A Spectacle of Death? Reading Dead Bodies in TBC II


  • Sarah Künzler University of Zurich


TBC II, reading bodies, corpses, specularity, fír fer, heroic discourse, public honor, public shame


Although at times despicable to modern tastes, violence and killing are essential parts of medieval heroic literature, and they are integral in shaping the heroic world of the text. This article investigates how certain dead bodies in TBC II are read within the heroic discourses of fír fer and posthumous fama. It shows how some corpses can become signs, purposefully installed by Cú Chulainn and read by his adversaries, and argues that these episodes instigate a critical engagement with the ever-present reading of bodies in the text. In order to contextualise the close readings of four carefully selected passages, a short discussion of the discourse of violence and heroic combat in TBC II preceeds the individual analyses. Furthermore, the importance of visually observing the dead bodies within the narrative is stressed and paired with the idea of specularity, recently introduced by Sarah Sheehan in relation to live bodies. The article thus offers an engagement not just with the textual passages but also with cutting-edge ideas about reading bodies in early Irish literature and stresses the differences of live and dead bodies in relation to what kind of identity and reading they generate.