Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race
by Thomas Rolleston
Chapter VIII: Myths and Tales of the Cymry
THE absence in early Celtic literature of any world-myth, or any philosophic account of the origin and constitution of things, was noticed at the opening of our third chapter. In Gaelic literature there is, as far as I know, nothing which even pretends to represent early Celtic thought on this subject.
It is otherwise in Wales. Here there has existed for a considerable time a body of teaching purporting to contain a portion, at any rate, of that ancient Druidic thought which, as Caesar tells us, was communicated only to the initiated, and never written down.
This teaching is principally to be found in two volumes entitled "Barddas," a compilation made from materials in his possession by a Welsh bard and scholar named Llewellyn Sion, of Glamorgan, towards the end of the sixteenth century, and edited, with a translation, by J. A. Williams ap Ithel for the Welsh MS. Society. Modern Celtic scholars pour contempt on the pretensions of works like this to enshrine any really antique thought. Thus Mr. Ivor B. John: "All idea of a bardic esoteric doctrine involving pre-Christian mythic philosophy must be utterly discarded." And again: "The nonsense talked upon the subject is largely due to the uncritical invention of pseudo-antiquaries of the sixteenth to seventeenth and eighteenth centuries." ["The Mabinogion," pp.45 and 54] Still the bardic Order was certainly at one tune in possession of such a doctrine.
That Order had a fairly continuous existence in Wales. And though no critical thinker would build with any confidence a theory of pre-Christian doctrine on a document of the sixteenth century, it does not seem wise to scout altogether the possibility that some fragments of antique lore may have lingered even so late as that in bardic tradition.
At any rate, "Barddas" is a work of considerable philosophic interest, and even if it represents nothing but a certain current of Cymric thought in the sixteenth century it is not unworthy of attention by the student of things Celtic. Purely Druidic it does not even profess to be, for Christian personages and episodes from Christian history figure largely in it. But we come occasionally upon a strain of thought which, whatever else it may be, is certainly not Christian, and speaks of an independent philosophic system.
In this system two primary existences are contemplated, God and Cythrawl, who stand respectively for the principle of energy tending towards life, and the principle of destruction tending towards nothingness. Cythrawl is realised in Annwn, [pronounced " Annoon." It was the word used in the early literature for Hades or Fairyland] which may be rendered, the Abyss, or Chaos.
Manred - chaos and order
In the beginning there was nothing but God and Annwn. Organised life began by the Word - God pronounced His ineffable Name and the "Manred" was formed. The Manred was the primal substance of the universe. It was conceived as a multitude of minute indivisible particles - atoms, in fact - each being a microcosm, for God is complete in each of them, while at the same time each is a part of God, the Whole. The totality of being as it now exists is represented by three concentric circles. The innermost of them, where life sprang from Annwn, is called "Abred," and is the stage of struggle and evolution - the contest of life with Cythrawl.
The next is the circle of " Gwynfyd," or Purity, in which life is manifested as a pure, rejoicing force, having attained its triumph over evil. The last and outermost circle is called "Ceugant," or Infinity. Here all predicates fail us, and this circle, represented graphically not by a bounding line, but by divergent rays, is inhabited by God alone. The following extract from "Barddas," in which the alleged bardic teaching is conveyed in catechism form, will serve to show the order of ideas in which the writer's mind moved:
"Q. Whence didst thou proceed?
"A. I came from the Great World, having my beginning in Annwn.
"Q. Where art thou now? and how camest thou to what thou art?
"A. I am in the Little World, whither I came having traversed the circle of Abred, and now I am a Man, at its termination and extreme limits.
"Q. What wert thou before thou didst become a man, in the circle of Abred?
"A. I was in Annwn the least possible that was capable of life and the nearest possible to absolute death; and I came in every form and through every form capable of a body and life to the state of man along the circle of Abred, where my condition was severe and grievous during the age of ages, ever since I was parted in Annwn from the dead, by the gift of God, and His great generosity, and His unlimited and endless love.
"Q. Through how many different forms didst thou come, and what happened unto thee?"
"A. Through every form capable of life, in water, in earth, in air. And there happened unto me every severity, every hardship, every evil, and every suffering, and but little was the goodness or Gwynfyd before I became a man. . . . Gwynfyd cannot be obtained without seeing and knowing everything, but it is not possible to see or to know everything without suffering everything. . . . And there can be no full and perfect love that does not produce those things which are necessary to lead to the knowledge that causes Gwynfyd."
Every being, we are told, shall attain to the circle of Gwynfyd at last. ["Barddas," vol. i , pp. 224 sqq.]
There is much here that reminds us of Gnostic or Oriental thought. It is certainly very unlike Christian orthodoxy of the sixteenth century. As a product of the Cymric mind of that period the reader may take it for what it is worth, without troubling himself either with antiquarian theories or with their refutations.
Let us now turn to the really ancient work, which is not philosophic, but creative and imaginative, produced by British bards and fabulists of the Middle Ages. But before we go on to set forth what we shall find in this literature we must delay a moment to discuss one thing which we shall not.
The Arthurian Saga
For the majority of modern readers who have hot made any special study of the subject, the mention of early British legend will inevitably call up the glories of the Arthurian Saga - they will think of the fabled palace at Caerleon-on-Usk, the Knights of the Round Table riding forth on chivalrous adventure, the Quest of the Grail, the guilty love of Lancelot, flower of knighthood, for the queen, the last great battle by the northern sea, the voyage of Arthur, sorely wounded, but immortal, to the mystic valley of Avalon. But as a matter of fact they will find in the native literature of medieval Wales little or nothing of all this - no Round Table, no Lancelot, no Grail-Quest, no Isle of Avalon, until the Welsh learned about them from abroad ; and though there was indeed an Arthur in this literature, he is a wholly different being from the Arthur of what we now call the Arthurian Saga.
The earliest extant mention of Arthur is to be found in the work of the British historian Nennius, who wrote his "Historia Britonum" about the year 800. He derives his authority from various sources - ancient monuments and writings of Britain and of Ireland (in connexion with the latter country he records the legend of Partholan), Roman annals, and chronicles of saints, especially St. Germanus. He presents a fantastically Romanised and Christianised view of British history, deriving the Britons from a Trojan and Roman ancestry. His account of Arthur, however, is both sober and brief. Arthur, who, according to Nennius, lived in the sixth century, was not a king ; his ancestry was less noble than that of many other British chiefs, who, nevertheless less, for his great talents as a military Imperator, or dux bellorum, chose him for their leader against the Saxons, whom he defeated in twelve battles, the last being at Mount Badon. Arthur's office was doubtless a relic of Roman military organisation, and there is no reason to doubt his historical existence, however impenetrable may be the veil which now obscures his valiant and often triumphant battlings for order and civilisation in that disastrous age.
Geoffrey of Monmouth
Next we have Geoffrey of Monmouth, Bishop of St. Asaph, who wrote his "Historia Regum Britaniniae" in South Wales in the early part of the twelfth century. This work is an audacious attempt to make sober history out of a mass of mythical or legendary matter mainly derived, if we are to believe the author, from an ancient book brought by his uncle Walter, Archdeacon of Oxford, from Brittany.
The mention of Brittany in this connexion is, as we shall see, very significant. Geoffrey wrote expressly to commemorate the exploits of Arthur, who now appears as a king, son of Uther Pendragon and of Igerna, wife of Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall, to whom Uther gained access in the shape of her husband through the magic arts of Merlin. He places the beginning of Arthur's reign in the year 505, recounts his wars against the Saxons, and says he ultimately conquered not only all Britain, but Ireland, Norway, Gaul, and Dacia, and successfully resisted a demand for tribute and homage irom the Romans. He held his court at Caerleon-on-Usk.
While he was away on the Continent carrying on his struggle with Rome his nephew Modred usurped his crown and wedded his wife Guanhumara. Arthur, on this, returned, and after defeating the traitor at Winchester slew him in a last battle in Cornwall, where Arthur himself was sorely wounded (A.D. 542). The queen retired to a convent at Caerleon. Before his death Arthur conferred his kingdom on his kinsman Constantine, and was then carried off mysteriously to "the isle of Avalon" to be cured, and "the rest is silence." Arthur's magic sword "Caliburn" (Welsh Caladvwlch is mentioned by Geoffrey and described as having been made in Avalon, a word which seems to imply some kind of fairyland, a Land of the Dead, and may be related to the Norse Valhall.
It was not until later times that Avalon came to be identified with an actual site in Britain (Glastonbury). In Geoffrey's narrative there is nothing about the Holy Grail, or Lancelot, or the Round Table, and except for the allusion to Avalon the mystical element of the Arthurian saga is absent. Like Nennius, Geoffrey finds a fantastic classical origin for the Britons. His so-called history is perfectly worthless as a record of fact, but it has proved a veritable mine for poets and chroniclers, and has the distinction of having furnished the subject for the earliest English tragic drama, "Gorboduc," as well as for Shakespeareâs "King Lear" ; and its author may be described as the father - at least on its quasi-historical side - of the Arthurian saga, which he made up partly out of records of the historical dux bellorum of Nennius and partly out of poetical amplifications of these records made in Brittany by the descendants of exiles from Wales, many of whom fled there at the very time when Arthur was waging his wars against the heathen Saxons.
Geoffrey's book had a wonderful success. It was speedily translated into French by Wace, who wrote "Li Romans de Brut" about 1155, with added details from Breton sources, and translated from Wace's French into Anglo-Saxon by Layamon, who thus anticipated Malory's adaptations of late French prose romances. Except a few scholars who protested unavailingly, no one doubted its strict historical truth, and it had the important effect of giving to early British history a new dignity in the estimation of Continental and of English princes. To sit upon the throne of Arthur was regarded as in itself a glory by Plantagenet monarchs who had not a trace of Arthur's or of any British blood.
The Saga in Brittany : Marie de France
The Breton sources must next be considered. Unfortunately, not a line of ancient Breton literature has come down to us, and for our knowledge of it we must rely on the appearances it makes in the work of French writers. One of the earliest of these is the Anglo-Norman poetess who called herself Marie de France, and who wrote about 1150 and afterwards. She wrote, among other things, a number of "Lais" or tales, which she explicitly and repeatedly tells us were translated or adapted from Breton sources. Sometimes she claims to have rendered a writer's original exactly :
"Les contes que jo sai verais
Dunt Ii Bretun unt fait Ies lais
Vos conterai assez briefment;
Et ceif [sauf] di cest commencement
Selunc la letter lâescriture."
Little is actually said about Arthur in these tales, but the events of them are placed in his time ö en cel tems tint Artus la terre - and the allusions, which include a mention of the Round Table, evidently imply a general knowledge of the subject among those to whom these Breton "Lais" were addressed. Lancelot is not mentioned, but there is a "Lai" about one Lanval, who is beloved by Arthur's queen, but rejects her because he has a fairy mistress in the "isle d'Avalon" Gawain is mentioned, and an episode is told in the "Lai de Chevrefoil" about Tristan and Iseult, whose maid, "Brangien," is referred to in a way which assumes that the audience knew the part she had played on Iseult's bridal night. In short, we have evidence here of the existence in Brittany of a well-diffused and well-developed body of chivalric legend gathered about the personality of Arthur. The legends are so well known that mere allusions to characters and episodes in them are as well understood as references to Tennyson's "Idylls" would be among us to-day. The "Lais" of Marie de France therefore point strongly to Brittany as the true cradle of the Arthurian saga, on its chivalrous and romantic side. They do not, however, mention the Grail.
Chrestien de Troyes
Lastly, and chiefly, we have the work of the French poet Chrestien de Troyes, who began in 1165 to translate Breton "Lais," like Marie de France, and who practically brought the Arthurian saga into the poetic literature of Europe, and gave it its main outline and character. He wrote a "Tristan" (now lost). He (if not Walter Map) introduced Lancelot of the Lake into the story ; he wrote a Conte del Graal, in which the Grail legend and Perceval make their first appearance, though he left the story unfinished, and does not tell us what the "Grail" really was. [strange as it may seem to us, the character of this object was by no means fixed from the beginning. In the poem of Wolfram son Eschenbach it is a stone endowed with magical properties. The word is derived by the early fabulists from gréable, something pleasant to possess and enjoy, and out of which one could have à son gré, whatever he chose of good things. The Grail legend will be dealt with later in connexion with the Welsh tale "Peredur."] He also wrote a long conte d'aventure entitled "Erec," containing the story of Geraint and Enid.
These are the earliest poems we possess in which the Arthur of chivalric legend comes prominently forward. What were the sources of Chrestien? No doubt they were largely Breton. Troyes is in Champagne, which had been united to Blois in 1019 by Eudes, Count of Blois, and reunited again after a period of dispossession by Count Theobald de Blois in 1128. Marie, Countess of Champagne, was Chrestien's patroness. And there were close connexions between the ruling princes of Blois and of Brittany. Alain II., a Duke of Brittany, had in the tenth century married a sister of the Count de Blois, and in the first quarter of the thirteenth century Jean I. of Brittany married Blanche de Champagne, while their daughter Alix married Jean de Chastillon, Count of Blois, in 1254.
It is highly probable, therefore, that through minstrels who attended their Breton lords at the court of Blois, from the middle of the tenth century onward, a great many Breton "Lais" and legends found their way into French literature during the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth Centuries. But it is also certain that the Breton legends themselves had been strongly affected by French influences, and that to the Matire de France, as it was called by medieval writers [distinguished by these from the other great storehouse of poetic legend, the Matire de Bretagne ö i.e., the Arthurian saga.] - i.e., the legends of Charlemagne and his Paladins - we owe the Table Round and the chivalric institutions ascribed to Arthur's court at Caerleo-on-Usk.
It must not be forgotten that (as Miss Jessie L. Weston has emphasised in her invaluable studies on the Arthurian saga) Gautier de Denain the earliest of the continuators or re-workers of Chrestien de Troyes, mentions as his authority for stories of Gawain one Bleheris, a poet "born and bred in Wales." This forgotten bard is believed to be identical with famosus ille fabulator, Bledhericus, mentioned by Giraldus Cambrensis, and with the BrŽris quoted by Thomas of Brittany as an authority for the Tristan story.
Conclusion as to the Origin of the Arthurian Saga
In the absence, however, of any information as to when, or exactly what, Bleheris wrote, the opinion must, I think, hold the field that the Arthurian saga, as we have it now, is not of Welsh, nor even of pure Breton origin. The Welsh exiles who colonised part of Brittany about the sixth century must have brought with them many stories of the historical Arthur. They must also have brought legends of the Celtic deity Artaius, a god to whom altars have been found in France. These personages ultimately blended into one, even as in Ireland the Christian St. Brigit blended with the pagan goddess Brigindo.
We thus get a mythical figure combining something of the exaltation of a god with a definite habitation on earth and a place in history. An Arthur saga thus arose, which in its Breton (though not its Welsh) form was greatly enriched by material drawn in from the legends of Charlemagne and his peers, while both in Brittany and in Wales it became a centre round which clustered a mass of floating legendary matter relating to various Celtic personages, human and divine. Chrestien de Troyes, working on Breton material, ultimately gave it the form in which it conquered the world, and in which it became in the twelfth and the thirteenth centuries what the Faust legend was in later times, the accepted vehicle for the ideals and aspirations of an epoch.
