II. The Wooing of Etain
1. Eochaid Airem took the kingship of
Ireland. The five Fifth of Ireland submitted to him, that is a king of each
Fifth. These were their kings at that time: Conchobar son of Nesa and Mess Gegra
and Tigernach Tetbannach and Cu Rui and Ailill son of Mata Murisc. Eochaid's
strongholds were Dun Fremainn in Meath and Dun Fremainn in Tethba. Fremainn in
Tethba was the one most dear to him of the strongholds of Ireland.
2. Eochaid, the year after he became king, commanded the men of Ireland to
hold the Festival of Tara,1 in
order to assess their tributes and taxes for five years. The men of Ireland made
the same reply to Eochaid, that they would not convene the Festival of Tara for
a king that had no queen; for Eochaid had no queen when he took the kingship.
Thereupon Eochaid dispatched envoys to every Fifth throughout Ireland so to seek
out for him the fairest (woman or) maiden in Ireland. For he said
that none should be his wife save a woman that none of the men of Ireland had
known before him. There was found for him at Inber Cichmaine, Etain daughter of
Etar, and Eochaid wedded her then, for she was his match in beauty and form and
lineage, in splendour and youth and fame.
3. The three sons of Find son of Findlug, the queen's sons, were
Eochaid Feidlech and Eochaid Airem and Ailill Anguba. Ailill Anguba came to
love Etain at the Festival of Tara, after she had lain with Eochaid, for it was
his wont to gaze at her continually, and such gazing is a token of love. His
heart reproached Ailill for the deed that he had wrought, but it availed him in
no wise. Desire was stronger than character. Ailill fell into a decline lest his
honour should be strained, nor had he spoken of it to the woman herself.
4. When he expected death, Fachtna, Eochaid's physician, was brought to see him. the
physician said to him, "One of the two pains thou has that kill man and no
physician can heal, the pain of love and the pain of jealousy."
Ailill did not confess to him, for he was ashamed. Then Ailill was left in
Fremainn Tethba dying, and Eochaid went out on a circuit of Ireland. And Etain
was left with Ailill that his last rites might be paid by her -- that is, his
grave dug, his lamentation made, his cattle slain.
5. Every day Etain used to come to the house wherein Ailill lay sick to speak
with him, and thus his sickness was alleviated, and as long as Etain remained
there he would be gazing at her. Etain observed this, and pondered the matter.
One day as they were together in her house, Etain asked him what was the cause
of his sickness. "It is from love of thee," said Ailill. "Pity that thou has
been so long without telling it," said she. Had we but known thou shouldst have
meen healed a while ago." "Even this day I shall be whole again if thou be
willing." "I am willing indeed," said she.
6. Every day then she would come to bathe his head and to carve his meat and
to pour water on his hands. After thrice nine days Ailill was
healed. He said to Etain: and when shall I have from thee what is still lacking
to cure me?" "Thou shalt have it to-morrow," said she; "but not in the prince's
dwelling shall he be put to shame. Come to me to-morrow on the hill above the
7. Ailill watched through the night. But at the hour of his tryst he fell
asleep, and did not wake until the third hour on the morrow. Etain went to meet
him, and saw a man awaiting her like unto Ailill in appearance, and he lamented
his weakness due to his ailment. The speech that Ailill would have wished is
that is what he spoke. At the hour of tierce Ailill awoke. He began to be
sorrowful for a long while when Etain came into the house "Why are thou
sad?" said she. "That I should have sent thee to a tryst with me and was not
there to meet thee. For sleep fell upon me, and I am only now arisen It is
manifest that I have not yet attained my cure." "That matters not," said
Etain, "one day follows another." He watched that night with a huge fire in
front of him and water by his side for bathing his eyes.
8. At the hour of her tryst Etain come to meet him and saw the
same man like unto Ailill. Etain returned home. Ailill fell to weeping. Three
times Etain came and Ailill did not keep his tryst. She found ever the same man.
"Tis not with thee that I have trysted," said she. "Who art thou that hast come
to meet me? The man with whom I have made a tryst, 'tis not for sin or hurt that
the tryst has been made with him, but that one fit to be king of Ireland might
be saved from the sickness that has fallen upon him." "Twere more fitting for
thee to come to me, for thou wast Etain Echraide, daughter of Ailill, tis I that
was thy husband. I have paid thy huge brideprice in great plains and rivers of
Ireland, and had left in place of thee thy weight of gold and silver." "Tell
me," said she, "what is thy name?" "No hard matter, Midir of Bri Leith," said
he. "Tell me," said she, "What was it that parted us?" "No hard matter, the
sorcery of Fuamnach and the spells of Bresal Etarlam." Midir said to Etain,
"Wilt thou go with me." "Nay," said she, "I will not barter the king of Ireland
for a man whose kindred or race I know not." "It was I, "said Midir, "that put
love for thee into Ailill's mind, so that his flesh and blood fell away from
him. And it was I that took from him all carnal desire, so that thine honour might not suffer therein. But come to my land with me if Eochaid
bids thee." "Willingly," said Etain.
9. Then she comes to her house. "We are well met," said Ailill. "Now am I
healed, and yet thine honour had not suffered." "It is well thus," said Etain.
After that Eochaid returned from his circuit, and rejoiced that his brother was
still alive, and Etain received thanks for what she had done until he had come
1. Gantz, Early Irish, p. 269: "Feis: originally a
feast during which the tribe's king was married to its tutelary goddess, the
meaning later became generalized. The word feis is formed from the Irish verb
meaning 'to sleep with'; it not related to the Latin word festa or the English