The honor-code within the Mabinogi, The Tain, and Gantz’s Early Irish Myths and Sagas underlines the ethos of the traditional Celtic hero. Yet, the compliance of the honor-code could be better observed as serving the identity and reputation of the hero rather than a deeper code of morality as it might suggest. The gae bolga, Efnisien, Mider’s love for Etain, and Rhiannon’s magic bag are all instruments of unworldly power, making the impossible possible for each of the heroes. It is because of these supernatural influences that the heroes are both blessed and cursed by power’s perfection. The compliance to the honor-code plays less a role in truly enabling the hero and yet it’s essential in the development of the hero’s identity and reputation among his allies and enemies.
Within The Tain, the warrior Cuchulainn is characterized as a flawless hero, destined to die young. Cuchulainn’s honor to Ulster could easily be measured by the uncountable number of warriors he’s killed with his various skills and gae bolga, yet the killing of his only son Connla and his Foster-brother Ferdia proves to be his most difficult and heroic task. Despite Emer’s plea for Cuchulainn to spare his only son, Cuchulainn provokes the boy to fight him, using his gae bolga to kill him. Cuchulainn’s honor to Ulster through the sacrifice of his son not only grieves him, but all the men of Ulster. (The Tain, p.45) Tragically, the boy expresses the essence of a warrior’s honor to the men of Ulster and to Cuchulainn in obeying his wishes to refuse no man in combat (The Tain, p.33). The boy bids his farewell to the men of Ulster saying, “If only I had five years among you I would slaughter the warriors of the world for you. . . But since it is like this, point me out the famous men around me, I would like to salute them.”(The Tain, p.45)
During the Tain Bo Cuailnge, Cuchulainn again resorts to winning the battle with his adored foster-brother Ferdia using the gae bolga. The honor-code is kept between Cuchulainn and Ferdia as they exchange each battle’s end with three kisses. (The Tain, p.188) Yet Ferdia’s final words accuse Cuchulainn of unfairness. (The Tain, p.197) It’s questionable how mighty of a warrior Cuchulainn really is, considering he’s one of the only Ulster that doesn’t suffer from birth pangs. (The Tain, p.8) And the gae bolga again brings instant death, placing not only might and skill as the agent of fate but also the will of Cuchulainn. It might be of no coincidence that both Cuchulainn’s and Ferdia’s foster-mother Scathach gives the gae bolga to Cuchulainn. (The Tain, p.34) Scathach is a prophetess, and although no point in the story tells of her knowing Ferdia’s fate, she knows Cuchulainn’s fate and the significance of his heroic god-like role in fighting for the honor of Ulster. (The Tain, p.36)
Within the Mabinogi, King Bendigeidfran’s wisdom and honor is depicted in the story Branwen daughter of Llyr, when he divides the cauldron people among the land,...