In a number of ways Breudwyt Rhonabwy or The Dream of Rhonabwy stands apart from the other Mabinogion tales. It is the only one of the eleven texts not to be found in the White Book of Rhydderch. Within the Red Book of Hergest it is seperated from the rest of the Mabinogion by over fifty pages. The Dream is to be found towards the beginning of the Red Book, among a series of prophetic works and narrative histories from the Matter of Rome. It has been suggested that this manuscript context may be indicative of the contemporary significance of the work. By placing The Dream of Rhonabwy alongside texts such as the Sybilline prophesies and The Seven Sages of Rome, the medieval compilers may have been recognising that it belonged with these more self-consciously exegetical narratives; reflective discourse preoccupied not only with prophesy and hermetic disclosure, but also with the equally fundamental questions of ‘interpretation and the control of interpretation’.i Whatever the significance of this position within the Red Book, there is no question of the relative sophistication of the Dream, which can, in some respects at least, be regarded as a metatextual reflection on the other Mabinogion texts and the wider literary culture involved.
The Dream of Rhonabwy also differs from the rest of the Mabinogion in terms of its provenance. It is the only one of the eleven tales to be set (and probably composed) in the northeastern corner of Wales, on the Powys-Cheshire borders. In terms of dating it may also regarded as something of an outlier. Although the question remains unresolved, most modern critics believe the Dream was lastest of the Mabinogion texts by some margin: the consensus seems to fall around a late-thirteenth to the early fourteenth century date of composition. There has even been a suggestion that it was written as late as the 1380s, which would account for its absence from the White Book of Rhydderch. Whatever the exact dating, there is a powerful sense that in the Dream of Rhonabwy we have a late medieval reader casting a backward glance into the literary culture that produced the Three Romances, the Dream of Macsen and Culhwch ac Olwen. The Age of the Llywelyns is over, and the thought-world that produced the Mabinogion no longer fits with contemporary realities. Nonetheless, our author still understood this literary system well enough to be able to reproduce its characteristic inflexions. In this respect, the author of the Dream might be said to be the first modern reader of the Mabinogion, but also its last medieval contributer: one for whom the formative principles underlying these texts were still understood, even as they were being rendered obsolete by more contemporary literary modes and intellectual standpoints.
It is not suprising, then, that many recent readers of the Dream have detected a playful or ironic aspect to this work, although the target or focus of the satire involved remains open to a variety of interpretations. A number of critics have regarded the text primarily as a critique of the native Welsh literary tradition itself, with the Arthurian topos in particular being the object of parody. Others have noted the references to events in twelfth-century Powys which occur in the frame tale, before Rhonabwy enters his dream. Some of these critics have drawn attention to the ironic disparity between the Arthurian world in Rhonabwy’s dream and the squalid realities of this later medieval setting. Most would agree that some kind of comment is being made about the latter through the medium of the former, even if uncertainties remain about the final tone and emphasis of the work.
As we have found elsewhere within the corpus, Welsh literature often contains a multitude of nuance and meaning, and there is no reason to exclude one interpretation at the expense of another. Indeed, the concept of polysemic overdetermination (originally applied to the psychoanalysis of dreams) provides a useful model for our understanding of the Dream of Rhonabwy, as indeed for a number of other Mabinogion texts. The difference, perhaps, with the Dream lies in the self-consciousness of this significatory overload. It is as if the author was presenting an almost perfect execution of the medieval Welsh literary art – but one which at the same time, through the very qualities in which it excels – is impossible to credit with any seriousness. As such, this text marks the end of an era: the bathetic finale to a grand literary tradition that began with the Triads and Culhwch ac Olwen, climaxed with the Four Branches and the Arthurian rhamantau, but which by the late-medieval period was increasingly incongruous with the surrounding social and cultural political realities of post-conquest Wales.
A characteristic feature of dream-vision literature is the frame tale, in which the circumstances of the dreamer are described by way of an introduction. In the case of the Breudwyt, the dreamer is a young man called Rhonabwy living in Powys during the mid-twelfth century. The tale begins with the traditional opening formula of the medieval Welsh chwedl: naming the king and the territory under his control, thus identifying the relevant temporal and geographic coordinates. A political context is also developed by reference to the internecine strife afflicting the kingdom in that time:
Madog son of Maredudd ruled Powys from one end to the other, that is from Porffordd to Gwarfan in the uplands of Arwystli. At that time he had a brother whose rank was not equal to his. His name was Iorwerth son of Maredudd. And Iorwerth became greatly concerned and saddened to see the honour and power possessed by his brother, and he with nothing. So he sought out his companions and foster-brothers, and consulted with them as to what he should do about it. They decided that some of them should go and ask Madog for maintenance. Madog offered him the position of the head of the retinue, and equal standing with himself, and horses and armour and honour. But Iorwerth refused that, and went raiding in England, where he committed murder, and burned houses and took prisoners. ii
These sons of Maredudd were historical figures, and their dynastic quarrel was well documented in the chronicles of the period. As this introductory passage emphasises, Powys at this time was still undivided, but (as later Welsh readers would have immediately realised) by the following generation this would no longer be the case. After Madog’s death in 1160, the kingdom split into what was to become known as Powys Wenwynwyn and Powys Fadog – each territory held by different branches of Maredudd’s progeny. The brotherly feud depicted at the opening of the tale was quite clearly a precursor to these events, and it was against this suggestive background of dynastic and territorial fragmentation that the author has situated the Dream of Rhonabwy.
