The Stanzaic Morte Arthur


from "The Stanzaic Morte Arthur"

Til on a time that it befell
The king in bed lay by the queen;
Of aunters they began to tell,
Many that in that land had been:
"Sir, yif that it were your will,
Of a wonder thing I wolde you mene,
How that your court beginneth to spill
Of doughty knightes all bydene;

A rough paraphrase--while the king and queen were in bed the queen said, "Hey Bozo, your court is becoming completely worthless, empty of worthy men. They're becoming a bunch of slackers."*

This little passage reminded me of the Horslips album The Tain which is a modern musical transcription of the Tain Bo Cuailgne--a little song called "The War Between the Sheets." The following gives the start of that little discussion in an English translation of the original book. (If you can, listen to the song, gets to the point a lot faster.)

from "The Cattle Raid of Cooley

ONCE of a time, that Ailill and Medb had spread their royal bed in Cruachan, the stronghold of Connacht, such was the pillow-talk that befell betwixt them:

Quoth Ailill: "True is the saying, lady, 'She is a well-off woman that is a rich man's wife.'" "Aye,that she is," answered the wife; "but wherefore opin'st thou so?" "For this," Ailill replied,"that thou art this day better off than the day that first I took thee." Then answered Medb: "As well-off was I before I ever saw thee." "It was a wealth, forsooth, we never heard nor knew of," Ailill said; "but a woman's wealth was all thou hadst, and foes from lands next thine were used to carry off the spoil and booty that they took from thee."

Not so was I," quoth Medb; "the High King of Erin himself was my sire, Eocho Fedlech ('the Enduring') son of Finn, by name, who was son of Findoman, son of Finden, son of Findguin, son of Rogen Ruad ('the Red'), son of Rigen, son of Blathacht, son of Beothacht, son of Enna Agnech, son of Oengus Turbech. Of daughters, had he six: Derbriu, Ethne and Ele, Clothru, Mugain and Medb, myself, that was the noblest and seemliest of them."

And so on. . . (for a complete English translation see here. Oh, and yes indeed, the English "Cooley" is a rough guide to the pronunciation of the insane orthography employed by the Erse.

The point is that bardic traditions appeared to borrow just about anything they could find laying around. Thus the Arthurian Mythos seems to be a rather patchwork collection of French, German, Welsh, Irish, English, and any other traditions that happened to be available to the wander Scop, Bard, troubadour. And as anyone who has done more than scratch the surface can tell you--the Arthurian tradition has a lot of traditions--from the Fisher King to Nimue.

That said, return for a moment to "The Cattle Rain of Cooley." Note the Queen's name, here render Mebd, but often transliterated Maeve, or by Shakespeare's time Mab. This is the Queen he had over the fairies, but note that she has nothing whatever to do with the fairies in the course of this story.

And while I'm on tradition--you might want to look into Alexander McCall Smith's newest book which is a series of stories in the Dream Angus (oar Oengus) tradition.

Okay, didn't really say what I started out to, but then no one really wanted a lot of talk about the Stanzaic Morte Arthur anyway, did they?

* For those who care, a glossed version might be:

Til on a time that it befell
The king in bed lay by the queen;
Of adventures they began to tell,
Many that in that land had been:
"Sir, if that it were your will,
Of a wondrous thing I wolde you tell,
How that your court beginneth to empty
Of doughty knightes all completely;

(I only changed the words that might be difficult. If you're interested find here the Complete Stanzaic Morte Arthur, and here a list of other interesting Middle English Texts on-line including Middle English lives of Katherine of Alexandria (their spelling, not mine) and Margaret of Antioch.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on October 17, 2006 9:12 PM.

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