Serglige Con Culainn
Serglige Con Culainn (English: The Sick-Bed of Cú Chulainn or The Wasting Sickness of Cúchulainn), also known as Oenét Emire (English: The Only Jealousy of Emer) is a narrative from the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology. It originated in the 10th and 11th centuries, and survives in the Book of the Dun Cow, which combines two earlier versions. It tells of a curse that fell upon the warrior Cú Chulainn as a result of his attacking otherworldly women, and his eventual recovery by reluctantly agreeing to give military aid to those he had wronged. His developing relationship with one of the Otherworldly women, Fand, occasions his wife Emer's "only jealousy."
The Ulster hero Cú Chulainn is with other men in Muirtheimne, hunting birds by the water. A number of the men kill two birds for their wives, so the women may wear feathers on each shoulder of their gowns. When all the women but Emer have birds, Cú Chulainn becomes determined to kill the largest, most beautiful birds for her. The only birds still in the sky are indeed the largest and most exotic-looking, but the two seabirds are linked by a golden chain and sing a magical sleeping song. Emer recognizes that this means they are from the Otherworld and tells Cú Chulainn not to kill them. He attempts to do so anyway, but only manages to strike one of the birds on the feathers of her wing, damaging her wing, but not inflicting a mortal wound. Cú Chulainn falls ill, and lies unconscious and feverish next to a standing stone.
In his fevered state he sees two women approaching. They are Fand and Lí Ban, whom he assaulted while they were in bird form. They have horsewhips and beat him almost to death. He lies ill in bed for nearly a year, until Lí Ban returns, asking him to come to Mag Mell and help Fand defeat her enemies in a battle there. In exchange for his military aid, Fand will agree to heal him of his illness. Cú Chulainn refuses, but his charioteer, Láeg agrees to go. On his return, Láeg, with the help of Emer (who berates her husband for choosing his pride over his health) manages to convince Cú Chulainn to accompany him to Fand's lands.
In Mag Mell he joins the battle, and helps defeat Fand and Lí Ban's enemies. Fand agrees to sleep with him, but this is discovered by Emer, who confronts Fand, accompanied by a troop of women armed with knives. After much discussion both women recognize the other's unselfish love, and request that Cú Chulainn take the other. Fand decides that since she already has a husband, Manannán mac Lir, Emer should stay with Cú Chulainn so she will not be left alone. Cú Chulainn and Fand are both heartbroken, however. Fand asks Manannán to shake his cloak of mist between her and Cú Chulainn, ensuring that they will never meet again. The druids give Cúchulainn and Emer a potion of forgetfulness, and they forget the entire affair.
Augusta, Lady Gregory included a Victorian version of the story in her 1902 collection Cuchulain of Muirthemne. Gregory's version was loosely adapted by William Butler Yeats for his 1922 play The Only Jealousy of Emer. The Pogues titled the opening track of their 1985 album Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash "The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn" after the tale.
Editions and translations
- Dillon, Myles (ed.). Serglige Con Culainn. Mediaeval and Modern Irish Series 14. Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1953. Based on LU. Available from CELT
- Dillon, Myles (ed.). "The Trinity College text of Serglige Con Culainn." Scottish Gaelic Studies 6 (1949): 139-175; 7 (1953): 88 (=corrigenda). Based on H 4.22, with readings from Lebor na hUidre.
- Dillon, Myles (tr.). "The Wasting Sickness of Cú Chulainn." Scottish Gaelic Studies 7 (1953): 47-88. Based on H 4.22.
- Windisch, Ernst (ed.). Irische Texte mit Wörterbuch. Leipzig, 1880. 197-234. Based on LU, with variants from H 4.22.
- Smith, Roland Mitchell (ed. and tr.). "On the Bríatharthecosc Conculain." Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie 15 (1924): 187-98. Based on part of the text, Cúchulainn's instruction.
- Gantz, Jeffrey (tr.). Early Irish Myths and Sagas. London, 1981. 155-78. Based on LU, but omitting the interpolation of Chuchulainn's tescoc.
- The Sick-Bed of Cúchulainn, translated by A. H. Leahy, 1905