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Curadmír

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The Curadmír or Champion's Portion[1] was an ancient custom referred to in early Irish literature, whereby the warrior acknowledged as the bravest present at a feast was given precedence and awarded the choicest cut of meat. This was often disputed violently. The custom appears most often in the legends of the Ulster Cycle. It is paralleled by historical customs of the ancient Celts of continental Europe, as recorded by classical writers.

The Ulster Cycle saga Scéla Mucce Meic Dá Thó ("The Story of Mac Dá Tho's Pig") features a dispute over the Champion's Portion between warriors of the Ulaid and Connachta who are guests at a feast in Leinster. They dispute it by boasting of their previous heroic deeds, and eventually the Connachta hero Cet mac Mágach is acknowledged as the bravest man present. Just as he is about to carve the pig, the Ulaid hero Conall Cernach arrives, and his boasts force Cet to give way to him – although Cet claims that Conall would have had to give way to his brother Anlúan had he been there. Conall responds by tossing him Anlúan's freshly severed head. Conall carves the pig, but gives the Connachta such a small portion that battle breaks out between them.[2]

Another Ulster Cycle saga which involves the Curadmír is Fled Bricrenn ("Bricriu's Feast"). The notorious troublemaker Bricriu invites the Ulaid to a feast. Before it starts he visits three heroes, Cú Chulainn, Conall Cernach and Lóegaire Búadach, privately, and advises each of them to claim the Champion's Portion, which at this feast includes not only a roast boar but also a cauldron of wine and a hundred cakes of wheat baked in honey. All three stand up to claim it, and fighting nearly breaks out. To avoid violence the Champion's Portion is shared out among the Ulstermen, and Ailill and Medb, king and queen of the Connachta, and then Cú Roí of Munster, are asked to judge the dispute. A series of tests of skill and courage are set, and after each of them Cú Chulainn is judged to have won, but Conall and Lóegaire refuse to accept the judgement, and the Champion's Portion goes unawarded. Then, when the three heroes are at Emain Macha, they are visited by a giant churl who challenges them each in turn to behead him, and then allow him to behead them the following day. Lóegaire, Conall and Cú Chulainn each behead the churl, who picks up his head and leaves, but Lóegaire and Conall are nowhere to be found when he returns the following day. Only Cú Chulainn keeps his side of the bargain. He stretches out his neck for the axe, but the churl spares him in recognition of his courage and honour. He reveals himself as Cú Roí, and announces that the Champion's Portion is indisputably Cú Chulainn's.[3]

Athenaeus, quoting the lost work of the 1st/2nd century BC Greek historian and geographer Posidonius, says that it was formerly the custom among the Celts for the hind quarter of pork to be claimed by the bravest man, and disputes over who this was would be settled by single combat to the death.[4] Diodorus Siculus also says that the Celts gave the best joints of meat to the most distinguished men.[5]

References

  1. Old Irish curad, genitive of caur, "of a hero, champion, warrior"; mír, "morsel, ration, portion" (Dictionary of the Irish Language, Compact Edition, Royal Irish Academy, 1990, pp. 103, 465); modern Irish curadhmhír (James MacKillop, Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, 1998, pp. 77-78
  2. N. Kershaw Chadwick, "Scél Mucci mic Dathó", An Early Irish Reader, Cambridge University Press
  3. George Henderson (ed. & trans.), "Fled Bricrend (The Feast of Bricriu)", Irish Texts Society Vol 2, 1899
  4. Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 4.40
  5. Diodorus Siculus, Historical Library 5.28