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Thursday, February 6, 2014

An Essay on the Instruction of King Cormaic Mac Airt

      There are several Irish texts that offer instructions on how a King should live in order to be a good King, and these texts serve as good instructions for anyone to study on how to live a good honorable life. One of the best of these is the Instruction of King Cormaic Mac Airt, a dialogue that occurs between Cairbre and Cormac, where Cairbre is quizzing Cormac about the proper qualities of a King. The answers given describe the characteristics a King should embody, but these characteristics are equally applicable to any  person seeking to live a good life. These characteristics can be divided into two categories: ways that the person should act towards others, and ways that the person should uphold themselves.
     The dialogue response begins with Cormac describing ways that the King should act in order to uphold his own honor. The first of these is by having good geasa, or ritual taboos that are positive. This could apply to anyone who has a geis on them, if only in the way we choose to look at the ritual taboos that bind us; we can choose to see our taboos as positive or negative and how we react to them shapes their nature on some level making them either a gift or a burden. The next line advises the King to be sober, good advice since drunkenness is often a source of trouble. The King is advised to be an invader as well, which is a slightly more obscure line; however I believe that this advice pertains to ambition and the need for any person to have a healthy sense of what they can achieve. Only by pushing outward and seeking to expand can we truly achieve our own potential. The following lines suggest a good King should have good desires and be affable, telling us that people should seek to want what is best for themselves and have a friendly nature. A good King should be both humble and proud, meaning that we should be humble in knowing our own limits and admitting to our own mistakes but also proud of what we do achieve and owning our own success; only through a balance of these two can true success be found. In the same way we should be quick and steadfast, meaning we should act quickly when speed is needed but also have the stamina to stick with anything and see it through.  A good King, or a good Druid, should be a poet, versed in legal lore, and wise, as well as temperate. All of these qualities should be embodied in the King, or person, for them to find the inner strength to live honorably in all these ways, because these external expressions reflect the character within.
    Cormac also touches on ways that a good King should interact with others, beginning with being generous, decorous, and sociable. These three features all intertwine to support each other, and to support the proper social order where the King sets the tone for the Kingdom, but it is possible for anyone else to also live by these maxims and seek to express these things as well. Along with this go other suggested actions according to Cormac, such as feeding orphans, giving good judgments, raising up the weak, quelling wrongs, and loving truth while hating falsehood, all of which can be embraced by anyone seeking to live in honor. To seek to live these qualities is to seek to live Truth and support the right order of the world. The truth of this statement is seen in the final passage where Cormac describes what will occur in the kingdom of a good King, should he follow all this advice. We see the description of a good King ruling over a fertile land, with oak trees full of acorns, fruitful earth and rivers full of fish. In the same way if we as individuals seek to embody these characteristics and live these actions then we can also bring blessings upon the world we live in. 

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