Prologue :
Broach    " (And she)...had a subdued lustre,
like that of armour burnished and used,
like that of the undersides of high clouds
hiding the true light that suffuses
their steely grey with a borrowed brilliance.
Her dress was alive with slow lights
like still water under the stars
but in the shadow of great trees,
and her slippered feet were softly velvet,
Queen Medb :
      Fantasy  \ Celtic Mythology \Warrior Queens | 25/11/04
Medb through an Archway

Medb, also known as Maeve, was the Warrior-Queen of Connacht, daughter of Eochaid Feidlech, King of Leinster. According to the Hybernian legends, no king could reign in Connacht unless he was married to Medb, who was believed to hold the kingdom's sovereignty in her person. It was also said that she "never was without one man in the shadow of another". Medb's most talked of endeavour was The Táin Bó Cuailnge, the great cattle raid. Invading Ulaid, her forces attempted the capture of the great brown bull. Cú Chulainn, Ulaid's greatest champion stood alone against their onslaught and was triumphant. Medb plotted Cú Chulainn's death, to avenge the defeat. Through the intervention of sorcerers Cú Chulainn was slain. She was herself assassinated, by Furbaide Ferbend, her nephew and son to the tyrannical King Conchobhar Mac Nessa. Having discovered that Queen Medb was in the habit of regularly taking her bath in Lough Ree on Inchcleraun island. Furbaide very carefully measured the exact distance between the spot where she bathed and the shore. Upon returning to the Ulster stronghold of Emain Macha he practised with a slingshot until he was able to knock an apple from the top of a pole over the same distance. Satisfied at last that his aim was perfect, he stealthily made his way back to the pool and upon her arrival struck Queen Medb with such force as to crack open her forehead.
Artwork Details :
     Artists Description and general comments.
Client : Sold as Framed Prints / Cover art.
Medium : Pencil Sketch (on Cartridge) 28cm by 20cm : Expanded and Enhanced in Adobe Photoshop 2002 a.d

Design Notes :
This illustration also appeared as cover artwork in B/W format for WL Publishing. The Celtic knotwork displayed on the stonework archway behind Medb comes from the Book of Lindisfarne (Written Between 687 and 721AD Written in Nortumbria/Lindisfarne (probably) Now kept at London, British Museum, Cotton, MS. Nero D.IV ) and the Ulbster Stone, Caithness.( Originally unearthed at the old burial ground at St. Martins Chapel, Ulbster in 1770. It was later removed and placed upon a large conical mound in front of Thurso Castle.) Many Celtic-style patterns were developed using grids based on triangles rather than squares or rectangles.  These seem to be especially popular on the many carved standing stones in the British Isles--especially on those in eastern Scotland.   The most common grid seems to be one based on a right triangle, though some are based on equilateral triangles, and-- inevitably--some are based on irregular triangles.
Soundtrack (
music to draw to) :
Loreena Mckennitt

