April 20: The Táin VIII-XI

The Táin seems to meld the natural with the supernatural. The Morrigan’s powers, the two bulls, Cúchullain’s “lineage”, and many of his feats all mix these two elements.

Do you think this mixing delegitimizes nature, or affords it more “power”? What do you think the significance of this relationship is?

6 thoughts on “April 20: The Táin VIII-XI

  1. This is a really interesting question. I had to sit and think about it for a while before deciding what I thought about it. The conclusion I came to is that in the medieval view, this would have been seen as nature at its highest, most unlimited power. The reason I say this is that the idea of magic or divinity being completely foreign to nature seems like a fairly modern view. I’m not saying they expected miracles everywhere they looked in the middle ages. That’s a contradiction in terms, since miracles wouldn’t be miraculous if they happened all the time. But I think they didn’t see miracles as completely opposed to, or foreign to, the way that nature works. Nature had power, after all, and was personified sometimes as a divinity.

    This power is beyond the control of people most of the time. Even, as in the case of the bulls, beyond the power of Mebd and Aillill, who are at least nominally deities. And though Billy was right to correct me for saying Cuchullain is a passive vessel of the warp-spasm, I still don’t think he’s entirely in control of himself when he’s in it.

  2. I think the blending of the supernatural into the natural certainly provides it with more power. Like Michael said, the idea that the natural world can be delegitamized by being muddled with the supernatural is a modern concept. The addition of supernatural elements to the natural world only serves to extend the reader’s sense of awe at the power of the natural world. This is something I feel that the Tain often sets itself to do – attempt to inspire awe in the reader (or listener). This is the reason Cuchullain, as well as a few other characters, are freakishly superhuman.

  3. I believe the blending of the supernatural and natural does add more power, but i believe this power becomes attributed not to the natural or supernatural force itself, but to the person wielding this united force. This can most clearly be seen in Cúchullain, who is undoubtedly at this point in the story the most powerful warrior. Cúchullain embodies this in that he both a man, and some sort of almost divine warrior; he is able to physically transform, survive for days without sleep, and perform feats of strength unlike any other fighter in the story. The melding of his natural and supernatural forms and abilities give him more power in the story, elevating him beyond the other warriors and characters of the tale.

  4. I believe I am in agreement with most of the above statements. I do not think the supernatural delegitimizes nature at all, considering even in grammatical terms it is intertwined with nature. However, in the Tain, natures power is shown almost exclusively as something harnessed by humans, such as with Cuchullain who is incredibly powerful from it. I think this acts as both a portrayal of how humans dictate nature and how we must get all of our power from these natural forces, never completely disengaged from it.

  5. Much like Greek mythology was deeply centered in nature, (as it was a way for the ancient Greco-Roman world to explain the occurrences in nature), the Tain has both supernatural qualities, with gods and demigods, who are rooted within nature. In stories such as these, one should not try to separate nature and supernatural. The term “supernatural” means “above” nature. In a way, you can see nature and the supernatural in the Tain as being a more powerful version of nature. Cuchullain was named after powerful dogs, Donn Cuailnge was a bull, not a fantastical monster. The Tain functions using nature, not fantasy. Thus, we can read this text as an “extra-natural” text, in some ways.

  6. I’m not sure I would go so far as to say that the supernatural elements delegitimize nature, but I would definitely say that there are plenty of points in which there’s a clear separation between the two. I like Alexis’s point about Cuchulainn, but I would take that evidence the other direction. Because Cuchulainn is so separate from his fellow men, distinctly above them and almost distinguished as “other,” I’d say that he is not a part of the natural order–indeed, he is perceived as divine and god-like, not of the earth. The description of him provided around page 158, in my opinion, support this. It describes him as having seven fingers and toes, nine pupils, tri-colored hair; qualities that elevate him from natural to supernatural. In my opinion, this opposes nature in that it renders it useless and defenseless against him.

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