With vacation over and done with, life has once again become consumed with work-work and writing work, but I’ve been making time to reread The Tain (one of Ireland’s books of mythology) and thought I’d share (and maybe poke fun at) a part of the book with you.
Now, let me set the scene for you: Cú Chulainn, our hero, has been holding off an entire army by himself for a while now, mostly by challenging the men to single combat and defeating them handily–even when they try to gang up on him. After taking grievous wounds in one battle, Cú Chulainn sleeps for three days and wakes to find that a group of his friends have all been killed by the enemy. He goes into a battle rage, transforming into a hideous creature and killing countless numbers of soldiers.
We come back to our hero the next morning, waking up after a night of slaughter:
Cú Chulainn emerged the next morning to survey the enemy and to display his elegant figure to matrons and maidens and young girls and poets and practitioners of verse, for he deemed neither dignified nor seemly the nightmarish form in which he had appeared the night before.
All right, so Cú Chulainn wakes up and says to himself: “Boy, I shouldn’t have done that, it wasn’t proper for me to go out there looking so weird.” — Never mind the bloodbath. Okay, sure.
So he came to them by day to let them see his true beauty. Gorgeous indeed was Cu Chulainn Mac Sualdaim as he paraded himself before what was left of the army. His hair was arranged in three layers: dark next to the scalp, blood-red in the middle, and yellow at the ends, which were set like a gold crown on his head, falling to the nape of the neck in a braid of three coils, with little ringlets and gold-shiny strands combed out in artful disarray about his shoulders.
This is kind of weird, but still mostly all right, right? I mean… okay, his hair is apparently three colors, but maybe it’s got that stylized sheen going on and he’s really nailing it. It sounds like he is. Now, here’s where it gets… weird.
A hundred curls of purple gold shone round his neck; a hudnred amber-beaded ribbons bedecked his head. He had four dimples in each cheek — yellow, green, blue and purple.
What? Uhm. Why are his dimples colored that way? That’s a little strange.
Seven brilliant gems gleamed in each regal eye. Each foot had seven toes and each hand seven fingers…
What?! He has gems in his eyes and a total of TWENTY-EIGHT fingers and toes?
…the nails or claws or talons of each with the grip of a hawk or a griffin.
WHAT?! And this looks BETTER than the thing he transformed into last night! The women of the opposing army climb onto the shoulders of men just so they can get a glimpse of him! Cú Chulainn was BASICALLY the Justin Bieber of ancient Ireland! Just don’t let him sign that album, because it could get messy with all of those extra fingers that are apparently maybe also claws or talons?
All said, appearance is an important factor in The Tain. It’s made clear throughout the book that one doesn’t want to go into battle looking disheveled, and that a warrior ought to take care of their appearance and take measures to beautify themselves, as seen in this scene a little later on in the book:
“What have you planned for tonight?” said Laeg.
“What do you mean?” said Cú Chulainn.
“When Fer Diad comes looking for you, he’ll be freshly beautified, washed and bathed, his hair nicely trimmed and plaited, and the four provinces of Ireland will assemble to watch the contest. It seems to me you should go where you’ll get the same treatment, to Emer of the Beautiful Hair, who’s waiting for you in the Two Oxen Meadow at Cairthenn near Sliab Fuait.”
So let this be a lesson to you: before you enter any battle, make sure your clothes are freshly pressed, your hair has received the L’Oreal treatment, and your claw-talon-demon-hands are manicured.
The Tain is a strange book, but it’s also fantastic and something I would recommend reading to anyone who enjoys mythology. Let’s face it, mythology is always a little weird,The Tain just embraces it.