The duty to kill your friend

In the late 1980s Morgan Llwellyn wrote a novelization of the legends of Cu Chulainn, Red Branch.

One of the most dramatic passages involves the fight between Cu Chulainn and Ferdiad mac Daman. In the end Cu Chulainn kills Ferdiad (in a rather underhanded manner), because they were champions who represented rival tribal confederacies in Iron Age Ireland. But it was poignant in part because they were also very good friends.

Most of you do not know me personally, obviously. But those of you who do know me from undergraduate years (and a few of those do read this blog!) also know that one of my closest friends from that time is now a Gender Studies professor at a major research university. We stopped being as close when she went to do her study abroad and we sort of drifted apart, but we are still friends on Facebook, and despite our sharp divergences on social and political issues I can’t exactly deny and negate the history that we had. That’s part of who both of us are today.

And yet we both implicitly know we’re on opposite sides in the culture war. And that’s fine by me. Not everything is political. And even if you have to do your duty in the end and stand with your own tribe when the rubber hits the road, you don’t need to deny the humanity in others.


3 thoughts on “The duty to kill your friend

  1. I think about this type of thing a lot as far as purist and guilt by association tendencies go. Seems a lot of people are trending towards excommunicating Trump supporters or others they deem over the line from their lives but I think permissiveness is better. Don’t want to live in that world! Everyone has problems and isn’t perfect so no reason to be so judgmental.

  2. Not only were they good friends, but they foster-brothers and both had trained under the tutelage of the warrior woman Scáthach on the isle of Skye. However Scáthach had trained Cú Chulainn in the use of the ‘Gáe Bulg’ (literally ‘stomach spear’) and given him the weapon, it’s what he used to kill Ferdia.

    Personally I tend to only read Thomas Kinsella’s translation, it’s of ‘recenssion 1’ (oldest version of text — dating to 11th century)

    Of course this version of story is not without it’s flaws as it can only be pieced together from two incomplete manuscript copies (eg. full story spread across two) and shows some inconsistencies which probably reflect it been a merger of two older variations (dating to 8/9th century).

    The slightly later Book of Leinster version of Táin (dating to late 12th century) is more consistent as it’s a complete retelling by one scribe, though it is somewhat ‘flowery’ in language.


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