Mythology Monday: The Champion’s Portion, Part 1

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You know, I haven’t talked about the Ulster Cycle for a while, so let’s do that now.

So, this story starts not with our boy Cu Chulainn, but rather a guy named Bricriu. Now, Bricriu is a messy bitch who loves drama, so his main source of entertainment is shit stirring, specifically with the intention to get other people to fight. Because of this, no one really likes to be around him, and it gets to the point that King Conchubar banishes him from Emain Macha and basically puts him under house arrest.

Now, Bricriu actually has a pretty nice house, with a massive, well-appointed dining hall. The dining hall figures into his revenge scheme when invites the king and the Red Branch to his home for a gigantic feast.

Everyone, of course, is suspicious of his intentions here, because, again, he’s a shit stirrer. But they are very, very tempted because, again, his dining hall is ridiculously nice. So, they come to a compromise: Bricriu has to leave the hall while everyone else is eating, and they’re going to put him under guard so he can’t come in and cause trouble.

Now, that’s all well and good, except Bricriu is cunning and has already put his plan into motion. First, he goes up to a Red Branch warrior named Laoighre, and is like, “So, you’re pretty awesome. Don’t you think that you should be the one getting the champion’s portion at Ulster’s feasts?”

An aside to explain what that is: the champion’s portion, or curadmir, is when the bravest warrior in attendance at a feast is given the highest quality food. It’s something that comes up a bit in old Irish literature, and is kind of a big deal.

So, naturally, Laoighre responds, “You know, you’re right. I totally deserve the champion’s portion at the next feast.” Bricriu responds by telling him to make sure to have his charioteer shout out to claim it for him at his feast, then.

He then goes up to another warrior named Conall, who he tells the same thing. Then he goes up and does the same to our boy Cu Chulainn, who responds by threatening to decapitate anyone else who tries to claim the portion. Which seems a little extreme, but Cu Chulainn’s kind of an intense dude.

Anyway, the day of the feast comes, and everyone shows up to Bricriu’s house. This means, of course, that it’s time for Bricriu to say good night. However, as the guards are escorting him out, he yells out that it’s time for the champion’s portion. Of course, Laoighre, Conall, and Cu Chulainn’s charioteers all jump up at once to claim it for their masters.

Also, of course, this leads to the three of them to start fighting in the middle of dinner.

Conchubar is having none of this, and jumps into the fray to break up the fight. At this point, the champion’s portion is then distributed fairly to all present. Then the king makes the three promise not to fight about this again, at least until they can get someone to judge who gets the portion next time. They aren’t happy about it, but agree and the party continues on.

Bricriu is displeased about all this, but has another plan up his sleeve. This time, he goes to the three men’s wives, who are out for a walk. He tells each of them that the first one to make it back to his house is the greatest woman in all of Ulster. Which results in the three of them sprinting back to the house.

Sensing that something is afoot, the men close the door to keep the women out, much to their ire. The three then start declaring their virtues, while Laoighre and Conall start tearing down beams in order to let their wives through. Cu Chulainn one ups them, however, and pulls upĀ the entire side of the buildingĀ to let Emer and her entourage through.

This, by the way, knocks Bricriu and his wife off the balcony and into the pen where the hounds are kept, and right into dog poop. Also it causes the wall Cu Chulainn lifted to sink into the ground when he puts it back down, so he’s not happy about any of this. Which, of course, wouldn’t have happened if he wasn’t such a dick.

Regardless, Bricriu demands that the Red Branch clean up the mess, or they don’t get anymore food or rest. They set about doing so, but find that they can’t dig out the wall Cu Chulainn busted. So they start begging Cu Chulainn to help them out. At first he refuses because he’s too busy being a sulky little bitch, but they eventually convince him to clean up the mess that he made.

After that, Cu Chulainn decides that he’s too tired to fuck around with this any more, and that deciding who gets the champion’s portion can wait until another day.

And I think that’s where I’m going to close it out for today, since this one is kind of a long one. Next week, I’ll get into part two.

 

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