The Saga in Wales
From the Continent, and especially from Brittany, the story of Arthur came back into Wales transformed and glorified. The late Dr. Heinrich Zimmer, in one of his luminous studies of the subject, remarks that "In Welsh literature we have definite evidence that the South-Welsh prince, Rhys ap Tewdwr, who had been in Brittany, brought from thence in the year 1070 the knowledge of Arthur's Round Table to Wales, where of course it had been hitherto unknown." [Cultur der Gegenwart," i. ix.] And many Breton lords are known to have followed the banner of William the Conqueror into England. [a list of them is given in Lobineau's " Histoire de Bretagne."]
The introducers of the saga into Wales found, however, a considerable body of Arthurian matter of a very different character already in existence there. Besides the traditions of the historical Arthur, the dux bellorum of Nennius, there was the Celtic deity, Artaius. It is probably a reminiscence of this deity whom we meet with under the name of Arthur in the only genuine Welsh Arthurian story we possess, the story of Kilhwch and Olwen in the "Mabinogion." Much of the Arthurian saga derived from Chrestien and other Continental writers was translated and adapted in Wales as in other European countries, but as a matter of fact it made a later and a lesser impression in Wales than almost anywhere else. it conflicted with existing Welsh traditions, both historical and mythological; it was full of matter entirely foreign to the Welsh spirit, and it remained always in Wales something alien and unassimilated. Into ireland it never entered at all.
These few introductory remarks do not, of course, profess to contain a discussion of the Arthurian saga ö a vast subject with myriad ramifications, historical, mythological, mystical, and what not - but are merely intended to indicate the relation of that saga to genuine Celtic literature and to explain why we shall hear so little of it in the following accounts of Cymric myths and legends. It was a great spiritual myth which, arising from the composite source above described, overran all the Continent, as its hero was supposed to have done in armed conquest, but it cannot be regarded as a special possession of the Celtic race, nor is it at present extant, except in the form of translation or adaptation, in any Celtic tongue.
Gaelic and Cymric Legend Compared
The myths and legends of the Celtic race which have come down to us in the Welsh language are in some respects of a different character from those which we possess in Gaelic. The Welsh material is nothing like as full as the Gaelic, nor so early. The tales of the "Mabinogion" are mainly drawn from the fourteenth-century manuscript entitled "The Red Book of Hergest." One of them, the romance of Taliesin, came from another source, a manuscript of the seventeenth century.
The four oldest tales in the "Mabinogion" are supposed by scholars to have taken their present shape in the tenth or eleventh century, while several Irish tales, like the story of Etain and Midir or the Death of Conary, go back to the seventh or eighth. It will be remembered that the story of the invasion of Partholan was known to Nennius, who wrote about the year 800. As one might therefore expect, the mythological elements in the Welsh romances are usually much more confused and harder to decipher than in the earlier of the irish tales. The mythic interest has grown less, the story interest greater ; the object of the bard is less to hand down a sacred text than to entertain a princeâs court. We must remember also that the influence of the Continental romances of chivalry is clearly perceptible in the Welsh tales ; and, in fact, comes eventually to govern them completely.
Gaelic and Continental Romance
In many respects the Irish Celt anticipated the ideas of these romances. The lofty courtesy shown to each other by enemies, [see, e.g., pp.243 snd 218, note] the fantastic pride which forbade a warrior to take advantage of a wounded adversary, [see p.233, and a similar case in the author's "High Deeds of Finn," p. 82] the extreme punctilio with which the duties or observances proper to each man's caste or station were observed [see p.232, and the tale of the recovery of the " Tain," p. 234] - all this tone of thought and feeling which would seem so strange to us if we met an instance of it in classical literature would seem quite familiar and natural in Continental romances of the twelfth and later centuries. Centuries earlier than that it was a marked feature in Gaelic literature.
Yet in the Irish romances, whether Ultonian or Ossianic, the element which has since been considered the most essential motive in a romantic tale is almost entirely lacking. This is the element of love, or rather of woman-worship. The Continental fabulist felt that he could do nothing without this motive of action. But the "lady-love" of the English, French, or German knight, whose favour he wore, for whose grace he endured infinite hardship and peril, does not meet us in Gaelic literature. It would have seemed absurd to the Irish Celt to make the plot of a serious story hinge on the kind of passion with which the medieval Dulcinea inspired her faithful knight. In the two most famous and popular of Gaelic love-tales, the tale of Deirdre and "The Pursuit of Dermot and Grania," the women are the wooers, and the men are most reluctant to commit what they know to be the folly of yielding to them.
Now this romantic, chivalric kind of love, which idealised woman into a goddess, and made the service of his lady a sacred duty to the knight, though it never reached in Wales the height which it did in Continental and English romances, is yet clearly discernible there. We can trace it in "Kilhwch and Olwen," which is comparatively an ancient tale. it is well developed in later stories like "Peredur" and "The Lady of the Fountain." It is a symptom of the extent to which, in comparison with the Irish, Welsh literature had lost its pure Celtic strain and become affected-I do not, of course, say to its loss - by foreign influences.
Gaelic and Cymric Mythology: Nudd
The oldest of the Welsh tales, those called "The Four Branches of the Mabinogi" ["Pwyll King cf Dyfed," "Bran and Branwen," "Math Sor of Mathonwy," and "Manawyddan Son of LIyr."] are the richest in mythological elements, but these occur in more or less recognisable form throughout nearly all the medieval tales, and even, after many transmutations, in Malory. We can dearly discern certain mythological figures common to all Celtica. We meet, for instance, a personage called Nudd or Lludd, evidently a solar deity. A temple dating from Roman times, and dedicated to him under the name of Nodens, has been discovered at Lydney, by the Severn. On a bronze plaque found near the spot is a representation of the god.
He is encircled by a halo and accompanied by flying spirits and by Tritons. We are reminded of the Danaan deities and their dose connexion with the sea; and when we find that in Welsh legend an epithet is attached to Nudd, meaning "of the Silver Hand" (though no extant Welsh legend tells the meaning of the epithet), we have no difficulty in identifying this Nudd with Nuada of the Silver Hand, who led the Danaans in the battle of Moytura. [see p. 107] Under his name Lludd he is said to have had a temple on the site of St. Paul's in London, the entrance to which, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth, was called in the British tongue Parth Lludd, which the Saxons translated Ludes Geat, our present Ludgate.
Llyr and Manawyddan
Again, when we find a mythological personage named Llyr, with a son named Manawyddan, p laying a prominent part in Welsh legend, we may safely connect them with the Irish Lir and his son Mananan, gods of the sea. Llyr-cester, now Leicester, was a centre of the worship of Llyr.
LIew Llaw Gyffes
Finally, we may point to a character in the "Mabinogi," or tale, entitled "Math Son of Mathonwy." The name of this character is given as Llew Llaw Gyffes, which the Welsh fabulist interprets as "The Lion of the Sure Hand," and a tale, which we shall recount later on, is told to account for the name. But when we find that this hero exhibits characteristics which point to his being a solar deity, such as an amazingly rapid growth from childhood into manhood, and when we are told, moreover, by Professor Rhys that Gyffes originally meant, not" steady "or" sure," but " long," ["Hibbert Lecturces," pp. :237 ö 240] it becomes evident that we have here a dim and broken reminiscence of the deity whom the Gaels called Lugh of the Long Arm, [see pp. 83, 109, &c. Lugh, of course, = Lux, Light. The Celtic words Lamh and Llaw were used indifferently for hand or arm] Lugh Lamh Fada. The misunderstood name survived, and round the misunderstanding legendary matter floating in the popular mind crystallised itself in a new story.
These correspondences might be pursued in much further detail. It is enough here to point to their existence as evidence of the original community of Gaelic and Cymric mythology.[Mr. Squire, in his "Mythology of the British Islands," 1905 has brought together in a clear and attractive form the most recent results of studies on this subject] We are, in each literature, in the same circle of mythological ideas. In Wales, however, these ideas are harder to discern ; the figures and their relationships in the Welsh Olympus are less accurately defined and more fluctuating. It would seem as if a number of different tribes embodied what were fundamentally the same conceptions under different names and wove different legends about them. The bardic literature, as we have it now, bears evidence some-times of the prominence of one of these tribal cults, sometimes of another. To reduce these varying accounts to unity is altogether impossible. Still, we can do some thing to afford the reader a clue to the maze.
The Houses of Dôn and of Llyr
Images from The Ardue Temple
Two great divine houses or families are discernible-that of Don, a mother-goddess (representing the Gaelic Dana), whose husband is Beli, the Irish BilŽ god of Death, and whose descendants are the Children of Light; and the House of Llyr, the Gaelic Lir, who here represents, not a Danaan deity, but something more like the Irish Fomorians. As in the case of the Irish myth, the two families are allied by intermarriage ö Penardun, a daughter of Don, is wedded to Llyr. Don herself has a brother, Math, whose name signifies wealth or treasure (cf. Greek Pluton, ploutos) and they descend from a figure indistinctly characterised, called Mathonwy.
The House of Arthur
Image from The Ardue Temple
Into the pantheon of deities represented in the four ancient Mabinogi there came, at a later time, from some other tribal source, another group headed by Arthur, the god Artaius. He takes the place of Gwydion son of Don, and the other deities of his circle fall more or less accurately into the places of others of the earlier circle. The accompanying genealogical plans are intended to help the reader to a general view of the relationships and attributes of these personages. It must be borne in mind, however, that these tabular arrangements necessarily involve an appearance of precision and consistency which is not reflected in the fluctuating character of the actual myths taken as a whole. Still, as a sketch-map of a very intricate and obscure region, they may help the reader who enters it for the first time to find his bearings in it, and that is the only purpose they propose to serve.
Gwyn ap Nudd
The deity named Gwyn ap Nudd is said, like Finn in Gaelic legend, [Finn and Gwyn are respectively the Gaelic and Cymric forms of the same name, meaning fair or white] to have impressed himself more deeply and lastingly on the Welsh popular imagination than any of the other divinities. A mighty warrior and huntsman, he glories in the crash of breaking spears, and, like Odin, assembles the souls of dead heroes in his shadowy kingdom, for although he belongs to the kindred of the Light-gods, Hades is his special domain.
From Living with the Tylwyth Teg by Wirt Sikes
The combat between him and Gwythur ap Greidawl (Victor, son of Scorcher) for Creudylad, daughter of Lludd, which is to be renewed every May-day till time shall end, represents evidently the contest between winter and summer for the flowery and fertile earth.
" Later," writes Mr. Charles Squire, " he came to be considered as King of the Tylwyth Teg, the Welsh fairies, and his name as such has hardly yet died out of his last haunt, the romantic vale of Neath. . . . He is the Wild Huntsman of Wales and the West of England, and it is his pack which is sometimes heard at chase in waste places by night." ["Mythology of the British Islands," p. 225]
He figures as a god of war and death in a wonderful poem from the "Black Book of Caermarthen," where he is represented as discoursing with a prince named Gwyddneu Garanhir, who had come to ask his protection.
I quote a few stanzas: the poem will be found in full in Mr. Squire's excellent volume:
"I come from battle and conflict
With a shield in my hand;
Broken is my helmet by the thrusting of spears.
Round-hoofed is my horse, the torment of battle,
Fairy am I called, Gwyn the son of Nudd,
The lover of Crewrdilad, the daughter of Lludd
" I have been in the place where Gwendolen was slain,
The son of Ceidaw, the pillar of song,
Where the ravens screamed over blood.
"I have been in the place where Bran was killed,
The son of Iweridd, of far-extending fame,
Where the ravens of the battlefield screamed.
"I have been where Llacheu was slain,
The son of Arthur, extolled in songs,
When the ravens screamed over blood.
"I have been where Mewrig was killed,
The son of Carreian, of honourable fame,
When the ravens screamed over flesh.
"I have been where Gwallawg was killed,
The son of Goholeth, the accomplished,
The resister of Lloegyr, [Saxon Britain] the son of Lleynawg.
"I have been where the soldiers of Britain were slain,
From the east to the north:
I am the escort of the grave.
I have been where the soldiers of Britain were slain,
From the east to the south:
I am alive, they in death."
Myrddin, or Merlin
A deity named Myrddin holds in Arthur's mythological cycle the place of the Sky- and Sun-god, Nudd. One of the Welsh Triads tells us that Britain, before it was inhabited, was called Clas Myrddin, Myrddin's Enclosure. One is reminded of the Irish fashion of calling any favoured spot a "cattle-fold of the sun" - the name is applied by Deirdre to her beloved Scottish home in Glen Etive.
Merlin and Nimue. E. Burne-Jones. c. 1870
Professor Rhys suggests that Myrddin was the deity specially worshipped at Stonehenge, which, according to British tradition as reported by Geoffrey of Monmouth, was erected by "Merlin," the enchanter who represents the form into which Myrddin had dwindled under Christian influences. We are told that the abode of Merlin was a house of glass, or a bush of whitethorn laden with bloom, or a sort of smoke or mist in the air, or "a close neither of iron nor steel nor timber nor of stone, but of the air without any other thing, by enchantment so strong that it may never be undone while the world endureth." [Rhys, "Hibbert Lectures," quoting from the ancient saga of Merlin published by the English Text Society, p.693] Finally he descended upon Bardsey Island, "off the extreme westernmost point of Carnarvonshire · into it he went with nine attendant bards, taking with him the 'Thirteen Treasures of Britain,' thenceforth lost to men." Professor Rhys points out that a Greek traveller named Demetrius, who is described as having visited Britain in the first Century A.D., mentions an island in the west where" Kronos" was supposed to be imprisoned with his attendant deities, and Briareus keeping watch over him as he slept, "for sleep was the bond forged for him." Doubtless we have here a version, Hellenised as was the wont of classical writers on barbaric myths, of a British story of the descent of the Sun-god into the western sea, and his imprisonment there by the powers of darkness, with the possessions and magical potencies belonging to Light and Life. ["Mythology of the British Islands," pp.325, 326 ; and Rhys, "Hibbert Lectures," p. 155 sqq.]
Nynniaw and Peibaw
The two personages called Nynniaw and Peibaw who in the genealogical table play a very slight part in Cymric mythology, but one story in which they appear is interesting in itself and has an excellent moral. They are represented [in the "lolo MSS.," collected by Edward Williams] as two brothers, Kings of Britain, who were walking together one starlight night. "See what a fine far-spreading field I have," said Nynniaw. "Where is it ?" asked Peibaw. "There aloft and as far as you can see," said Nynniaw, pointing to the sky. "But look at all my cattle grazing in your field," said Peibaw.
"Where are they?" said Nynniaw. "All the golden stars," said Peibaw, "with the moon for their shepherd."
"They shall not graze on my field," cried Nynniaw.
"I say they shall," returned Peibaw. "They shall not." "They shall." And so they went on: first they quarrelled with each other, and then went to war, and armies were destroyed and lands laid waste, till at last the two brothers were turned into oxen as a punishment for their stupidity and quarrelsomeness.
