Maxims & Wise Counsel

Ól cen íttu cen mescai...

Ól cen íttu cen mescai.
Proind shéim cen sáith cen gortai.

(Drinking * without * thirst * without * drunkenness
Meal * light * without * fullness * without * hunger)

In drinking, neither thirsty nor drunk.
In eating, neither sated nor hungry.

This dietary advice comes to us in the form of a marginal note on page 100 of the Leabhar Breac, which is quoted s.v. "séim" in DIL.

Is é tadall ségainne...

Is é tadall ségainne
áit i fera céilide,
dotháet i tech, snaidid crann,
gaibid rann co éimige.

(is * it * visit * of * skill
place * in [which] * pours forth * social visiting
he comes * into * house * carves * wood
sings * quatrain * with * opportuneness)

It's a skilfull visit
to a social gathering:
he comes inside, whittles a stick,
and sings an appropriate rhyme.

This quatrain is found in the upper margin of page 116 in the Book of Leinster, where a scribe jotted it down along with a paired quatrain on the behaviour of the rude guest. I have standardized the spelling slightly.

Ná h-abair-se bréithir móir...

Ná h-abair-se bréithir móir
ná h-abair nach tibre chóir,
ór is nár a rádh co tenn
muna fedtar a comall.

(not * say [emphatic] * words * great
not * say * which-not * you might give * rightly
for * is * shame * its * saying * with * force
if not * is possible* its * fulfillment)

Don't make grand statements
and don't promise what you can't rightly give,
for it is shameful to boast of things
that you cannot deliver.

This is the sixth stanza in the poem "Fionn's Advice to Mac Lugach" at the beginning of "Acallam na Senórach". See also "Dá trian do mhíne re mnáibh" and "Bid co h-eistechtach cailli" in this collection.

Ferr cach maín mainbthig mifhocal már marta.

Ferr cach maín mainbthig mifhocal már marta.

(Better * (than) * every * treasure * rich * evil word * of death)

A great killing curse is better than any opulent treasure.

At one point in the law tract "Bretha Nemed Dédenach", which was edited by Stephen Gwynn in Ériu xiii under the title "An Old-Irish Tract on the Privileges and Responsibilities of Poets", Athairne, the great mythical satirist par excellence, asks:

"Cía háithemh éo?"
"What is the sharpest of points?"

His immediate answer is "acais dhlighidh", which is glossed as "aor no mallacht" (satire or curse). A bit further along we are treated to the Vodemortian maxim above, which was spelled "Ferr gach maoin mainbthigh miofhocal már marta" in the late medieval manuscript in which it survives. Despite the modernized spelling, the maxim is in classical Old Irish, with the prepositionless dative used to express comparison.

Narop dál co n-attáil.

Narop dál co n-attáil.

(let it not be * agreement * with * re-agreement)

Don't deal and then redeal.

In other words, "deal decisively". The expression is found in the final stanza of the poem "A maccáin na cí".

Ní bhiann gort gan diasach fiadh...

Ní bhiann gort gan diasach fiadh...

(not * is habitually * field * without * ears of grain * wild)

There's never a field of grain without some wild oats.

This is the first line of a quatrain, in the hand of Manus O'Davoren in a 16th century manuscript, reproduced in volume one of O'Grady's catalogue of MSS in the British Museum (now British Library):

Ní bhiann gort gan diasach fiadh.
Ag sin acaibh ciall ma rainn.
Is terc duine dhá mbiann maith
ná biann meth ar chuit dá chlainn.

There is never a field without wild oats.
There you have the sense of my verse.
Rare is the man who has gained wealth
without one child that goes to the worse.

Ferr sobarthan iná imbed.

Ferr sobarthan iná imbed.

(better * prosperity * than * excess)

Better plenty than too much.

One of a number of proverbial sayings published by Kuno Meyer in ZCP vi.260. A proverb used in the 17th century satire "Pairlement Chloinne Tomáis" substitutes "bail" (Old Irish "bal") for "sobarthan":

Is fearr bail ná iomud.

Ardibdaba dochell blátha.

Ardibdaba dochell blátha.

(will cut off * inhospitality * flowers)

Inhospitality will destroy flowers.

This maxim is part of Fercertne's long litany of pessimistic pronouncements about the days to come, found in his final speech in "Immacallam in Dá Thúarad". It concisely encapsulates the old belief that human behavior, a king's actions in particular, could influence the fruitfulness of the earth. A gloss in one MS identifies the "flowers" as "mess 7 torud" (wild produce and cultivated fruit).

Is beó nech tar éis a anma...

Is beó nech tar éis a anma, ocus ní beó d'éis a einigh.

(is * living * one * after * his * soul * and * is not * alive * after * his * honor)

A man lives after losing his life, but he does not live after losing his honor.

Goll mac Morna says this when Fionn asks him whether the Fiann should stand their ground or retreat, in the "Cath na bPunann" episode of "Duanaire Finn". Goll's response is the equivalent of "Death before dishonor!"

In the heroic world of the old tale, a warrior who fell bravely would live on in song and memory, while a warrior who dishonored himself in battle would be shunned and reviled in life. As the young Cú Chulainn said (in this collection) "Acht ropa airdirc-se, maith limm cen co beinn acht óenlá for domun."

Is uilliu a somailse isind aimsir imbi fáilid nech.

Is uilliu a somailse isind aimsir imbi fáilid nech.

(is * greater * their * sweetness * in the * time * in which is * cheerful * one)

Food and drink taste sweeter whenever one is happy.

This psychological observation was made in the Milan Glosses (Ml. 86d11 in the "Thesaurus").

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