One of the delights of Medieval literature is that there are literary and cultural conventions and turns of phrase that seem downright ridiculous to modern readers. They are often fascinating, some are euphemistic, and all-in-all, they’re thoroughly entertaining.
Take, for instance, an episode from Compert Mongáin ocus Serc Duibe-Lacha do Mongán (The Conception of Mongán and Dub-Lacha’s Love for Mongán), translation from The Voyage of Bran Son of Febal to the Land of the Living Volume 1 from Kuno Meyer and Alfred Nutt that is from pages 71-72 (paragraphs were created by me to make this more reader-friendly, but know that this is all one paragraph in the original text):
Then Fiachna assembled the nobles of Ulster until he had ten equally large battalions, and went and announced battle to the men of Lochlann. And they were three days a-gathering unto the battle. And combat was made by the king of Lochlann on the men of Ireland. And three hundred warriors fell by Fiachna in the fight.
And venomous sheep were let out of the king of Lochlann’s tent against them, and on that day three hundred warriors fell by the sheep, and three hundred warriors fell on the second day, and three hundred on the third day.
That was grievous to Fiachna, and he said: ‘Sad is the journey on which we have come, for the purpose of having our people killed by sheep. For if they had fallen in battle or in combat by the host of Lochlann, we should not deem their fall a disgrace, for they would avenge themselves.
‘Give me,’ saith he, ‘my arms and my dress that I may myself go to fight against the sheep.’
‘Do not say that, O King,’ said they, ‘for it is not meet that thou shouldst go to fight against them.’
‘By my word,’ said Fiachna, ‘no more of the men of Ireland shall fall by them, till I myself go to fight against the sheep; and if I am destined to find death there, I shall find it, for it is impossible to avoid fate; and if not, the sheep will fall by me.’
That whole situation makes me laugh: venomous sheep, nine hundred men unable to kill them, the king deciding he must face them himself, his attendants’ concern about his honour if he would fight the sheep, and his stance that either the sheep must die or him.
It’s intense, but it also sounds more suited to venomous dogs or cats or even pigs rather than sheep. I get this image in my head of one heavily-clad man facing off against hundreds of sheep. I smile every time.
I thought I’d share this little bit because I think people have this idea of Medieval literature as boring, and I like to be able to share with people that it can be rather fun.
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Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a lovely week.
Your Bonnie Celtophile,