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OLD-IRISH-L  December 2002

OLD-IRISH-L December 2002

Subject:

Re: "The wren, the wren...

From:

francine nicholson <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Scholars and students of Old Irish <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 30 Dec 2002 00:35:29 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (71 lines)

<[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>Which would fly in the face of everything we know about Druids choosing
>kings via such acts as the tarbh feis, as well as all the textual evidence
>that, as Caesar says, it is the Druids who rule and the kings merely
>execute their decisions.

Sorry, but your logic escapes me. I noted that the roles in a Welsh tale (in
which a hero conquers another obstacle to his becoming king) seemed the
inverse of what they are in the probably not Celtic story in which the wren
becomes king. How does that comment contradict the participation of druids
in the election of a king in Roman Gaul or medieval Ireland? The stories may
not even be related, as I see it.  Moreover, I see several other problems
with this statement, which I'll address in no particular order:

1. Evidence regarding the tarbfheis (bull feast) comes from medieval and
later Gaelic sources (Serglige Con Culainn, Togail Bruidne Dá Derga, the
much later Battle of Findchora, and Keating) plus the account of taghairm by
Martin Martin in Description of the Western Isles, the latter account of
which has nothing to do with selecting a king. Is there evidence that a
similar technique was used in Wales to select kings at any period? Unless
there is, I don't see how one can assume that druids or seers used Gaelic
methods to select kings in Britain. So, the evidence from selecting kings in
Ireland might have nothing to do with Welsh tales, unless one could
demonstrate that there was a link. I don't see any link between Lleu's
wounding a wren and the selection of a king through the bull feast.

2. You refer to "all the textual evidence that, as Caesar says, it is the
Druids who rule and the kings merely execute their decisions." What evidence
is there beyond Julius Caesar's statement? And why should "we" accept the
statement of Julius Caesar in this regard? In evaluating his statements, one
should always keep his agenda in mind. He needed to justify wiping out
druids and their sanctuaries--labeling them as the "real" powers of Gaul was
a good excuse to get rid of them. My impression is that Julius Caesar made
some statements that seem to be trustworthy, and others that seem to be
mistaken.  In general, I prefer to use his statements when they can be
corroborated by other evidence. I especially prefer to see supporting
evidence to conclude that something said about Gaul also applies to Britain
or Ireland.

3. Being responsible for the election of a king does not mean that a class
of religious leaders would necessarily be "running" a territory with the
king simply a puppet. They might be able to exert influence on a king, but
they could do that simply by virtue of their position as religious leaders.
The Ulster cycle tales talk about Cathbad acting as an intermediary between
suppliants and visitors who seek to speak to the king. That makes the druid
the guard against exposing the king's person (and his power) to those who
would do the king harm or seek to rob his power. It doesn't make the druid a
kind of grey eminence. Should we assume that druids ran pre-Christian
Ireland and Britain because Julius Caesar claimed they ran Gaul? I'd need to
see evidence that druids ran pre-Christian Ireland and Britain.

So, in sum, I don't think my statement "flies in the face of everything"
known about kings and druids or other religious leaders. I think we know
very little about the interactions between kings and druids. Most of the
evidence for Britain and Ireland comes from sources that date from long
after Christianity became dominant. That for Gaul comes from statements made
by outsiders who were often hostile or ill-informed. Even when one can be
reasonably sure that something was being done in one region, I don't think
one should assume that it's being done everywhere. And I really don't see
how what Julius Caesar claimed about druids and kings in Gaul negates my
*possible* interpretation of the imagery used in a Welsh tale.

That's the way it looks to me.

Francine Nicholson

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