The dreamer himself is a rather faceless character. He is unheard of elsewhere in the literature of Wales, apart from one allusion in the poetry of Madog Dwygraig (fl. c. 1370), which we can probably assume post-dated the tale. Unlike his companions, he is not accorded any patronymic. The suspicion must be that he is the author’s own invention: a Powysian everyman, a blank canvas onto which to project the Dream.
He enters the story as one of a party sent out by Madog to hunt down the errant Iorwerth. Along with two companions, Rhonabwy arrives at the hamlet of Didlystwn on the English border. Here they receive meagre hospitality at the dilapidated home of ‘Heilyn Goch son of Cadwgan son of Iddon’. Both the location and the host family are quite specifically identified, and Angela Carson has even suggested that we can identify Heilyn Goch with a particular late fourteenth-century gentleman of Dudleston who went by that name. She describes this Heilyn as the son of Cadifor son of Trahearn ‘Lord of Dudleston’ (=Didlystwn). The family were the descendents of Rhys Sais Lord of Chirk, and had been associated with Dudleston since the eleventh century. On this basis, Carson suggests that the Dream cannot have been written before c.1380, the date at which she calculates Heilyn would have assumed his majority and could have been described as the owner of Cilhendref, the house she believes is being described in the Mabinogion text.iii
At first glance this is a convincing identification. However, while Carson is probably correct about the family being alluded to in this episode, there is far less certainty whether we have got the right generation. The problem lies in the tendency of aristocratic Powysian families in the middle ages to recycle names and even epithets within family lines. ‘Rhys Sais’ is not just the name of the Lord of Chirk who flourished around the mid-eleventh century; but also that of his great-grandson born in the early decades of the twelfth century. Likewise, both the name Heilyn and lenited cogonomen Goch (‘red’) seems to have appeared with some regularity through several generations this particular border family. There was a noted ‘Iddon of Dudleston’, son of the second Rhys Sais, who would have been born around the middle of the twelfth century. This may have been the grandfather of the Heilyn Goch refered to in this story, although he would appear to be at least one generation too late to synchronise with the dateable events of the tale. On the other hand, it is by no means impossible that a similarly-named fourteenth-century forebear (or indeed a twelfth-century collateral) may have been recalled in this allusion. ‘Heilyn Goch’ in this story may even be a composite figure, a generic caricature of this Dudleston family. The intention, we should remember, was typological satire rather than historical veracity. There are signs of a similar process at work in the Four Branches, as we have already seen. (One thinks in particular of the composite typologies of the Second and Third Branches).
So we do not have enough evidence here to claim, as Carson did, a definitive fourteenth/fifteenth century dating for the work on the basis of the appearance of Heilyn as a key figure within the frame tale. However, we can be reasonably certain that a particular Powys family is being portrayed, and this allusion can hardly be insignificant. The impression is of satire directed at individuals known to the author and his audience (perhaps by reference to their twelfth-century ancestors), an impression which is sharpened even further when we come to the description of the hospitality received:
And when they approached the house, they could see a very black old building with a straight gable end, and plenty of smoke coming from it. When they came inside they could see an uneven floor, full of holes; where there was a bump in the floor, scarcely could a man stand up, so slippery was the floor with the dung of cattle and their piss. Where there was a hole, a man would go over his ankle, what with mixture of water and cattle-piss. And there were branches in abundance on the floor, with their tips eaten by cattle. When they came to the upper end of the hall they could see bare, dusty, dais boards, and a hag feeding a fire on one dais. And when she became cold she would throw a lapful of chaff on the fire so that it was not easy for anyone in the world to put up with that smoke entering his nostrils…
When they had sat down they asked the hag where the people of the house were, but she would only speak gruffly to them. Suddenly the people arrive, a red-haired balding wizened man, with a bundle of sticks on his back, and a little skinny grey-haired woman, with a bundle under her arm too. And they gave the men a cold welcome. The woman lit a fire for them with the sticks and went to cook, and brought them their food – barley bread and cheese, and watered-down milk. Suddenly there was a surge of wind and rain, so that it was not easy for anyone to relieve himself. And because their journey had been so troublesome, they grew weary and went to sleep. When they examined their sleeping-place there was on it only dusty, flea-infested straw-ends, mixed with bits of twig, the cattle having devoured all the straw that was above their heads and below their feet. A greyish-red blanket, rough and threadbare and full of holes, was spread on it, and over the blanket a coarse, tattered sheet with big holes, and a half empty pillow with a filthy cover on top of the sheet. iv
The disparagement of another’s hospitality was a well-established theme of medieval Celtic satire. A characteristic Welsh example is cited by Gerald of Wales in Book I Chapter 14 of his Descriptio Cambriae, where the notorious meanness of one particular host was alluded to in terms of military defences of his house and kitchen. In the same passage, a miserly female householder is complemented ironically for the ‘amount of salt she put with her butter’. It seems more than likely that the description of Heilyn’s house was written in a similar spirit.
Critics have noted the contrast between the squalor of Heilyn’s house and the palatial settings in which Romance heroes such as Owein or Peredur were invariably accommodated in the course of their wanderings. Of the two, there can be little doubt that the material poverty of Heilyn’s house would have been closer to the everyday experience of most medieval Welshmen. Sionedd Davies suggests what is being represented here is probably something like ‘a medieval long-house with combined cattle/living quarters [with] low, built-in benching along the walls, either side of a central hearth, for sleeping and sitting on.’v Similar domestic settings are depicted in Gerald’s Descriptio (BK 1 Ch 10). If the contrast with the built environments of the Romances is indeed the deliberate, then the author of the Dream would seem to be undermining the fantasy world of the chwedl by this unexpected intrusion of commonplace squalor. This ironic realism is strangely modern in conception, and anticipates the wry scatologies of Voltaire, Hogarth and Rabelais. The most notable parallel is perhaps with Cervantes, whose famous Don Quixote deflates the pretensions Arthurian Romance in a strikingly similar way.
