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Cuchulain

Cuchulain

Legendary hero warrior of Irish romance, son of the solar god Lugh and Dectera. His name means "Hound of Cullan," and his mighty deeds dominate Ulster lore. In order to marry Emer, daughter of Forgall, he was obliged to pass through the ordeals of the Land of Shadow and the warrior goddess Skatha, cross the Bridge of Leaps, learn the arts of war, and slay 100 men. Cuchulain also featured in the great Cattle Raid of Quelgny, described in the Book of Leinster of Finn MacGorman, bishop of Kildare, recorded in 1150.

In the twelfth century Book of the Dun Cow, Cuchulain is summoned from hell by St. Patrick to describe the terrors of hell to the pagan king of Ireland Laery MacNeill. As a result, the King was converted to Christianity and Cuchulain allowed to enter heaven. The deeds of Cuchulain as related in the Ulster Cycle of the Knights of the Red Branch are thought to have influenced the development of traditions of King Arthur in Wales and England.

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Cuchulain

Cuchulain

Cuchulain, one of the greatest heroes of Irish mythology and legend, was a warrior in the service of Conchobhar, king of Ulster. Best known for his single-handed defense of Ulster, Cuchulain is said to have lived in the first century b.c., and tales about him and other heroes began to be written down in the a.d. 700S. Cuchulain's adventures were recorded in a series of tales known as the Ulster Cycle.


Early Life. Like many Irish heroes, Cuchulain had a short, adventurous, and tragic life. He was the son of Dechtire, sister of King Conchobhar. She and some of her handmaidens were kidnapped on her wedding night by Lug, the sun god, who appeared to her as a fly. Dechtire swallowed the fly and later gave birth to a son whose original name was Setanta.

From the beginning, the child possessed extraordinary powers. He could swim like a fish at birth. He had seven fingers on each hand, seven toes on each foot, and seven pupils in each eye. At the age of 7, he fought off 150 boy warriors to gain entrance to his uncle's court. When he was 12, Setanta accidentally killed the watchdog of the smith Cullan and offered to guard Cullan's property until another dog could be trained. It was at that time that he changed his name to Cuchulain, which means "hound of Cullan." He grew up to be a handsome, well-spoken man who was very popular with women.


Trials and Achievements. Cuchulain fell in love with Emer and asked her to marry him. Emer insisted that Cuchulain must first prove his valor by undergoing a series of trials and sent him to the war goddess Scatha to be trained in warfare. On his journey to Scatha, Cuchulain had to pass through the plain of Ill Luck, where sharp grasses cut travelers' feet, and through the Perilous Glen, where dangerous animals roamed. Then Cuchulain had to cross the Bridge of the Cliff, which raised itself vertically when someone tried to cross it. Cuchulain jumped to the center and slid to the opposite side.

To repay Scatha for his training, Cuchulain fought her enemy Aife, the strongest woman in the world. After defeating Aife, he made peace with her, and she bore him a son, Cornila. While returning home to claim his bride, Cuchulain rescued a princess and visited the underworld.

Back home, Cuchulain achieved his greatest victory. When Queen Medb of Connacht sent a great army to steal the Brown Bull of Ulster, Cuchulain stopped them single-handedly. He alone, of all the Ulster warriors, was unaffected by a curse that had weakened the strength of the fighting force. Unfortunately, during one of the battles, he was forced to fight his good friend Ferdiad, whom he killed. On numerous other occasions, Cuchulain defended Ulster against the rest of Ireland and won numerous contests of bravery and trustworthiness.

But misfortune followed him. Cuchulain killed his own son, Connla, learning his identity too late. In addition, Cuchulain died as a result of trickery. After offending Morrigan, the goddess of death and battles, he was summoned to fight at a time when he was ill. On the way to battle, he saw a vision of a woman washing the body and weapons of a dead warrior, and he recognized the warrior as himself. Knowing then that his own death was imminent, he fought bravely. When he was too weak to stand, Cuchulain tied himself to a pillar so that he could die fighting on his feet. He was 27 years old.

underworld land of the dead

imminent about to take place; threatening

The Warrior. Cuchulain had several magical weapons: his sword, his visor, and his barbed spear, Gae Bulga, which inflicted wounds from which nobody ever recovered. When Cuchulain went into battle, he would go into a frenzy. His cry alone would kill a hundred warriors from fright. His physical appearancenamely, that of a handsome manchanged completely. Cuchulain's hair stood on end, one of his eyes bulged out while the other disappeared in his head, his legs and feet turned to face backward, his muscles swelled, and a column of blood spurted up from his head. His body became so hot that it could melt snow.

