Similes, Metaphors & Kennings

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.

duibithir éc, buidithir ór, glaisithir bun cuilinn

duibithir éc, buidithir ór, glaisithir bun cuilinn

(as black (as) * death * as yellow (as) * gold * as green (as) * trunk * of a holly tree)

as black as death, as yellow as gold, as green as a holly trunk

This dramatic set of similes is found in "Sanas Cormaic", where it describes the spectacularly ugly youth who later is physically transformed and who reveals himself to be the Spirit of Poetry. The "yellow" and "green" refer to color of the tops and bottoms of his pre-transformation teeth!

Ardithir immurgu...

Ardithir immurgu, remithir, tailcithir, tresithir, sithidir seólcrann prímluingi móri!

(as tall * indeed * as thick * as firm * as strong * as long * (as) a mast * of a main-ship * great)

Indeed as tall, thick, firm, strong, and long as the mast of a great sailing ship!

This description of one of Cú Chulainn's attributes comes the LU version of "Táin Bó Cúailgne". The attribute in question is the gush of blood that spouts from the top of his head during his "ríastrad" or "contortion", when his whole body is distorted by battle fury.

Luin oc elaib...

Luin oc elaib,
ungai oc dírnaib,
crotha banaithech
oc crothaib rignai,
ríg oc Domnall,
dord oc aidbse,
adann oc caindil,
colg oc mo chailg-se.

(blackbirds * at * swans / ounces * at * pounds / shapes * of peasant women * at * shapes * of queens / kings * at * Donald / humming * at * singing / a rushlight * at * candles / a sword * at * my * sword - emphatic)

Blackbirds next to swans,
ounces next to pounds,
peasant women's appearance
next to the appearance of queens,
kings next to Domnall,
humming next to singing,
a rushlight next to a candle,
any sword next to my sword.

In folt amal in fíach...

In folt amal in fíach
ocus in grúad amal in fuil
ocus in corp amal in snechta.

(the * hair * like * the * raven / and * the * cheek * like * the * blood / and * the * body * like * the * snow)

Hair as black as the raven,
a cheek as red as blood,
and a body white as snow.

Deirdriu describes the appearance of her imagined husband in "Longes Macc nUislenn", immediately after seeing a raven pecking the blood of a slaughtered calf from the snow covered ground. This three-fold simile is found elsewhere in our literature as a paragon of beauty.

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