However, the main purpose of the frame-tale sequence is to prepare the ground for the advent of the dream itself, the content of which (it has been argued) would have had a very specific connection with these threadbare conditions. In order to understand what significance contemporary readers would have accorded the Dream, we first need to consider the wider context of medieval dream theory and traditions relating to the oracular vision.
On Rhonabwy’s arrival at the the house of Heilyn Goch, there was one object that stood out from the general squalor: a yellow ox-skin on a dias. ‘Good luck (blaenbren) would befall whichever one of them got to lie on that skin’ is the only information we are given about this enigmatic object. But it was for reasons of comfort, rather than the possibility of these supernatural benefits, that the ox-skin presented a tempting alternative to the sleepless Rhonabwy:
Rhonabwy’s two companions fell into a deep sleep, after the fleas and discomfort had tormented them. But Rhonabwy, since he could neither sleep nor rest, thought he would suffer less if he went to sleep on the yellow ox-skin on the dias. And there he slept. As soon as sleep entered his eyes he was granted a vision…vi
And so we enter into the main body of the story, in which the parodixical content of Rhonabwy’s Arthurian dream is disclosed. But first we need to understand what was meant by this drych or vision; its apparent association with the yellow ox-skin; and it more oblique relationship with the more general circumstances of the frame tale. The Dream, as we will see, is teasingly suggestive – hinting at a possible oracular significance of Rhomabwy’s vision, yet at the same undermining this significance with the strong implication of parody and bathos. There are many questions raised by a text of this kind, some of which we might be able to answer. Above all, as Catherine McKenna has suggested, we need to consider how medieval Welsh readers would have understood the significance of dreams in general,vii as well as those that appear within the specialised literary context of the ‘dream vision tale’. Both of these cultural constructions would have informed the reception and interpretation of the Dream.
Dreaming in traditional cultures was sometimes – but not always – associated with the ecstatic visions of the poet, the shaman and the prophet-seer. Both the Gododdin and the Book of Taliesin include sequences in which the poet appears to been entombed or incarcarted in a dark underground chamber: evidently as part of a ritual process aimed at inducing poetic inspiration. References to similar practices from the Early Modern Gaelic world have also been recorded. But of particular significance in this context is the account of tarb-feis or ‘Bull Feast’ described in Old Irish texts such as Togail Bruidne Dá Derga:
After him, the king, Eterscélae, died. The men of Eriu then assembled at the bull feast: a bull was killed, and one man ate his fill and drank its broth and slept, and an incantation of truth was chanted over him. Whoever this man saw in his sleep became king; if the man lied about what he saw in his sleep, he would die. viii
A similar tradition is attested in first book of Geoffrey’s Historia Regum Brittaniae, in which the hero receives an oracular vision while sleeping on the skin of a hind ix - motif that may have been borrowed from Virgil in this instance, but which was probably well known in the ancient world. The visions that emerged from these fleecy incubations were held to have prognostic significance, often relating to the public domain: determining the fortunes of kings or of nations. Whether in a spirit of parody of not, it would appear to be the case that a vaticinatory tradition of this kind was being referenced by the author of the Dream of Rhonabwy.
However, the ancients were not so naïve as to attribute oracular significance to all kinds of dream. A degree of scepticism was present in many works of medieval dream theory as well. A popular text in the early middle ages was The Interpretation of the Dream of Scipio, written in late antiquity by the neoplatonic philosopher Ambrosius Macrobius. Macrobius identified five main types of dream: the insomnium, the visum or phantasma, the sommnium, the visio and the ocaculum. Of these five, the first two (the insommnium and the visum) were considered to be of little importance or significance – the insomnium (‘nightmare’) echoing the private anxieties of the dreamer; while the visum or phantasma were understood as the more or less random hallucinations that characterise the early stages of sleep. The other three types of dream, on the other hand, were thought to contain various forms of revelatory content. In the case of the visio, future events (often of a fairly trivial nature) appear in the dream – Macrobius gives the example of ‘a man who dreams about the return of a friend who has been staying in a foreign land, the thought of whom never enter his mind’ and then on waking goes on to meet this friend entirely unexpectedly. The oraculum is rather more significant, corresponding with the prophetic dreams described above, what Jung’s Elgoni called ‘the big dream’. It represents a direct communication with the spiritual world through the agency of a god, an angel, a saint or an ancestor. Brutus’s oracular vision (seen as he slept on the skin of a hind) took the form of a message from the goddess Diana, telling him to head west and make his homeland on the island of Britain. The oraculum usually represents advice given to the dreamer: what he should do, or avoid doing. These dreams were held to have universal, communal or political significance. They prescribe world-changing events, and through them the direction of history is changed.
