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Tochmarc Étaíne (Author: [unknown])

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Tochmarc Étaíne

The Tochmarc Étaíne or Wooing of Étaín1 is the principal tale of the mythological cycle which is concerned with Midir, king of the elfmounds of Brí Léith. It is included in the ancient classified lists of prime stories. Three distinct tales bearing this title have been handed down. They were transcribed into Lebor na Huidre (c. 1100), where, however, owing to loss of leaves, only the second is preserved entire. The first (p. 129 a-b 19; ed. 10636-10707) lacks the commencement, and the third (p. 130 b 19-132 a 45; ed. 10790-10915) the middle and end portions. In a lexicographical tract in H 3. 18, Trinity Coll. Dubl. (p. 605), a few isolated passages of these defective tales are preserved in the form of lemmata with glosses. They have been edited and translated by L. C. Stern ( ZCP 5, 522 ff.). The complete text seemed irretrievably lost until recently another copy of the three tales, happily perfect, came to light in a section of the Yellow Book of Lecan, which had lain all unsuspected among the Irish manuscripts in the Phillipps collection at Thirlestaine House, Cheltenham (MS. 8214). These have since been acquired by the National Library of Ireland.2 The section comprises ten leaves (cols. 959-98), and is the direct continuation of the main volume in the Library of Trinity College.


The numeration had been partially erased in order to conceal the fragmentary nature of the gathering. Another copy of the second tale, long familiar in the edition published by Windisch from LU (129b 20—130 b 18; ed. 10709-10788) in his Irische Texte (I. 117 ff.) also occurs, strangely enough, in the main volume (Facs 175 a 17; cols. 876-7). It is here printed (for the first time) integrally, and for convenience under the Phillipps copy.

A later and much inflated version of this second tale is contained in Brit. Mus. Egerton 1782 (205 a ff.).3 The episode of the love-sickness has also been utilized in another tale, Aislinge Óengusso, which, however, belongs to the Old-Irish period.4

With the aid of the excerpts in H 3. 18, Stern (pp. 523 ff.) was able to fill some of the gaps in the first tale;5 in this he was followed by Alfred Nutt ( RC 27, 325-39). Windisch, in his edition of the first fragmentary tale, had drawn attention to certain obviously interpolated passages, and after him Zimmer, in his monograph 'Ueber den compilatorischen charakter der irischen sagentexte im sogenannten Lebor na hUidre' ( Z. f. vergl. Sprachforsch. 28, 585 ff.). Lucius Gwynn added materially to the discussion by his discovery that the poem ascribed (erroneously)6 to Cináed úa hArtacáin in the Book of Leinster (209 b,24) was a retelling of the first tale, considerably modified, however. For his edition and translation of the poem, see Ériu 7 (210 ff:). Finally, R. Thurneysen, in his Irische Helden- und Königsage (589 ff.), submitted all three tales to a fresh examination, pointing out additional interpolations, while rejecting several of Zimmer's inferences as to the recension of the


text. To this critical analysis the reader is referred for the literature and for a general discussion of the saga.

These tales—the first and third at least—are in the nature of foretales (remscéla) to the historic cycle of Conaire Mór, as represented in the well-known Orgain Brudne uí (or Dá) Dergae, 'Destruction of úa Derga's Hostel'. This is expressly stated in a passage in Lebor na Huidre, concluding that saga (99a II; ed. 8005),7 extracted from the lost Lebor (or Cín) Dromma Snechta: 'Slicht Libair Dromma Snechta inso. Orgain Brudne uí Dergae trá iarna remscélaib .i. iar Tesbaid Eacute;taíne ingine Ailello & iar Tromdáim Echdach Airemón & íar nAisnéis Síde Meic Óic do Midir Breg Leith ina síd . ..' It is not apparent to what degree the three tales in question are embodied in Tochmarc Étaíne. 8 Zimmer was of opinion (loc. cit. 594) that the first Tochmarc was not a remscél, as Tesbaid Étaín might equally refer to Étaín's disappearance with Midir from Eochaid's house [Tochmarc III]. It would seem as if the compiler of Lebor (Cín) Dromma Snechta was unacquainted with a Tochmarc Étaíne as such. Thurneysen (op. cit. 598) remarks that this title applies only to the second part of I, further that the tale as it has come down to us is a retelling ('Verarbeitung') of the second half of the eleventh century, in other words, of the LU period, though linguistically it belongs to the ninth century, as likewise the fragment on the distribution of the elfmounds by the Dagda, Gabál in tsída (ed. and translated by Vernam Hull, ZCP 19, 53-8).

