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  • Subject area(s): Hospitality
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  • Published on: 15th October 2019
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Cu Chulainn is the greatest hero in Irish lore. He is from the Ulster cycle of Irish lore/mythology and has some surprising similarities with Achilles, the Greek hero. Both Achilles and Cu Chulainn were sons of a god and a royal human. Thetis, a goddess and Prince Peleus a mortal were Achilles' parents. Cu Chulainn's mother was Deichtire, sister to King Conchubar. Some say his father was Lug, the Celtic god of light, while others say his father was an Irish chieftain.  Achilles and cu chulainn both had the choice to become the greatest and most reowned warrior ever and live a short life or live a peaceful, normal, and long life. The great Greek warrior Achilles and the great Celtic warrior Cu Chulainn faced the same decision, made the same choice, and died young but are still remembered today.

Achilles and Cu chulainn were both born in a miraculous way.  Many stories tell of their birth in a magical way and how they were conceived unexpectedly.  According to Compert Chon Culainn ("The Conception of Cu Chulainn"), his mother Deichtine, the daughter and charioteer of Conchobar mac Nessa, king of Ulster, and accompanies him as he and the nobles of Ulster hunt a flock of magical birds. As snow begins to fall, Ulstermen seek shelter in a nearby house. As the host's wife goes into labor, Deichtine assists in the birth of a baby boy, while a mare gives birth to twin colts. The next morning, the Ulstermen find themselves at the Brug na Bóinde (the Neolithic mound at Newgrange) the house and its occupants have disappeared, but the child and the colts remain. Deichtine takes the boy home and begins raising him as her own, but the boy falls ill and dies. The god Lug appears to her and tells her he was their host that night, and that he has put his child in her womb, who is to be called Sétanta. Her pregnancy turns into a scandal as she is betrothed to Sualtam mac Róich, and the Ulstermen suspect Conchobar of being the father, so she aborts the child and goes to her husband's bed virgin-whole. She then conceives a son whom she names Sétanta. According to myths and stories composed long after the Iliad, Thetis was extraordinarily concerned about her son’s mortality. She did everything she could to make him immortal. She burned him over a fire every night, then dressed his wounds with ambrosial ointment, and she dunked him into the River Styx, whose waters were said to confer the invulnerability of the gods. However, she gripped him tightly by the foot as she dipped him into the river, so tightly that the water never touched his heel. As a result, Achilles was invulnerable everywhere but there.

Training under powerful and smart teachers, both Cu Chulainn and Achilles were taught the art of war and both students showed their great potential, respectively. While studying under their teachers they both also made friends with their training partners that soon became very close. As a youth growing up, Cu Chulainn was a very handsome young man who made the Ulstermen worried with his handsomeness. They became so worried that they thought Cu Chulainn would steal their wife’s and ruin their daughters. They then went on a journey to look for a wife that suits him. But none of the women they found suited him expect for Forgall Monach’s daughter Emer.  Forgall didn’t like the idea of his daughter marrying Cu Chulainn. So for him to never lay his eyes on Cu Chulainn ever again, he suggested Cu Chulainn to go and train with the renowned warrior-woman Scathach in the land of Alba hoping the journey will be too much for him that he’ll be killed. Cu Chulainn takes up the challenge and traveled to her residence Dun Scaith, fortress of shadows as it’s called in English. In the meantime, forgall offers his daughter Emer to Lugaid Mac Nois, king of Munster. But Emer had already fallen in love with Cu Chalainn, so Lugaid refused her hand after hearing the news. Upon arriving at Dun Scaith, Cu Chalainn was taught all the arts of war, including the use of the Gae Bulg, a terrible barbed spear. Being a single father, Peleus gave his son to the wise centaur and old friend Cheiron, to rear and trains him. As a matter of fact, it was Cheiron who gave the boy his name, Achilles. The hero was taught the art of war and soon showed his great potential. Indeed, he was said to be so strong and fast, that he could easily outrun a deer. After his initial training finished, the hero returned to his father in Phthia, who entrusted him to his friend Phoenix, king of Dolopians, to take over the rest of his training. While studying under Phoenix, Achilles met Patroclus, the son of Menoetius. Soon, the two boys became close friends and, according to some of the ancient storytellers, possibly lovers.

The greatest similarity between the two great warriors is their fates. The great Greek warrior Achilles and the great Celtic warrior Cu Chulainn faced the same fate as they choose to fight in a battle they knew they would be killed in.  The death of Achilles came during the Trojan War and was caused by an arrow of the Trojan hero, Paris. Paris, supported by Greek god Apollo, threw a poisoned arrow and aimed exactly at the heel of Achilles; the only spot Achilles was vulnerable. Immediately after Achilles fell dead, a huge fighting began above his body. In the end, Odysseus managed to keep the Trojans back and Ajax brought the body back to the Greek camp. In the Greek camp, Thetis emerged with the Nereids from their sea world and, together with the Achaeans; they mourned their hero for seventeen days and seventeen nights. Then Achilles' body was burned upon a pyre and his ashes were buried in a tumulus in Leuces (Alba). A monument was raised to Achilles' memory and funeral games were held in his honor. Just like the great Greek warrior Achilles, Cu Chulainn fell to his enemies as well. Medb conspires with Lugaid, son of Cu Roi, Erc, son of Cairbre Nia Fer, and the sons of others Cu Chulainn had killed, to draw him out to his death. His fate is sealed by his breaking of the geasa (taboos) upon him. Cu Chulainn's geasa included a ban against eating dog meat, but in early Ireland there was a powerful general taboo against refusing hospitality, so when an old crone offers him a meal of dog meat, he has no choice to break his geis. In this way he is spiritually weakened for the fight ahead of him. Lugaid has three magical spears made, and it is prophesied that a king will fall by each of them. With the first he kills Cu Chulainn's charioteer Láeg, king of chariot drivers. With the second he kills Cu Chulainn's horse, Liath Macha, king of horses. With the third he hits Cu Chulainn, mortally wounding him. Cu Chulainn ties himself to a standing stone to die on his feet, facing his enemies. This stone is traditionally identified as Clochafarmore, located near Dundalk. Due to his ferocity even when so near death, it is only when a raven lands on his shoulder that his enemies believe he is dead. Lugaid approaches and cuts off his head, but as he does so the "hero-light" burns around Cu Chulainn and his sword falls from his hand and cuts Lugaid's hand off. The light disappears only after his right hand, his sword arm, is cut from his body. Conall Cernach had sworn that if Cu Chulainn died before him he would avenge him before sunset, and when he hears Cu Chulainn is dead he pursues Lugaid. As Lugaid has lost a hand, Conall fights him with one hand tucked into his belt, but he only beats him after his horse takes a bite out of Lugaid's side. He also kills Erc, and takes his head back to Tara, where Erc's sister Achall dies of grief for her brother.

In conclusion, both the Celtic warrior Cu Chulainn and Greek warrior Achilles were born expectedly with the same fate of dying at a young age in battle. They were also trained by great teachers that taught them very well, but at the end both warriors died respectively in a well fought battle. The great Greek warrior Achilles and the great Celtic warrior Cu Chulainn faced the same decision, made the same choice, and died young but are still remembered today.

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