Nuadu Airgetlám

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For others of the same name, see Nuadu

In Irish mythology, Nuadu Airgetlám ("Silver Hand/Arm"),[1] (pronounced ['n̪ˠuːəðə 'aɾʲjədʲɫ̪aːw]) was a king of the Tuatha Dé Danann. He is cognate with the Romano-British god Nodens. His Welsh equivalent is Nudd or Lludd Llaw Eraint.

Nuadu was king of the Tuatha Dé Danann for seven years before they came to Ireland. During the first battle of Mag Tuired, when the Tuatha Dé conquered Ireland from the Fir Bolg, Nuadu lost an arm[2] in combat with Sreng. Nuadu's ally, Aengaba of Norway, then fought Sreng, sustaining a mortal wound, while the Dagda protected Nuadu. Fifty of the Dagda's soldiers carried Nuadu from the field. The Tuatha Dé gained the upper hand in the battle, but Sreng returned to challenge Nuadu to single combat. Nuadu accepted, on condition that Sreng fought with one arm tied up, but Sreng refused this condition. The Tuatha Dé then decided to offer Sreng his choice of the provinces of Ireland for his people, and he chose Connacht.[3]

Having lost his arm, Nuadu was no longer eligible for kingship, and he was replaced as king by Bres. Bres was half Fomorian, and during his reign the Fomorians imposed tribute on the Tuatha Dé, who became disgruntled with their new king's oppressive rule and lack of hospitality. But Nuadu had his lost arm replaced by a working silver one by the physician Dian Cecht and the wright Creidne and was once again eligible for kingship (he later had the silver arm replaced with a new arm of flesh and blood by Dian Cecht's son Miach). Bres was removed from the kingship, having ruled for seven years, and Nuadu was restored. He ruled for twenty more years.[4]

Bres, aided by the Fomorian Balor, attempted to retake the kingship by force, and war and continued oppression followed. When Lug mac Ethlenn joined Nuadu's court, the king realised the multi-talented young man could lead the Tuatha Dé against the Fomorians, and stood down in his favour. Nuadu was killed in battle and beheaded by Balor, but Lug led the Tuatha Dé to victory.[5]

One of the Four Treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danann was Nuadu's sword, which no-one escaped once it was drawn from its sheath.[6]

Nuadu's name is cognate with that of Nodens, a Romano-British deity associated with the sea and healing who was equated with the Roman Mars, and with Nudd, a Welsh mythological figure. it is likely that another Welsh figure, Lludd Llaw Eraint (Lludd of the Silver Hand), derives from Nudd Llaw Eraint by alliterative assimilation.[7] (The Norse god Týr is another deity equated with Mars who lost a hand).[8] The name probably derives from a Celtic stem *noudont- or *noudent-, which J. R. R. Tolkien suggested was related to a Germanic root meaning "acquire, have the use of", earlier "to catch, entrap (as a hunter)". Making the connection with Nuada and Lludd's hand, he detected "an echo of the ancient fame of the magic hand of Nodens the Catcher".[9] Similarly, Julius Pokorny derives the name from a Proto-Indo-European root *neu-d- meaning "acquire, utilise, go fishing".[10]

References

  1. Later spellings for his name include Nuada, Nuadha, genitive Nuadat, Nuadhat, and for his epithet include Airgeatlámh, Airgeadlámh
  2. Or a hand - Old Irish lám can mean either. The First Battle of Mag Tuired (§48) specifically says that Sreng "severed his right arm at the shoulder; and the king’s arm with a third of his shield fell to the ground".
  3. Lebor Gabála Érenn §58, 60, 64; The First Battle of Mag Tuired §20, 48, 56
  4. Lebor Gabála Érenn §64; The Second Battle of Mag Tuired p. 27-35 (Gray translation); Annals of the Four Masters M3304-3310; Geoffrey Keating, History of Ireland 1.9
  5. The Second Battle of Mag Tuired p. 35-43, 61 (Gray translation); Annals of the Four Masters M3311-3330; Geoffrey Keating, History of Ireland 1.21
  6. The Second Battle of Mag Tuired p. 25 (Gray translation); The Four Treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danann
  7. James Mackillop, Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, 1998, p. 266
  8. Mary Jones, "Nodens", Jones' Celtic Encyclopedia
  9. J. R. R. Tolkien, "The Name Nodens", Appendix to "Report on the excavation of the prehistoric, Roman and post-Roman site in Lydney Park, Gloucestershire", Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London, 1932
  10. Julius Pokorny, Indogermanisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch p. 768