Similes, Metaphors & Kennings

Rat·meliub mar meles muilend múadbraich!

Rat·meliub mar meles muilend múadbraich!

I will grind you * as * grinds * mill * fine-malt)

I will grind you the way a mill grinds malt!

This is the first of a series of threatening images that Cú Chulainn flings at Fergus, warning him what will happen if he does not come for a parley right away. The passage is found at the conclusion of the LL Táin. See also "Rot·naisc mar nasces idu feda!"

Cid as dech de shétaib?...

Cid as dech de shétaib?
Scían, ar is fri céill samailtir.

(what * that is * best * of * treasures?
knife * because * it is * to * intelligence * it is likened)

What is the best of treasures?
A knife, for it is a simile of intelligence.

This play on the keeness of blades and intellects comes from "Tochmarc Ailbe", where it is one of thirty riddles that Finn poses and Ailbe answers.

No·dedlaistis finna for uisciu.

No·dedlaistis finna for uisciu.

(they would cleave * hair * on * water)

They would split a hair on the water.

This image of very keen blades appears twice in descriptions of swords in "Togail Bruidne Da Derga". Other versions of it are found in other tales: "contescfad finna i n-agid srotha" ( so that it would cut a hair against a stream of water) in the LL version of the "Táin", and "no thescbad finna fri gaith" (it would cut a hair against the wind) in "Fled Bricrend" in LU. All the variants, including the modern "chomh géar is go ngearrfadh sé olann ar uisce" have been brought together by Cáit Ní Dhomhnaill in the article "A Simile for Sharpness" in ZCP 40.40-46.

Is dobrán re miníascach...

Is dobrán re miníascach
seobacc re hénaib sléibe,
catt re lochaid, cú re muicc,
ben micc is máthair chéile.

(it is * otter * against * little fish /
hawk * against * birds * of mountain /
cat * against * mouse * dog * against * pig /
wife * of son * and * mother * in-law)

Like an otter with little fishes,
a hawk with mountain birds,
a cat with a mouse, a dog with a pig,
a son's wife and her mother-in-law!

A verse edited by Kuno Meyer in ZCP 6.268.

Ba fras de némannaib boí ina bélaib.

Ba fras de némannaib boí ina bélaib.

(was * shower * of * pearls * (that) was * in her/his * lips)

It was a shower of pearls that was in her/his mouth.

This very common image, used of both men and women, is found in the Táin, and in tales such as "Togail Bruidne Da Derga" and "Siaburcharpat Con Culaind".

Samaltir in molad doínde...

Samaltir in molad doínde fri laithe ar a gairti mbís.

(is likened * the * praise * human * to * day * according to * its * shortness * that it always is)

Human praise is likened to a day because of the short time it endures.

This clerical opinion of the shortness of fame from the Würzburg Glosses (Wb. 8d22) is rather at odds with Cú Chulainn's heroic estimation of fame that begins "Acht ropa airdirc-se...".

Cruth cen chéill...

Cruth cen chéill, dóiriu cach cor:
is neime i n-órlestar.

(form * without * sense * more ignoble * (than) every * condition /
(it) is * poison * in * golden-vessel)

Beauty without intelligence, the worst of all:
it's poison in a golden vessel.

This half-stanza comes from the poem "Nímgeib format fri fer find" ("I do not envy a handsome man"), edited by Meyer in ZCP 6, p. 267.

Cúaille feda i feilm n-airgit.

Cúaille feda i feilm n-airgit.

(stake * of wood * in * fence * of silver)

A wooden stake in a silver fence.

This is the first line of a message that the fool Lomnae carves in ogham into a wooden rod that he hands to Finn, alerting him secretly that the child borne to him by one of his wives is not really his own. A slightly different version runs "Is cúaille feada i n-airbe airgit inísin", and both are quoted by Myles Dillon in "Stories from the Law-Tracts" (Ériu vol. 11, pt. 1). The same image is found in Sanas Cormaic #1018. Another traditional metaphor for a child of doubtful paternity is "áth i fochlucht", an image of a poisonous plant (possibly Oenanthe crocata) growing in the midst of a patch of an edible stream plant (possibly Veronica beccabunga 'brooklime', or a type of Sium 'water parsnip').

Rot·naisc mar nasces idu feda!

Rot·naisc mar nasces idu feda!

(he bound you * as * binds * ivy (?) * trees)

He bound you the way ivy binds trees!

This is one of a string of taunts delivered by the charioteer Lóeg to Cú Chulainn in "Aided Guill", after the hero's enemy got the better of him in combat. (RC 14) Cú Chulainn uses an almost identical image to threaten Fergus at the conclusion of the LL Táin: "Rat nasciub mar nasces féith fidu!" ("I will bind you the way honeysuckle binds trees!")

Duibithir dath a berrtha...

Duibithir dath a berrtha
bruinde brain, brollach n-aidchi,
édgad luin, lúaithe ngaimche,
caera finchi, fúan fuinche.

(as black as * color * of his haircut /
as breast * of raven * bosom * of night /
clothing * of blackbird * ashes * of winter night (?) /
berries * of vine (?) / tunic * of scaldcrow)

The color of his hair is as black
as a raven's breast, as the bosom of night,
as a blackbird's garment, as the ashes of a winter night,
as the berries of the vine, as a scaldcrow's tunic.

This stanza, a bit of a tour de force which manages to fit the archaic alliterative rosc style into the common seven-syllable lines of the classical dán díreach, was edited by Kuno Meyer in ZCP vol. 9, but not translated. A couple of the words are problematical, but the overall sense is clear.

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