The most problematic category was the sommnium or ‘enigmatic dream’. In these, as Macrobius explains, the prognostic content was encoded symbolically within the content of the dream:
By an enigmatic dream we mean one that conceals with strange shapes and veils with ambiguity the true meaning of the information being offered, and requires an interpretation for its understanding. x
What is significant here is the assumption that there was information to be unearthed within the ‘strange shapes and veils’ that make up the dream. The key lies in the interpretation. As McKenna reminds us, the activity of dream interpretation had biblical sanction – it had been practiced by Joseph and the prophet Daniel. It is this precendent which might have encouraged medieval readers to search for an encoded message in the superficial nonsense of Rhonabwy's dream. But these medieval readers would have been aware of the possibility of misinterpretation, and consequently of misinformation or inappropriate action. Gerald of Wales gives a vivid illustration of this danger in Chapter 2 of Book II of his Journey through Wales:
A rich man who lived on the northern slopes of the Precelly Mountains dreamed three nights in succession that, if he was to put his hand in a stone which stuck out above the gushing water of a near-by spring called the Fountain of Saint Bernacus, he would find there a golden torque. On the third day he did what he had been told to do in his dreams. He was bitten in the finger by a viper and died from the wound. It is true that many treasures have been discovered as a result of dreams, and in all sorts of circumstances. It seems to me that dreams are like rumours: you must use your common sense, and then accept some but refuse to believe others.xi
So, how would medieval readers have evaluated the content of Rhonabwy’s dream? Would they have sought out its hidden meanings, or dismissed it as amusing but inconsequential? For some, particularly the more educated readers, would have based their judgement on what kind of dream appeared to be involved. Here the text is ambiguous, but suggestive. A naive reader might take interpret the dream-vision at face-value as an oraculum – triggered by the traditional magical fleece, the dreamer is met by a guiding figure (Iddog Cordd Prydain), and events are revealed which might be said to relate to matters of national, geo-political import. A rather more thoughtful reader might note that muddle of events portrayed in the dream, and wonder if particular interpretative methods would be required to decode the sommnium. The more educated readers, schooled in medical arts, might have had their reservations about according such a dream any significance whatsoever. McKenna notes that Macrobius and other ancient authorities were aware that dreams could often be caused by bodily conditions such as hunger, thirst or overeating. Insomnia, in particular, were thought to arise from somatic causes as often as from mental distress. The influence of re-discovered works of Aristotle and Galen tended to strengthen such interpretations – dreams were stripped of their mantic significance, and increasingly seen as expressions of bodily conditions or imbalance of the humours. It is perhaps against the background of this ‘somatizing of late medieval dream theory’ that we should read interpret the Breudwyt Rhonabwy, as McKenna suggests:
The interest in physiology and dream science manifest in Welsh manuscripts of the late fourteenth century, and especially in the manuscripts from the Tawe valley in whose production Hywel Fychan was involved, is likely to have influenced contemporary readings of Breudwyt Ronabwy, a text that participated in the same literary culture. The fumes of the animal waste, the smoke, the flea-bites, the chilly and uncomfortable beds all predispose Rhonabwy to an insignificant dream, to an insomnium or visum in Macrobian terms. The details of Heilyn Goch’s hospitality shape an alert reader’s expectations of the dream.xii
It may indeed be the case that, as McKenna suggests, the significance of the ensuing dream is undermined by reference to its probable somatic causes described in the frame tale. Read in this way, we can see the Dream as a rather clever parody of medieval vision literature and traditional ideas about oracular dreaming. Rhonabwy climbs onto the oracular fleece in search of a good night’s sleep, not a prophetic revelation. The vision that ensues may be suspected as having as much to do with the rumblings of the dreamer’s empty stomach as the foreseen destiny of the nation. (A similar process was represented in the Middle Irish anti-clerical burlesque Aislinge Meic Con Glinne, in which a wandering poet is offered meagre hospitality at a roadside monastic hospice, his unsatisfied hunger leading to a gluttenous dream-vision of buildings made of bacon and bread, surrounded by moats of custard.) It could be that some kind of psycho-medical observation is being made about the nature and significance not just of Rhonabwy’s dream but of dreams and oracular dream culture in general. However, even if we can accept this reading, it is also clear that the author has not missed the opportunity to comment on much else along the way: from standards of hospitality among the Duddleston gentry, to the character of the traditional literature in Wales, taking in the dynastic circumstances of mid-twelfth century Powys along the way. There is an almost unavoidable implication, as we will see, that all of this bears on the some of the recurrent afflictions of the Medieval Welsh body politic, issues that would have been close to the fore in post-colonial Waes of the late-thirteenth or fourteenth century. Despite its best intentions, perhaps, Rhonabwy’s dream is pregnant with meaning, and invites considerable scope for interpretation.
