[On Hip-Hop, A Rhapsody (Full Text)] [Playlist]
And then, there is Aithirne—Aithirne the Importunate. Equally despised and admired, he is the most celebrated rhyme slinger in Irish saga: a bad ass of truly global proportions. People cowered in terror whenever Aithirne made an unannounced stop during one of his “bardic tours” of the Emerald Isle. (It is helpful to picture him riding on a rock-’n’-roll tour bus.) Aithirne and his two sons used to travel “lefthandwise from kingdom to kingdom,” exacting outrageous favors. Their weapon of choice was the glám dícind, a metrical malediction with magical powers. When they rocked the mic, everybody ran for cover. For example, when Aithirne rolled into the town of Connaught, he was met by the one-eyed King Eochaid. The king figured he would appease the poet. Legend says, he offered “whatever his people had of jewels and treasures.” “‘There is, forsooth,’ saith Aithirne, ‘the single eye there in thy head, to be given to me into my fist.’ ‘There shall be no refusal,’ saith Eochaid…. So then the king put his finger under his eye, and tore it out of his head, and gave it into Aithirne’s fist.” Later, in Leinster Aithirne took a notion to get very down and intimate with the queen. He shared this reasonable fantasy with the king. For “honour’s sake” and to avoid a verbal beatdown of epic proportions, the king agreed to grant Aithirne his wish. (What the queen had to say is not recorded.) Finally, Aithirne got wind that another king, a fellow named Conchobar, was engaged to marry Luaine. Aithirne and his sons planned to crash the wedding party, drink a few pints of stout, and cop some cash. Complications arose when they spied Luaine. They were smitten and “besought her to play the king false.” She refused. In retaliation Aithirne “made three satires upon her,” and “the maiden died of shame.” The story does not end there. After the funeral, King Conchobar and his posse followed Aithirne the Importunate. They tracked him to his compound, walled up his crib, and set fire to the place; toasted the poet and his entire family—shock and awe. And get this: local poets were pissed senseless. Imagine the king’s disrespect! Had he forgotten the magic power of words? (27).
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