When swept away in a war frenzy, Cuchulain could not distinguish between friends and enemies. On one occasion, he was so full of the lust for battle that he needed to be stopped. A group of Ulster women marched out naked carrying vats of cold water to bring him to his senses. When Cuchulain stopped his chariot in embarrassment, he was grabbed by warriors who threw him into three vats of cold water to calm him down. The first vat burst apart, the second boiled over, but the third merely got hot.

See also Celtic Mythology; Lug.

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Cuchulain

Cuchulain (kəhŏŏl´ən, –hōō´lən), Irish legendary hero of Ulster, of prodigious strength and remarkable beauty. He is the central figure of the Ulster legends, the greatest work of which is the Táin Bó Cúalnge [the cattle raid of Cooley]. The great feature of this is Cuchulain's stand at a ford on the boundary of Ulster, where he defended single-handedly his province against the armies of the rest of Ireland.

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Cuchulain

Cuchulain in Irish mythology, Red Branch hero of the Ulster cycle, and nephew of Conchubar; he defends Ulster against the forces of the queen of Connaught, but at last (through the enmity of the Morrigan) is killed fighting heroically against overwhelming odds.

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Cuchulain

Cuchulain

Nationality/Culture

Irish/Celtic

Pronunciation

koo-KUL-in

Alternate Names

Sétanta

Appears In

The Ulster Cycle

Lineage

Son of Lug and Dechtire

Character Overview

Cuchulain, one of the greatest heroes of Irish mythology and legend, was a warrior in the service of Conchobhar (pronounced KON-kvar), king of Ulster. Best known for his single-handed defense of Ulster, Cuchulain is said to have lived in the first century bce, and tales about him and other heroes began to be written down in the 700s ce. Cuchulain's adventures were recorded in a series of tales known as the Ulster Cycle.

Like many Irish heroes, Cuchulain had a short, adventurous, and tragic life. He was the son of Dechtire (pronounced DEK-tir-uh), sister of King Conchobhar. She and some of her handmaidens were kidnapped on her wedding night by Lug , the sun god, who appeared to her as a fly. Dechtire swallowed the fly and later gave birth to a son whose original name was Sétanta.

From the beginning, the child possessed extraordinary powers. He could swim like a fish at birth. He had seven fingers on each hand, seven toes on each foot, and seven pupils in each eye. At the age of seven, he fought off 150 boy warriors to gain entrance to his uncle's court. When he was twelve, Sétanta accidentally killed the watchdog of the smith Cullan and offered to guard Cullan's property until another dog could be trained. It was at that time that he changed his name to Cuchulain, which means “hound of Cullan.” He grew up to be a handsome, well-spoken man who was very popular with women.

Training with Scatha Cuchulain fell in love with a woman named Emer and asked her to marry him. Emer's father insisted that Cuchulain must first prove his valor by undergoing a series of trials and sent him to the war goddess Scatha to be trained in warfare. On his journey to Scatha, Cuchulain had to pass through the plain of 111 Luck, where sharp grasses cut travelers' feet, and through the Perilous Glen, where dangerous animals roamed. Then Cuchulain had to cross the Bridge of the Cliff, which raised itself vertically when someone tried to cross it. Cuchulain jumped to the center and slid to the opposite side.

To repay Scatha for his training, Cuchulain fought her enemy Aife (pronounced EE-va), the strongest woman in the world. After defeating Aife, he made peace with her, and she bore him a son, Connla. While returning home to claim his bride, Cuchulain rescued a princess and visited the underworld , or land of the dead.