Once settled on the fleece, Rhonabwy falls asleep immediately and the dream begins. Like the dream of Macsen Wledig, this takes begins with a kind of out-of-body journey:
As soon as sleep entered his eyes he was granted a vision, that he and his companions were travelling through Maes Argyngroeg, and his inclination and intent, so he thought, was towards Rhyd-y-groes on the Hafren.xiii
At this point the companions suddenly hear a twryf or commotion behind him, and a striking horseman appears:
A young man with curly yellow hair and his beard newly trimmed, on a yellow horse, and from the top of its forelegs and its kneecaps downwards green. And the rider was wearing a tunic of yellow brocaded silk, embroided with a green thread, a gold-hilted sword on his thigh, with a sheath of new Cordovan leather, and a thong of deerskin with a clasp of gold. And over that a mantle of yellow brocaded silk, embroided with green silk, and the fringes of the mantle were green. What was the green of the garment of the rider and horse was as green as the leaves of the pine-trees, and what was yellow was as yellow as the flowers of the broom..xiv
The lavish - not to say overblown - description of the horseman’s attire is the first of a number of such flourishes which recurr throughout the text, although the force or significance of these colourful portraits remains unclear. In a colophon at the end of the Dream, which we will consider in more detail in due, the author seems to staked a certain pride in his complex enumerations of the ‘colours on the horses and the armour and their trappings’. We are being invited to believe that through such devices that our author signalled his literary excellence, and distinguishes his feats from those of an oral cyfarwyddyd. However, this distinction may contain a touch of irony, as J. K. Bollard has suggested, not least since the use of colour itself is a well-known mnemonic device.xv Another interesting suggestion, one which we will explore in more detail below, is that these descriptions of armaments and livery may have carried specific heraldic significance, echoing the arms and livery of identifiable medieval dynasties, who are thus being implicated with the action of the dream.xvi
While there maybe something in each of these suggestions, it difficult not to also discern a touch of straightforward parody in these passages. Traffic-stopping descriptions of this kind were a feature of Welsh narrative prose from as early as Culhwch ac Olwen, as we have seen, and may well reflect an inheritance from the oral storytelling tradition. They are largely absent from the Four Branches, but we find something similar starting to re-emerge in the later texts such as the Breudwyt Macsen and the Three Romances. Particularly characteristic of the rhamantau is the colour-coding of the anonymous figures encountered by the hero: ‘an auburn youth', 'the grey earl' or the equally ubiquitous 'black, one-eyed giant'. By the end of Peredur some of the personal descriptions have crystalised into proto-heraldic blazons: ‘the man with a pure red cloak and yellow shield’ ‘a gold-chased shield with a cross-piece of blue azure’. Perhaps the author of the Dream is merely escalating such descriptions to the next level. His intention may have been to parody the Mabinogion style, as the writers of the Areithiau Pros did so effectively in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
After his extended visual introduction, the horseman identifies himself as ‘Iddog son of Mynio’, also known as ‘Iddog Cordd Prydain’. The cognomen, meaning ‘Agitator of Britain’ refers to his role as provocateur in the epoch-ending battle of Camlan:
“…I was one of the messengers between Arthur and his nephew Medrawd at the battle of Camlan. And at that time I was a high-spirited young man, eager for fighting, and because I was eager for battle, I stirred up trouble between them. This is what I did: whenever the emperor Arthur would send me to remind Medrawd that he was his foster-father and uncle, and to ask for peace lest the sons of the kings of the Island of Britain and their men be killed, and when Arthur would speak to me the fairest words he couldm I would repeat those words to Medrawt in the most offensive way possible. Because of that I was called Iddog Cordd Prydain…”xvii
One of the immediate oddities about this passage has been discussed by Edgar Slotkin, among others, with some interesting conclusions.xxviii The apparent anomaly is that the Battle of Camlan is being discussed as something that happened in the past, while the main ‘action’ of the Dream (if one could call it that) seems to relate to the build up to the Battle of Badon. This is a reversal of the traditional historiography, which places the Battle of Badon at the beginning of the Arthurian era, and Camlan at the end. Time, then, would seem to be running backwards.
Of course this may not be inconsistent with the narrative logic of the Dream. We are, after all, in a prophetic vision which seems to concern the past - a paradox which may not have seemed so strange in Medieval Wales, as we will see. We begin in Heilyn’s house in the mid-twelfth century (already, one would presume, one step removed from the later medieval world of the audience). Rhonabwy’s dream takes us further back still – to events that medieval Welsh historiography would place in the mid-sixth century. That we subsequently find ourselves even further back, at the beginning of the sixth century, should perhaps come as no surprise. We are of course in the looking-glass world of a dream, and the subsequent appearance of Arthur following Iddog’s post-Arthurian lament merely reinforces this impression. As Slotkin observes: ‘since we expect Arthur to be dead, it is very dream-like to meet him as a dream-character a little further on’.xix
Iddog, like Rhonabwy himself, is a rather obscure figure who is more or less unknown elsewhere, apart from a parenthetic mention in a late version of triad 51, which may itself have been influenced by a reading of the Breudwyt Rhonabwy or one of its varients. However, in the Dream he maintains a significant presence – guiding Rhonabwy through his Arthurian vision and interpreting the events he witnesses therein. As such, he plays a familiar role within the medieval dream vision – as Virgil was to Dante in the Divine Comedy, or Piers Plowman was to the slumbering Will in the dream that bears his name. What is unusual – and no doubt intentionally ironic – is the self-proclaimed unreliability of Rhonabwy’s spirit guide. We are reminded, once again, of the self-consciousness with which this text directs our attention to the instruments of its own interpretation.
Accompanied by their newly-acquired guide, Rhonabwy and his companions are met by a second, equally striking, horseman clad in red and yellow. He is initially hostile towards ‘the little men’ (i.e. Rhonabwy and his companions) but after Iddog makes it clear they are under his protection, he leaves in peace. Iddog explains that he is Rhuawn Pebyr son of Deorthach Wledig – a fairly well-known Arthurian figure, one of the ‘three fair princes of the Island of Britain’ listed in the early triadic tradition. Shortly after this, the company arrive at Rhyd-Y-Croes on the banks of Severn, where they find Arthur himself in counsel with Bedwin the Bishop and Gawrthegydd son of Caw, two of his better-known traditional retainers. Interestingly, as seems to be the case throughout the Dream, Arthur and the senior court figures receive little attention, while the unnamed youths attending to them are accorded detailed descriptions. These colourful word-pictures are, as we have seen, reminiscent of similar sequences in the Three Romances or (more particularly) the Breudwyt Macsen. Again we might suspect a degree of over-indulgence if not parody of this ‘late Mabinogion style’ is at play in passages of this kind:
A tall, auburn-haired young man was standing beside them, holding his sword in its sheath, and wearing a tunic and cape of pure black brocaded silk, his face as white as ivory, and his eyes as black as jet. What could be seen of his wrist between his gloves and sleeves was whiter than the lily, and thicker than the calf of a warrior’s leg. xx
After this, Arthur addresses Iddog and asks about the ‘little men’ that accompany him. During this exchange the emperor makes the following comment:
‘Iddog,’ said Arthur, ‘I am not laughing; but I feel so sad that scum such as these are protecting this Island after such fine men that protected it in the past.’xxi
This comment is significant in a number of ways. Most obviously, it reinforces what would appear to be one of the main thematic strands of the Dream: that is the sense of decline from the heroic grandeur of the Arthurian age to the sordid mediocrity of the medieval present. A visible token of this diminishment is physical stature: Rhonabwy and his companions are repeatedly referred to as ‘little men’ by the inhabitants of the Arthurian milieu. This might be dovetailed with the squalor of Rhonabwy’s house and its implicit contrast with the palatial hospitality of the Arthurian world. The force of these unflattering comparisons, however, remains unclear – not least because the Arthurian milieu itself seems to be subject to a degree of critical scrutiny elsewhere in throughout the Dream.
