Ancient Girl Power

If you’re like me, reader, you read a LOT. I mean, you’re reading right now, right?

Well, if you look at my GoodReads Currently Reading list, you’ll see I’m working my way through Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales. It’s a seminal tome on, well, myth and culture in ancient Ireland and Wales. (Shocker.)

You may have noticed that I love history. I’m not a historian or anything, but I devour medieval biographies, archaeology magazines, and any history of the United Kingdom. I also love mythology, so a book that looks at mythology in the context of history and then places the myths of one land in juxtaposition with the still older myths of another Indo-European tradition just sets my nerdy little heart aflutter.

I especially love tidbits that reveal how ancient people were exactly like us or, in some ways, even more progressive.

Take this bit, for example:

It is said that Partholón went hunting and fishing one day, leaving his wife and Toba, his henchman, to guard the island. The woman seduced the man, and that was the first adultery that ever was in Ireland… Then Partholón upbraided his wife, but she put up the defense that it was her husband’s fault for leaving her in a situation in which the inevitable had happened… And that was the first judgment in Ireland, ‘the right of his wife against Partholón’, a judgment which seems to echo the words of the Indian Laws of Manu: ‘the adulterous wife throws her guilt on her (negligent) husband.’

Or, as my fiance summed it up, it was Partholón’s fault, since he couldn’t satisfy his woman. The international law of ‘he had it coming.’

Now, I’m not advocating adultery or anything. But this little factoid amused me so much that I had to share it with you. The people of two thousand years ago really weren’t all barbarians strutting about, saying, “Ale! Wenches! Mrar!” Once upon a time, perhaps, people had some free-thinking ladies who took their fun where they found it.

It goes further than just ancient girls gone wild, too. You see a fair few matriarchal societies in fantasy novels, but rarely do we see a society based on the skewing of just one accepted standard. What if there was a world where people were always punished for negligence? If, for instance, you got robbed and could do nothing because you’d left your door unlocked: it was your fault for failing to protect your property. (Not that Partholón’s wife was property, but you get the idea.) There’s not a whole story concept there, but endless plots could spring up from putting someone from that society in conflict with someone with our modern notions of how social interactions should go down.

What do you think, readers? Did Partholón have it coming? Have you come across any fascinating factoids lately? I love hearing from you!

2 thoughts on “Ancient Girl Power

    • I read pieces of the Mabinogion for a King Arthur comparative literature class, and it’s definitely worth reading! …especially if you’re into decapitated heads that continue to talk and advise their families.

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