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Marion Deane – The Birth of the Hero and the Origin of Society – Reciprocity and Incest in Compert Conculainn


THE LETTER 27 (Spring 2003) pages 51-71


Compert Conculainn, the tale of Cuchulainn’s conception and birth, has been handed down in two recensions, generally referred to as version 1 and version 2. Version 1 belonging to the first half of the eighth century was preserved in the lost Book of Druim Snechta (Cin Dromma Snechta). It now remains in seven manuscripts, the oldest of which is Lebor na h-Uidre, preserved in the Royal Irish Academy. It is from this manuscript that the tale under consideration is taken.


The legend concerning Dubthach maccu Lugair’s meeting with Patrick is recounted in Côrus Béscnai, a text of the Senchas Mar, the most important collection of Old Irish law-texts, dated to the early eighth century. The poet is said to have supplied details of pagan law to Patrick, who eliminated from it all those elements which were contrary to Christian doctrine. The Irish people consequently acknowledged two systems of law, the pagan law of nature and scriptural law. The main purpose of this legend, which ‘explains the origins of the law in terms of mixed native and Christian inspiration’ was to defend the traditional law that was under attack, chiefly on the grounds that there was such a ‘wide gulf’ between traditional marriage laws as expressed in Cain Ldnamna, and Christian doctrine

The Birth of the Hero and the Origin of Society

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