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University of California Press
The Mabinogi and Other Medieval Welsh Tales / Edition 2

The Mabinogi and Other Medieval Welsh Tales / Edition 2

by Patrick K. FordPatrick K. Ford
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The four stories which make up the Mabinogi along with three additional tales from the same tradition form this collection and comprise the core of the ancient Welsh mythological cycle.
Included are only those stories that have remained unadulterated by the influence of the French Arthurian romances, providing a rare, authentic selection of the finest works in medieval Celtic literature.
In this first thoroughly revised edition and translation since Lady Charlotte Guest's famous Mabinogion in 1849, Patrick Ford has presented a scholarly document in readable, modern English, a literary achievement of the highest order.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520253964
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 02/12/2008
Edition description: Second Edition, 30th Anniversary Edition
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Patrick K. Ford is the Margaret Brooks Robinson Professor Emeritus of Celtic Languages and Literatures at Harvard University.

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Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed

The first branch of the mabinogi is set in Dyfed in southwest Wales. It concerns Pwyll, prince or lord of that region, his adventures in the Otherworld, his marriage to Rhiannon, and the birth of their son, Pryderi. Adventures in the Otherworld are common enough in romance, but in medieval Celtic literature they play a large role. It is often difficult to distinguish between the Otherworld and the world of ordinary mortals, and movement between the two is effected with little or no difficulty. There are certain standard devices used to mark the passage from one into the other; the most common of these is the chase or the hunt. Typically, an Otherworldly animal lures his pursuers until he gets them within the territory of the Otherworld, but in our tale, Pwyll is simply hunting, when he becomes separated from his companions. No other territorial markers signal the entry into the Otherworld, nor is the return from the Otherworld indicated by any precise demarcation. The only indication for the audience that the Otherworld is at hand is the color of the other hunter's hounds, for red and white are the colors of animals of the Otherworld in Celtic tradition.

Just as movement between the two worlds is affected without difficulty, so is movement between shapes, and Pwyll and Arawn accomplish their transformations easily. In this branch, the power to shift shapes rests with the Otherworldly king, Arawn; in the fourth branch there is no opposition of worlds, and there it is Math and his nephew Gwydion who possess the power of shape-shifting. Math uses a rod of magic to change the shapes of Gwydion and Gilfaethwy against their wills; Gwydion changes his and his companion's shapes without any instrument.

The exchange between Pwyll and Arawn is the only instance of shape-shifting in the first branch, but there are many other instances of magic. The horse on which Rhiannon rides is magical, for although its pace is slow and steady, the fastest horses in Pwyll's stables are unable to catch it. The mound from which Rhiannon is first seen is a magical place, and we should remember that hills and mounds played a special part in the religious observances of the Celts. The mound at Arberth has special significance in the third branch also; it is the place from which Manawydan and his companions witness the disappearance of every living thing from the land, and the place on which Manawydan secures the restoration of life and propserity for Dyfed. In the second branch, the rock of Harlech is the place from which the action of the tale begins and the site of the Otherworld feast. Other instances of magic in the tale of "Pwyll" include Rhiannon's bag, which can never be filled except by the recitation of a special formula, the annual disappearance of the foals from Teyrnon's mare, and the unusual circumstances of the discovery of Rhiannon's baby.

It is difficult to account for the lack of continuity in the story; for example, once Pwyll has received his new title, Pen Annwfn 'Lord of the Otherworld,' the story-teller shows no further interest in Arawn or in Annwfn, and the story seems to begin to anew. Some scholars have seen this as evidence for the corrupt state of the text, and have sought to reconstruct the opening episode in such a way that it results in the birth of Pryderi. But such reconstruction does too much violence to the text we have before us, and it is probably unnecessary anyway. What the opening episode does quite clearly is establish Pwyll's Otherworldly connections and account for the fact that he was, mortal Prince of Dyfed or not, a head or lord of the Otherworld. From that point on, the story proceeds in a linear way through the events of the courtship of Rhiannon, the marriage, the birth, loss and restoration of Pryderi.

The punishment of Rhiannon is bizarre, but it provides an important clue to the mythological identity of this character. Because she was accused of having destroyed her own child, Rhiannon was driven from her place beside Pwyll, and sentenced to spend seven years at the horse block outside the court, to tell her story (presumably the story of how she killed her own offspring) to those she thought might not know it, and to offer to carry strangers up to the court on her back. In other words, she was to fill the role of horse. Scholars have long seen in this a connection between Rhiannon and the goddess known as Epona worshipped by the Celts on the Continent. The name Epona means "Divine Horse," and although she is depicted as human, there is no doubt that she was originally one of the numerous deities in animal form worshipped by the Celtic peoples. There are numerous and widespread depictions of Epona, showing her seated upon a horse proceeding at an amble, surrounded by birds, foals, or holding a bag or cornucopia. It appears that the first branch preserves the memory of this Celtic goddess and the detritus of a myth that told about her mating and giving birth.

The characterization of Rhiannon is strong and sure; she is assertive and dominant, often domineering. It is clear from her first entrance that she will accomplish her ends despite the ineptness of her intended mate. She has no equal in characterization anywhere in these tales.

Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed, was lord over the seven cantrefs of Dyfed. One time he was in Arberth, his principal court, and it came into his head and mind to go hunting. The part of his realm he wished to hunt was called Glyn Cuch. He set out that night from Arberth, and came as far as Pen Llwyn Diarwya; there he stayed that night. The following day at dawn he rose, and came to Glyn Cuch to let his hounds loose in the woods. He sounded his horn, began to muster the hunt, and set off behind his dogs — but he got separated from his companions. As he was listening to the cry of his hunting-pack, he heard the cry of another, and they were not the same; the other was coming toward his own. He could see a clearing in the woods, a kind of level field, and as his own pack reached the edge of the clearing, he could see a stag in front of the other. Toward the middle of the clearing, the pack chasing the stag overtook it and bore it to the ground.

He looked at the color of the hounds, not bothering to look at the stag, and of all the hunting dogs he had seen in the world, he had never seen dogs the color of them. Glittering bright white was their color, and their ears red: the redness of the ears glittered as brightly as the whiteness of their bodies. Thereupon, he came to the dogs and drove off the pack that had killed the stag, feeding his own pack on it.

As he was feeding the dogs, he saw a horseman coming up behind the pack on a large dapple-gray horse, a hunting horn about his neck, wearing a pale grey garment for hunting gear. Thereupon, the horseman came to him, saying as follows:

"Chieftain," he said, "I know who you are, but I will not greet you."

"Well," said the other, "perhaps your rank does not require it."

"God knows!" he exclaimed, "it is not the obligation of my rank that prevents me."

"What else, Chieftain?" asked the other.

"I swear to God," he said, "your own ignorance and your discourtesy."

"What discourtesy have you seen in me, Chieftain?"

"No greater discourtesy have I seen in a man," he replied, "than driving off the pack that killed the stag, and feeding your own pack on it; that," he continued, "was discourtesy. And though I shall not take revenge upon you, I swear to God," he said, "I will have you satirized to the value of a hundred stags."

"Chieftain," he said, "if I have committed a wrong, I will sue for peace with you."

"On what terms?" asked the other.

"Such as your rank may require, but I don't know who you are."

"I am a crowned king in the land from which I hail."

"Lord," he said, "good-day to you! What land do you come from?"

"Annwfn," he replied, "I am Arawn, King of Annwfn."

"Lord," he said, "how shall I gain peace with you?"

"Here is how you shall gain it," he began. "A man whose realm borders on mine makes war on me continually. He is Hafgan, a king of Annwfn. For delivering me from his oppression — and you can do that easily — you will have peace from me."

"I will do that gladly," he replied, "tell me how I can accomplish it."

"All right," he said, "here is how you shall do it. I will form a strong bond with you in this way: I will put you in my place in Annwfn, and give you the fairest woman you have ever seen to sleep with vou every night. You will have my shape and manner, so that neither chamberlain, nor officer, nor any other who has ever followed me shall know that vou are not I. And that until the end of a year from tomorrow, when we meet in this place."

"Well," he said, "though I be there until the end of the year, what information will I have to find the man of whom you speak?"

"He and I are due to meet a year from tonight at the ford," he explained, "and you be there in my place. Give him but a single blow; he will not survive that. And though he may beg you to strike again, don't — however he may plead with you. No matter how many more I would give him, he would attack me the next day as well as before."

"Well," said Pwyll, "what shall I do with my kingdom?"

"I will arrange that no man or woman in your realm shall know that I am not you," said Arawn, "I will go in your place."

"Gladly," said Pwyll; "I will set forth."

"Your path will be smooth and nothing will obstruct you until you come to my realm; I will be your guide."

He escorted him until he saw the court and dwellings.

"There," he said, "is the court and the realm in your power. Approach the court; there is none in it that shall not know you. And as you observe the practices there, you will come to know the court's customs."

He approached the court, and inside he could see sleeping quarters, halls, and chambers, and the most beautifully ornamented buildings anyone had seen. He went into the hall to change his dress. Lads and young attendants came to assist him in removing his gear, and each greeted him as he came. Two horsemen came to remove his hunting garments and dress him in gold brocade.

The hall was set in order, and then he could see entering a warband and hosts — the most splendid and best equipped troop that anyone had ever seen; the queen was with them, the fairest woman anyone had ever seen, dressed in a glittering gold brocaded garment. Thereupon, they washed, went to the table, and sat in this way: the queen on his one side and the earl (he supposed) on the other. He began to converse with the queen, and as for talking with her, she was the noblest and gentlest in her nature and her discourse of any he had ever seen. And they passed the time in food and drink, with songs and entertainment. Of all the courts he had seen on earth, this was the court best supplied with food and drink, gold vessels, and royal treasures.

The time came for them to go to sleep, and to sleep they went, he and the queen. As soon as they got into bed, he turned his face toward the edge of the bed, with his back toward her. From that mom ent until the next morning, he spoke not a single word to her. On the following day there was tenderness and loving discourse between them, but whatever affection would be between them during the day, there was not a single night for the rest of the year different from the first night.