We now come to the work in which the chief treasures of Cymric myth and legend were collected by Lady Charlotte Guest sixty years ago, and given to the world in a translation which is one of the masterpieces of English literature. The title of this work, the "Mabinogion," is the plural form of the word Mabinogi, which means a story belonging to the equipment of an apprentice-bard, such a story as every bard had necessarily to learn as part of his training, whatever more he might afterwards add to his repertoire. Strictly speaking, the Mabinogi in the volume are only the four tales given first in Mr. Alfred Nutt's edition, which were entitled the "Four Branches of the Mabinogi," and which form a connected whole. They are among the oldest relics of Welsh mythological saga.
Pwyll, Head of Hades
The first of them is the story of Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed, and relates how that prince got his title of Pen Annwn, or "Head of Hades" - Annwn being the term under which we identify in Welsh literature the Celtic Land of the Dead, or Fairyland. It is a story with a mythological basis, but breathing the purest spirit of chivalric honour and nobility.
PwyIl, it is said, was hunting one day in the woods of Glyn Cuch when he saw a pack of hounds, not his own, running down a stag. These hounds were snow-white in colour, with red ears. If Pwyll had had any experience in these matters he would have known at once what kind of hunt was up, for these are the colours of Faery - the red-haired man, the red-eared hound are always associated with magic. [see, e.g. pp. 111, 272] Pwyll, however, drove off the strange hounds, and was setting his own on the quarry when a horseman of noble appearance came up and reproached him for his discourtesy. Pwyll offered to make amends, and the story now develops into the familiar theme of the Rescue of Fairyland. The stranger's name is Arawn, a king in Annwn. He is being harried and dispossessed by a rival, Havgan, and he seeks the aid of Pwyll, whom he begs to meet Havgan in single combat a year hence. Meanwhile he will put his own shape on Pwyll, who is to rule in his kingdom till the eventful day, while Arawn will go in Pwyll's shape to govern Dyfed. He instructs Pwyll how to deal with the foe. Havgan must be laid low with a single stroke-if another is given to him he immediately revives again as strong as ever.
Pwyll agreed to follow up the adventure, and accordingly went in Arawn's shape to the kingdom of Annwn. Here he was placed in an unforeseen difficulty. The beautiful wife of Arawn greeted him as her husband. But when the time came for them to retire to rest he set his face to the wall and said no word to her, nor touched her at all until the morning broke. Then they rose up, and Pwyll went to the hunt, and ruled his kingdom, and did all things as if he were monarch of the land. And whatever affection he showed to the queen public during the day, he passed every night even as this first.
Arawn and Havgan Boris Artzybasheff
At last the day of battle came, and, like the chieftains in Gaelic story, Pwyll and Havgan met each other in the midst of a river-ford. They fought, and at the first clash Havgan was hurled a spear's length over the crupper of his horse and fell mortally wounded. [we see here that we have got far from primitive Celtic legend. The heroes fight Like medieval knights on horseback, tilting at each other with spears, not in chariots or on foot, and not with the strange weapons which figure in Gaelic battle-tales] "For the love of heaven," said he, "slay me and complete thy work." " I may yet repent that," said Pwyll. "Slay thee who may, I will not." Then Havgan knew that his end was come, and bade his nobles bear him off; and Pwyll with all his army overran the two kingdoms of Annwn, and made himself master of all the land, and took homage from its princes and lords.
Then he rode off alone to keep his tryst in Glyn Cuch with Arawn as they had appointed. Arawn thanked him for all he had done, and added: "When thou comest thyself to thine own dominions thou wilt see what I have done for thee." They exchanged shapes once more, and each rode in his own likeness to take possession of his own land.
At the court of Annwn the day was spent in joy and feasting, though none but Arawn himself knew that anything unusual had taken place. When night came Arawn kissed and caressed his wife as of old, and she pondered much as to what might be the cause of his change towards her, and of his previous change a year and a day before. And as she was thinking over these things Arawn spoke to her twice or thrice, but got no answer. He then asked her why she was silent. " I tell thee," she said, "that for a year I have not spoken so much in this place." "Did not we speak continually?" he said. " Nay," said she, "but for a year back there has been neither converse nor tenderness between us." " Good heaven !" thought Arawn, "a man as faithful and firm in his friendship as any have I found for a friend." Then he told his queen what had passed. "Thou hast indeed laid hold of a faithful friend," she said.
And Pwyll when he came back to his own land called his lords together and asked them how they thought he had sped in his kingship during the past year. "Lord," said they, " thy wisdom was never so great, and thou wast never so kind and free in bestowing thy gifts, and thy justice was never more worthily seen than in this year." Pwyll then told them the story of his adventure. "Verily, lord," said they, "render thanks unto heaven that thou hast such a fellowship, and withhold not from us the rule which we have enjoyed for this year past." "I take heaven to witness that I will not withhold it," said Pwyll.
So the two kings made strong the friendship that was between them, and sent each other rich gifts of horses and hounds and jewels ; and in memory of the adventure Pwyll bore thenceforward the title of "Lord of Annwn."
The Wedding of Pwyll and Rhiannon
Near to the castle of Narberth, where Pwyll had his court, there was a mound called the Mound of Arberth, of which it was believed that whoever sat upon it would have a strange adventure either he would receive blows and wounds or he would see a wonder. One day when all his lords were assembled at Narberth for a feast Pwyll declared that he would sit on the mound and see what would befall.
He did so, and after a little while saw approaching him along the road that led to the mound a lady clad in garments that shone like gold, and sitting on a pure white horse. " is there any among you," said Pwyll to his men, "who knows that lady?" "There is not," said they. "Then go to meet her and learn who she is." But as they rode towards the lady she moved away from them, and however fast they rode she still kept an even distance between her and them, yet never seemed to exceed the quiet pace with which she had first approached.
Several times did Pwyll seek to have the lady overtaken and questioned, but all was in vain - none could draw near to her.
Next day Pwyll ascended the mound again, and once more the fair lady on her white steed drew near. This time Pwyll himself pursued her, but she flitted away before him as she had done before his servants, till at last he cried : "O maiden, for the sake of him thou best lovest, stay for me." " I will stay gladly," said she, "and it were better for thy horse had thou asked it long since."
Pwyll then questioned her as to the cause of her coming, and she said "I am Rhiannon, the daughter of Hevydd Hen, [Hen, "the Ancient"; an epithet generally implying a hoary antiquity associated with mythological tradition] and they sought to give me to a husband against my will. But no husband would I have, and that because of my love for thee ; neither will I yet have one if thou reject me." " By heaven !" said Pwyll, "if I might choose among all the ladies and damsels of the world, thee would I choose."
They then agree that in a twelvemonth from that day Pwyll is to come and claim her at the palace of Hevydd Hen.
Pwyll kept his tryst, with a following of a hundred knights, and found a splendid feast prepared for him, and he sat by his lady, with her father on the other side. As they feasted and talked there entered a tall, auburn-haired youth of royal bearing, clad in satin, who saluted Pwyll and his knights. Pwyll invited him to sit down. "Nay, I am a suitor to thee," said the youth; "to crave a boon am I come." "Whatever thou wilt thou shalt have," said Pwyll unsuspiciously, if it be in my power." "Ah," cried Rhiannon, wherefore didst thou give that answer ?" "Hath he not given it before all these nobles ?" said the youth; "and now the boon I crave is to have thy bride Rhiannon, and the feast and the banquet that are tn this place." Pwyll was silent. "Be silent as long as thou wilt," said Rhiannon. "Never did man make worse use of his wits than thou hast done." She tells him that the auburn-haired young man is Gwawl, son of Clud, and is the suitor to escape from whom she had fled to Pwyll.
Pwyll is bound in honour by his word, and Rhiannon explains that the banquet cannot be given to Gwawl, for it is not in Pwyll's power, but that she herself will be his bride in a twelvemonth; Gwawl is to come and claim her then, and a new bridal feast will be prepared for him. Meantime she concerts a plan with Pwyll, and gives him a certain magical bag, which he is to make use of when the time shall come.
A year passed away, Gwawl appeared according to the compact, and a great feast was again set forth, in which he, and not Pwyll, had the place of honour. As the company were making merry, however, a beggar clad in rags and shod with clumsy old shoes came into the hall, carrying a bag, as beggars are wont to do. He humbly craved a boon of Gwawl. It was merely that full of his bag of food might be given him from the banquet. Gwawl cheerfully consented, and an attendant went to fill the bag. But however much they put into it it never got fuller - by degrees all the good things on the tables had gone in; and at last Gwawl cried : "My soul, will thy bag never be full?"
"It will not, I declare to heaven," answered Pwyll - for he, of course, was the disguised beggar man - "unless some man wealthy in lands and treasure shall get into the bag and stamp it down with his feet, and declare, 'Enough has been put herein."' Rhiannon urged Gwawl to check the voracity of the bag. He put his two feet into it; Pwyll immediately drew up the sides of the bag over Gwawl's head and tied it up. Then he blew his horn, and the knights he had with him, who were concealed outside, rushed in, and captured and bound the followers of Gwawl. "What is in the bag ?" they cried, and others answered, "A badger," and so they played the game of "Badger in the Bag," striking it and kicking it about the hall.
At last a voice was heard from it. "Lord," cried Gwawl, "if thou wouldst but hear me, I merit not to be slain in a bag." "He speaks truth," said Hevydd Hen.
So an agreement was come to that Gwawl should provide means for Pwyll to satisfy all the suitors and minstrels who should come to the wedding, and abandon Rhiannon, and never seek to have revenge for what had been done to him. This was confirmed by sureties, and Gwawl and his men were released and went to their own territory. And Pwyll wedded Rhiannon, and dispensed gifts royally to all and sundry; and at last the pair, when the feasting was done, journeyed down to the palace of Narberth in Dyfed, where Rhiannon gave rich gifts, a bracelet and a ring or a precious atone to all the lords and ladies of her new country, and they ruled the land in peace both that year and the next. But the reader will find that we have not yet done with Gwawl.
The Penance of Rhiannon
Now Pwyll was still without an heir to the throne, and his nobles urged him to take another wile. "Grant us a year longer," said he, "and if there be no heir after that it shall be as you wish." Before the year's end a son was born to them in Narberth. But although six women sat up to watch the mother and the infant, it happened towards the morning that they all fell asleep, and Rhiannon also slept, and when the women awoke, behold, the boy was gone ! "We shall be burnt for this," said the women, and in their terror they concocted a horrible plot: they killed a cub of a staghound that had just been littered, and laid the bones by Rhiannon, and smeared her face and hands with blood as she slept, and when she woke and asked for her child they said she had devoured it in the night, and had overcome them with furious strength when they would have prevented her - and for all she could say or do the six women persisted in this story.
When the story was told to Pwyll he would not put away Rhiannon, as his nobles now again begged him to do, but a penance was imposed on her - namely, that she was to sit every day by the horse-block at the gate of the castle and tell the tale to every stranger who came, and offer to carry them on her back into the castle. And this she did for part of a year.
The Finding of Pryderi
Now at this time there lived a man named Teirnyon of Gwent Is Coed, who had the most beautiflil mare in the world, but there was this misfortune attending her, that although she foaled on the night of every first of May, none ever knew what became of the colts. At last Teirnyon resolved to get at the truth of the matter, and the next night on which the mare should foal he armed himself and watched in the stable. So the mare foaled, and the colt stood up, and Teirnyon was admiring its size and beauty when a great noise was heard outside, and a long, clawed arm came through the window of the stable and laid hold of the colt. Teirnyon immediately smote at the arm with his sword, and severed it at the elbow, so that it fell inside with the colt, and a great wailing and tumult was heard outside. He rushed out, leaving the door open behind him, but could see nothing because of the darkness of the night, and he followed the noise a little way. Then he came back, and behold, at the door he found an infant in swaddling clothes and wrapped in a mantle of satin. He took up the child and brought it to where his wife lay sleeping. She had no children, and she loved the child when she saw it, and next day pretended to her women that she had borne it as her own. And they called its name Gwri of the Golden Hair, for its hair was yellow as gold; and it grew so mightily that in two years it was as big and strong as a child of six ; and ere long the colt that had been foaled on the same night was broken in and given him to ride.
While these things were going on Teirnyon heard the tale of Rhiannon and her punishment. And as the lad grew up he scanned his face closely and saw that he had the features of Pwyll Prince of Dyfed. This he told to his wife, and they agreed that the child should be taken to Narberth, and Rhiannon released from her penance.
As they drew near to the castle, Teirnyon and two knights and the child riding on his colt, there was Rhiannon sitting by the horse-block. "Chieftains," said she, " go not further thus ; I will bear every one of you into the palace, and this is my penance for slaying my own son and devouring him." But they would not be carried, and went in. Pwyll rejoiced to see Teirnyon, and made a feast for him. Afterwards Teirnyon declared to Pwyll and Rhiannon the adventure of the man and the colt, and how they had found the boy. "And behold, here is thy son, lady," said Teirnyon, "and whoever told that lie concerning thee has done wrong. All who sat at table recognised the lad at once as the child of Pwyll, and Rhiannon cried "I declare to heaven that if this be true there is an end to my trouble." And a chief named Pendaran said: "Well hast thou named thy son Pryderi [trouble], and well becomes him the name of Pryderi son of Pwyll, Lord of Annwn." It was agreed that his name should be Pryderi, and so he was called thenceforth.
Teirnyon rode home, overwhelmed with thanks and love and gladness ; and Pwyll offered him rich gifts of horses and jewels and dogs, but he would take none of them. And Pryderi was trained up, as befitted a king's son, in all noble ways and accomplishments, and when his father Pwyll died he reigned in his stead over the Seven Cantrevs of Dyfed. And he added to them many other fair dominions, and at last he took to wife Kicva, daughter of Gwynn Gohoyw, who came of the lineage of Prince Casnar of Britain.
The Tale of Bran and Branwen
Bendigeid Vran, or " Bran the Blessed," by which latter name we shall designate him here, when he had been made King of the Isle of the Mighty (Britain), was one time in his court at Harlech.
And he had with him his brother Manawyddan son of LIyr, and his sister Branwen, and the two sons, Nissyen and Evnissyen, that Penardun his mother bore to Eurosswyd. Now Nissyen was a youth of gentle nature, and would make peace among his kindred and cause them to be friends when their wrath was at its highest; but Evnissyen loved nothing so much as to turn peace into contention and strife.
One afternoon, as Bran son of Llyr sat on the rock of Harlech looking out to sea, he beheld thirteen ships coming rapidly from Ireland before a fair wind. They were gaily furnished, bright flags flying from the masts, and on the foremost ship, when they came near, a man could be seen holding up a shield with the point upwards in sign of peace. [evidently this was the triangular Norman shield, not the round or oval Celtic one. It has already been noticed that in these Welsh tales the knights when they fight tilt at each other with spears]
When the strangers landed they saluted Bran and explained their business. Matholwch, [the reader may pronounce this "Matholaw."] King of Ireland, was with them; his were the ships, and he had come to ask for the hand in marriage of Bran's sister, Branwen, so that Ireland and Britain might be leagued together and both become more powerful. "Now Branwen was one of the three chief ladies of the island, and she was the fairest damsel in the world."
