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Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 17, 1906.djvu/144

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132
Back-footed Beings.

of this deformity with others of a like nature, and the common belief that wickedness and ugliness are inseparable. The last of these arguments is indisputable, but the other two, though true enough, neglect some important facts. Though some of these beings are undoubtedly malignant, this is by no means true of them all. Cuchulainn was a national hero; Levarcham was a faithful servant and aided the heroine Deirdre; Hephaistos was certainly not regarded with dread; and in all the instances in which this deformity is found, magical power is a more prominent feature than malevolence. And though it is true that in the cases of Cuchulainn, Domhnall, and the New Caledonian snake-man, other deformities are also present, the inversion of the lower extremities is, as will be seen, usually found alone. M. Gaidoz' explanation therefore seems hardly convincing.

The most striking point in connection with the deformity is that it seems to favour rather than to prevent rapidity of motion.[1] Levarcham "can walk through the whole of Ireland in a day," and "when undergoing these prodigious feats a fearful and a horrible change came over the swift messenger, . . her feet and knees turned and went behind her and her heels and thighs came before her!"[2] In her case there appears to be no further deformity. In Cuchulainn's moments of Berserk fury, when he performed his wonder-feats, "his feet would go round behind him and his hams before, and the balls of his calves on his shins," though other contortions also take place. The tribe of Scythians, too, whom Pliny describes as having their feet turned backwards—"aversis post crura plantis"—are extraordinarily swift runners. There is, I believe, more in this deformity than M. Gaidoz supposes.

  1. Miss Hull says: "This strange conception of the body twisted behind before seems to have been a common Irish expression denoting great bodily swiftness or energy." The Cuchullin Saga, Introd. lxi.
  2. Folklore, xv. 34.