Tochmarc II is an episode in III, when Étaín was living with Eochaid Airem, before Midir claimed her and carried her off in the shape of a swan to Síd ar Femuin (or Síd Ban Find). The narrative then is briefly as follows:

I. Part 1. [paragraphs 1-10] The Begetting of Aengus (in Mac Óc)9 by the Dagda or Eochaid Ollathair on Eithne or Boand, wife of Elcmar


of Brug na Bóinne. How the Dagda acknowledged Mac Óc, who was fostered by Midir, as his son, and instigated him to obtain by a trick (Night and Day) his Brug from Elcmar; Part II. [paragraphs 11-14] the Wooing of Étaín Echraide daughter of Ailill, king of Northern Ireland, by Mac Óc, on behalf of Midir, and the tasks imposed on him by Ailill—Clearing of the great Plains— which he accomplished with the aid of the Dagda, so that Midir obtained Étaín; Part III. [paragraphs 14-26], the Jealousy of Midir's wife Fuamnach, her metamorphosis of Étaín by magic spells, the disappearance of the latter, and her rebirth a thousand years later as the daughter of Étar's wife, of Inber Cíchmaine in Ulster. Fuamnach slain by Mac Óc at the house of the druid Bresal Étarlám.

II. Étaín is the wife of Eochaid Airem, king of Tara, whose brother Ailill falls in love with her, and wastes away because of it. He is healed of his love sickness. The reappearance of Midir, who seeks to regain Étaín, and confesses that it was he who had inspired Ailill with his passion.

III. Reappearance of Midir before Eochaid Airem on the terrace of Tara. They play at chess for stakes. Eochaid defeats him and lays heavy tasks upon him—the clearing of plains, etc., such as Ailill had laid upon Mac Óc in Tochmarc I. The elves enable Midir to accomplish these tasks. In the final game the stake is Étaín. Midir wins, and carries her off in the shape of a swan to Síd Femin (or Síd Ban Find); [paragraph 16] the men of Ireland go in pursuit and raze the Síd and also the royal stronghold of Midir, Síd Breg Léith. Midir comes forth and bids Eochaid pick out his wife from among the women of the Síd. Eochaid embarrassed chooses one resembling her, who he learns afterwards is Étaín's daughter. When she bears him a daughter, he puts the infant away. The child is brought up by the herdsman and his wife, and afterwards (as Étaín) becomes the wife of Étarscél, and the mother of Conaire Mór. Afterwards, Eochaid's stronghold Dún Frémainn is burned and he himself slain.

Such is the tale. It has given rise to various minor stories, dindshenchas, &c., prose and verse, in which there is much variation; for example, Tale I: the dindshenchas of Bóand and Brug na Bóinde; Tale III: that of Rath Esa, in which the order of events is slightly different (see E. J. Gwynn, Metrical Dindshenchas,


II. 2 ff., III. 26 ff., V. 98)10. In the light of the full text now recovered, it is hoped that the whole saga may be made the subject of further study.

Where the text rests on a single manuscript, in which there are many obscure passages, a critical edition could not well be attempted. We have followed the method adopted in our edition of Lebor na Huidre as regards extension of abbreviations and separation of words, and have noted only such variant readings as seemed necessary to elucidate the text. In the second YBL version of Tochmarc II, which is available in Facsimile, abbreviations have for the most part been extended silently. Here, however, commas and capital letters have been introduced. Marks of length, which throughout the Yellow Book, are often otiose or misplaced, e.g. over dó mó 'to, thy, my', &c., are, notwithstanding, retained. On the other hand, the acute accent over 'i', which most often serves the purpose of a dot, has only been retained where the vowel is naturally long. In preparing this text we have consulted the various editions and translations referred to above (p. 138).11 There are many erasures and insertions of letters, as throughout the main volume, both by the scribe and by a corrector. In our tale the scribe was frequently in difficulties, struggling perhaps with a defective exemplar. For some of the more perplexing passages, such as the rhetorics, the present editors have no satisfactory solution to offer, and in some instances their renderings are more or less tentative. Thanks are due to Miss Eleanor Knott for many corrections and useful references.