February 24, 2023

#08-288: Cu Chulainn

"Setanta Slays the Hound of Culain" (Wikipedia)

Note: Setanta, better known as Cu Chulainn or "The Hound of Chulainn," may be the most important hero you've never heard of. Lend an ear.

Get Ready: If you were a soldier, would you rather fight in a troop or in single combat?

Every culture has its heroes. In Ireland, one of the greatest is Cu Chulainn (pronounced koo-KUL-in), also called the "Hound of Ulster." Ulster is one of the four traditional provinces of Ireland (along with Connacht, Leinster, and Munster), and its legends are contained in a work called the Ulster Cycle.

But why is Cu Chulainn called a "hound"? It's a good story. The hero's original name was Setanta, but as a boy he was attacked by a ferocious watchdog when he arrived at the home of Culann the smith, and he killed it. So aggrieved was Culainn that Setanta offered to guard the house in the dog's place (until a suitable pup could be raised as a replacement), and thus came to be called Cu (Hound) Chulainn (of Culann).

This is just one of Cu Chulainn's many adventures, the most famous of which may be The Cattle Raid of Cooley.

Cu Chulainn had allowed Medb, queen of Connacht, to invade and take Ulster by surprise because he was with a woman instead of guarding the border. Medb intended to steal a prize bull, which she was able to do only after Cu Chulainn, just 17 years old, single-handedly defended Ulster against her army. He invoked the right of single combat at a ford and defeated one champion after another in a standoff that lasted for months before the bull was finally taken.

In one memorable scene, as Cu Chulainn was fighting one of the champions, a beautiful woman came and offered herself to Cu Chulainn. When he refused her, she revealed herself to be the Morrigan, a battle-goddess, who in anger proceeded to attack him in the forms of a various animals, including an eel, a wolf, and a heifer.

One feature of his fighting is called the riastrad, a kind of battle frenzy in which he physically transformed into a monster who cannot distinguish between friend and foe. In that form he killed hundreds at Cooley.

Cu Chulainn met his death through trickery. He was duped into breaking the taboos that protected his life, and was attacked by the sons of men he had killed. A warrior to the end, he tied himself to a standing stone to enable him to fight even when weak; he even dropped his sword after he had been beheaded, cutting off his chief enemy's hand!


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. aggrieved
  2. distinguish
  3. duped
  4. frenzy
  5. heifer
  6. invoked
  7. memorable
  8. smith
  9. standoff
  10. taboos

  1. a state of wild excitement
  2. tricked
  3. called upon; put into effect
  4. a situation in which neither side is winning
  5. worth remembering
  6. be able to tell apart
  7. offended; injured
  8. forbidden actions
  9. a person who works in metal
  10. a young female cow

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for February 24, 2023

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. g; 2. f; 3. b; 4. a; 5. j; 6. c; 7. e; 8. i; 9. d; 10. h