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L.U.-Y.B.L. version must go back to the eighth century; (2) that all portions of the Book of Leinster version must precede the compilation of the common source of L.U. and Y.B.L. For as regards (1), not only must the definitely ascertained activity of the eleventh-century compiler be taken into account, but also the possible activity of later scribes. If we possessed the complete text of the L.U.-Y.B.L. redaction in both MSS., we could at least be sure concerning the possible variations introduced during the two centuries that elapsed between the writing of the Yellow Book (early fourteenth century) and that of L.U. (late eleventh century). But most unfortunately both MSS. are imperfect, the Yellow Book at the opening, L.U. at the close of our tale. Thus of the special episode under consideration, the "Combat at the Ford," the older redaction is only extant in the fourteenth-century MS., and it is always open to impugners of its archaic character to say that it has been introduced there from the rival Leinster version. Again, as regards (2), whilst it is practically certain that the great mass of the Leinster version was in existence before the time of the source whence both L.U. and Y.B.L. are derived, and must therefore date back to the early eleventh century, it is by no means certain that this version was not considerably altered and enlarged before it came to be written down in the Book of Leinster some time before 1154.

The older version of the "Tain bo Cuailnge" has been translated by Miss Winifred Faraday (Grimm Library, No. xvi. 1904). In her Introduction

  1. xvii.) Miss Faraday argues against the assumption "that L.L. preserves an old version of the episode," and questions "whether the whole Fer Diad[FN#67] episode may not be late." The truth of this one contention would by no means involve that of the other; and again, both might be true without invalidating any of the conclusions drawn by Mr. Leahy (supra, p. 115). If the episode as we have it first took shape in the tenth century, it would be late as compared with much of the rest of the "Tain," and yet it would be the earliest example in post-classic European literature of the sentiments and emotions to which it gives such fine and sympathetic expression. In comparing the two versions, the following fact is at once noticeable. The Y.B.L. text occupies pp. 100-112 of Miss Faraday's translation, in round figures, 320 lines of 8 words to the line, or some 2600 words; the Leinster version, omitting the verse, fills some 500 lines of 14 words, or 7000 words. Up to a certain point, however, the actual meeting of the two champions, there is no difference between the versions in length; the prose of both runs to about 2200 words. But the whole of the actual fight (supra, pp. 129-153 in the Leinster version) is compressed into a page and a half in the older redaction, some 800 words as against over 4000. Obviously this cannot represent the original state of things; it would be psychologically impossible for any story-teller to carry on his narrative up to a given stage with the dramatic vigour, point, and artistically chosen detail displayed in the first portion of the Y.B.L. version of the combat, and then to treat the culmination of the tale in such a huddled, hasty, scamped manner. The most likely explanation is that the original from which the Y.B.L. scribe was copying was imperfect, and that the lacuna was supplied from memory, and from a very faulty memory. No conclusion can thus, I think, be drawn from the fact that the details of the actual combat are so bald and meagre in the only extant text of the older redaction.


[FN#67] This is the spelling in Y. B. L. In L.L. the name appears as one word, "Ferdiad"; usually scanned as a dissyllable--though occasionally as a trisyllable. The spelling Ferdia is the conventional one sanctioned by the usage of Ferguson, Aubrey de Vere, and others; the scansion of the word as a trisyllable is on the same authority.


If the two versions be compared where they are really comparable, i.e. in that portion which both narrate at approximately the same length, the older redaction will be found fuller of incident, the characters drawn with a bolder, more realistic touch, the presentment more vigorous and dramatic. Ferdiad is unwilling to go against Cuchulain not, apparently, solely for prudential reasons, and he has to be goaded and taunted into action by Medb, who displays to the full her wonted magnificently resourceful unscrupulousness, regardless of any and every consideration, so long as she can achieve her purpose. The action of Fergus is far more fully dwelt upon, and the scones between him and his charioteer, as also between him and Cuchulain, are given with far greater spirit. The hero is indignant that Fergus should think it necessary to warn him against a single opponent, and says roundly that it is lucky no one else came on such an errand. The tone of the older redaction is as a whole rough, animated, individualistic as compared with the smoother, more generalised, less accentuated presentment of the Leinster version. But to conclude from this fact that the older redaction of the actual combat, if we had it in its original fulness instead of in a bald and fragmentary summary, would not have dwelt upon the details of the fighting, would not have insisted upon the courteous and chivalrous bearing of the two champions, would not have emphasised the inherent pathos of the situation, seems to me altogether unwarranted. On the contrary the older redaction, by touches of strong, vivid, archaic beauty lacking in the Leinster version leads up to and prepares for just such a situation as the latter describes so finely. One of these touches must be quoted. Cuchulain's charioteer asks him what he will do the night before the struggle, and then continues, "It is thus Fer Diad will come to seek you, with new beauty of plaiting and haircutting and washing and bathing.... It would please me if you went to the place where you will got the same adorning for yourself, to the place where is Emer of the Beautiful Hair.... So Cuchulain went thither that night, and spent the night with his own wife." There is indeed the old Irish hero faring forth to battle as a lover to the love tryst! How natural, how inevitable with warriors of such absurd and magnificent susceptibility, such boyish love of swagger, how natural, I say, the free and generous emotion combined with an overmastering sense of personal honour, and a determination to win at all costs, which are so prominent in the Leinster version of the fight.[FN#68]


[FN#68] The trait must not be put down as a piece of story-teller's fancy. In another text of the Ulster cycle, Cath ruis na Rig, Conchobor's warriors adorn and beautify themselves in this way before the battle. The Aryan Celt behaved as did the Aryan Hellene. All readers of Herodotus will recall how the comrades of Leonidas prepared for battle by engaging in games and combing out their hair, and how Demaretus, the counsellor of Xerxes, explained to the king "that it is a custom with these men that when they shall prepare to imperil their lives; that is the time when they adorn their heads" (Herodotus vii. 209.)


The contention that the older redaction, if we had it complete, would resemble the younger one in its insistence upon the chivalrous bearing of the two opponents, may also be urged on historical grounds. The sentiment which gives reality and power to the situation is based upon the strength of the tie of blood-brotherhood; so strong is this that it almost balances the most potent element in the ideal of old Irish heroism--the sense of personal honour and pre-eminence in all that befits a warrior. The tie itself and the sentiment based upon it certainly belong to pre-Christian times, and must have been losing rather than gaining in strength during the historic period, say from the fourth century onwards. The episode of Cuchulain's combat with Ferdiad must have existed in the older redaction of the "Tain" for the simple reason that a tenth and eleventh century story-teller would have found nothing in the feelings, customs, or literary conventions of his own day to suggest to him such a situation and such a manner of working it out. But--and this consideration may afford a ground of conciliation with Miss Faraday and the scholars who hold by the lateness of the episode--the intrinsic beauty and pathos of the situation, the fact of its constituting an artistic climax, would naturally tempt the more gifted of the story-telling class. There would be a tendency to elaborate, to adorn in the newest fashion, hence to modernise, and it is not only conceivable but most probable that the original form should be farther departed from than in the case of much else in the epic.


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