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Friday, 29 April 2016

I, Me and Myself

A familiar tale, perhaps, which is at least as old as Homer’s Odyssey, is the story of Polyphemus, or the Blinded Ogre, in which the hero uses a cunning ploy and manages to escape by assuming an ambiguous name such as No-one or Noman. With a wide geographic distribution throughout Asia and Europe, the story appears in the Arabian Nights and also in the exemplary stories of the twelfth-century Dolopathos.
In Lochaber tradition, the story survives in at least three forms. Two of the examples are taken from literature, which in all likelihood are influenced by versions taken from oral tradition, one of which appears in an article in The Celtic Magazine by the bardess Mary Mackellar (1834–1890) and the other in Folk Tales and Fairy Lore collected by the Rev. James MacDougall, sometime minister of Duror. The final version is taken from the repertoire of John MacDonald of Highbridge collected and transcribed shortly afterwards by Calum Maclean on the 5th April 1951:


Bha boireannach a’ fuireach an àite iomallach dhen dùthaich. Bha daonnan am beul na h-oidhche neach a’ tighinn a-staigh, bodachan beag feusagach. Agus bhiodh e na shuidhe agus bhiodh e a’ gabhail an teine dhà fhèin. Agus cha robh i ag ràdha dad ris:
“Trus do chasan às an sin feuch am faigh feadhainn eile chun an teine.”
Dh’innis i seo do bhana-choimhearsnach a bh’ aice: “Ma-tà, chan eil e ceart, an duine a tha a’ tighinn a-staigh. An t-aon rud a nì thu,” thuirt i, “nuair a bhios tu ag obair air an lite a dhèanadh, feuch an cuir thu spoltadh mu na casan aige. Agus bheir sin air gun teich e. Agus na abair facal ach an t-ainm truagh a thug iad ort ‘Mi fhìn, Mi fhìn.’”
“Nach truagh an t-ainm a thug iad orm-sa, bha i ag ràdha, ‘Mi fhìn, Mi fhìn’ nuair a thigeadh am bodachan a-staigh. Ach mu dheireadh nuair a fhuair i cothrom agus làn-chothrom, thilg i spoltan den lite air a chasan. Tharraing e a-mach. Agus leig e trì sgreuchan a-mach nach riamh an leithid ann. Dhùisg e mothar a-mach às a’ ghleann. Thàinig na sìthchean eile mun cuairt agus dh’fhaighneachd iad dè thachair ris.
Dh’innis e gun deach a losgadh.
“Cò loisg thu?”
“Loisg Mi fhìn ’s Mi fhìn, Mi fhìn,” theireadh e.
“An e thu fhèin a loisg thu fhèin?”
“A, nam b’ e cuideigin eile a loisg thu ach thu fhèin, bhiodh an taigh mun ceann mun tigheadh a’ mhadainn. Agus bhon is e thu fhèin a rinn e, gabh leis na fhuair thu.”

The translation may be rendered as follows:


A woman who stayed in a remote part of the district was always visited at night-time by a little, bearded old man. He used to sit and take the fire all to himself. She didn’t say anything to him as:
“Tuck your legs away from there so that others can get to the fire.”
She told this to her neighour: “Well, that’s not right, this man coming in like that. The thing you’ll do,” she said, “when you’re making porridge try to splash some it on his legs and that will make him flee. And don’t say a word other than the poor name which they’ll give you “Myself, Myself.”
“Isn’t that such a poor name they’ve given me, and she was saying, “Myself, myself,” when the little old man would come in. At last when she goy a chance and a very good chance at that, she splashed some porridge on his legs. He fled and he let out three screams those of which had never been heard before. A hue and a cue was raised in the glen. The other faires gathered around and they asked what had happened to him.
He told them he had been burnt.
“Who burnt you?”
“Myself, Myself, Myself,” he’d say.
“Is it that you burnt yourself?”
“Ah, if it had been someone other than youself then their house would be about their heads by the morning. But seeing it was youself who did it, you’ll just have to grin an bear it.”

The version given by Mary Mackellar is in essence the same though it approaches a more literary style. Likewise the version given in Folk Tales and Fairy Lore has been “touched-up”, though originally coming from an oral source. It may also be noted that the imp is described as an ùruisg rather than the vaguer bodachan:

Once upon a time there was a farmer in Glenmallie who had a pretty servant lass called Mary. The farmer built a sheiling far up on the glen near the waterfall known in Gaelic as “Eas-Buidhe” (“Golden Waterfall”), and Mary was sent there to take charge of the cows and their milk. The girl was very brave-hearted, and although not the least bit afraid to be alone in the sheiling, nevertheless, she began to have company that caused her great alarm. An “Uruisg” (a kind of Brownie said to frequent solitary places) came to her hut every evening just as it turned to dusk, and as he came in he invariably repeated the following rhyme:

                        Uruisg an Easa-Bhuidhe,
                        ’S e na shuide an Gleann-Màilidh,
                        S an uair a chiaradh air an fheasgar,
                        Thigeadh e dhachaigh gu Màiri.”

