Story Archaeology

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The Judgements of the Four Craftsmen

Throughout this part of our discussion of Cath Maige Tuired, we have talked of the four craftsmen: Dían Cécht, the physician; Goibniu the smith; Luchta the wright; and Creidne Cérd the brazier.  This might be surprising, considering that the latter three so often appear together, and only rarely with Dían Cécht, who is more usually encountered with his children.  There are several reasons for grouping the four together; Dían Cécht and Goibniu are often described as brothers, and the episodes concerning the craftsmen and the physicians often follow each other in the text.  But there is another strong reason for this “gang of four” which comes from the rich legal corpus of texts in Old and Middle Irish.

A Middle Irish legal text on the qualifications and areas of knowledge necessary for judges states that a judge should be familiar with the Bretha Déin Cécht, Goibnenn, Créidne ocus Luchtaine, “the Judgements of Dían Cécht, Goibniu, Creidne and Luchta(ine)”.  (see Corpus Iuris Hibernici, ed. D. A. Binchy, p 2103, lines 11-12; A Guide to Early Irish Law, Fergus Kelly, Appendix 1, No. 12).  From the language and context, these are clearly  titles of legal texts, and the text of Bretha Déin Cécht has survived as part of the Senchas Már, a widely referenced set of native legal texts.  The Bretha Déin Cécht is largely concerned with the fees due to physicians for tending patients and making expert recommendations in cases of illegal injury.  Fergus Kelly in the Introduction to A Guide to Early Irish Law, points out that there is more discussion in this text of the rank, and therefore the value in terms of fines and fees, of the injured party than there is discussion of actual injuries, illnesses or treatments.

Bretha Déin Cécht is only one of a selection of texts, some of which have survived, dealing with the legal aspects of a physician’s role, particularly in relation to othrus, “sick-maintenance”, the responsibilities of care, reparation and provision for “substitute labour” when someone has been illegally injured.  There is also a later corpus, largely in Early Modern Irish (c. 1350 – 1650) of medical texts, featuring a huge native scientific vocabulary, suggesting highly developed medical science.  Beatrix Farber has written an article on this largely unedited and untranslated cultural goldmine on CELT.

As for the texts relating to the other three craftsmen, no surviving copy or fragment has yet been discovered.  We can speculate that they contain similar provisions for status and payment of blacksmiths, wood-workers and metalsmiths, perhaps in terms of the value of their work as pledged items, or their role in assessing that value for legal purposes.  Other law texts mention, for example, the exemption of liability for accidental injury incurred in a working forge when due warning has been given.  There are also references scattered throughout different kinds of texts (such as the so-called Wisdom Texts) to the spells or magic of blacksmiths.

The next article will look at possible examples of the role of the Craftsmen as exemplars, called upon in times of need, in some intriguing charms and spells preserved in unexpected places.


Isolde Carmody

January, ’13

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