Sunday, 6 December 2020

Audacht Moraind on Principles of Ruling

 According to Audacht Moraind , the first (and the best) among ideal

rulers is the fírfhlaith, ‘a true lord’, who rules according to his righteousness (OIr. fírinne).

the second is the cíallfhlaith, ‘a common sense ruler’, who rules by means of his intellect

and reasoning. the third is the tarbfhlaith, ‘a bull-ruler’, who is portrayed as a violent

and impulsive leader of warrior-bands, ready for attack and aggression. The fourth is ‘the

ruler of occupation with hosts from outside’ (OIr. flaith congbála co slúagaib díanechtair),

but it is not clear from the text what is the precise difference between the last two.

Recension A of AM (found in TCD , TCD  and British Museum )

says that there are three types of king, but does not immediately provide a list of them;

it then goes on to furnish a description of all four.It arranges their descriptions in

the ascending sequence, starting with ‘the ruler of occupation with hosts from outside’,

continuing with ‘the common sense ruler’, and moving on to ‘the true ruler’. The ‘bullruler’ following the ‘true-ruler’ does look like a digression from the original principle of


(contained in the Book of Leinster) says that there are four rulers, lists

only three, and provides a description of four.

On the basis of the various recensions one could suggest that the A recension preserves

a contradiction in the shared original due to an odd placement of tarbfhlaith at the end

of classification. Ascending sequence in A ending with a fírfhlaith, ‘a righteous ruler’

at the summit vs. the descending one of B, starting with a righteous ruler and ending up

with a bull-ruler, both tell us of the different organising principles of the recensions.

Furthermore, in B, the ideal types of rulers are divided into two pairs, the pairs of

opposites, each of which is hierarchically lower to its opponent from the moralistic point

of view. The classification can be viewed symmetrically, that is the first two ‘ideal types’

are the two good ones, in which the first is still better than the second, whereas the last

two are the two bad ones, in which the last is worse than the first. the polarity of ‘good’

vs. ‘bad’ types of kingship, in which the good one was divided into the ‘righteous’ and

the ‘wise’, and the bad one was divided into ‘the worse’ and ‘the worst’, was current in

the imagery of Irish kingship from quite an early stage.³

 The theory of Kingship in Serglige Con Culainn

Let us now look at the practical example of theoretical constructs, or rather, at the image

of ideal kingship as embodied in the Irish saga ‘The Wasting Sickess of Cú Chulainn’

(Serglige Con Culainn, hereina SCC).⁴ Although the saga itself, to judge from its title,

is about ‘the mysterious trance or illness which leaves Cú Chulainn helpless for a year’

 it is also devoted to the manners of kingship, embodied in the interpolated account of the so-called tarbfheis episode and the subsequent utterance by Cú

Chulainn of the royal instruction entitled Bríatharthecosc Con Culainn 

to his foster-son, the would-be-king, Lugaid Réoderg. Carey proposed a hypothesis that

Cú Chulainn’s journey to the Otherworld ‘was originally a visionary one, upon which

he embarked while lying in trance, and that the BCC is really uttered by Lug, speaking

out of Cú Chulainn’s body’ . Be that as it may, the point introduced here by

Carey reflects the outlook of the compiler of the tale: having introduced BCC within its

plot, the compiler considered the topic of kingship to be important for the tale telling

of the sickness of Cú Chulainn and his subsequent journey to the Otherworld. Within

the mindset of the medieval Irish literati, the matters of ideal kingship were traditionally

kept under the prerogative of the Otherworld (treated as the ideal world).⁵ Therefore, it is

not surprising to see other reminiscences of the paradigm of ideal rulership throughout

SCC. They mostly crop up in the pieces of verse composed by Lóeg or Lí Ban in praise of

the king of the Otherworld, Labraid Swift-Hand-on-Sword (Labraid Lúathlám ar claideb).

And yet, an account of ideal kingship sometimes conveyed conflicting messages: for instance, we shall see that the description of the mythical king of the Otherworld in SCC

represented a sophisticated mixture of the royal characteristics that in the context of

Audacht Moraind would match both the tarbfhlaith and fírfhlaith types of kingship.

On the one hand, Labraid is depicted as a legitimate king,⁶ whose rule is peaceful and

noble, and is therefore likely to be characterised as the righteous one.

This description of righteous kingship agrees in its tone with both recensions of Audacht

Moraind that similarly portray the good and benevolent rulership as the one that obtains

‘stability, health, peace, joy, tranquillity, well-being, good fortune, profit, repose, whole

ness of heart.(That is Trump.)

The King of High Kings

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