The Irish were hospitably entertained, and after taking counsel with his lords Bran agreed to give his sister to Matholwch. The place of the wedding was fixed at Aberffraw, and the company assembled for the feast in tents because no house could hold the giant form of Bran. They caroused and made merry in peace and amity, and Branwen became the bride of the Irish king.
Next day Evnissyen came by chance to where the horses of Matholwch were ranged, and he asked whose they were. "They are the horses of Matholwch, who is married to thy sister." "And is it thus," said he, "they have done with a maiden such as she, and, moreover, my sister, bestowing her without my consent?
They could offer me no greater insult." Thereupon he rushed among the horses and cut off their lips at the teeth, and their ears to their heads, and their tails close to the body, and where he could seize the eyelids he cut them off to the bone.
When Matholwch heard what had been done he was both angered and bewildered, and bade his people put to sea. Bran sent messengers to learn what had happened, and when he had been informed he sent Manawyddan and two others to make atonement. Matholwch should have sound horses for every one that was injured, and in addition a staff of silver as large and as tall as himself, and a plate of gold the size of his face.
"And let him come and meet me," he added, "and we will make peace in any way he may desire." But as for Evnissyen, he was the son of Bran's mother, and therefore Bran could not put him to death as he deserved.
The Magic Cauldron
Dagda's legendary cauldron was so huge that it had to be convayed on wheels. Bran's mighty cauldron was carried on the back of the giant Llaser
Matholwch accepted these terms, but not very cheerfully, and Bran now offered another treasure, namely, a magic cauldron which had the property that if a slain man were cast into it he would come forth well and sound, only he would not be able to speak.
Matholwch and Bran then talked about the cauldron, which originally, it seems, came from Ireland. There was a lake in that country near to a mound (doubtless a fairy mound) which was called the Lake of the Cauldron. Here Matholwch had once met a tall and ill-looking fellow with a wife bigger than himself, and the cauldron strapped on his back.
They took service with Matholwch. At the end of a period of six weeks the wife gave birth to a son, who was a warrior fully armed. We are apparently to understand that this happened every six weeks, or by the end of the year the strange pair, who seem to be a war-god and goddess, had several children, whose continual bickering and the outrages they committed throughout the land made them hated. At last, to get rid of them, Matholwch had a house of iron made, and enticed them into it. He then barred the door and heaped coals about the chamber, and blew them into a white heat, hoping to roast the whole family to death.
As soon, however, as the iron walls had grown white-hot and soft the man and his wife burst through them and got away, but the children remained behind and were destroyed. Bran then took up the story. The man, who was called Llassar Llaesgyvnewid, and his wife Kymideu Kymeinvoll, come across to Britain, where Bran took them in, and in return for his kindness they gave him the cauldron. And since then they had filled the land with their descendants, who prospered everywhere and dwelt in strong fortified burgs and had the best weapons that ever were seen.
So Matholwch received the cauldron along with his bride, and sailed back to Ireland, where Branwen entertained the lords and ladies of the land, and gave to each, as he or she took leave, "either a clasp or a ring or a royal jewel to keep, such as it was honourable to be seen departing with." And when the year was out Branwen bore a son to Matholwch, whose name was called Gwern.
The Punishment of Branwen
There occurs now an unintelligible place in the story. In the second year, it appears, and not till then, the men of Ireland grew indignant over the insult to their king committed by Evnissyen, and took revenge for it by having Branwen degraded to the position of a cook, and they caused the butcher every day to give her a blow on the cars. They also forbade all ships and ferry-boats to cross to Cambria, and any who came thence into Ireland were imprisoned so that news of Branwen's ill-treatment might not come to the ears of Bran. But Branwen reared up a young starling in a corner of her kneading-trough, and one day she tied a letter under its wing and taught it what to do. it flew away towards Britain, and finding Bran at Caer Seiont in Arvon, it lit on his shoulder, ruffling its feathers, and the letter was found and read. Bran immediately prepared a great hosting for Ireland, and sailed thither with a fleet of ships, leaving his land of Britain under his son Caradawc and six other chiefs.
The invasion of Bran
Soon there came messengers to Matholwch telling him of a wondrous sight they had seen ; a wood was growing on the sea, and beside the wood a mountain with a high ridge in the middle of it, and two lakes, one at each side. And wood and mountain moved towards the shore of Ireland. Branwen is called up to explain, if she could, what this meant. She tells them the wood is the masts and yards of the fleet of Britain, and the mountain is Bran, her brother, coming into shoal water, "for no ship can contain him" ; the ridge is his nose, the lakes his two eyes. [compare the description of Mac Cecht in the tale of the Hostel of De Derga, p.173]
The King of Ireland and his lords at once took counsel together how they might meet this danger; and the plan they agreed upon was as follows: A huge hall should be built, big enough to hold Bran - this, it was hoped, would placate him - there should be a great feast made there for himself and his men, and Matholwch should give over the kingdom of Ireland to him and do homage. All this was done by Branwen's advice. But the Irish added a crafty device of their own From two brackets on each of the hundred pillars in the hall should be hung two leather bags, with an armed warrior in each of them ready to fall upon the guests when the moment should arrive.
Evnissyen, however, wandered into the hall before the rest of the host, and scanning the arrangements "with fierce and savage looks," he saw the bags which hung from the pillars. "What is in this bag?" said he to one of the Irish. "Meal, good soul," said the Irishman. Evnissyen laid his hand on the bag, and felt about with his fingers till he came to the head of the man within it. Then "he squeezed the head till he felt his fingers meet together in the brain through the bone." He went to the next bag, and asked the same question. " Meal," said the Irish attendant, but Evnissyen crushed this warrior's head also, and thus he did with all the two hundred bags, even in the case of one warrior whose head was covered with an iron helm.
Then the feasting began, and peace and concord reigned, and Matholwch laid down the sovranty of Ireland, which was conferred on the boy Gwern. And they all fondled and caressed the fair child till he came to Evnissyen, who suddenly seized him and flung him into the blazing fire on the hearth. Branwen would have leaped after him, but Bran held her back. Then there was arming apace, and tumult and shouting, and the Irish and British hosts closed in battle and fought until the fall of night.
Death of Evnissyen
But at night the Irish heated the magic cauldron and threw into it the bodies of their dead, who came out next day as good as ever, but dumb. When Evnissyen saw this he was smitten with remorse for having brought the men of Britain into such a strait: "Evil betide me if I find not a deliverance therefrom." So he hid himself among the Irish dead, and was flung into the cauldron with the rest at the end of the second day, when he stretched himself out so that he rent the cauldron into four pieces, and his own heart burst with the effort, and he died.
The Wonderful Head
In the end, all the Irishmen were slain, and all but seven of the British besides Bran, who was wounded in the foot with a poisoned arrow.
Branwen. Christopher Williams. 1915
"Alas!" said she, "Woe is me that I was ever born, two islands have been destroyed because of me." Mabinogion
Among the seven were Pryderi and Manawyddan. Bran then commanded them to cut off his head. "And take it with you, he said, "to London, and there bury it in the White Mount [where the Tower of London now stands] looking towards France, and no foreigner shall invade the land while it is there. On the way the Head will talk to you, and be as pleasant company as ever in life. In Harlech ye will be feasting seven years and the birds of Rhiannon will sing to you. And at Gwales in Penvro ye will be feasting fourscore years, and the Head will talk to you and be uncorrupted till ye open the door looking towards Cornwall. After that ye may no longer tarry, but set forth to London and bury the Head."
Then the seven cut off the head of Bran and went forth, and Branwen with them, to do his bidding. But when Branwen came to land at Aber Alaw she cried, "Woe is me that I was ever born ; two islands have been destroyed because of me." And she uttered a loud groan, and her heart broke. They made her a tour-sided grave on the banks of the Alaw, and the place was called Ynys Branwen to this day. [these stories, in Ireland and in Wales, always attach themselves to actual burial-places. In 1813 a funeral urn containing ashes and half-burnt bones was found in the spot traditionally supposed to be Branwen'e sepulchre].
The seven found that in the absence of Bran, Caswallan son of Beli had conquered Britain and slain the six captains of Caradawc. By magic art he had thrown on Caradawc the Veil of Illusion, and Caradawc saw only the sword which slew and slew, but not him who wielded it, and his heart broke for grief at the sight.
They then went to Harlech and remained there seven years listening to the singing of the birds of Rhiannon - " all the songs they had ever heard were unpleasant compared thereto." Then they went to Gwales in Penvro and found a fair and spacious ball overlooking the ocean. When they entered it they forgot all the sorrow of the past and all that had befallen them, and remained there fourscore years in joy and mirth, the wondrous Head talking to them as if it were alive. And bards call this "the Entertaining of the Noble Head." Three doors were in the hall, and one of them which looked to Cornwall and to Aber Henvelyn was closed, but the other two were open. At the end of the time, Heilyn son of Gwyn said, "Evil betide me if I do not open the door to see if what was said is true." And he opened it, and at once remembrance and sorrow fell upon them, and they set forth at once for London and buried the Head in the White Mount, where it remained until Arthur dug it up, for he would not have the land defended but by the strong arm. And this was "the Third Fatal Disclosure "in Britain.
So ends this wild tale, which is evidently full of mythological elements, the key to which has long been lost. The touches of Northern ferocity which occur in it have made some critics suspect the influence of Norse or Icelandic literature in giving it its present form. The character of Evnissyen would certainly lend countenance to this conjecture. The typical mischief-maker of course occurs in purely Celtic sagas, but not commonly in combination with the heroic strain shown in Evnissyen's end, nor does the Irish "poison-tongue" ascend to anything like the same height of daimonic malignity.
The Tale of Pryderi and Manawyddan
After the events of the previous tales Pryderi and Manawyddan retired to the dominions of the former, and Manawyddan took to wife Rhiannon, the mother of his friend. There they lived happily and prosperously till one day, while they were at the Gorsedd, or Mound, near Narberth, a peal of thunder was heard and a thick mist fell so that nothing could be seen all round. When the mist cleared away, behold, the land was bare before them-neither houses nor people nor cattle nor crops were to be seen, but all was desert and uninhabited. The palace of Narberth was still standing, hut it was empty and desolate-none remained except Pryderi and Manawyddan and their wives, Kicva and Rhiannon.
Two years they lived on the provisions they had, and on the prey they killed, and on wild honey ; and then they began to be weary. "Let us go into Lloegyr," [Saxon Britain] then said Manawyddan, "and seek out some craft to support ourselves." So they went to Hereford and settled there, and Manawyddan and Pryderi began to make saddles and housings, and Manawyddan decorated them with blue enamel as he had learned from a great craftsman, Llasar Llaesgywydd. After a time, however, the other saddlers of Hereford, finding that no man would purchase any but the work of Manawyddan, conspired to kill them. And Pryderi would have fought with them, but Manawyddan held it better to with-draw elsewhere, and so they did.
They settled then in another city, where they made shields such as never were seen, and here, too, in the end, the rival craftsmen drove them out. And this happened also in another town where they made shoes and at last they resolved to go back to Dyfed. Then they gathered their dogs about them and lived by hunting as before.
One day they started a wild white boar, and chased him in vain until he led them up to a vast and lofty castle, all newly built in a place where they had never seen a building before. The boar ran into the castle, the dogs followed him, and Pryderi, against the counsel of Manawyddan, who knew there was magic afoot, went in to seek for the dogs.
He found in the centre of the court a marble fountain beside which stood a golden bowl on a marble slab, and being struck by the rich workmanship of the bowl, he laid hold of it to examine it, when he could neither withdraw his hand nor utter a single sound, but he remained there, transfixed and dumb, beside the fountain.
Manawyddan went back to Narberth and told the story to Rhiannon. "An evil companion hast thou been," said she, "and a good companion hast thou lost."
Next day she went herself to explore the castle. She found Pryderi still clinging to the bowl and unable to speak. She also, then, laid hold of the bowl, when the same fate befell her, and immediately afterwards came a peal of thunder, and a heavy mist fell, and when it cleared off the castle had vanished with all that it con tamed, including the two spell-bound wanderers.
Manawvddan then went back to Narberth, where only Kicva, Pryderi's wife, now remained. And when she saw none but herself and Manawyddan in the place, "she sorrowed so that she cared not whether she lived or died." When Manawyddan saw this he said to her, "Thou art in the wrong if through fear of me thou grievest thus. I declare to thee were I in the dawn of youth I would keep my faith unto Pryderi, and unto thee also will I keep it" " Heaven reward thee," she said, " and that is what I deemed of thee." And thereupon she took courage and was glad.
Kicva and Manawyddan then again tried to support themselves by shoemaking in Lloegyr, but the same hostility drove them back to Dyfed. This time, however, Manawyddan took back with him a load of wheat, and he sowed it, and he prepared three crofts for a wheat crop. Thus the time passed till the fields were ripe. And he looked at one of the crofts and said, "I will reap this to-morrow." But on the morrow when he went out in the grey dawn he found nothing there but bare straw-every ear had been cut off from the stalk and carried away.
Next day it was the same with the second croft. But on the following night he armed himself and sat up to watch the third croft to see who was plundering him. At midnight, as he watched, he heard a loud noise, and behold, a mighty host of mice came pouring into the croft, and they climbed up each on a stalk and nibbled off the ears and made away with them. He chased them In anger, but they fled far faster than he could run, all save one which was slower in its movements, and this he barely managed to overtake, and he bound it into his glove and took it home to Narberth, and told Kicva what had happened. "To-morrow," he said, "I will hang the robber I have caught," but Kicva thought it beneath his dignity to take vengeance on a mouse.
Next day he went up to the Mound of Narberth and set up two forks for a gallows on the highest part ot the hill. As he was doing this a poor scholar came towards him, and he was the first person Manawyddan had seen in Dyfed, except his own companions, since the enchantment began.
The scholar asked him what he was about and begged him to let go the mouse-" Ill doth it become a man of thy rank to touch such a reptile as this." "I will not let it go, by Heaven," said Manawyddan, and by that he abode, although the scholar offered him a pound of moncy to let it go free. "I care not," said the scholar "except that I would not see a man of rank touching such a reptile," and with that he went his way.
As Manawyddan was placing the cross-beam on the two forks of his gallows, a priest came towards him riding on a horse with trappings, and the same conversation ensued. The priest offered three pounds for the mouseâs life, but Manawyddan refused to take any price for it. "Willingly, lord, do thy good pleasure," said the priest, and he too, went his way.