He had always some small trout with him, which, in the course of the evening, he would roast one by one, always eating one before he roasted the other, and saying as he ate each troutlet:

                        Mar a ròistear bricein ithear bricein.

And as he cooked and ate his fish he ogled Mary the whole time, casting at her the most admiring glances possible to the girls dismay. At length she got so frightened that she fled to her masters house and told him about the Brownie, and that she was not safe alone in the sheiling. Her master told her he would go in her place for a day or two, and he would see if he could get rid of his troublesome visitor. He went and dressed himself in the rigout of Marys clothes and sat at dusk spinning the distaff as Mary was wont to do. By and by he heard a footstep, heavy and slow, as the  creature came in he exclaimed as usual:

                        “Uruisg an Easa-Bhuidhe,
                        ’S e ’na shuide an Gleann-Màilidh,
                        ’S an uair a chiaradh air an fheasgar,
                        Thigeadh e dhachaigh gu Màiri.”

He then sat down and began as usual to roast his fish saying:

                        Mar a ròistear bricein ithear bricein.

and all the time gazing at the one who in silence worked away with the distaff in the corner. At length he began to say angrily:

                        “Chì mi do shùil, chì mi do shròin,
                        Chì mi tfheusag fhada mhór,
                        S ged s math a shnìomhas tu do chuigeal,
                        .           .           .           .           .”

At length, in his indignation at the fraud perpetrated upon him in giving him this masculine creature instead of Mary, he was going to lay violent hands upon the man when he asked him in angry tones, “Cainm a th ort”. The man falsely gave his name in Gaelic as “Is mi s is mi”, and then taking a pot of boiling water, he threw it about the feet of the poor Brownie and scalded him. He ran away in great pain, howling dreadfully, and this agonising cry attracted the attention of his brother Brownies who ran out to meet him. They were anxious, no doubt, to know who hurt him, in order to avenge the wrong, but all he could tell them was—“Is mi s is mi”. To this answer they replied—Ma ’s tu, ma ’s tu, gu dé a’ ghlaodhaich a tha air t’ aire”. Mary got leave to return to the sheiling in peace, and the Brownie never troubled her again.

For comparison’s sake the version collected by the Rev. James MacDougall may be given:

ANN an Gleann-Màilidh an Lochabar, tha eas ùigeil ris an abrar an t-Eas Buidhe. Anns an eas so bha e air a ràdh gu ’n robh na h Uruisgean ag gabhail fasgaidh; agus b’ ann làimh ris a bha bothain-àiridhe cuid de thuath a’ ghlinne suidhichte.

Bha aon de na h-Uruisgean,

“Uruisg an Eas’-Bhuidhe
’Na shuidhe ’n Gleann-Màilidh.”
ro dhraghail do the de na banaraichean a bha anns na bothain-àraidhe
làimh ris an eas. Cha robh latha nach tigeadh e stigh do ’n bhothan far an robh
i; agus nach cuireadh e seachad an ùine ’na shuidhe mu’n teine, a’ feòraich
cheisdean dhith, agus ag cur bacadh oirre ’na h-obair. Dh’ fhàs i sgìth dheth,
ach cha robh fhios aice cia mar a ghràinicheadh i e gun chorruich nan Uruisgean
eile a thionndadh ’na h-aghaidh. Mu dheireadh chlaoidheadh a foidhidinn cho
buileach leis is gu’n do chuir i roimpe a bhi cuidhte is e, ciod air bith a
Air latha àraid a bha e ’na ghurrach mu’n teine mar b’ àbhaist, dh’
fheòraich e am measg a cheisdean, c’ ainm a bha oirre. Fhreagair i gu’n robh:
“Mi fhéin is Mi fhéin. “Is iongantach an t-ainm sin,” ars esan. “Coma co
dhiùbh, is e sin a tha orm.”Bha poit mhèig air an teine, agus an uair a chaidh
i g’a toirt dheth, bha esan ’san rathad oirre, mar bu ghnàth leis. Bhrosnaich
so i cho mór is gu ’n do leig i d’a deòin le taom de’n mhèag ghoileach tuiteam
m’a chasan, agus a sgaldadh. Leum e gu grad o a àite-suidhe, agus ruith e mach
a’ burralaich agus ag glaodhaich gu’n do loisgeadh e. Cho luath is a chuala na
h-Uruisgean eile so, ruith iad a nìos as an eas ’na choinneamh, agus
dh’fheòraich iad cò a loisg e. Fhreagair e gu ’n do loisg, “Mi fhéin is Mi
fhéin.” “O, ma’s tu fhéin a loisg thu, cha’n ’eil comas air; ach, na’m b’ e aon
air bith eile a rinn e, loisgeamaid e fhéin agus na tha ’sna bothain-àraidhe

And the translation is given as follows:


IN Glen Mallie, in Lochaber, there is an eerie ravine called Eas Buidhe. In this ravine it was said that the Urisks took refuge; and near it were the summer pasture bothies of some of the farmers in the Glen.

