Maxims & Wise Counsel

Láech cach fer co forragar.

Láech cach fer co forragar.

(warrior * every * man * until * is overcome)

Every man is a hero until he meets defeat.

One line, a quarter-stanza, from a long poem of good advice edited by Kuno Meyer in ZCP iv.468.

Is búaine blad iná seóid.

Is búaine blad iná seóid.

(is * more lasting * fame * than * wealth)

Fame is more lasting than wealth.

This maxim appears as one line in late medieval poem, entitled "Colum Cille and Guaire" in the appendix to "King and Hermit". The entire stanza in Meyer's edition is:

Sgáil, a maic Colmáin, do cradh,
is búaine blad iná seóid:
anté da tabair Día ní,
ní maith rí 's a beth gu neóid.

Modern versions of this saying given in "A Miscellany" are "Fearr clú ná conách" and "Is uaisle onóir ná ór."

A Middle Welsh proverb in the Red Book of Hergest says similarly:

Trenghit golut, ni threingk molut.
Riches die, fame does not die.

Bes ildánach bid ildírech.

Bes ildánach bid ildírech.

(who [will be / is] multi-skilled [will be / is always] multi-honour-priced)

Whoever is highly skilled is always highly valued.

This maxim comes from the law tract "Uraicecht Becc".

Ná hob éim nachit·tair aneim.

Ná hob éim nachit·tair aneim.

(do not * refuse * timely * that may not come to you * untimely)

Don't refuse the timely lest you meet the untimely.

Quoted in DIL s.v. "éim" as a textual variant in "In Cath Catharda".

Cáid cech rét mad fri canóine comúaimm.

Cáid cech rét mad fri canóine comúaimm.

(holy * each * thing * if be * with * scripture * harmony)

Everything that agrees with scripture is holy.

A maxim found in "Sanas Cormaic" #291.

Cendaig in mes mór...

Cendaig in mes mór
ocus tess in gréin;
cendaig ith is blicht
for slicht cech ríg réil.

(buy * the * mast * great/
and * warmth * of the * sun/
buy * grain * and * milk/
on * track * of every * king * shining)

Earn fruits and nuts in plenty
and the heat of the sun;
earn grain and milk
in the way of every famous king.

This stanza is from "Cert cech ríg co réil", a poem in the "advice to princes" tradition. It gives voice to an idea about kingship that was widely accepted in Early Ireland, namely that the rule of a good king was distinguished not just by justice and wisdom, but also by the fruitful cooperation of the forces of nature. A litany of such benefits in "Audacht Morainn" includes high milk yields, tall grain, the absence of plagues and lightning, and so on. One line says "Is tre fhír flathemon ad- manna mármeso márfhedo -mlasetar": "It is through the justice of the ruler that abundances of great tree-fruit of the great wood are tasted." In our stanza, obtaining abundant mast, or forest produce on which pigs feasted and fattened in autumn, is viewed as a straightforward transaction: if the king rules in accordance with "fír" (truth), he will have earned the generosity of nature.

Ná luig, ná luig...

Ná luig, ná luig
fót fora taí:
gairit bía fair,
fota bía faí.

(not * swear * not * swear/
sod * on which * you are/
short * you will be * on it/
long * you will be * under it)

Do not swear, do not swear
by the sod on which you stand;
a short time you'll be on it,
a long time you'll be under it.

This is the first stanza, edited by James Carney in "Medieval Irish Lyrics", of a five stanza poem on the vanity and brevity of earthly life. This first stanza also stands alone as a marginal note, written in red, in the manuscript Laud Misc. 610, fol. 116 v. Charles Plummer, in "On the Colophons and Marginalia of Irish Scribes" in Proceedings of the British Academy XII, 1926, gives the first line as "Na ling, na ling" and translates it as "Trample not, trample not", but close inspection of the page in question shows that Plummer's reading is clearly mistaken.

Ná hinguib, ná hindsaig ág.

Ná hinguib, ná hindsaig ág.

(do not * avoid * do not * seek * fight)

Neither shun nor seek a quarrel.

Advice from a rather late sixteen stanza poem which Kuno Meyer edited under the title "Gute Ratschläge" in ZCP 6.271-2.

Na frithail in n-airchisecht nachit·chobradar.

Na frithail in n-airchisecht nachit·chobradar.

(do not * attend to * the * compassion * that does not help you)

Do not entertain the pity that does you no good.

This is what Cú Chulainn tells Lóeg, his charioteer and old friend, in "Brislech Mór Maige Murthemni" in LL, when Lóeg tries to talk him out of going into an ill-omened battle.

Secht asa midithar duine...

Secht asa midithar duine: cruth ocus cenél, tír ocus trebad, dán ocus indmas ocus indracus.

(seven * from which * is estimated * person * form * and * kindred * land * and * homestead * craft * and * personal wealth * and integrity)

Seven things by which a man is judged: appearance and lineage, land and home, profession and possessions and integrity.

This laundry list of status and reputation was quoted by Eugene O'Curry in his "On the Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish" (1873).

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