from Cath Maige Tuired, edited by Elizabeth Gray
Translation by Isolde Carmody
This is the first of a number of passages in Cath Maige Tuired which is in the form of roscad. Roscada are non-syllabic (non-metrical) poems, characterised by connective alliteration between lines and a condensed, syntactically obscure and archaic use of language. These factors make them notoriously difficult to translate, and published translations of “The Battle of Moytura” will often leave these passages untranslated.
My new translations are in a very literal style. This is deliberate, so that you can see how it relates to the Old Irish, and hopefully give you a sense of the musical qualities of the original language. Some of these translations will get re-worked in the second half of this series, where we will delve into speculative re-imaginings of the whole saga.
We have discussed these passages before, in Mythical Women Episode 6: Encountering the Morrigan, and you can read my translations and notes on three roscada attributed to the Mór Rígain in “The Morrigan Speaks: Her Three Poems”. But the Mór Rígain does not have the monopoly on obscure poetry! What follows is a roscad attributed to Lug; chanted as he hops around the camp of the Fomoire with one eye closed.
ll 589 – 599; S 129
‘Arotroi cat comartan!
The matched [/slaughterous] battle can fail
Isin cath-irgal robris comlondo for slecht slúaig
In the boiling battle, ferocity can fall upon the slaughter of a host
silsiter ria sluagaib sioabrai iath fer fomnai.
the land of men will be laid low before hosts of phantoms – Beware
Cuifecithai fir gen rogain lentor gala.
So that born men set aside their will (lit. choice) with the woe of battle.
For-dom-aisit, for-dom-cloisid, for-a-ndechraiged,
They watched [out] for me, they listened for me, they identify him / it [?]
fir duib becc find nomtam-.
For me, dark men are rarely fair.
Fó! Fó! Fé! Fé! Clé! Amainsi!
Good! Good! Go! Go! Left[wards]! Thus!
Noefit-man-n ier nelscoth-trie trencerdaib druag.
They go to destruction [“mandar”] like tufted clouds through [our] powerful magical crafts
Nimcredbod catha fri cricha;
The battle at the boundary does not wither me;
nesit-mede midege fornemairces forlúachoir loisces martal-tshuides mar[ ]torainn trogais.
They ask us [our?] medics if they may burn brightly the slaughter that settles like thunder giving birth.
Incomairsid fri cech naie, go comair Ogma sachu go comair nem & talom, go comair grioan & esqu.
They may come up against every nine [i.e. group of warriors]; against Ogma good-hound [/ good way?] against sky and ground, against sun and moon.
Drem niadh mo drem-sie duib. Mo sluag so sluag mor murnech mochtsailech bruithe nertoirech rogenoir et-dacri ataforroi cath comortai. Arotrai.’
A band of warriors, my own group of them. My host here, a great host of broad-bladed mighty scorched willow; a strong pack-horse was born without difficulties; a battle of mutual slaughter fails. It can fail.