The tale of Derdriu once again begins with a prophecy of a woman’s birth being the catalyst for the destruction of men and the envy of woman. Prior to her birth, an ominous scream came from her mother’s womb, arousing suspicion and fear in all those who heard it. The druid Cathbad was called upon to adjudicate and provide answers as to what this fierce scream could mean, he poetically described how her stunning appearance would wreak havoc on the land of Ulster, “There is a girl there. Derdriu shall be her name. She will bring evil” he said (Kinsella,9). This depiction continues the sexist trend we’ve already encountered in our study of Mythology, whereby woman, especially beautiful ones are made to be the scapegoats for dishonorable men. Upon hearing the omen described by Cathbad, the so-called warriors immediately call for her death, presumably for the greater good but realistically, in my opinion, out of cowardice. Conchobor’s lust for this beautiful woman is all that kept her alive, he wanted to have her raised in secret so that he might marry her when she came of age, thereby, once again self-fulfilling the prophecies of Cathbad and furthermore, this continues the trend where powerful men abuse their power and treat woman like a prize to be claimed.
Her fateful life continues when she meets Noisui, whom she lusted after when her foster father told her he matched her description of what she coveted in a man, continuing the trend of physical beauty being the most important factor in stories of love. Despite being warned by his brothers of Cathbad’s prophecy, Noisui nevertheless stole her away from Conchobor which invoked his jealous wrath. Treachery would continue to plague their journey, with numerous traps and ambushes laid, ultimately, they decided to return Ireland under the promise of safe passage. Through Conchobor’s guileful subterfuge of way laying Fergus on the journey, knowing by oath he could not refuse an invitation for food and drink., Derdriu and party were separated from Fergus. A battle broke out on the greens of Emain after Noisui was killed by Eogan’s spear. Derdriu was bound and taken to Conchobor, a fitting metaphor for her life thus far. The aftermath of the battle on the green was 16 years of weeping and sorrow for Ulster, as foretold (Kinsella, 15)
Ultimately, she was kept by Conchobor for a year, unsurprisingly she was mournful, bitter and inconsolable. Conchobor cruelly sent her to live with the only man she hated more than him, Noisiu’s killer, Eogan mac Durthact (Kinsella,19). On her departure he taunted her one last time, perhaps poetically, she took her own life. I think was an honorable act for her, after a life of being pulled in every direction by the whims of man, she finally was able take matters into her own hands, defiant that no man should have her (Kinsella,19).
Conchobor introduction is already problematic, the druid passing by Nes, his mother, ultimately tricks her, in my opinion, into sleeping with him to beget a King (Kinsella, 3). He rose to the throne of Ulster through some clever trickery by his mother Nes. This cunning led the men of Ulster to revere King Conchobor, so much so that they let him sleep with their woman first, again showing how men viewed woman as simple sexual possessions to be coveted. He was called the fiercest warrior, despite never being near the heat of battle, protected by the real brave soldiers to keep him from harm (Kinsella, 4). His depiction is very typical of ancient royalty, great physical strength, handsome, rich, and bathing in the vanity of his exploits. I don’t think he was an honorable man; his pride leads him to forsake numerous good men through deception and trickery, resulting in their deaths. Finally, his selfishness and abuse of masculine power in keeping Derdriu alive leads not only to death and destruction in Ulster, but her suicide too. His punishment of sending her to live with another man she hated is the ultimate act of petulant cowardice.
Kinsella, Thomas. The Táin: From the Irish Epic Táin Bó Cuailnge. Oxford University Press, 2002.
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