Additional Notes : In the Celtic world, again and again it is the magic intervention in the course of battle of a female, goddess, queen or a combination of the two, which provides the focus or climax of the story. Such a female may be a hag or a beauty (or one disguised as the other). She may be as Rhiannon, the horse goddess of the Welsh Mabinogion, 'a woman dressed in shining gold brocade and riding a great pale horse' or the nine sorceresses of Gloucester encountered in the same sequence of tales who laid waste the country in their helmets and headpieces before the champion Peredur finally smote them.
The name of the Welsh Rhiannon connects to the Celtic Rigantona, great queen or `Queen of the Demons'; she in turn links to the Morrigan, sometimes merely a sinister (and sexually active) raven-goddess of war and sometimes used as a composite name to denote a trio, Badbh, Nemain and Macha, all with strong connections to both fertility and battle.' Above all there is the character of Queen Medb (or Maeve) who is to the great Celtic cycle of The Táin what the Greek goddesses are to The Iliad, the physique and appetites of a woman, the magic powers of a goddess.
It can indeed be argued that Queen Medb is the true heroine of The Táin Bó Cuailnge; for although the champion Cú Chulainn, the Hound of Ulster, is unarguably its hero, Medb, his adversary, is the female protagonist, a vivid character in her own right, both glamorous and ferocious, and it is her ardent desire to secure the Brown Bull of Ulster which sets the whole cycle in train. Like the Mabinogion, The Táin first emerges in written form long after its stories must first have been current, in the case of The Táin Christianized by monks in the eighth century AD (as it was later to be bowdlerized by Lady Gregory). But the society which The Táin actually reflects is thought to be placed around the time of the birth of Christ - that is to say some sixty years before the Boudican revolt.
At the start of The Táin, Medb is having `pillow talk' with her husband Ailill, her theme being her superior state before she got married - not an unusual theme for such conversations, perhaps, but Medb is able to back her claim by pointing out that she was the daughter of the High King of Ireland, the `last and haughtiest' of his six daughters: `I outdid them in grace and giving and battle and warlike combat', she boasts; moreover she controlled fifteen hundred soldiers and as many freeborn native men. Ailill responds that he too is a king, by descent from his mother (a queen). It is however as they wrangle on the subject of possessions, the pair matching bull for bull, that Medb has to admit that one of Ailill's bulls is finer than all of hers, since her own star animal, Finnbennach, has deserted to the King's herd, after refusing to be led by a woman. Since the finest bull in all Ulster is known to be the Donn Cuailnge - the Brown Bull of Ulster - Medb determines to secure him with her Connaughtian army, and vanquish her husband's claims. In this fashion begins the long epic of The Táin, glorious and bloodstained, the most magnificent cattle raid in literature, with Medb leading the attack and Cú Chulainn as the champion of Ulster attempting to defend the Brown Bull from her rapacity.
Where Medb's character is concerned, she is certainly both cunning and imperious as well as lustful (her behaviour in that respect certainly forms part of the Voracity Syndrome). It is also noticeable that when she does suggest breaking the rules of fair fight, this deviousness is ascribed to her sex. On one occasion Medb suggests, from the vantage point of her chariot, that certain people, currently friendly but potentially hostile, be killed as a safeguard. Ailill condemns this as `a woman's thinking' - and wicked. When Medb sleeps with the warrior Fergus in order to seduce him to her side, Ailill forgives Fergus with the consoling words: `I know all about queens and women, I lay first fault straight at women's own sweet swellings and loving lust'.
Cú Chulainn is the persistent target of the Queen's attempted treachery. Medb first suggests a truce and then secretly sends six soldiers against the champion, all of royal blood (fortunately Cú Chulainn is able to slay all six). Medb then suggests a private meeting between Cú Chulainn and herself, promising to be attended only by her unarmed women. Cú Chulainn's own charioteer warns him against such a dangerous rendezvous: 'Medb is a forceful woman. I'd watch out for her hand at my back.' So Cú Chulainn does at least take along his sword - which is just as well, because he finds the rendezvous has actually turned into an encounter with fourteen armed warriors. (Fortunately Cú chulainn is able once again to despatch the whole lot.)
Queen Medb, with the magical birds or squirrels on her shoulders, is not the only strong goddess-woman in the Celtic legends. Part of Cú Chulainn's training as a fighter consists of his encounter with Aife, 'the hardest woman warrior in the world', while Cú Chulainn himself is being trained in arms by another woman named Scathach. But it is the physical description of Queen Medb which seems to sum up the type of the Celtic goddess-cum-warrior. This is the fighting Queen Medb, as described to Cú Chulainn by his fellow warrior Cethern, grievously wounded by an unknown assailant. 'A tall, fair, long-faced woman with soft features came at me ... She had a head of yellow hair and two gold birds on her shoulders. She wore a purple cloak folded about her, with five hands' breadth of gold on her back. She carried a light, stinging, sharp-edged lance in her hand, and she held an iron sword with a woman's grip over her head - a massive figure. It was she who came against me first.'
`Then I'm sorry for you,' is Cú Chulainn's comment. `That was Medb of Cruachan.'

The Warrior Queens
Chapter 2
Antonia Fraser

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