One of the Urisks,
“The Urisk of Eas Buidhe,
Sitting in Glen Maillie,”

was very troublesome to one of the dairymaids staying in the bothies near the ravine. Not a day passed but he came to the bothy where she lived; and he spent the time sitting at the fire, asking questions, and obstructing her in her work. She grew tired of him, but she knew not how to rout him without turning the wrath of the other Urisks against her. At last her patience with him was so completely worn out that she resolved to get rid of him, happen what might. One day as he was crouching about the fire as usual, he asked, among his questions, what her name was. She replied that it was: “Myself and Myself.” “That is a curious name,” said he. “Never mind, that is what I am called.”

A pot full of whey hung over the fire, and when she went to take it off, he was in her way, as usual. This so provoked her that she intentionally allowed a wave of the boiling whey to fall on his feet, and scald him. He sprang up quickly from his seat, and ran out, howling and crying that he was burnt. As soon as the other Urisks heard this, they ran up from the ravine to meet him, and asked who burnt him. He answered that it was “Myself and Myself.” “Oh, if you have burnt yourself, it cannot be helped; but if anyone else had done it, we would have burnt him and all that is in the bothies along with him.”

As may readily be seen the above versions compare favourably with the most famous one as recited by Homer in his Odyssey:

On finding a large cave, Odysseus and his men entered the cave, where they helped themselves to the food and drink they found there, and fell asleep. After a time, a Cyclops, whose name was Polyphemus, returned to the cave. Leading his flock of giant sheep into the cave, he rolled a huge stone against the mouth of the cave to close the entrance. On finding Odysseus and his men in the cave, the Cyclops became enraged, grabbed two of the men, smashed their heads against the rocks, ate them, and fell asleep. Odysseus dared do nothing to the Cyclops, since only the Cyclops was strong enough to move the stone away from the mouth of the cave.

The next morning, the Cyclops grabbed two more men, smashed their heads against the rocks, and ate them for his breakfast. He then rolled away the stone, led out his herd of sheep, and rolled the stone back to close the cave. Odysseus devised a plan. He and his men took a large timber, carved the end to a sharp point, and hid it.
When the Cyclops returned in the evening, he again led his sheep in, rolled the stone to close the mouth of the cave, and proceeded to bash in the heads of two more men and eat them. This time Odysseus spoke up, and offered the Cyclops some strong wine he had brought with him. Polyphemus, who had never drunk wine before, drank his fill and became very drunk. Thanking Odysseus, Polyphemus asked him his name. Odysseus told him his name was “No man.” The Cyclops then fell fast asleep in a drunken sleep.

Odysseus and his men then took the timber and heated the sharpened end in the fire until it glowed red. Then, with all their strength, they pushed the red-hot point into the eye of Polyphemus. The Cyclops howled and woke up flailing, but he was now blind. The other Cyclops who lived on the island came running, but when they asked Polyphemus who had done this to him, he replied “No man!” and the other Cyclops all returned home laughing.

Early the next morning, Odysseus tied each of his men to the belly of one of the giant sheep. When Polyphemus awoke and led the sheep out of the cave, he felt the back of each sheep to make sure no one was on them. Feeling nothing, Polyphemus allowed each sheep to pass out of the cave, carrying with it one of Odysseus’ crew tied to its belly. Odysseus himself grabbed onto the fleece of the last sheep’s belly, and escaped through the mouth of the cave.

Odysseus and his men ran back to their ship and hurriedly pushed out to sea. As they sailed away from the harbour, Odysseus called out to Polyphemus, laughing at him and telling him that it was not “No Man,” but he, Odysseus, who had blinded him and fooled him.

Many versions of the above tale have been identified throughout Europe and beyond and not a few of these stem from Irish and Scottish sources. It would perhaps make an interesting study to contrast and compare all or at least a good proportion of these versions or indeed to map out where various versions of these tales may be identified.

ATU 1137, The Blinded Ogre (Polyphemus)

K602. Noman. Escape by assuming an equivocal name. (Sometimes myself.)
F380. Defeating or ridding oneself of fairies.
F381. Getting rid of fairies.

Rev. James MacDougall, Fairy Tales and Fairy Lore, ed. by Rev. George Calder (Edinburgh: James Grant, 1910), pp. 298–301
Mary Mackellar, ‘A Lochaber Legend’, The Celtic Magazine, vol VI, no. LXVIII (Jun., 1881), pp. 324–25 [Reprinted in Rev. Somerled MacMillan, Bygone Lochaber: Historical and Traditional (Glasgow: Privately printed, 1971), pp. 194–96]
SSS NB 7, pp. 611–12
Stith Thompson, The Folktale (New York: The Dryden Press, 1946)
Hans-Jörg Uther, The Types of International Folktales, 3 vols. (Helsinki: FF Communications, 2004)