Then Manawyddan put a noose about the mouseâs neck and was about to draw it up when he saw coming towards him a bishop with a great retinue of sumpter-horses and attendants. And he stayed his work and asked the bishopâs blessing. " Heavenâs blessing be unto thee," said the bishop; "what work art thou upon?" "Hanging a thief," replied Manawyddan. The bishop offered seven pounds "rather than see a man of thy rank destroying so vile a reptile." Manawyddan refused. Four-and-twenty pounds was then offered, and then as much again, then all the bishop's horses and baggage-all in vain. "Since for this thou wilt not" said the bishop, "do it at whatever price thou wilt'." "I will do so," said Manawyddan; "I will that Rhiannon and Pryderi be free." "That thou shalt have," said the (pretended) bishop. Then Manawyddan demands that the enchantment and illusion be taken off for ever from the seven Cantrevs of Dyfed, and finally insists that the bishop shall tell him who the mouse is and why the enchantment was laid on the country. "I am Llwyd son of Kilcoed," replies the enchanter, "and the mouse is my wife; but that she is pregnant thou hadst never overtaken her." He goes on with an explanation which takes us back to the first Mabinogi of the Wedding of Rhiannon. The charm was cast on the land to avenge the ill that was done Llwyd's friend, Gwawl son of Clud, with whom Pryderi's father and his knights had played "Badger in the Bag" at the court of Hevydd Hen. The mice were the lords and ladies of LIwyd's court.
The enchanter is then made to promise that no further vengeance shall be taken on Pryderi, Rhiannon, or Manawyddan, and the two spell-bound captives having been restored, the mouse is released. "Then Llwyd struck her with a magic wand, and she was changed into a young woman, the fairest ever seen." And on looking round Manawyddan saw all the land tilled and peopled as in its best state, and full of herds and dwellings. "What bondage," he asks, "has there been upon Pryderi and Rhiannon?" "Pryderi has had the knockers of the gate of my palace about his neck, and Rhiannon has had the collars of the asses after they have been carrying hay about her neck." And such had been their bondage.
The Tale of Math Son of Mathonwy
The previous tale was one of magic and illusion in which the mythological element is but faint. In that which we have now to consider we are, however, in a distinctly mythological region. The central motive of the tale shows us the Powers of Light contending with those of the Under-world for the prized possessions of the latter, in this case a herd of magic swine. We are introduced in the beginning of the story to the deity, Math, of whom the bard tells us that he was unable to exist unless his feet lay in the lap of a maiden, except when the land was disturbed by war. [this is a distorted reminiscence of the practice which seems to have obtained in the courts of Welsh princes, that a high officer should hold the king's feet in his lap while he sat at meat] Math is represented as lord of Gwynedd, while Pryderi rules over the one-and-twenty cantrevs of the south. With Math were his nephews Gwydion and Gilvaethwy sons of Don, who went the circuit of the land in his stead, while Math lay with his feet in the lap of the fairest maiden of the land and time, Goewin daughter of Pebin of Dol Pebin in Arvon.
Gwydion and the Swine of Pryderi
Gilvaethwy fell sick of love for Goewin, and confided the secret to his brother Gwydion, who undertook to help him to his desire. So he went to Math one day, and asked his leave to go to Pryderi and beg from him the gift, for Math, of a herd of swine which had been bestowed on him by Arawn King of Annwn. "They are beasts," he said, "such as never were known in this island before . . . their flesh is better than the flesh of oxen." Math bade him go, and he and Gilvaethwy started with ten companions for Dyfed. They came to Pryderi's palace in the guise of bards, and Gwydion, after being entertained at a feast, was asked to tell a tale to the court. After delighting every one with his discourse he begged for a gift of the swine. But Pryderi was under a compact with his people neither to sell nor give them until they had produced double their number in the land. "Thou mayest exchange them, though," said Gwydion, and thereupon he made by magic arts an illusion of twelve horses magnificently caparisoned, and twelve hounds, and gave them to Pryderi and made off with the swine as fast as possible, " for," said he to his companions, "the illusion will not last but from one hour to the same to-morrow."
The intended result came to pass - Pryderi invaded the land to recover his swine, Math went to meet him in arms, and Gilvaethwy seized his opportunity and made Goewin his wife, although she was unwilling.
Death of Pryderi
The war was decided by a single combat between Gwydion and Pryderi. "And by force of strength and fierceness, and by the magic and charms of Gwydion, Pryderi was slain. And at Maen Tyriawc, above Melenryd, was he buried, and there is his grave.
The Penance of Gwydion and Gilvaethwy
When Math came back he found what Gilvaethwy had done, and he took Goewin to be his queen, but Gwydion and Gilvaethwy went into outlawry, and dwelt on the borders of the land. At last they came and submitted themselves for punishment to Math. "Ye cannot compensate me my shame, setting aside the death of Pryderi," he said, "but since ye come hither to be at my will, I shall begin your punishment forthwith." So he turned them both into deer, and bade them come hither again in a twelvemonth.
They came at the appointed time, bringing with them a young fawn. And the fawn was brought into human shape and baptized, and Gwydion and Gilvaethwy were changed into two wild swine. At the next year's end they came back with a young one who was treated as the fawn before him, and the brothers were made into wolves. Another year passed ; they came back again with a young wolf as before, and this time their penance was deemed complete, and their human nature was restored to them, and Math gave orders to have them washed and anointed, and nobly clad as was befitting.
The Children of Arianrod : Dylan
The question then arose of appointing another virgin foot-holder, and Gwydion suggests his sister, Arianrod. She attends for the purpose, and Math asks her if she is a virgin. "I know not, lord, other than that I am," she says. But she failed in a magical test imposed by Math, and gave birth to two sons. One of these was named Dylan, "Son of the Wave," evidently a Cymric sea-deity. So soon as he was baptized "he plunged into the sea and swam as well as the best fish that was therein. . . . Beneath him no wave ever broke." A wild sea-poetry hangs about his name in Welsh legend. On his death, which took place, it is said, at the hand of his uncle Govannon, all the waves of Britain and Ireland wept for him. The roar of the incoming tide at the mouth of the river Conway is still called the "death-groan of Dylan."
LIew Llaw Gyffes
The other infant was seized by Gwydion and brought up under his protection. Like other solar heroes, he grew very rapidly ; when he was four he was as big as if he were eight, and the comeliest youth that ever was seen. One day Gwydion took him to visit his mother Arianrod. She hated the children who had exposed her false pretensions, and upbraided Gwydion for bringing the boy into her sight. "What is his name? "she asked.
"Verily," said Gwydion, " he has not yet a name. "Then I lay this destiny upon him," said Arianrod, "that he shall never have a name till one is given him by me." On this Gwydion went forth in wrath, and remained in his castle of Caer Dathyl that night.
Though the fact does not appear in this tale, it must be remembered that Gwydion is, in the older mythology, the father of Arianrod's children.
How Llew Got his Name
He was resolved to have a name for his son. Next day he went to the strand below Caer Arianrod, bringing the boy with him. Here he sat down by the beach, and in his character of a master of magic he made himself look like a shoemaker, and the boy like an apprentice, and he began to make shoes out of sedges and seaweed, to which he gave the semblance of Cordovan leather. Word was brought to Arianrod of the wonderful shoes that were being made by a strange cobbler, and she sent her measure for a pair. Gwydion made them too large. She sent it again, and he made them too small. Then she came herself to be fitted. While this was going on, a wren came and lit on the boat's mast, and the boy, taking up a bow, shot an arrow that transfixed the leg between the sinew and the bone. Arianrod admired the brilliant shot. "Verily," she said, "with a steady hand (Ilaw gyffes) did the lion (llew) hit it." " No thanks to thee," cried Gwydion, "now he has got a name. Llew LIaw Gyffes shall he be called henceforward."
We have seen that the name really means the same thing as the Gaelic Lugh Lamfada, Lugh (Light) of the Long Arm ; so that we have here an instance of a legend growing up round a misunderstood name inherited from a half-forgotten mythology.
How Llew Took Arms
The shoes went back immediately to sedges and sea-weed again and Arianrod, angry at being tricked, laid a new curse on the boy. "He shall never bear arms till I invest him with them." But Gwydion, going to Caer Arianrod with the boy in the semblance of two bards, makes by magic art the illusion of a foray of armed men round the castle. Arianrod gives them weapons to help in the defence, and thus again finds herself tricked by the superior craft of Gwydion.
The Flower-Wife of Llew
Next she said, "He shall never have a wife of the race that now inhabits this earth." This raised a difficulty beyond the powers of even Gwydion, and he went to Math, the supreme master of magic. "Well," said Math, "we will seek, I and thou, to form a wife for him out of flowers." "So they took the blossoms of the oak, and the blossoms of the broom, and the blossoms of the meadow-sweet, and produced from them a maiden, the fairest and most graceful that man ever saw. And they baptized her, and gave her the name of Blodeuwedd, or Flower-face." They wedded her to Llew, and gave them the cantrev of Dinodig to reign over, and there LIew and his bride dwelt for a season, happy, and beloved by all.
Betrayal of Llew
But Blodeuwedd was not worthy of her beautiful name and origin. One day when Llew was away on a visit with Math, a lord named Gronw Pebyr came a-hunting by the palace of Llew, and Blodeuwedd loved him from the moment she looked upon him. That night they slept together, and the next, and the next, and then they planned how to be rid of Llew for ever. But Llew, like the Gothic solar hero Siegfried, is invulnerable except under special circumstances, and Blodeuwedd has to learn from him how he may be slain. This she does under pretence of care for his welfare. The problem is a hard one. Llew can only be killed by a spear which has been a year in making, and has only been worked on during the Sacrifice of the Host on Sundays. Furthermore, he cannot be slain within a house or without, on horseback or on foot. The only way, in fact, is that he should stand with one foot on a dead buck and the other in a cauldron, which is to be used for a bath and thatched with a roof-if he is wounded while in this position with a spear made as directed the wound may be fatal, not otherwise. After a year, during which Gronw wrought at the spear, Blodeuwedd begged Llew to show her more fully what she must guard against, and he took up the required position to please her. Gronw, lurking in a wood hard by, hurled the deadly spear, and the head, which was poisoned, sank into Llew's body, but the shaft broke off. Then Llew changed into an eagle, and with a loud scream he soared up into the air and was no more seen, and Gronw took his castle and lands and added them to his own.
These tidings at last reached Gwydion and Math, and Gwydion set out to find Llew. He came to the house of a vassal of his, from whom he learned that a sow that he had disappeared every day and could not be traced, but it came home duly each night. Gwydion followed the sow, and it went far away to the brook since called Nant y Llew, where it stopped under a tree and began feeding. Gwydion looked to see what it ate, and found that it fed on putrid flesh that dropped from an eagle sitting aloft on the tree, and it seemed to him that the eagle was Llew. Gwydion sang to it, and brought it gradually down the tree till it came to his knee, when he struck it with his magic wand and restored it to the shape of Llew, but worn to skin and bone -" no one ever saw a more piteous sight."
The Healing of Llew
When Llew was healed, he and Gwydion took vengeance on their foes. Blodeuwedd was changed into an owl and bidden to shun the light of day, and Gronw was slain by a cast of the spear of Llew that passed through a slab of stone to reach him, and the slab with the hole through it made by the spear of Llew remains by the bank of the river Cynvael in Ardudwy to this day. And Llew took possession, for the second time, of his lands, and ruled them prosperously all his days.
The four preceding tales are called the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, and of the collection called the " Mabinogion " they form the most ancient and important part.
The Dream of Maxen Wledig
Following the order of the tales in the "Mabinogion," as presented in Mr. Nutt's edition, we come next to one which is a pure work of invention, with no mythical or legendary element at all. It recounts how Maxen Wledig, Emperor of Rome, had a vivid dream, in which he was led into a strange country, where he saw a king in an ivory chair carving chessmen with a steel file from a rod of gold. By him, on a golden throne, was the fairest of maidens he had ever beheld. Waking, he found himself in love with the dream maiden, and sent messengers far and wide to discover, if they could, the country and people that had appeared to him. They were found in Britain. Thither went Maxen, and wooed and wedded the maiden. In his absence a usurper laid hold of his empire in Rome, but with the aid of his British friends he reconquered his dominions, and many of them settled there with him, while others went home to Britain. The latter took with them foreign wives, but, it is said, cut out their tongues, lest they should corrupt the speech of the Britons. Thus early and thus powerful was the devotion to their tongue of the Cymry, of whom the mythical bard Taliesin prophesied:
"Their God they will praise,
Their speech they will keep,
Their land they will lose,
Except wild Walia."
The Story of Lludd and Llevelys
This tale is associated with the former one in the section entitled Romantic British History. It tells how Llud son of Beli, and his brother Llevelys, ruled respectiveIy over Britain and France, arid how Lludd sought his brother's aid to stay the three plagues that were harassing the land. These three plagues were, first, the presence of a demoniac race called the Coranians; secondly, a fearful scream that was heard in every home in Britain on every May-eve, and scared the people out of their senses; thirdly, the unaccountable disappearance of all provisions in the king's court every night, so that nothing that was not consumed by the household could be found the next morning. Lludd and Llevelys talked over these matters through a brazen tube, for the Coranians could hear everything that was said if once the winds got hold of it - a property also attributed to Math, son of Mathonwy. Llevelys destroyed the Coranians by giving to Lludd a quantity of poisonous insects which were to be bruised up and scattered over the people at an assembly. These insects would slay the Coranians, hut the people of Britain would be immune to them. The scream Llevelys explained as proceeding from two dragons, which fought each other once a year. They were to be slain by being intoxicated with mead, which was to be placed in a pit dug in the very centre of Britain, which was found on measurement to be at Oxford. The provisions, said Llevelys, were taken away by a giant wizard, for whom Lludd watched as directed, and overcame him in combat, and made him his faithful vassal thenceforward. Thus Lludd and LIevelys freed the island from its three plagues.
Tales of Arthur
We next come to five Arthurian tales, one of which, the tale of Kilhwch and Olwen, is the only native Arthurian legend which has come down to us in Welsh literature. The rest, as we have seen, are more or less reflections from the Arthurian literature as developed by foreign hands on the Continent.
Kilhwch and Olwen
Kilhwch was son to Kilydd and his wife Goleuddydd, and is said to have been cousin to Arthur. His mother having died, Kilydd took another wife, and she, jealous of her stepson, laid on him a quest which promised to be long and dangerous. "I declare," she said, "that it is thy destiny " - the Gael would have said geis - " not to be suited with a wife till thou obtain Olwen daughter of Yspaddaden Penkawr." ["Hawthorn, King of the Giants."] And Kilhwch reddened at the name, and "love of the maiden diffused itself through all his frame." By his father's advice he set out to Arthur's Court to learn how and where he might find and woo her.
A brilliant passage then describes the youth in the flower of his beauty, on a noble steed caparisoned with gold, and accompanied by two brindled white-breasted greyhounds with collars of rubies, setting forth on his journey to King Arthur. "And the blade of grass bent not beneath him, so light was his courser's tread."
Kilhwch at Arthur's Court
After some difficulties with the Porter and with Arthur's seneschal, Kai, who did not wish to admit the lad while the company were sitting at meat, Kilhwch was brought into the presence of the King, and declared his name and his desire. "I seek this boon," he said, "from thee and likewise at the hands of thy warriors," and he then enumerates an immense list full of mythological personages and details - Bedwyr, Gwyn ap Nudd, Kai, Manawyddan, [the gods of the family of Don are thus conceived as servitors to Arthur, who in this story is evidently the god Artaius] Geraint, and many others, including "Morvran son of Tegid, whom no one struck at in the battle of Camlan by reason of his ugliness ; all thought he was a devil," and "Sandde Bryd Angel, whom no one touched with a spear in the battle of Camlan because of his beauty; all thought he was a ministering angel."