He spent the year in hunting, in songs and festivity, in affection and conversation with friends, until the night of the encounter came: a night remembered as well by the most remote inhabitant of the entire land as it was by him. He came to the appointed place, accompanied by nobles of his realm. The moment he came to the ford, a horseman arose and spoke as follows:

"Men," he said, "listen well: this encounter is between the two kings, and between their two bodies alone. Each of them is a claimant against the other, and that concerning land and territory. And each of you can stand aside and leave it between them two."

Thereupon, the two kings made for the middle of the ford to clash. At the first blow, the man who was in Arawn's place struck Hafgan in the middle of the boss of his shield so that it split in half and all the armor shattered, and Hafgan went the length of his arm and spear over his horse's rump to the ground, a mortal thrust in him.

"Chieftain," said Hafgan, "what right did you have to my death? I claimed nothing from you nor do I know any cause for you to kill me, but for God's sake," he said, "since you have begun to kill me, finish!"

"Chieftain," said the other, "I could regret doing what I did to you. Find someone who will kill you, I will not."

"My loyal nobles," Hafgan said, "take me hence; my death is assured. I have no means to support you any longer."

"Men of mine," said the man who was in Arawn's place, "take accounts and find out who owes allegiance to me."

"Lord," said the nobles, "all owe it, for there is no king over all of Annwfn except you."

"Well," he said, "those who come in peace, it is proper to receive, but those who do not come peacefully, let them be compelled by sword."

And then he received homage of the men and began to take possession of the land. By noon of the next day the two realms were in his power.

And then he set out for his rendezvous, and came to Glyn Cuch. When he arrived, Arawn king of Annwfn was waiting for him. They greeted each other.

"Well," said Arawn, "may God repay you your friendship — I have heard about it."

"Yes," said the other, "when you reach your land you will see what I have done for you."

"For what you have done on my behalf, may God repay you."

Then Arawn restored Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed, to his own shape and form, took for himself his own form and shape, and set out for his own court in Annwfn. It gave him pleasure to see his host and his retinue, since he had not seen them for a year. But on their part, they had not felt his loss, so there was nothing extraordinary about his coming. He passed that day in pleasure and joy, sitting and conversing with his wife and his nobles. And when the period of entertainment was past and it was time to sleep, to sleep they went. He got into bed, and his wife went to him. First he talked to her, then engaged in affectionate play and made love to her. She had not been accustomed to that for a year, and she thought about that.

"Dear God!" she thought, "what a different mind he has tonight from what he has had for the past year!"

And she thought for a long time. And after her musing, he awoke and said something to her, and again, and a third time. But he got no answer from her.

"Why don't you speak to me?" he asked.

"I tell you," she replied, "that I haven't spoken this much for a year under these circumstances."

"Why," he said, "we have talked continually."

"Shame on me," she said, "if from the time we went between the sheets there was either pleasure or talk between us or even your facing me — much less anything more than that — for the past year!"

And he thought, "Dear Lord God, it was a unique man, with strong and unwavering friendship that I got for a companion." And then he said to his wife, "Lady," he said, "don't blame me. I swear to God," he said, "I haven't slept with you since a year from last night nor have I lain with you."

And he told her the entire adventure.

"I confess to God," she said, "as far as fighting temptations of the flesh and keeping true to you goes, you had a solid hold on a fellow."

"Lady," he said, "that's just what I was thinking while I was silent with you."

"That was only natural," she answered.

Meanwhile, Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed, came to his realm and country. And he began to query the nobles of the country about what their governance had been during that year compared with what it had been prior to that.

"Lord," they said, "your discernment has never been so good: never have you been so amiable a fellow; never have you been so ready to spend your gain; your rule has never been better than this past year."

"I swear to God," he said, "it is right for you to thank the man who has been with you: here is the story, just as it was" — and Pwyll told it all.

"Well, Lord," they said, "thank God you acquired that friendship. And the governance we got, you'll not withdraw from us, surely!"

"I will not, I swear to God," said Pwyll.

From that time on, they began to strengthen their friendship, and sent each other horses, hunting dogs, hawks, and treasures of the sort that each supposed would give pleasure to the other. Because of his living for that year in Annwfn and ruling it so successfully, and bringing the two realms together by virtue of his bravery and valor, his name, Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed, fell out of use, and he came to be called Pwyll, Head of Annwfn, thenceforth.

One time he was in Arberth, his chief court, and a feast had been prepared for him and the great numbers of men with him. After the first sitting Pwyll rose to take a walk, and proceeded to the top of a mound that was just above the court, called the Mound of Arberth.

"Lord," said a member of the court, "it is a characteristic of the mound that any noble who sits upon it shall not leave it without the one of two things: either he will be wounded or suffer an injury, or he will see a marvel."


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Table of Contents

Select Bibliography

Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed
Branwen daughter of Llŷr
Manawydan son of Llŷr
Math son of Mathonwy
Lludd and Lleuelys
Culhwch and Olwen
The Tale of Gwion Bach and The Tale of Taliesin

Appendix: Cad Goddeu
A Guide to Pronunciation
Index of Proper Names

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