A Woman's Words

A Woman's Words: Emer and Female Speech in the Ulster Cycle

JOANNE FINDON
Copyright Date: 1997
Pages: 224
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442670549
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  • Book Info
    A Woman's Words
    Book Description:

    The first in-depth analysis of Middle Irish literature from a feminist standpoint, and the first formal critical discussion of the representation of female speech in medieval Irish literature.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7054-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-2)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 3-22)

    This study began as a quest for a method of reading female figures in medieval Irish prose texts which did not depend on the assumption that a submerged pre-Christian goddess lurked beneath their ‘human’ skins. I was particularly interested in finding a strategy for reading Emer, thee wife of the great hero Cú Chulainn, a woman whose strength and verbal prowess on the one hand and lack of discernible supernatural traits on the other set her apart from many other female characters in the early Irish tradition. It soon became clear, however, that the issues raised by such a project...

  7. 1 The Wooing of Emer: The Sweet Speech of Courtship
    (pp. 23-56)

    In the implied chronology of Cú Chulainn’s heroic career,The Wooing of Emer(Tochmarc Emire) marks the introduction of Emer into the hero’s life. This is a long and complicated narrative, which takes several detours into seemingly peripheral adventures. Yet it remains focused primarily on the hero’s courtship of Emer and her assignment of the deeds he must perform to win her, his fulfilment of her requirements, and his eventual marriage to her. The tale introduces other important details as well, for it is here that the account of Cú Chulainn’s training in arms abroad with the warrior-woman Scáthach is...

  8. 2 Bricriu’s Feast: Women’s Words as Weapons
    (pp. 57-83)

    Bricriu’s Feast(Fled Bricrend)is another tale central to the Ulster Cycle. This narrative concerns the contention between Ulster’s three greatest heroes over which of them is worthy to receive the finest cut of meat (thecuradmir, or champion’s portion) at a feast given by the notorious trickster Bricriu. Despite its heroic agenda, and its delightful scenes of slapstick humour, this tale – like the others discussed in this study – has received relatively little scholarly attention. Indeed,Bricriu’s Feastis known mainly as a possible source for the ‘beheading game’ motif which provides the plot structure of the Middle English tale...

  9. 3 The Death of Aife’s Only Son: ‘Do not slay your only son’
    (pp. 84-106)

    In the two tales discussed so far we have seen Emer playing the roles expected of an aristocratic woman in her society. Although she exerts great influence through her speech, and occasionally comes close to transgressing the boundaries of acceptable discourse, she has been seen operating within the parameters of her heroic, male-centred society. InThe Wooing of Emershe awaits the return of the hero, guarding her chastity and keeping her promises to him, and inBricriu’s Feastshe joins the other heroes’ wives in expressing her self-worth in the heroic vocabulary of her social milieu.

    Yet in two...

  10. 4 The Wasting Sickness of Cú Chulainn: The Language of Desire
    (pp. 107-134)

    The story of Cú Chulainn’s debilitating love-sickness and Emer’s corresponding jealousy is one of the most unusual tales in medieval Irish literature. Not only does the narrative manage to subvert many of the norms of both heroic and romantic stories, it also opens a window onto the emotional lives of its female characters. Through the device of a potion of forgetfulness,The Wasting Sickness of Cú Chulainn(Serglige Con Culainn¹) contrives to tell an anomalous tale within an established tradition without jeopardizing the essential outlines of that tradition. At the same time, the text presents both Emer and her Otherworld...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 135-140)

    Throughout this study, we have seen how Emer’s speech plays crucial roles in the Ulster Cycle narratives. In each of the tales discussed here, the representation of Emer’s speech in the text shapes either the narrative trajectory itself or the construction of the text’s meaning for the audience, or both.

    InThe Wooing of EmerandBricriu’s Feast, Emer emerges as a paragon of medieval Irish womanhood, distinguished from her female peers by her beauty, her intelligence, and her unique ability to manipulate language effectively. Her verbal skills enable her to shape her world through the judicious use of speech...

  12. Appendix: Sources and Manuscripts
    (pp. 141-146)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 147-190)
  14. References
    (pp. 191-204)
  15. Index
    (pp. 205-211)