An example of this ambivalent treatment of the Arthurian world occurs soon after this exchange. The red retinue of Rhuawn Pebyr pass by, followed by a second troop in vivid black and white. But then a single rider (who is not described) rides past through the shallows of the river, splashing Arthur and his companions ‘so they were as wet as if they had been dragged out of the river’. The youth that was standing beside Arthur then struck this encroaching rider’s horse, provoking the following exchange:
The rider then drew his sword half out of his sheath, and asked him, ‘Why do you strike my horse? Was it out of disrespect or by way of advice?’
‘You need advice. What madness made you ride so foolishly, causing the water to splash from the ford over Arthur and the consecrated bishop and their counsellors, so they were wet as if they had been dragged out of the river?’
‘Then I shall take it as advice.’ And he turned his horse’s head back towards his troop.
‘Iddog,’ said Rhonabwy, ‘who was the rider just now?’
‘A young man considered to be the wisest and most accomplished in this kingdom, Addaon son of Taliesin.’
‘Who was the man who struck his horse?’
‘A stubborn and fierce lad, Elphin son of Gwyddno.’
It is perhaps at this point in the text that we realise how far removed we are from the kind of logical or sequential coherence we would expect in the waking world – or, indeed, in a more conventional narrative structure. The water-splashing episode is of more or less no causal consequence. Nothing led up to it, and little if anything emerges from it subsequently. The humiliation of the king and the senior members of the court was by no means unheard of in the earlier literature (the first court scene in Peredur being a characteristic example), but the drenching of Arthur and counsellors nonetheless brings us sharply out of the realms of the high heroic. What follows merely adds to the sense of dislocation. The striking of the horse may could be interpreted a ‘blow of counsel’, such as was permitted in Medieval Welsh law. It could even be, as Carson suggests, that the splashing itself was also a jolt of admonition, a means of ‘breaking the spell of inaction’. xxiii But the subsequent exchange between Addaon and Elphin does little to shed light on their motivations or the significance of their actions. We might also note that these well-established Arthurian figures belong to two completely different generations, yet are represented here as two brawling youths. While adding to the confusion of the scene, this is also entirely typical of the upside-down logic of the dream as well the occasional anachronisms of the Mabinogion tradition. xxiv
After the splashing incident, Arthur is addressed by Caradog Freichfas, who reminds him (rather sharply) that he is meant to be preparing for the Battle of Badon. This is followed, once again, by extended descriptions of liveried hosts: those of March son of Meirchawn and Edern son of Nudd respectively. It has been observed that these rather overworked descriptions are the main reason so little happens in this tale. Slotkin quotes a review of Absalom, Absalom in which the critic suggests that the author has adopted ‘a complex series of devices used to keep the story from being told’.xxv Various modern commentators have made the same point about Breudwyt Rhonabwy. The impression of superfluous delay is further reinforced by the description of the disorganised muster at the foot of Caer Faddon as these troops converge:
When they had dismounted he heard a huge, dreadful commotion among the host. And the man who would be at the edge of the host one minute, would be in their midst the next, and the one who would be in the midst would be in their edge. Suddenly he could see a rider approaching, both he and his horse dressed in chain-mail, its rings as white as the whitest lily, and its rivets as red as the reddest blood, and he was riding among the host.
‘Iddog,’ said Rhonabwy, ‘is the host retreating from me?’
‘The emperor Arthur has never retreated, and if you were heard uttering those words, you would be a dead man. But the rider you see over there, that’s Cai, he is the fairest man who rides in Arthur’s court. And the man at the edge of the host is rushing back to see Cai ride, and the man in the middle is retreating to the edge for fear of being hurt by the horse. And that’s the meaning of the of the commotion in the host.’xxvi
Here, the grandeur of Cai’s personal appearance is immediately offset by the ill-disciplined stampede that cascades through the ranks at his arrival. It seems unlikely that the author was expecting us to regard the Arthurian war effort with unqualified admiration. The garish costume of some its myrmidons merely emphasise the carnivalesque nature of the spectacle involved. We might note that in this period warfare had become an occasion for aristocratic sartorial display as much as the securing of military objectives. In this light we might wonder if the extended descriptions of the Dream had a rather more contemporary emphasis, commenting on aspects of late medieval European chivalric fashion, as well as targeting some of the excesses and shortcomings of the native Welsh cultural system closer to home.
