So, here we are again with yet another tale of unavoidable prophecy leading to death and destruction. Once again it revolves around a woman. I am really starting to wish there was a categorization scheme for mythology similar to the Aarne-Thompson classification system for folklore. Oooh! Maybe I should start one? I mean I’m no expert, but I think I could work something out. Unless there is one out there already I don’t know about.
But I digress.
Derdriu, daughter of Fedlimid mac Daill, is born under a rather bleak prophecy that she will spread misery and pain, causing kings to go to war and the exile of the greatest warriors in Ulster. Of course, the not-completely-brain-dead people in the room at the time say, “OY! (because they are Celts, you see) Let’s just kill the baby and be done with it!”. But Conchobar decides to think with his “side arm” and is seduced by her beauty. Let’s be clear: the man is willing to bet the lives of his subjects, the future of his kingdom, the exile of Ulster’s finest, EVERYTHING, on the possible beauty of a possible girl child, that he maybe might get to nail in the future. I don’t recall the text being very specific about at what age he decides Derdriu is “ready”, but let’s just say for the sake of argument, that is a lot to risk for a potential shag 16 years in the future.
Derdriu is born, and Conchobor the Horny locks her up, presumable in a tall tower, as kings usually do with fair maidens. Derdriu, shockingly, is not interested in the lecherous old creep that is holding her captive, and instead decides she wants a guy who resembles a slaughtered calf. What do you expect? The girl has been locked in a tower her whole life, she probably doesn’t know that a man shouldn’t look like the inside of an animal carcass. She is clued in that her dream carcass is named Noisiu. She lies in wait for him, and in the first instance of what I hope will be many in this section of this class, tells him it’s time for a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T, so he’d best get to work. Noisiu, like just about any man would, eventually complies. She runs off with him, stuff happens, the prophecy comes true, Noisiu is killed. Conchobar retakes Derdriu, who is now completely defeated. For a year, he keeps her like a miserable house pet (or worse). When he is finally fed up with her resistance (seriously, what did he expect?) he asks her who she hates the most. She says Eogan, the man who killed her beloved Noisiu. As a punishment, Conchobar takes her to live with Eogan for a year. On the way, he mocks her, basically pointing out her role as little more than a book to be loaned to a neighbor, not to mention the implication she is a sex toy (he calls her an ewe between two rams). In his opinion, she is completely powerless. Rather than be defeated. Derdriu takes the only option left to her, and dashes her head against a rock and dies. Fuck you very much, Conchobar. I found her story completely frustrating and rage inducing. My moral outrage at this poor woman being enslaved and treated like a trinket was nauseating. I think perhaps part of the reason it was so upsetting was because Celtic woman did have more power than other woman of the time. She knew what she was missing, she knew that this situation wasn’t just a woman’s lot in life, this was HER lot in life, she had been singled out for this living hell. Maybe it just hit a bit close to home for me on a personal level, or maybe it was the fact that when she finally breaks free her happiness is so short lived. I tend to be very annoyed at the way women are portrayed in the media, either as the shrewish, castrating wife, the perpetual victim, the “boobs”, the useless sidekick, and all of them only if she is appropriately “hot”. I think part of my problem with this story was how she was being cast in the role of The Vagina Men Will Die For (my husband and I call it the “golden vagina”, because she is usually a character who is completely uninteresting but every man wants her and is willing to die for her) and as The Perpetual Victim, but her actions show that she isn’t any of those things. She is trying to take control of her life, and in the end, all she can do is take control of her death.