The list extends to many scores of names and includes many women, as, for instance, "Creiddylad the daughter of Lludd of the Silver Hand-she was the most splendid maiden in the three islands of the Mighty, and for her Gwythyr the son of Greidawi and Gwyn the son of Nudd fight every first of May till doom," and the two Iseults and Arthur's Queen, Gwenhwyvar. "All these did Kilydd's son Kilhwch adjure to obtain his boon."
Arthur, however, had never heard of Olwen nor of her kindred. He promised to seek for her, but at the end of a year no tidings of her could be found, and Kilhwch declared that he would depart and leave Arthur shamed. Kai and Bedwyr, with the guide Kynddelig, are at last bidden to go forth on the quest.
Servitors of Arthur
These personages are very different from those who are called by the same names in Malory or Tennyson. Kai, it is said, could go nine days under water. He could render himself at will as tall as a forest tree. So hot was his physical constitution that nothing he bore in his hand could get wetted in the heaviest rain. "Very subtle was Kai." As for Bedwyr - the later Sir Bedivere - we are told that none equalled him in swiftness and that, though one-armed, he was a match for any three warriors on the field of battle; his lance made a wound equal to those of nine. Besides these three there went also on the quest Gwrhyr, who knew all tongues, and Gwalchmai son of Arthur's sister Gwyar, and Menw, who could make the party invisible by magic spells.
The party journeyed till at last they came to a great castle before which was a flock of sheep kept by a shepherd who had by him a mastiff big as a horse. The breath of this shepherd, we are told, could burn up a tree. "He let no occasion pass without doing some hurt or harm." However, he received the party well, told them that he was Custennin, brother of Yspaddaden whose castle stood before them, and brought them home to his wife. The wife turned out to be a sister of Kilhwch's mother Goleuddydd, and she was rejoiced at seeing her nephew, but sorrowful at the thought that he had come in search of Olwen, "for none ever returned from that quest alive." Custennin and his family, it appears, have suffered much at the hands of Yspaddaden - all their sons but one being slain, because Yspaddaden envied his brother his share of their patrimony. So they associated themselves with the heroes in their quest.
Olwen of the White Track
Next day Olwen came down to the herdsman's house as usual, for she was wont to wash her hair there every Saturday, and each time she did so she left all her rings in the vessel and never sent for them again. She is described in one of those pictorial passages in which the Celtic passion for beauty has found such exquisite utterance.
"The maiden was clothed in a robe of flame-coloured silk, and about her neck was a collar of ruddy gold on which were precious emeralds and rubies. More yellow was her head than the flower of the broom, and her skin was whiter than the foam of the wave, and fairer were her hands and her fingers than the blossoms of the wood-anemone amidst the spray of the meadow fountain. The eye of the trained hawk, the glance of the three-mewed falcon, was not brighter than hers.
Her bosom was more snowy than the breast of the white swan, her cheek was redder than the reddest roses. Whoso beheld her was filled with her love. Four white trefoils sprang up wherever she trod. And therefore was she called Olwen." [She of the White Track." Compare the description of Etain, pp.157, 158]
Kilhwch and she conversed together and loved each other, and she bade him go and ask her of her father and deny him nothing that he might demand. She had pledged her faith not to wed without his will, for his life would only last till the time of her espousals.
Next day the party went to the castle and saw Yspaddaden. He put them off with various excuses, and as they left flung after them a poisoned dart. Bedwyr caught it and flung it back, wounding him in the knee, and Yspaddaden cursed him in language of extraordinary vigour; the words seem to crackle and spit like flame. Thrice over this happened, and at last Yspaddaden declared what must be done to win Olwen.
The Tasks of Kilhwch
A long series of tasks follows. A vast hill is to be ploughed, sown, and reaped in one day; only Amathaon son of Don can do it, and he will not. Govannon, the smith, is to rid the ploughshare at each headland, and he will not do it. The two dun oxen of Gwlwlyd are to draw the plough, and he will not lend them. Honey nine times sweeter than that of the bee must be got to make bragget for the wedding feast. A magic cauldron, a magic basket out of which comes any meat that a man desires, a magic horn, the sword of Gwrnach the Giant all these must be won; and many other secret and difficult things, some forty in all, before Kilhwch can call Olwen his own. The most difficult quest is that of obtaining the comb and scissors that are between the two ears of Twrch Trwyth, a king transformed into a monstrous boar. To hunt the boar a number of other quests must be accomplished - the whelp of Greid son of Eri is to be won, and a certain leash to hold him, and a certain collar for the leash, and a chain for the collar, and Mabon son of Modron for the huntsman and the horse of Gweddw to carry Mabon, and Gwyn son of Nudd to help, "whom God placed over the brood of devils in Annwn . . . he will never be spared them, "and so forth to an extent which makes the famous eric of the sons of Turenn seem trifling by comparison. "Difficulties shalt thou meet with, and nights without sleep, in seeking this [bride price], and if thou obtain it not, neither shalt thou have my daughter." Kilhwch has one answer for every demand "It will be easy for me to accomplish this, although thou mayest think that it will not be easy. And I shall gain thy daughter and thou shalt lose thy life."
So they depart on their way to fulfil the tasks, and on their way home they fall in with Gwrnach the Giant, whose sword Kai, pretending to be a sword-polisher, obtains by a stratagem. On reaching Arthur's Court again, and telling the King what they have to do, he promises his aid. First of the marvels they accomplished was the discovery and liberation of Mabon son of Modron, "who was taken from his mother when three nights old, and it is not known where he is now, nor whether he is living or dead." Gwrhyr inquires of him from the Ousel of Cilgwri, who is so old that a smith's anvil on which he was wont to peck has been worn to the size of a nut, yet he has never heard of Mabon. But he takes them to a beast older still, the Stag of Redynvre, and so on to the Owl of Cwm Cawlwyd and the Eagle of Gwern Abwy, and the Salmon of Llyn Llyw, the oldest of living things, and at last they find Mabon imprisoned in the stone dungeon of Gloucester, and with Arthur's help they release him, and so the second task is fulfilled. In one way or another, by stratagem, or valour, or magic art, every achievement is accomplished, including the last and most perilous one, that of obtaining "the blood of the black witch Orddu, daughter of the white witch Orwen, of Penn Nart Govid on the confines of Hell." The combat here is very like that of Finn in the cave of Keshcorran, but Arthur at last cleaves the hag in twain, and Kaw of North Britain takes her blood.
So then they set forth for the castle of Yspaddaden again, and he acknowledges defeat. Goreu son of Custennin cuts off his head, and that night Olwen became the happy bride of Kilhwch, and the hosts of Arthur dispersed, every man to his own land.
The Dream of Rhonabwy
Rhonabwy was a man-at-arms under Madawc son of Maredudd, whose brother Iorwerth rose in rebellion against him; and Rhonabwy went with the troops of Madawc to put him down. Going with a few companions into a mean hut to rest for the night, he lies down to sleep on a yellow calf-skin by the fire, while his friends lie on filthy couches of straw and twigs. On the calf-skin he has a wonderful dream. He sees before him the court and camp of Arthur ö here the quasi-historical king, neither the legendary deity of the former tale nor the Arthur of the French chivalrous romances ö as he moves towards Mount Badon for his great battle with the heathen. A character named Iddawc is his guide to the King, who smiles at Rhonabwy and his friends, and asks : "Where, lddawc, didst thou find these little men?" "I found them, lord, up yonder on the road." "It pitieth me," said Arthur, "that men of such stature as these should have the island in their keeping, after the men that guarded it of yore." Rhonabwy has his attention directed to a stone in the King's ring. "It is one of the properties of that stone to enable thee to remember that which thou seest here to-night, and hadst thou not seen the Stone, thou wouldst never have been able to remember aught thereof."
The different heroes and companions that compose Arthur's army are minutely described, with all the brilliant colour and delicate detail so beloved by the Celtic fabulist. The chief incident narrated is a game of chess that takes place between Arthur and the knight Owain son of Urien. While the game goes on, first the knights of Arthur harry and disturb the Ravens of Owain, but Arthur, when Owain complains, only says: "Play thy game." Afterwards the Ravens have the better of it, and it is Owain's turn to bid Arthur attend to his game. Then Arthur took the golden chessmen and crushed them to dust in his hand, and besought Owain to quiet his Ravens, which was done, and peace reigned again. Rhonabwy, it is said, slept three days and nights on the calf-skin before awaking from his wondrous dream. An epilogue declares that no bard is expected to know this tale by heart and without a book, "because of the various colours that were upon the horses, and the many wondrous colours of the arms and of the panoply, and of the precious scarfs~ and of the virtue-bearing stones." The "Dream of Rhonabwy" is rather a gorgeous vision of the past than a story in the ordinary sense of the word.
The Lady of the Fountain
We have here a Welsh reproduction of the Conte entitled "Le Chevalier au lion" of Chrestien de Troyes. The principal personage in the tale is Owain son of Urien, who appears in a character as foreign to the spirit of Celtic legend as it was familiar on the Continent, that of knight-errant.
The Adventure of Kymon
We are told in the introduction that Kymon, a knight of Arthur's Court, had a strange and unfortunate adventure. Riding forth in search of some deed of chivalry to do, he came to a splendid castle, where he was hospitably received by four-and-twenty damsels, of whom "the least lovely was more lovely than Gwenhwyvar, the wife of Arthur, when she has appeared loveliest at the Offering on the Day of the Nativity, or at the feast of Easter." With them was a noble lord, who, after Kymon had eaten, asked of his business. Kymon explained that he was seeking for his match in combat. The lord of the castle smiled, and bade him proceed as follows : He should take the road up the valley and through a forest till he came to a glade with a mound in the midst of it. On the mound he would see a black man of huge stature with one foot and one eye, bearing a mighty iron club. He was wood-ward of that forest, and would have thousands of wild animals, stags, serpents, and what not, feeding around him. He would show Kymon what he was in quest of.
Kymon followed the instructions, and the black man directed him to where he should find a fountain under a great tree ; by the side of it would be a silver bowl on a slab of marble. Kymon was to take the bowl and throw a bowlful of water on the slab, when a terrific storm of hail and thunder would follow - then there would break forth an enchanting music of singing birds - then would appear a knight in black armour riding on a coal-black horse, with a black pennon upon his lance. "And if thou dost not find trouble in that adventure, thou needst not seek it during the rest of thy life."
The Character of Welsh Romance
Here let us pause for a moment to point out how clearly we are in the region of medieval romance, and how far from that of Celtic mythology. Perhaps the Celtic "Land of Youth" may have remotely suggested those regions of beauty and mystery into which the Arthurian knight rides in quest of adventure. But the scenery, the motives, the incidents, are altogether different. And how beautiful they are-how steeped in the magic light of romance The colours live and glow, the forest murmurs in our ears, the breath of that springtime of our modern world is about us, as we follow the lonely rider down the grassy track into an unknown world of peril and delight. While in some respects the Continental tales are greater than the Welsh, more thoughtful, more profound, they do not approach them in the exquisite artistry with which the exterior aspect of things is rendered, the atmosphere of enchantment maintained, and the reader led, with ever-quickening interest, from point to point in the development of the tale. Nor are these Welsh tales a whit behind in the noble and chivalrous spirit which breathes through them. A finer school of character and of manners could hardly be found in literature. How strange that for many centuries this treasure beyond all price should have lain unnoticed in our midst ! And how deep must be our gratitude to the nameless bards whose thought created it, and to the nobly inspired hand which first made it a possession for all the English-speaking world !
Defeat of Kymon
But to resume our story. Kymon did as he was bidden, the Black Knight appeared, silently they set lance in rest and charged. Kymon was flung to earth, while his enemy, not bestowing one glance upon him, passed the shaft of his lance through the rein of Kymon's horse and rode off with it in the direction whence he had come. Kymon went back afoot to the castle, where none asked him how he had sped, but they gave him a new horse, "a dark bay palfrey with nostrils as red as scarlet," on which he rode home to Caerleon.
Owain and the Black Knight
Owain was, of course, fired by the tale of Kymon, and next morning at the dawn of day he rode forth to seek for the same adventure. All passed as it had done in Kymon's case, but Owain wounded the Black Knight so sorely that he turned his horse and fled, Owain pursuing him hotly. They came to a "vast and resplendent castle." Across the drawbridge they rode, the outer portcullis of which fell as the Black Knight passed it. But so close at his heels was Owain that the portcullis fell behind him, cutting his horse in two behind the saddle, and he himself remained imprisoned between the outer gate of the drawbridge and the inner. While he was in this predicament a maiden came to him and gave him a ring. When he wore it with the stone reversed and clenched in his hand he would become invisible, and when the servants of the lord of the castle came for him he was to elude them and follow her.
This she did knowing apparently who he was, "for as a friend thou art the most sincere, and as a lover the most devoted."
Owain did as he was bidden, and the maiden concealed him. In that night a great lamentation was heard in the castle - its lord had died of the wound which Owain had given him. Soon afterwards Owain got sight of the mistress of the castle, and love of her took entire possession of him. Luned, the maiden who had rescued him, wooed her for him, and he became her husband, and lord of the Castle of the Fountain and all the dominions of the Black Knight. And he then defended the fountain with lance and sword as his forerunner had done, and made his defeated antagonists ransom themselves for great sums, which he bestowed among his barons and knights. Thus he abode for three years.
The Search for Owain
After this time Arthur, with his nephew Gwalchmai and with Kymon for guide, rode forth at the head of a host to search for tidings of Owain. They came to the fountain, and here they met Owain, neither knowing the other as their helms were down. And first Kai was overthrown, and then Gwalchmai and Owain fought, and after a while Gwalchmai was unhelmed. Owain said, "My lord Gwalchmai, I did not know thee; take my sword and my arms." Said Gwalchmai, "Thou, Owain, art the victor; take thou my sword." Arthur ended the contention in courtesy by taking the swords of both and then they all rode to the Castle of the Fountain, where Owain entertained them with great joy. And he went back with Arthur to Caerleon, promising to his countess that he would remain there but three months and then return.
Owain Forgets his Lady
But at the Court of Arthur he forgot his love and his duty, and remained there three years. At the end of that time a noble lady came riding upon a horse caparisoned with gold, and she sought out Owain and took the ring from his hand. "Thus," she said, "shall be treated the deceiver, the traitor, the faithless, the disgraced, and the beardless." Then she turned her horse's head and departed. And Owain, overwhelmed with shame and remorse, fled from the sight of men and lived in a desolate country with wild beasts till his body wasted and his hair grew long and his clothing rotted away.
Owain and the Lion
In this guise, when near to death from exposure and want, he was taken in by a certain widowed countess and her maidens, and restored to strength by magic balsams; and although they besought him to remain with them, he rode forth again, seeking for lonely and desert lands. Here he found a lion in battle with a great serpent. Owain slew the serpent, and the lion followed him and played about him as if it had been a greyhound that he had reared. And it fed him by catching deer, part of which Owain cooked for himself, giving the rest to his lion to devour; and the beast kept watch over him by night.
