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I mean it’s totally badass, dying on your feet and still cutting off a man’s hand after you’re dead, but is there more to it than that?

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    Interesting! Where can I read more about Cuchulainn? Mar 6, 2017 at 12:17
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    @GirsanVirlee You can use the "texts in translation" section of Wikipedia as a general index. For the the Táin Bó Cúailnge ("The Cattle Raid of Cooley", the epic in which Cuchulainn's is the chief hero, my personal recommendation is the Thomas Kinsella edition.
    – DukeZhou
    Mar 6, 2017 at 22:44
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    @GirsanVirlee I also highly recommend the Yeats plays on the subject, which are listed as adaptations, but due to Yeats' status as a poet, may be considered canon, as Yeats himself occupies a very lofty position the overall literary canon, and poetry may be said to be more highly regarded in Ireland than just about anywhere else. "The Only Jealousy of Emer", "The The Death of Cuchulain", and "On Baille's Strand". (The last play deal's with Cuchulain unwitting duel with his own son.)
    – DukeZhou
    Mar 6, 2017 at 22:51

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I see two main reasons:

  1. It is super-badass and Cuchulainn is an absolutely peerless warrior.

The whole cycle is filled with exaggerated feats by Cuchulainn and others. As an example, Fergus Mac Roth (Fergus mac Róich) can chop the tops off of entire hills with a single stroke of his sword. So this outrageously extreme act is in keeping with the Irish tradition of wonderfully exaggerated feats that delight listeners.<1>

  1. So that the Hero can die on his feet.

In the Norse tradition, warriors must die in battle to gain entrance to Fólkvangr or Valhalla. Although Cu is mortally wounded in battle, everyone is still too afraid of him to approach, even in his diminished state. This means, as Cu weakens, he will likely die in repose, not standing. Lashing himself to the pillar ensures he "dies on his feet", unbowed unto death.<2>


<1> This ability to undergo trials that no other hero could withstand separates heroes like Cu from the pack. There is a parallel with Lord Guan in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Guan has been wounded on the arm, and the would is infected. A doctor comes to scrape the infection from his bone. Guan plays chess as the bone scraping occurs, never evincing any pain or even acknowledging that the procedure is taking place. Guan is ultimately deified as the god of war, and it is events like this that clearly separate him from the common hero.

<2> There is a famous modern reference for this idea via Emiliano Zapata, some form of: "It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees!"*

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