Shortly after the turmoil occasioned by Cai’s arrival, we are offered a description of Arthur’s sword as it is brandished by Cadwr Earl of Cornwall:
Behold, he got up with Arthur’s sword in his hand and the image of two golden serpents on the sword. When the sword was drawn frm the sheath, it was like seeing two flames of fire from the serpent’s jaws. And it was not easy for anyone to look at that, because it was so terrifying. Then, behold, the host clamed down and the commotion ceased, and the earl returned to the tent.xxvii
After this theatrical piece of military crowd-control, Arthur’s mantle is spread on the ground and his golden chair set upon it. The emperor then sits down to play gwyddbwyll, a chess-like board game, with Owain son of Urien. The extraordinary sequence that follows might be regarded as the centrepiece of the Dream. This takes the form of a series of interruptions to the game, all of which follow the same basic format:
When the game of gwyddbwyll was at its most entertaining, behold, they see coming from a white red-topped tent – with an image of a pure black serpent in top of the tent, and crimson-red, poisonous eyes in the serpent’s head, and its tongue flame-red – a young squire with curly yellow hair and blue eyes, sprouting a beard, wearing a tunic and surcoat of yellow brocaded silk, and stockings of thin greenish yellow cloth on his feet. And over the stockings two buskins of speckled Cordovan leather, and clasps of gold around his ankles to fasten them, and a golden-hilted, heavy triple-grooved sword, with a sheath of black Cordovan leather, and a tip of excellent reddish gold at the end of the sheath. And he was coming to where the emperor and Owain were playing gwyddbwyll…
Then the squire said to Owain,
‘Lord, is it with your permission that the emperor’s young lads and squires are molesting and harassing and brawling with your ravens? If they don’t have your permission, then ask the emperor to call them off.’
‘Lord, you hear what the squire says. If you please, call them off my little ravens.’
‘Your move,’ he said. Then the squire returned to his tent.
They finished their game and began another. xxviii
Immediately after this a second squire emerges from a ‘bright yellow tent with the image of a bright red lion on top of the tent.’ The description of this figure is even more ornate than the last. He brings a similar request to Owain, which is to enquire of the emperor whether it is with his permission that his squires are ‘wounding the ravens, killing some, and bothering others.’ Once again, this elicits no reaction from the emperor, who remains ‘no more troubled than before’ about this attack on Owain’s ravens. Finally, a third squire arrives from a mottled-yellow [vrith melyn] tent crowned with an eagle ensign, and the sequence is repeated. On this occasion, however, Owain takes action and orders the squire to raise the banner ‘where you see the battle at its most intense’. This has the effect of rallying the ravens, which then start attacking Arthur’s men. These attacks are graphically described, and we are left in no doubt that the violence is real:
When [the ravens] had regained their strength and their power, with anger and joy they swooped down together on the men who had previously caused them injury and pain and loss. They carried off the heads of some, the eyes of others, the ears of others and the arms of others, and took them up into the air. There was great commotion in the sky with the fluttering of the jubilant ravens and their croaking, and another great commotion with the screaming of men being attacked and injured and others being killed. It was as terrifying for Arthur as it was for Owain to hear that commotion above the gwyddbwyll.xix
What occurs next is a mirror-image of the previous sequence, with three messengers approaching in succession, each asking Arthur to ask Owain to prevent his ravens from attacking the men. Owain, for his part, remains as indifferent as was Arthur in previous sequence, attending to the gwyddbwyll but doing nothing to call off the attacking ravens. The squires are as richly liveried as before: if anything their personal descriptions are even more ornate. As before, each is associated with a distinctive heraldic device – the first with a ‘yellow-red leopard’, the second with a ‘yellow-red lion’ and the third with a griffin. And again, it is after the third petition that Arthur takes action:
Then Arthur crushed the golden pieces that were on the board until they were nothing but dust; and Owain asked Gwres son of Rheged to lower his banner. Then it was lowered and everything was peaceful.xxx
Taken as a whole, the gwyddbwyll sequence seems to represent the narrative centre of gravity of the Dream. It bridges the gap between the first part of the dream (the introduction of Rhonabwy to the king, the splashing and the muster on the eve of the battle) and its conclusion (leading to the postponement of the fighting). As already noted, very little actually happens in the Dream, but this is as close to a narrative action that we are likely to find. In terms of its content, the episode seems to invite exegesis, flaunting as it does symbolic content (the ravens, the gwyddbwyll figures, the heraldic devices) and symbolic actions (the raising and lowering of the standard, the playing of gwyddbwyll and the crushing of the figures) within a ritualised, choregraphed sequence.
We will look at each of these elements in turn, but first we should consider Owain ap Urien, and try and identify the significance of his binary opposition with Arthur presented by this episode. Owain, as we have seen elsewhere, was a historical figure who lived in the Rheged area of North Britain towards the end of the sixth century. He seems to have attracted a significant body of mythological associations, and among the many claims made by his bardic poets was that he was an avatar or double of the mythological Mabon fab Modron (himself the medieval recollection of the Romano-British god Apollo Maponus). He is the hero of the Welsh Arthurian romance sometimes bears his name, which is closely related to Chrétien’s Li Chevalier avec le Lion. Both ultimately appear to derive ultimately from a North British sovereignty myth (a primitive version of which is also to be found in the Life of St Kentigern). At some stage, this body of material seems to have been drawn into the Arthurian cycle, and Owain assigned the status of a knight at the court of the emperor rather than a North British ruler in his own right. Indeed, the extant French and Welsh version of the romance in which he features as the hero dramatise the dichotomy of these roles: with Owain/Yvain temporarily assuming the mantle of the (pagan) thaumaturgic sovereign in the Fountain Realm, before voluntarily returning to his original role as a feudal vassal at the (Christian) court of Arthur.