Release of Luned
Owain next finds an imprisoned damsel, whose sighs he hears, though he cannot see her nor she him. Being questioned, she told him that her name was Luned - she was the handmaid of a countess whose husband had left her, "and he was the friend I loved best in the world." Two of the pages of the countess had traduced him, and because she defended him she was condemned to be burned if before a year was out he (namely) Owain son of Urien, had not appeared to deliver her. And the year would end to-morrow. On the next day Owain met the two youths leading Luned to execution and did battle with them. With the help of the lion he overcame them, rescued Luned, and returned to the Castle of the Fountain, where he was reconciled with his love. And he took her with him to Arthur's Court, and she was his wife there as long as she lived. Lastly comes an adventure in which, still aided by the lion, he vanquishes a black giant and releases four-and-twenty noble ladies, and the giant vows to give up his evil ways and keep a hospice for wayfarers as long as he should live.
And thenceforth Owain dwelt at Arthur's Court, greatly beloved, as the head of his household, until he went away with his followers ; and these were the army of three hundred ravens which Kenverchyn [there is no other mention of this Kenverchyn or of now Owain got his raven-army, also referred to in "The Dream of Rhonabwy." We have here evidently a piete of antique mythology embedded in a more modern fabric] had left him. And wherever Owain went with these he was victorious. And this is the tale of the Lady of the Fountain."
The Tale of Enid and Geraint
In this tale, which appears to be based on the "Erec" of Chrestien de Troyes, the main interest is neither mythological nor adventurous, but sentimental. How Geraint found and wooed his love as the daughter of a great lord fallen on evil days; how he jousted for her with Edeyrn, son of Nudd - a Cymric deity transformed into the "Knight of the Sparrowhawk"; how, lapped in love of her, he grew careless of his fame and his duty; how he misunderstood the words she murmured over him as she deemed him sleeping, and doubted her faith ; how despitefully he treated her; and in how many a bitter test she proved her love and loyalty - all these things have been made so familiar to English readers in Tennyson's "Enid" that they need not detain us here. Tennyson, in this instance, has followed his original very closely.
Legends of the Grail: The Tate of Peredur
The Tale of Peredur is one of great interest and significance in connexion with the origin of the Grail legend. Peredur corresponds to the Perceval of Chrestien de Troyes, to whom we owe the earliest extant poem on the Grail ; but that writer left his Grail story unfinished, and we never learn from him what exactly the Grail was or what gave it its importance. When we turn for light to " Peredur," which undoubtedly represents a more ancient form of the legend, we find ourselves baffled. For "Peredur" may be described as the Grail story without the Grail. [like the Breton Tale of " Peronnik the Fool," translated in "Le Foyer Breton," by Emile Souvestre. The syllable Per which occurs in all forms of the hero's name means in Welsh and Cornish a bowl or vessel (Irish coire -see p.35, note). No satisfactory derivation has in any case been found of the latter part of the name] The strange personages, objects, and incidents which form the usual setting for the entry upon the scene of this mystic treasure are all here ; we breath the very atmosphere of the Grail Castle ; but of the Grail itself there is no word. The story is concerned simply with the vengeance taken by the hero for the slaying of a kinsman, and for this end only are the mysteries of the Castle of Wonders displayed to him.
We learn at the opening of the tale that Peredur was in the significant position of being a seventh son. To be a seventh son was, in this world of mystical romance, equivalent to being marked out by destiny for fortunes high and strange. His father, Evrawc, an earl of the North, and his six brothers had fallen in fight. Peredur's mother, therefore, fearing a similar fate for her youngest child, brought him up in a forest, keeping from him all knowledge of chivalry or warfare and of such things as war-horses or weapons. Here he grew up a simple rustic in manner and in knowledge, but of an amazing bodily strength and activity.
He Goes Forth in Quest of Adventures
One day he saw three knights on the borders of the forest. They were all of Arthur's Court - Gwalchmai, Geneir, and Owain. Entranced by the sight, he asked his mother what these beings were. "They are angels, my son," said she. "By my faith," said Peredur, "I will go and become an angel with them." He goes to meet them, and soon learns what they are. Owain courteously explains to him the use of a saddle, a shield, a sword, all the accoutrements of warfare; and Peredur that evening picked out a bony piebald draught-horse, and dressed him up in a saddle and trappings made of twigs, and imitated from those he had seen. Seeing that he was bent on going forth to deeds of chivalry, his mother gave him her blessing and sundry instructions, and bade him seek the Court of Arthur; "there there are the best, and the boldest, and the most beautiful of men."
His First Feat of Arms
Peredur mounted his Rosinante, took for weapons a handful of sharp-pointed stakes, and rode forth to Arthur's Court. Here the steward, Kai, rudely repulsed him for his rustic appearance, but a dwarf and dwarfess, who had been a year at the Court without speaking one word to any one there, cried: "Goodly Peredur, son of Evrawc; the welcome of Heaven be unto thee, flower of knights and light of chivalry." Kai chastised the dwarfs for breaking silence by lauding such a fellow as Peredur, and when the latter demanded to be brought to Arthur, bade him first go and overcome a stranger knight who had just challenged the whole Court by throwing a goblet of wine into the face of Gwenhwyvar, and whom all shrank from meeting. Peredur went out promptly to where the ruffian knight was swaggering up and down, awaiting an opponent, and in the combat that ensued pierced his skull with one of his sharp stakes and slew him. Owain then came out and found Peredur dragging his fallen enemy about. "What art thou doing there?" said Owain. "This iron coat, said Peredur, "will never come off from him ; not by my efforts at any rate." So Owain showed him how to unfasten the armour, and Peredur took it, and the knight's weapons and horse, and rode forth to seek what further adventures might befall.
Here we have the character of der reine Thor, the valiant and pure-hearted simpleton, clearly and vividly drawn.
Peredur on leaving Arthur's Court had many encounters in which he triumphed with ease, sending the beaten knights to Caerleon-on-Usk with the message that he had overthrown them for the honour of Arthur and in his service, but that he, Peredur, would never come to the Court again till he had avenged the insult to the dwarfs upon Kai, who was accordingly reproved by Arthur and was greatly grieved thereat.
The Castle of Wonders
We now come into what the reader will immediately recognise as the atmosphere of the Grail legend. Peredur came to a castle beside a lake, where he found a venerable man with attendants about him who were fishing in the lake. As Peredur approached, the aged man rose and went into the castle, and Peredur saw that he was lame. Peredur entered, and was hospitably received in a great hall. The aged man asked him, when they had done their meal, if he knew how to fight with the sword, and promised to teach him all knightly accomplishments, and the manners and customs of different countries, and courtesy and gentleness and noble bearing." And he added: "I am thy uncle, thy mother's brother." Finally, he bade him ride forth, and remember, whatever he saw that might cause him wonder, not to ask the meaning of it if no one had the courtesy to inform him. This is the test of obedience and self-restraint on which the rest of the adventure turns.
On next riding forth, Peredur came to a vast desert wood, beyond which he found a great castle, the Castle of Wonders. He entered it by the open door, and found a stately, hoary-headed man sitting in a great hall with many pages about him, who received Peredur honourably. At meat Peredur sat beside the lord of the castle, who asked him, when they had done, if he could fight with a sword. "Were I to receive instruction," said Peredur, "I think I could." The lord then gave Peredur a sword, and bade him strike at a great iron staple that was in the floor. Peredur did so, and cut the staple in two, but the sword also flew into two parts. "Place the two parts together," said the lord. Peredur did so, and they became one again, both sword and staple. A second time this was done with the same result. The third time neither sword nor staple would reunite.
"Thou hast arrived," said the lord, "at two-thirds of thy strength."
He then declared that he also was Peredur's uncle, and brother to the flsher-lord with whom Peredur had lodged on the previous night. As they discoursed, two youths entered the hall bearing a spear of mighty size, from the point of which three streams of blood dropped upon the ground, and all the company when they saw this began wailing and lamenting with a great outcry, but the lord took no notice and did not break off his discourse with Peredur. Next there came in two maidens carrying between them a large salver, on which, amid a profusion of blood, lay a man's head. Thereupon the wailing and lamenting began even more loudly than before. But at last they fell silent, and Peredur was led off to his chamber. Mindful of the injunction of the fisher-lord, he had shown no surprise at what he saw, nor had he asked the meaning of it. He then rode forth again in quest of other adventures, which he had in bewildering abundance, and which have no particular relation to the main theme. The mystery of the castle is not revealed till the last pages of the story. The head in the silver dish was that of a cousin of Peredur's. The lance was the weapon with which he was slain, and with which also the uncle of Peredur, the fisher-lord, had been lamed. Peredur had been shown these things to incite him to avenge the wrong, and to prove his fitness for the task. The "nine sorceresses of Gloucester " are said to have been those who worked these evils on the relatives of Peredur. On learning these matters Peredur, with the help of Arthur, attacked the sorceresses, who were slain every one, and the vengeance was accomplished.
The Conte del Graal
The tale of Chrestien de Troyes called the "Conte del Graal" or "Perceval le Gallois" launched the story in European literature. it was written about the year 1180.
It agrees in the introductory portion with "Peredur," the hero being here called Perceval. He is trained in knightly accomplishments by an aged knight named Gonemans, who warns him against talking overmuch and asking questions. When he comes to the Castle of Wonders the objects brought into the hall are a blood-dripping lance, a "graal" accompanied by two double-branched candlesticks, the light of which is put out by the shining of the graal, a silver plate and sword, the last of which is given to Perceval. The bleeding head of the Welsh story does not appear, nor are we told what the graal was. Next day when Perceval rode forth he met a maiden who upbraided him fiercely for not having asked the meaning of what he saw - had he done so the lame king (who is here identical with the lord of the Castle of Wonders) would have been made whole again. Perceval's sin in quitting his mother against her wish was the reason why he was withholden from asking the question which would have broken the spell. This is a very crude piece of invention, for it was manifestly Peredur's destiny to take arms and achieve the adventure of the Grail, and he committed no sin in doing so. Later on in the story Perceval is met by a damsel of hideous appearance, who curses him for his omission to ask concerning the lance and the other wonders - had he done so the king would have been restored and would have ruled his land in peace, but now maidens will be put to shame, knights will be slain, widows and orphans will be made.
This conception of the question episode seems to me radically different from that which was adopted in the Welsh version. It is characteristic of Peredur that he always does as he is told by proper authority. The question was a test of obedience and self-restraint, and he succeeded in the ordeal. In fairy literature one is often punished for curiosity, but never for discretion and reserve. The Welsh tale here preserves, I think, the original form of the story. But the French writers mistook the omission to ask questions for a failure on the part of the hero, and invented a shallow and incongruous theory of the episode and its consequences. Strange to say, however, the French view found its way into later versions of the Welsh tale, and such a version is that which we have in the "Mabinogion." Peredur, towards the end of the story, meets with a hideous damsel, the terrors of whose aspect are vividly described, and who rebukes him violently for not having asked the meaning of the marvels at the castle: "Hadst thou done so the king would have been restored to health, and his dominions to peace. Whereas from henceforth he will have to endure battles and conflicts) and his knights will perish, and wives will be widowed, and maidens will be left portionless, and all this is because of thee." I regard this loathly damsel as an obvious interpolation in the Welsh tale. She came into it straight out of the pages of Chrestien. That she did not originally belong to the story of Peredur seems evident from the fact that in this tale the lame lord who bids Peredur refrain from asking questions is, according to the damsel, the very person who would have benefited by his doing so. As a matter of fact, Peredur never does ask the question, and it plays no part in the conclusion of the story.
Chrestien's unfinished tale tells us some further adventures of Perceval and of his friend and fellow-knight, Gauvain, but never explains the significance of the mysterious objects seen at the castle. His continuators, of whom Gautier was the first, tell us that the Graal was the Cup of the Last Supper and the lance that which had pierced the side of Christ at the Crucifixion ; and that Peredur ultimately makes his way back to the castle, asks the necessary question, and succeeds his uncle as lord of the castle and guardian of its treasures.
Wolfram von Eschenbach
in the story as given by Wofram von Eschenbach, who wrote about the year 1200 - some twenty years later than Chrestien de Troyes, with whose work he was acquainted - we meet with a new and unique conception of the Grail. He says of the knights of the Grail Castle:
"Si lebent von einem steine
Des geslŠhte ist vil reine ·
Es heizet lapsit [lapis] exillis,
Der stein ist ouch genannt der Gral.
[they are nourished by a stone of most noble nature . . it is called lapsit exillis ; the stone is also called the Grail." The term lapsit exillis appears to be a corruption for lapis ex celis, "the stone from heaven."
It was originally brought down from heaven by flight of angels and deposited in Anjou, as the worthiest region for its reception. Its power is sustained by a dove which every Good Friday comes from heaven and lays on the Grail a consecrated Host. It is preserved in the Castle of MunsalvŠsche [Montsalvat] and guarded by four hundred knights, who are all, except their king, vowed to virginity. The king may marry, and is indeed, in order to maintain the succession, commanded to do so by the Grail, which conveys its messages to mankind by writing which appears upon it and which fades away when deciphered. In the time of Parzival the king is Anfortas. He cannot die in presence of the Grail, but he suffers from a wound which, because he received it in the cause of worldly pride and in seeking after illicit love, the influence of the Grail cannot heal until the destined deliverer shall break the spell. This Parzival should have done by asking the question, "What aileth thee, uncle?" The French version makes Perceval fail in curiosity - Wolfram conceives the failure as one in sympathy. He fails, at any rate, and next morning finds the castle empty and his horse standing ready for him at the gate ; as he departs he is mocked by servitors who appear at the windows of the towers. After many adventures, which are quite unlike those either in Chrestien's "Conte del Graal" or in "Peredur," Parzival, who has wedded the maiden Condwirarmur, finds his way back to the Grail Castle - which no one can reach except those destined and chosen to do so by the Grail itself - breaks the spell, and rules over the Grail dominions, his son Loherangrain becoming the Knight of the Swan, who goes abroad righting wrongs, and who, like all the Grail knights, is forbidden to reveal his name and origin to the outside world. Wolfram tells us that he had the substance of the tale from the Provencal poet Kyot or Guiot ö "Kyot, der meister wol bekannt " - who in his turn - but this probably is a mere piece of romantic invention - professed to have found it in an Arabic book in Toledo, written by a heathen named Flegetanis.
The Continuators of Chrestien
What exactly may have been the material before Chrestien de Troyes we cannot tell, but his various co-workers and continuators, notably Manessier, all dwell on the Christian character of the objects shown to Perceval in the castle, and the question arises, flow did they come to acquire this character ? The Welsh story, certainly the most archaic form of the legend, shows that they did not have it from the beginning. An indication in one of the French continuations to Chrestien's "Conte" may serve to put us on the track. Gautier, the author of this continuation, tells us of an attempt on the part of Gauvain [Sir Gawain) to achieve the adventure of the Grail. He partially succeeds, and this half-success has the effect of restoring the lands about the castle, which were desert and untilled, to blooming fertility. The Grail therefore, besides its other characters, had a talismanic power in promoting increase, wealth, and rejuvenation.
