“Slavey (cumlach) was the name for women until Adomnan came to free them, and this was the cumalach: the women for whom a pit was dug at the end of the door so that it covered her nakedness. The end of the spit was on her until the cooking of the portion was finished. After she came out of that pit on of the earth, she dipped a lamp the size of four men’s hands into her lump of butter or tallow. That candle was to be on her hand until the division and the sharing and spreading of the bedding was finished in the houses of king and rulers. There was no share of bag or basket for that woman, nor in the one house of the master of the house, but she was in a cold shed outside the enclosure, lest harm should come upon her master from sea or land.”
G. Markus (Ed.& Trans.) Cain Adomnian: Adomnan’s Law of The Innocent
The present here is a 10th century one, a gloss inserted into a 7th century legal document. It vividly and graphical imagines the pagan past in a glowing christian present.
Whilst the description presents a somewhat barbaric society, and Slavey seems to be accorded the status of a dog both she and her captors are accorded human status and display an understanding of sexual modesty. Here the past and the present obey the same rules.
This understanding of sexual modesty and shame is a notable narrative motif used to accord human status, which is deployed in the Christian West from its inception, buried into its past and still a key descriptive feature of legal/ biological/ philosophical inquiry well into its enlightenment.
There was no share of bag or basket for that woman, nor in the one house of the master of the house, but she was in a cold shed outside the enclosure, lest harm should come upon her master from sea or land.”
A potentially interesting line given its date, tendency in both ancient and more modern texts to present kingship as static and simply project it into the past. One significant change to kingship is the development of the hall. A large structure built to accommodate and sleep a war band on its mead benches.
Archaeology of Ireland suggests that the enclosed settlement of kings were small structures, incapable of accommodating a large number of warriors. This may also explain the notable absence of heroic verse in early medieval Ireland, as the poet needs both a venue and an audience of potential heroes to glorify and lavish with praise.
This structural change in kingship which is seen at a much earlier period in Britain in Anglo Saxon culture may have developed later in Ireland and the movement stimulated by viking incursion in later century’s, forcing the culture to adapt to a new set of circumstances.
This later narrative is added to a much older text during a period of potentially significant change to kingship and the structure of Irish culture and society.
An uncertain present constructing itself in the certainty of its past