The Cattle Raid of Cooley Back home, Cuchulain achieved his greatest victory. When Queen Medb (pronounced MAVE) of Connacht (pronounced KON-et) sent a great army to steal the Brown Bull of Cooley, in Ulster, Cuchulain stopped them single-handedly. He alone, of all the Ulster warriors, was unaffected by a curse that had weakened the strength of the fighting force. Unfortunately, during one of the batdes, he was forced to fight and kill his good friend Ferdiad. On numerous other occasions, Cuchulain defended Ulster against the rest of Ireland and won numerous contests of bravery and trustworthiness.

But misfortune followed him. Cuchulain killed his own son, Connla, learning his identity too late. In addition, Cuchulain died as a result of trickery. After offending Morrigan, the goddess of death and battles, he was summoned to fight at a time when he was ill. On the way to battle, he saw a vision of a woman washing the body and weapons of a dead warrior, and he recognized the warrior as himself. Knowing then that his own death was unavoidable, he fought bravely. When he was too weak to stand, Cuchulain tied himself to a pillar so that he could die fighting on his feet. He was twenty-seven years old.

Cuchulain the Warrior Cuchulain had several magical weapons: his sword, his visor, and his barbed spear, Gae Bulga, which inflicted wounds from which nobody ever recovered. When Cuchulain went into battle, he would go into a frenzy known as a “warp spasm.” His cry alone would kill a hundred warriors, frightening them to death. His physical appearance—namely, that of a handsome man—changed completely. Cuchulain's hair stood on end, one of his eyes bulged out while the other disappeared in his head, his legs and feet turned to face backward, his muscles swelled, and a column of blood spurted up from his head. His body became so hot that it could melt snow.

When swept away in a war frenzy, Cuchulain could not distinguish between friends and enemies. On one occasion, he was so full of the lust for batde that he needed to be stopped. A group of Ulster women marched out naked carrying vats of cold water to bring him to his senses. When Cuchulain stopped his chariot in embarrassment, he was grabbed by warriors who threw him into three vats of cold water to calm him down. The first vat burst apart, the second boiled over, but the third merely got hot.

Cuchulain in Context

Cuchulain is often seen as a cultural hero, but exactly whose culture he represents has been a subject for debate. He has been adopted by Irish nationalists as an important symbol supporting Ireland's independence from England. Cuchulain has also been used as a symbol by those supporting Ireland's union with England, since many of these supporters are based in the region of Ulster—home to the Cuchulain legend.

The Celts, like the Norse, valued their warriors and respected those with great skill in battle. Cuchulain, like the Norse hero Beowulf , is nearly unbeatable. The Celts also valued beautiful speech and charm, and Irish culture in modern times is still associated with lyricism, poetry, song, and a special persuasiveness. Cuchulain was a fearsome warrior, but also a charming, handsome, smooth-talking man: the cultural ideal.

Key Themes and Symbols

Much like Achilles from ancient Greek myth, Cuchulain symbolizes both legendary strength and rage that can, at times, hardly be controlled. He is a symbol of the perfect warrior and ideal protector of his people, defending Ulster even when he could no longer stand on his own.

One of the main themes of the legend of Cuchulain is that great fame and glory are often paid for with an early death. This theme is also seen in the tale of Achilles, though Cuchulain's destiny is unknown to him.

Cuchulain in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

Cuchulain is one of the most popular figures in Irish legend, and has remained an important part of Irish literature. Modern Irish author William Butler Yeats wrote several works about Cuchulain and his adventures, including plays and poetry. A famous bronze statue of Cuchulain created by Oliver Sheppard can be found in the Dublin Post Office. In addition, the highest honor awarded to adult Scouts in the Irish equivalent of the Boy Scouts is named after Cuchulain.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

Cuchulain has been used as a symbol for several different groups of people, some with opposing viewpoints (such as the Irish nationalists and the Unionists). Do you think mythological figures such as Cuchulain “belong” to a specific culture, or do you think they should be free to be adopted by anyone who wishes? Should a terrorist organization be free to use a culture hero like Cuchulain as a symbol for their cause? Why or why not?

SEE ALSO Celtic Mythology; Lug

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