The Grail a Talisman of Abundance
The character of a cornucopia, a symbol and agent of abundance and vitality, clings closely to the Grail in all versions of the legend. Even in the loftiest and most spiritual of these, the "Parzival " of Wolfram von Eschenbach, this quality is very strongly marked. A sick or wounded man who looked on it could not die within the week, nor could its servitors grow old: "though one looked on it for two hundred years, his hair would never turn grey." The Grail knights lived from it, apparently by its turning into all manner of food and drink the bread which was presented to it by pages. Each man had of it food according to his pleasure, ˆ son grŽ ö from this word grŽ, grŽable, the name Gral , which originated in the French versions, was supposed to be derived. [the true derivation is from the Low Latin cratella, a small vessel or chalice] It was the satisfaction of all desires. In Wolfram's poem the Grail, though connected with the Eucharist, was, as we have seen, a stone, not a cup. lt thus appears as a relic of ancient tone-worship. It is remarkable that a similar Stone of Abundance occurs also in the Welsh " Peredur," though nor as one of the mysteries of the castle. It was guarded by a black serpent, which Peredur slew, and he gave the stone to his friend Etlyn.
The Celtic Cauldron of Abundance
Now the reader has by this time become well acquainted with an object having the character of a talisman of abundance and rejuvenation in Celtic myth. As the Cauldron of the Dagda it came into Ireland with the Danaans from their mysterious fairy-land. In Welsh legend Bran the Blessed got it from Ireland, whither it returned again as part of Branwen's dowry. In a strange and mystic poem by Taliesin it is represented as part of the spoils of Hades, or Annwn, brought thence by Arthur, in a tragic adventure not otherwise recorded. It is described by Taliesin as lodged in Caer Pedryvan, the Four-square Castle of Pwyll; the fire that heated it was fanned by the breath of nine maidens, its edge was rimmed with pearls, and it would not cook the food of a coward or man forsworn :
[a similar selective action is ascribed to the Grail by Wolfram. It can only be lifted by a pure maiden when carried into the hall, and a heathen cannot see it or be benefited by it. The same idea is also strongly marked in the story narrating the early history of the Grail by Robert de Borron, about 1210 : the impure and sinful cannot benefit by it. Borron, however, does not touch upon the Perceval or "quest" portion of the story at all]
"Am I not a candidate for fame, to be heard in song
In Caer Pedryvan, four times revolving ?
The first word from the cauldron, when was it spoken ?
By the breath of nine maidens it was gently warmed.
Is it not the cauldron of the chief of Annwn ? What is its fashion?
A rim of pearls is round its edge.
It will not cook the food of a coward or one forsworn.
A sword flashing bright will be raised to him,
And left in the hand of Lleminawg.
And before the door of the gate of Uffern [Hades] the lamp was
When we went with Arthur - a splendid labour ö
Except seven, none returned from Caer Vedwyd.
[Caer Vedwyd means the Castle of Revelry. I follow the version of this poem given by Squire in his "Mythology of the British lslands," where it may be read in full]
More remotely still the cauldron represents the Sun, which appears in the earliest Aryo-Indian myths as a golden vessel which pours forth light and heat and fertility. The lance is the lightning-weapon of the Thunder God, Indra, appearing in Norse mythology as the hammer of Thor. The quest for these objects represents the ideas of the restoration by some divine champion of the wholesome order of the seasons, disturbed by some temporary derangement such as those which to this day bring famine and desolation to India.
Now in the Welsh "Peredur" we have clearly an outline of the original Celtic tale, but the Grail does not appear in it. We may conjecture, however, from Gautier's continuation of Chrestien's poem that a talisman of abundance figured in early Continental, probably Breton, versions of the legend. In one version at least - that on which Wolfram based his "Parzival " - this talisman was a stone. But usually it would have been, not a stone, but a cauldron or vessel of some kind endowed with the usual attributes of the magic cauldron of Celtic myth. This vessel was associated with a blood-dripping lance. Here were the suggestive elements from which some unknown singer, in a flash of inspiration, transformed the ancient talc of vengeance and redemption into the mystical romance which at once took possession of the heart and soul of Christendom. The magic cauldron became the cup of the Eucharist, the lance was invested with a more tremendous guilt than that of the death of Peredur's kinsman. [the combination of objects at the Grail Castle is very significant. They were a sword, a spear, and a vessel, or, in some versions, a stone. These are the magical treasures brought by the Danaans into Ireland - a sword, I spear, a cauldron, and a stone. See pp. 105, 106] Celtic poetry, German mysticism, Christian chivalry, and ideas of magic which still cling to the rude stone monuments of Western Europe - all these combined to make the story of the Grail, and to endow it with the strange attraction which has led to its re-creation by artist after artist for seven hundred years. And who, even now, can say that its course is run at last, and the towers of Montsalvat dissolved into the mist from which they sprang?
The Tale of Taliesin
Alone of the tales in the collection called by Lady Charlotte Guest the "Mabinogion," the story of the birth and adventures of the mythical bard Taliesin, the Amergin of Cymric legend, is not found in the fourteenth-century manuscript entitled "The Red Book of Hergest." It is taken from a manuscript of the late sixteenth or seventeenth century, and never appears to have enjoyed much popularity in Wales. Much of the very obscure poetry attributed to Taliesin is to be found in it, and this is much older than the prose. The object of the tale, indeed, as Mr. Nutt has pointed out in his edition of the "Mabinogion," is rather to provide a sort of framework for stringing together scattered pieces of verse supposed to be the work of Taliesin than to tell a connected story about him and his doings.
The story of the birth of the hero is the most interesting thing in the tale. There lived, it was said, "in the time of Arthur of the Round Table," [the Round Table finds no mention in Cymric legend earlier than the fifteenth century] a man named Tegid VoeI of Penllyn, whose wife was named Ceridwen. They have a son named Avagddu, who was the most ill-favoured man in the world. To compensate for his lack of beauty, his mother resolved to make him a sage. So, according to the art of the books of Feryllt, [Vergil, in his medieval character of magician] she had recourse to the great Celtic source of magical influence - a cauldron. She began to boil a "cauldron of inspiration and science for her son, that his reception might be honourable because of his knowledge of the mysteries of the future state of the world." The cauldron might not cease to boil for a year and a day, and only in three drops of it were to be found the magical grace of the brew.
She put Gwion Bach the son of Gwreang of Lanfair to stir the cauldron, and a blind man named Morda to keep the fire going, and she made incantations over it and put in magical herbs from time to time as Feryllt's book directed. But one day towards the end of the year three drops of the magic liquor flew out of the cauldron and lighted on the finger of Gwion. Like Finn mac Cumhal on a similar occasion, he put his finger in his mouth, and immediately became gifted with supernatural insight. He saw that he had got what was intended for Avagddu, and he saw also that Ceridwen would destroy him for it if she could. So he fled to his own land, and the cauldron, deprived of the sacred drops, now contained nothing but poison, the power of which burst the vessel, and the liquor ran into a stream hard by and poisoned the horses of Gwyddno Garanhir which drank of the water. Whence the stream is called the Poison of the Horses of Gwyddno from that time forth.
Ceridwen now came on the scene and saw that her year's labour was lost. In her rage she smote Morda with a billet of firewood and struck out his eye, and she then pursued after Gwion Bach. He saw her and changed himself into a hare. She became a greyhound. He leaped into a river and became a fish, and she chased him as an otter. He became a bird and she a hawk. Then he turned himself into a grain of wheat and dropped among the other grains on a threshing-floor, and she became a black hen and swallowed him. Nine months afterwards she bore him as an infant; and she would have killed him, but could not on account of his beauty, "so she wrapped him in a leathern bag, and cast him into the sea to the mercy of God."
The Luck of Elphin
Now Gwyddno, of the poisoned horses, had a salmon weir on the strand between Dyvi and Aberystwyth. And his son Elphin, a needy and luckless lad, one day fished out the leathern bag as it stuck on the weir. They opened it, and found the infant within. "Behold a radiant brow ! "[Taliesin] said Gwyddno. "Taliesin be he called," said Elphin. And they brought the child home very carefully and reared it as their own. And this was Taliesin, prime bard of the Cymry; and the first of the poems he made was a lay of praise to Elphin and promise of good fortune for the future. And this was fulfilled, for Elphin grew in riches and honour day after day, and in love and favour with King Arthur.
But one day as men praised King Arthur and all his belongings above measure, Elphin boasted that he had a wife as virtuous as any at Arthur's Court and a bard more skilful than any of the King's; and they flung him into prison until they should see if he could make good his boast. And as he lay there with a silver chain about his feet, a graceless fellow named Rhun was sent to court the wife of Elphin and to bring back proofs of her folly; and it was said that neither maid nor matron with whom Rhun conversed but was evil-spoken of.
Taliesin then bade his mistress conceal herself, and she gave her raiment and jewels to one of the kitchen-maids, who received Rhun as if she were mistress of the household. And after supper Rhun plied the maid with drink, and she became intoxicated and fell in a deep sleep; whereupon Rhun cut off one of her fingers, on which was the signet-ring of Elphin that he had sent his wife a little while before. Rhun brought the finger and the ring on it to Arthur's Court.
Next day Elphin was fetched out of prison and shown the finger and the ring. Whereupon he said : "With thy leave, mighty king, I cannot deny the ring, but the finger it is on was never my wife's. For this is the little finger, and the ring fits tightly on it, but my wife could barely keep it on her thumb. And my wife, moreover, is wont to pare her nails every Saturday night, but this nail hath not been pared for a month. And thirdly, the hand to which this finger belonged was kneading rye-dough within three days past, but my wife has never kneaded rye-dough since my wife she has been."
Then the King was angry because his test had failed, and he ordered Elphin back to prison till he could prove what he had affirmed about his bard.
Taliesin, Prime Bard of Britain
Then Taliesin went to court, and one high day when the King's bards and minstrels should sing and play before him, Taliesin, as they passed him sitting quietly
in a corner, pouted his lips and played "Blerwm, blerwm" with his finger on his mouth. And when the bards came to perform before the King, lo! a spell was on them, and they could do nothing but bow before him and play "Blerwrn, blerwm" with their fingers on their lips. And the chief of them, Heinin, said "O king, we be not drunken with wine, but are dumb through the influence of the spirit that sits in yon corner under the form of a child." Then Taliesin was brought forth, and they asked him who he was and whence he came. And he sang as follows:
"Primary chief bard am I to Elphin,
And my original country is the region of the summer stars;
Idno and Heinin called me Merddin,
At length every being will call me Taliesin.
"I was with my Lord in the highest sphere,
On the fall of Lucifer into the depth of hell;
I have borne a banner before Alexander;
I know the names of the stars from north to south.
"I was in Canaan when Absalom was slain,
I was in the court of Don before the birth of Gwydion.
I was at the place of the crucifixion of the merciful Son of God
I have been three periods in the prison of Arianrod.
"I have been in Asia with Noah in the ark,
I have seen the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
I have been in India when Roma was built.
I am now come here to the remnant of Troia
[alluding to the imaginary Trojan ancestry of the Britons]
"I have been with my Lord in the ass's manger,
I strengthened Moses through the waters of Jordan;
I have been in the firmament with Mary Magdalene;
I have obtained the Muse from the cauldron of Ceridwen.
"I shall be until the day of doom on the face of the
And it is not known whether my body is flesh or fish.
"Then was I for nine months
in the womb of the witch Ceridwen;
I was originally little Gwion,
And at length I am Taliesin."
[I have somewhat abridged this curious poem. The connexion with ideas of transmigration, as in the legend of Tuan mac Carell (see pp.97 - 101), is obviously Tuan's last stage, it may he recalled, was a fish, and Taliesin was taken in a salmon-weir.]
While Taliesin sang a great storm of wind arose, and the castle shook with the force of it. Then the King bade Elphin be brought in before him, and when he came, at the music of Taliesin's voice and harp the chains fell open of themselves and he was free. And many other poems concerning secret things of the past and future did Taliesin sing before the King and his lords, and he foretold the coming ot the Saxon into the land, and his oppression of the Cymry, and foretold also his passing away when the day of his destiny should come.
Here we end this long survey of the legendary literature of the Celt. The material is very abundant, and it is, of course, not practicable in a volume of this size to do more than trace the main current of the development of the legendary literature down to the time when the mythical and legendary element entirely faded out and free literary invention took its place. The reader of these pages will, however, it is hoped, have gained a general conception of the subject which will enable him to understand the significance of such tales as we have not been able to touch on here, and to fit them into their proper places in one or other of the great cycles of Celtic legend.
It will be noticed that we have not entered upon the vast region of Celtic folk-lore. Folk-lore has not been regarded as falling within the scope of the present work. Folk-lore may sometimes represent degraded mythology, and sometimes mythology in the making. in either case, it is its special characteristic that it belongs to and issues from a class whose daily life lies close to the earth, toilers in the field and in the forest, who render with simple directness, in tales or charms, their impressions of natural or supernatural forces with which their own lives are environed. Mythology, in the proper sense of the word, appears only where the intellect and the imagination have reached a point of development above that which is ordinarily possible to the peasant mind-when men have begun to co-ordinate their scattered impressions and have felt the impulse to shape them into poetic creations embodying universal ideas. It is not, of course, pretended that a hard-and-fast line can always be drawn between mythology and folk-lore; still, the distinction seems to me a valid one, and I have tried to observe it in these pages.
After the two historical chapters with which our study has begun, the object of the book has been literary rather than scientific. I have, however, endeavoured to give, as the opportunity arose, such results of recent critical work on the relics of Celtic myth and legend as may at least serve to indicate to the reader the nature of the critical problems connected therewith. I hope that this may have added somewhat to the value of the work for students, while not impairing its interest for the general reader. Furthermore, I may claim that the book is in this sense scientific, that as far as possible it avoids any adaptation of its material for the popular taste. Such adaptation, when done for an avowed artistic purpose, is of course entirely legitimate ; if it were not, we should have to condemn half the great >poetry of the world. But here the object has been to present the myths and legends of the Celt as they actually are. Crudities have not been refined away, things painful or monstrous have not been suppressed, except in some few instances, where it has been necessary to bear in mind that this volume appeals to a wider audience than that of scientific students alone. The reader may, I think, rely upon it that he has here a substantially fair and not over-idealised account of the Celtic outlook upon life and the world at a time when the Celt still had a free, independent, natural life, working out his conceptions in the Celtic tongue, and taking no more from foreign sources than he could assimilate and make his own. The legendary literature thus presented is the oldest non-classical literature of Europe. This alone is sufficient, I think, to give it a strong claim on our attention. As to what other claims it may have, many pages might be filled with quotations from the discerning praises given to it by critics not of Celtic nationality, from Matthew Arnold downwards. But here let it speak for itself. It will tell us, I believe, that, as Maeldan said of one of the marvels he met with in his voyage into Fairyland: "What we see here was a work of mighty men."