Dennis's quotation from O'Davoren is item 1252 in Stokes's edition and
translation of O'Davoren's Glossary in Band ii of the Archiv für
celtische Lexikographie at p 418.
Stokes likewise translates this quotation as 'The root of crime is the
consciousness of treachery'.
However, the word 'cubus-brath' is a legal term which covers a
particular type of complicity in crime, namely that which arises from
having prior knowledge of the perpetrator's intention to commit the
crime. See DIL C 581.31f. (cubus < com-fis, 'joint knowledge'?)
In Irish law complicity in crime was categorized chronologically (much
as it is in our law). One could be an accessory before the fact, during
the fact and after the fact.
'Cubus-brath' probably extended beyond the notion of the conspirator to
include anyone who knew a crime was being planned but failed to warn
about it. (The idea in the quote may be that the neglect of this social
duty to warn is the soil in which crime takes root.)
This quotation in O'Davoren also turns up in the legal manuscripts at
CIH 788.39. It is cited there in a passage of commentary which deals
with the fines to be paid by the hired killer (aire échta), the
conspirator (fer braith), the accessory (sellach) and the perpetrator
There may be something in what Dennis says about the 'love of money' not
being an Irish problem though. For a start, the Irish didn't really use
money; they used sacks of grain and cattle (and occasionally amounts of
refined silver and gold). Still, that only calls for a modification from
'money' to 'wealth'. More relevantly, Irish society seems to be one of
those where it was the conspicuous distribution of wealth, rather than
the conspicuous accumulation of it, that led to elevated status.
But I don't think our quotation is dealing with such anthropological
From: Old-Irish-L [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of
Sent: Sunday, 24 April 2005 6:50 AM
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Subject: the root of crime
O'Davoren's Glossary (p. 106 in _Three Irish Glossaries_, edited
by Stokes) has the following saying:
"Mecon cinadh cubus braith." I translate this as:
"The taproot of crime is a treacherous conscience."
Neil, does this sound familiar from in the Laws?
It's interesting that rather than the biblical "the love of money"
as "the root of all evil", this proverb identifies treachery as the
underlying problem. Could it be that avarice is the more apt "root"
in a mercantile society, while treachery is what looms large as a
threat in a "heroic" society, one held together by bonds of family,
clientship, fosterage, and personal fealty? Or am I being a
socio-anthropological romantic? :-)
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