There is much difference between the two versions of this episode. In YBL, the introductory portion is long and full, the actual fight very short, while in LL the fight is long-drawn-out, and much more stress is laid on the pathetic aspect of the situation. Hence it is generally assumed that LL preserves an old version of the episode, and that the scribe of the Yellow Book has compressed the latter part. It is not, however, usual, in primitive story-telling, to linger over scenes of pathos. Such lingering is, like the painted tears of late Italian masters, invariably a sign of decadence. It is one of the marks of romance, which recognises tragedy only when it is voluble, and prodigal of lamentation. The older version of the Tain is throughout singularly free from pathos of the feebler sort; the humorous side is always uppermost, and the tragic suggestions interwoven with it.
But it is still a matter of question whether the whole Fer Diad episode may not be late. Professor Zimmer thinks it is; but even the greatest scholar, with a theory to prove, is not quite free. It will of course be noticed, on this side, that the chief motives of the Fer Diad episode all appear previously in other episodes (e.g. the fights with Ferbaeth and with Loch). Further, the account even in YBL is not marked by old linguistic forms as are other parts of the tale, while much of it is in the bombastic descriptive style of LL. In the condition in which we have the tale, however, this adventure is treated as the climax of the story. Its motive is to remove Cuchulainn from the field, in order to give the rest of Ulster a chance. But in the account of the final great fight in YBL, Cuchulainn’s absence is said to be due to his having been wounded in a combat against odds (crechtnugud i n-ecomlund). Considering, therefore, that even in YBL the Fer Diad episode is late in language, it seems possible that it may have replaced some earlier account in which Cuchulainn was so severely wounded that he was obliged to retire from the field.
Up to the present time the Tain has never been either printed or translated, though the LU version has been for thirty years easily accessible in facsimile. Dr. Windisch’s promised edition will shortly be out, containing the LL and LU texts, with a German translation of the former. The most useful piece of work done hitherto for the Tain is the analysis by Professor Zimmer of the LU text (conclusion from the Book of Leinster), in the fifth of his Keltische Studien (Zeitschrift fuer vergl. Sprachforschung, xxviii.). Another analysis of the story, by Mr. S. H. O’Grady, appeared in Miss Eleanor Hull’s The Cuchullin Saga; it is based on a late paper MS. in the British Museum, giving substantially the