Neither Burned nor Bloody: The Learning and Legacy of Heroic Feats


  • Jimmy P. Miller


Ireland, literature, hero, warrior ethos


One of the singular marks of the hero in early Irish literature is his ability to perform heroic feats. This article explores the acquisition of these feats, known in Old Irish as cles (plural clis or clessa), by heroes in various branches of the tradition. The scant available evidence indicates that the hero only learned a feat when he could perform it without injury. This correlates well with the warrior ethos in early Irish literature and with the frequent descriptions of heroic male beauty in Old and Middle Irish. The fascination with warrior beauty in medieval Irish literature carries into the Modern Irish period and is detectable in elegies composed by bardic praise poets. Finally, it is possible that the ethos of the vain warrior can be traced as far back as the Continental Celts, but this connection can only be advanced with caution.