Playful mating with another woman

Thanks to Lisa, I’ve been apprised of a ‘lovely tantalizing bit’ of woman-on-woman sexuality. It’s from the tale of Niall Frossach (a king in the mid-eighth century, High King from 763 CE), from the Book of Leinster, folio 273b-274a, lines 35670-35711 (Vol. 5, p. 1202). Also, apparently, in Liber Flavus Fergusiorum and a late version in Leabhar Cloinne Aodha Buidhe (c. 15th century):

There was a fine, firm, righteous, generous princely king ruling over Ireland, Níall Frassach, son of Fergal. Ireland was prosperous during his reign. There was fruit and fatness, corn and milk in his time, and he had everyone settled on his own land. He called a great assembly in Tailtiu once, and had the cream of the men of Ireland around him. Great kings and wide-eyed queens and the chiefs and nobles of the territories were ranged on the stately seats of the assembly. There were boys and jesters and the heroes of the Irish in strong eager bands racing their horses in the assembly.
While they were there, a woman came to the king carrying a boy child, and put him into the king’s arms. “For your kingship and your sovereignty,” said she, “find out for me through your ruler’s truth who the carnal father of the boy is, for I do not know myself. For I swear by your ruler’s truth, and by the King who governs every created thing, that I have not known guilt with a man for many years now.”
The king was silent then. “Have you had playful mating with another woman?” said he, “and do not conceal it if you have.” “I will not conceal it,” said she, “I have.” “It is true,” said the king. “That woman had mated with a man just before, and the semen which he left with her, she put it into your womb in the tumbling, so that it was begotten in your womb. That man is the father of your child, and let it be found out who he is.”
(translated by David Greene in the Swedish journal “Saga och Sed,”1976)


The implications are intriguing, to say the least. Though it seems the king might reasonably expect a woman to lie about having sex with another woman (and so can assume there was some stigma in such sex), the phrase ‘playful mating with another woman’ is far from judgemental. In fact, it all sounds very jolly and uncomplicated: just a casual tumble, grins all round.
Does anyone have any thoughts on the matter? (Does anyone have any further tidbits? I’m learning a lot…)

4 thoughts on “Playful mating with another woman

  1. The Irish phrase for the lovemaking in the text is “in dernais lanamnas rebartha ri mnaí aile.” There’s not a lot of scholarly work around this–what there is is about the act of truth, which is one of the signs of a “true” “real” king. There’s an article by Greene, cited in another article I’ve just sent Nicola, that does discuss other instances of “tribadism” causing pregnancy in Irish historical tracts and law codes–but even there the language around the lovemaking is odd, and filled with assumptions.One of the names for the Irish other worlds is tír mban, the land of women. Now, I’m not saying “they’re lesbians!,” but I do think that there are some interesting implications around sex and gender, and that they’re worth looking at.Another Celticist, Phillip A. Bernhardt-House has done some work–I’ve heard him speak about it at a conference, but I don’t know if he published.

  2. The Act of Truth as a kingly trait is pretty interesting. I’ve just read the Wiley article you sent (thank you) and it got my thinking about how different the kingships of Oswald and Oswiu might have been from that of, say, Edwin: all that Irish influence. I’ll have to think about this.And I’m flat out intrigued by ‘the land of women’…

  3. For a fair idea of assumptions around Irish kingship, and truth, there’s a text called Audacht Morainn, which is beautifully edited and translated by Fergus Kelly, one of the leading medieval Irish law scholars. There are rough translations online if you Google, but you really want Kelly’s edition.The roles of truth, kingship, poets, inspiration and prophecy are all tied together in both early I.E. literatures and laws, and very strongly in medieval Irish texts, laws and stories.

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