Saturday, 17 June 2017

The Tale Of Niall

(The Stone of Destiny at Tara, the seat of the High Kings in Ireland.)

Niall of the Nine Hostages crops up again (see before) when SM Stirling's Rudi Mackenzie tells the tale of Niall's meeting with the Goddess. In fact, She blesses Niall's High Kingship not because of his warrior skills but because of his kindness to Herself disguised as a poor old woman. (An Sean-Bhean Bhocht or "The Poor Old Woman" is one of the nationalist personifications of Ireland along with Kathleen Ni Houlihan and Roisin Dubh, the Dark Rosaleen.)

By telling the tale, Rudi consciously instructs his illiterate audience in the importance of kindness, especially in kings. Thus, he powerfully reinforces his own reflection that we need tales to make sense of the world.

And I am about to watch a dvd tale about the first modern superhero so I will check back here later.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I'm reminded of a similar incident in PA's HROLF KRAKI'S SAGA, when the Danish King Helgi showed kindness to a disguised "old" woman. And was rewarded for that.

And in the books of Kings we see how the Prophet Elisha forbade the King of Israel to kill the Syrian soldiers who had tried to kidnap the prophet. Elisha told the king to treat the Syrians kindly and then to release them (see 2/4 Kings 6).


Paul Shackley said...

But the prophets were sometimes brutal.

David Birr said...

Paul and Sean:
Showing kindness to powerful entities disguised as being poor and/or old is an ancient tradition in heroic tales. It appears, to give just one instance, in the Greek legend of Jason, who helped an old woman across a river. She was actually Hera, queen of Olympus.

With regard to the occasional "brutal" behavior of the Israelite prophets, I recall Manse Everard quoting "Trevor-Roper" (presumably the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper) as calling Elijah a "mad mullah from the hills of Gilead" — thus comparing the Jewish prophet to a Muslim jihadi.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, DAVID and Paul!

David, yes the motif of showing kindness to powerful disguised entities is very ancient. And can be found in many different cultures.

Paul may have had how the "prophets" of Baal whom Elijah defeated at the "prayer contest" on Mt. Carmel were slain after their "god" failed to respond to their prayers in mind as an example of brutality. Yes, I agree it would have been better to have expelled them from Israel, not killing them.

I would argue that the PERENNIAL temptation of the ancient Jews was to lapse from the stern demands and standards of ethical monotheism and become merely like their pagan neighbors. The prophets were raised up to prevent the disappearance of the Yahwist revelation and remind the Jews their special role was NOT to be like their neighbors.

I have heard of Hugh Trevor-Roper, and not just from Anderson's mentioning of him in one of the Time Patrol stories. I have a copy of his book HERMIT OF PEKING: THE HIDDEN LIFE OF SIR EDMUND BACKHOUSE. A study of a very peculiar Sinologist!