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In the Book of Invasions Cesair flees Noah's flood to Ireland as a kind of matriarch of her fleet. The sources all agree there was an incredible sexual imbalance between men and women, with a total of three males and at least 36 females. Interestingly the sources also agree at least one of the men died from sexual exhaustion.

I know next to nothing about Celtic mythology, and I was fascinated to learn of a feminine fleet commander seeking out land after a flood, and I'm flummoxed as to what import, again if any, the number of women in the myth holds.

The number of men is three, and that's too riddled with possible meaning for me to delve into without knowing more of the mythos.

So anyone out there with a better or clearer understanding of the Celts, do the quantities of these groups mean anything at all? And if they do, what is it?

  • 1
    I just want to say that this is a great question, but I don't have time to answer it this week. If no one answers it before then and if I have time, I'll write an answer next week. – user62 Oct 19 '15 at 19:19
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First of all, let me reiterate that this is a wonderful question, and it's a pity that it's been ignored. I would also like to apologize for taking so long to answer your question: research is never easy, and I haven't had much time lately.

In the paper "Origin and Development of the Cesair Legend", Carey notes that several Celtic stories that appear to be precursors to the story of Cesair feature a more important woman accompanied by "a large retinue of maidens". I think this raises the question of whether, instead of ~16 wives for each man as your question implies, the story meant one wife and ~15 handmaidens for each man.

Regarding the division of the women: as Rees and Rees note in Celtic Heritage, a common theme in the five creation stories of the Lebor Gabala Erenn is the division of Ireland into parts. The division of several woman into three groups mimics the division of other resources at later parts in the Lebor Gabala Erenn (Celtic Heritage).

As evidenced by the fact that the number of women changes from version to version (50, 150, etc), I don't think too much can be read into these specific numbers. If you are interested, I believe Carey briefly discusses the possibility of a mistranslation from 50 to 150, but again, I'm not sure how important that is. There isn't a special significance to the number 50; it just means that there were a lot of women.

I hope that answers your question!

Works Cited

Rees, Alwyn D., and B. R. Rees. Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales. London: Thames and Hudson, 1961. Print.

Carey, John. "Origin and Development of the Cesair Legend." Éigse 22 (1987): 37-48. Print.

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  • It satisfies me, friend, if only to the point of making more specific inquiries. And who dared to downvote this answer? Somebody's just trying to stir the kool-aid, I think. – Travis Smith of Bexar Nov 6 '15 at 5:37
  • @TravisSmithofBexar it's hard to write a definitive answer, because even scholars of the myth can't be 100% sure when answering your question. I also suspect that you are confused because you want to know more about the general meaning of the story as opposed to the meaning of the specific detail about the number of women. If you are serious about learning more about the story, you need to get your hands on a copy of the article "Origin and Development of the Cesair Legend". It's not available online, but if you ask a librarian they may be able to find you a copy. – user62 Nov 6 '15 at 17:06
  • @TravisSmithofBexar you might be interested in this article, which summaries different perspectives on the Cesair story: academia.edu/6553563/…. I hesitated when linking you to this article, while it contains some scholarly information it also contains a lot of incorrect statements. However, it does cite the sources of all of the statements it makes, so if you are sufficiently skeptical it would be a good starting place for further research. – user62 Nov 6 '15 at 17:11
  • @TravisSmithofBexar RE downvoting: voting on this site is out of control. People aren't leaving comments when they downvote, they are upvoting things that they shouldn't be upvoting (I could link to some questions/answers by users that show no effort whatsoever and are based off of inaccurate information, yet are also significantly upvoted), and they are downvoting questions/answers based off of stupid reasons. It's not just this answer, and it's not just my posts: I've seen content by new users that's not deserving of downvotes but is downvoted anyway. – user62 Nov 6 '15 at 17:17
  • Not confused buddy, but I am interested in the origins and implications of the 'lots of women for a few men' theme. – Travis Smith of Bexar Nov 6 '15 at 17:21

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