Friday, 6 November 2015

Thoughts upon the start of the Colloquy of Two Druids

I was re-reading this and looking at the beginning of the story poem before the young Druid Nede sets forth on the journey which ends up with the Colloquy...

I. Adnae, son of Uthider, of the tribes of Connaught, was the ollave of Ireland in science and poetry. He had a son, to wit, Néde. Now that son went to learn science in Scotland, unto Eochu Echbél (Horses Mouth) ; and he stayed along with Eochu until he was skilled in science.
II. One day the lad fared forth till he was on the brink of the sea - for the poets deemed that on the brink of water it was always a place of revelation of science. He heard a sound in the wave, to wit, a chant of wailing and sadness, and it seemed strange to him. So the lad cast a spell upon the wave, that it might reveal to him what the matter was. And thereafter it was declared to him that the wave was bewailing, his father Adnae, after his death and that Adnae's robe had been given to Ferchertne the poet, who had taken the ollaveship in place of Néde's father.
III. Then the lad went to his house and tells (all this) to his tutor, that is, to Eochu. And Eochu said to him :" Get thee to thy country now. Our two sciences have no room in one place ; for thy science shews clearly to thee that thou art an ollave in knowledge ".
IV. So Néde fared forward, and with him his three brothers, namely, Lugaid, Cairbre, Cruttíne. A bolg bélce (puffball) chanced (to meet) them on the path. Said one of them : " Why is it called bolg bélce ? " Since they know not, they went back to Eochu and remained a month with him. Again they fared on the path. A simind (rush) chanced to meet them. Since they knew not (why it was so called), they went back to their tutor. At the end of another month they set out (again) from him. A gass sanais (sprig of sanicle ?#) chanced (to meet) them. Since they knew not why it was called gass sanais, they return to Eochu and remained another month with him.

What is the meaning of the 3 flora?

Common Puffball

The Common Puffball is an edible mushroom and also used in an Old Irish love remedy. bolg bélce - Bolg meaning belly/bag/sack and this comes from Cormac's glossary Bolg i [bélce B] i.e. bél-cheo ' mouth- vapour' i.e. a vapour which passes from its mouths I think the English would be belch. Also compare wit the Fir Bolg "Men of Bags". So bolg is a bag and bolg bélchi maybe the fungus puffball now in Munster commonly called bolgán beice. — Cf. bélchi with A.S. bealcan ' eructare.'

Reed or Juncus species

There are many British varieties of Juncus or reed and all grow at the liminal area of marshland or boggy moorland. In Old Irish "Simind" or "semind", the two spellings used, is a common word, though less specific: a (stalk of) rush or reed; a stalk or straw of grain. Modern "sifín" continues the same generalized meaning. Both words, as noted earlier, have etymologies in Sanas Cormaic, the Irish "dictionary" thats dates from ca. 900 A.D. The reed, or Ngetal, in my Ogham notes has this "Reed resembles an arrow by its thinness. It was at one time used to make arrows." You can also compare this with Norse kennings where it's used to describe arrows and spears e.g. wound-reed)

Wood Sanicle or Sanicula Europaea

from here

Stokes guessed that "gass sanais" might mean "a sprig of sanicle". I suppose he made this guess based on the fact that "sanicula", the Medieval Latin name of a plant called "bodán coille" in Modern Irish, apparently comes from Latin "sanus" (= healthy).
DIL says of "sanais(e)" only: "In phrase gas(án) sanais(e) some plant from which armed warriors could be formed by magic."
LEIA notes the same magical property, but doesn't attempt to identify the plant, and says "étymologie inconnue".

I'd like to draw attention to a word with the same shape, but which the dictionaries treat as unrelated: "sanas" or "sanais" (it behaves as both a masculine and a feminine noun), meaning "whisper; secret; counsel; glossary (originally only in the title of Cormac's work, Sanas Cormaic)", and which is cognate with Welsh "hanes" (= tale, report, history). It gives rise to the later words "sanasán" and "sanasaíocht", meaning "etymology". Cormac, by the way, explains "sanas" as ".i. sain-fis" (= i.e. special knowledge).
The marginal gloss on "gass sanais" in our MS is ".i. a shíanas", which is a puzzle at first sight. But if we divide it further into "a shían as" it can mean "its/his 'sían' from it". Now "sían" in DIL means a "continuous or prolonged sound", and more specifically a "humming, lilting; strain of music or song". In Modern Irish it can further mean "hum of voices; talk, report".

Explaining "gass sanais" using "sían" makes perfect sense if the glossator thought the plant name contained the word meaning "whisper; counsel". And what could be more appropriate, in the spirit of serious punning, than that the third and final plant which turns the brothers back because they cannot etymologize its name is precisely the plant whose name could mean "a sprig of whispered counsel, a shoot of etymological explanation"?

Wood sanicle used to be widely used as a herbal remedy and has a long-standing reputation for healing wounds and treating internal bleeding. The herb is traditionally thought to be detoxifying and has also been taken internally to treat skin problems. A potentially valuable plant, but it is little used in modern herbalism. The leaves and the root are alterative, astringent, carminative, expectorant and vulnerary. The leaves are harvested in early summer and the roots in mid to late summer, they can be dried for later use. The herb is highly esteemed in the treatment of blood disorders, where it is usually given in combination with other herbs. It is also taken internally in the treatment of bleeding in the stomach and intestines, the coughing up of blood, nosebleeds, chest and lung complaints, dysentery, diarrhoea etc. It can also be used as a mouth gargle for sore throats. Externally, it is applied to rashes, chilblains, inflammations etc... and an ointment made from the plant is applied to haemorrhoids. From this herblore site

Alternate views of the kenning

I think we could view the three pieces of Flora this way - we have a bag that belches fumes poisoning the walkers, a spear that pierces the walkers who need to be healed by a lilting song. Which reiterates the opening of the story where Néde hears a lilting song on the ocean that tells him of his father's death. Néde's grief at the death of his father is not mentioned in the tale and yet his three attempts to return home are stopped by nature, forcing him to spend three months mourning and completing his studies with his father in knowledge. Another view is to look at the Ogham for B, Ng and S which my notes have as:

  • B - You must rid yourself of negativity, unhelpful influences and bad thoughts for a new, fresh start
  • Ng - Your journey has begun, surprise encounters and upsets are only to be expected. The skills you overcome these troubles with are as valuable as the trip itself
  • S - To gain understanding of a particular concept, a steady accumulation of facts is the foundation that brings understanding. All cannot be learned in one lesson. Repetition is the key.
Which also seems to fit with the story. Like Néde I ventured into this story and did not know the meanings of these three plants and by returning to the Horses Mouth of this story I venture forth better armed with knowledge.

Much of the Old Irish info' is from here or other of Dennis' postings from the Old Irish forum

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