literary sources, being often a popular rendering or confusion of an older epic or romantic tale, e. g. Fergus (in Campbell's WHT. II. 148 ff.), and the story of MacCon, and foreign influences are evident, even in the pre-literary period.
Published in: Ériu 9, 19211923, pp. 98108.→ back