Owain remained a much admired figure in Medieval Wales, both in his own right and as a knight of the Arthurian court. But what can we say about his specific significance beyond this? Angela Carson suggests that this binary opposition with Arthur would have carried geo-political significance, reflecting two conflicting strategies that dominated the Welsh in their relations with the English crown during the central middle ages. Elsewhere, we have characterised this dichotomy as a tension between ‘nationalist’ and ‘internationalist’ factions within the Welsh elite, which was a particular feature of the politics of the region in the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Carson describes this geo-political opposition and relates it to the gwyddbwyll game in the following terms:
…the strong nationalist spirit – one of total hostility towards the English, and the more conciliatory spirit of some of the border Welsh who found it expedient or congenial to be well-disposed towards their neighbours.
Each of the gwyddbwyll players is an appropriate representative of one of these positions. Owein was unequivocally a Welsh hero who had never belonged to the English; he and his messengers may well be equated with the nationalist position. Arthur, on the other hand, was both justly claimed by the Welsh and held in very high regard by the English whose kings in the fourteenth century and later reaped considerable political advantage by claiming to participate in his crown…Arthur was traditionally a “British” king and so could represent a position less intransigent in character than could Owein.xxxi
That such a dichotomy characterised Welsh geo-politics from the twelfth to the fifteenth century is not controversial, but we would need rather more evidence to confirm that Carson is correct to identify Owain and Arthur specifically with these two opposing diplomatic philosophies. Carson goes on to suggest (in line with her late dating of the Dream) that the context for this may have been the final act of Welsh armed resistance against the English under Owain Glyndwr. This would present the possibility of a late medieval typological significance for the figure of Owain ap Urien. We might also note the same personal name was borne by another well-known nationalist, Owain Gwynedd, who (as we will see) was consciously equated with the Rheged king by the court bards. It is worth also noting that he was a contemporary and adversary of Madog son of Maredudd, the ruling king of Powys in the frame tale, and that the latter was also a notable proponent of the ‘internationalist’ strategy.
First, though, there is the matter of the ravens associated with Owain ap Urien in the Dream. Again, these are not of the author’s own invention. At the end of the thirteenth-century Welsh Romance of Owain, the hero is described as forming a warband at the court of the Arthur known variously as ‘the three hundred swords of the Cyfarchings or the Flight of Ravens’. The first part of this name refers to Cynfarch (the Rheged king’s North British ancestor); the second relates to a common practice in the poetry of the hengerdd linking the warrior to the raven and various other ‘martial’ animals, including the lion and the wolf. The nickname of the Flight of Ravens for the three hundred swords of the Cynfarchings could thus quite easily date back to Owain’s own lifetime in the Old North itself. We find further evidence of this tradition, interestingly enough, in a poem written by Cynddelw, praising the host of Owain Gwynedd in the following terms:
They rode on corpses for a thousand crowds,
Byrnaich’s riders, Owain’s war ravens,
Slaughter by the barrel, carcasses stiff,
A tidbit for them, dead men’s entrails. xxxii
Here, the twelfth century Gwynedd king is being compared to the sixth century North British hero with whom he shares his name, and his defeat of the Anglo-Norman armies at Tegeingl is compared to the Rheged king’s rout of the Bernicians six centuries earlier. The war-host, in a commonplace Heroic Age conceit, is being described as ‘feeding the ravens’, i.e. with the corpses of their enemies. However, there is no suggestion that Owain’s retinue itself consisted of actual ravens, as seems to be the case the Dream. But such concretisation is not untypical of the creative process of the dreaming mind, and adds an appropriately surreal touch to the gwyddbwyll episode, while endowing Owain’s company with a primitive or even lycanthropic aspect. It might be noted these were no ordinary ravens, but rather man-sized corvids: capable of carrying off the leg, arm or head of man, and ‘lifting up a wing six foot from the ground’ while lying wounded on the ground. One thinks of the war gods of pagan European lore: Odin of the Scandinavian tradition with his totemic ravens, or Badb Catha (‘Crow of Battles’) the chthonic war spirit of the Irish tradition.
The Welsh figure of Bendigeidfran (‘Blessed Raven’) may have had a similar origin. This individual, of course, had a number of other important associations. Son of the mysterious Llŷr Llediaith, ‘Brân the Blessed’ (as he also known) features in the Second Branch of the Mabinogi as the British High King before his death and deposition by Caswallon son of Beli. Although its founder had married in to the Belgic dynasty, the House of Llŷr was seem to represent a more exotic (and possibly older) elements of Brythonic royalty, and as such may have come to represent the more marginal lineages of the medieval royal caste (i.e. those with less of direct connection with the dynasty of Rhodri Mawr). We might remember that the Dream of Macsen Wledig (or rather a related genealogical tradition) linked Elen with this side of the mythological British royal kindred – thus asserting a connection between this dynastic segment and Macsen Wledig and his hiers.
However, it needs hardly be said that such associations are suggestive rather than definitive. Further evidence would be needed to confirm that the author was indeed intending to signify contemporary dynastic and geopolitical realities. Can the heraldic evidence lend any support to this hypothesis? Mary Giffen was the first to identify the insignia found in the Dream of Rhonabwy with specific individuals from the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century. She identifies the lion, leopard and eagle associated with Urien’s messengers with devices found on the various coats of arms of Owain ap Gruffydd, a Powysian princeling who was unusual in retaining a degree of autonomy in the post-independence period.xxxiii Carson follows this identification, and adds a few of her own: linking the ruby-eyed leopard of Arthur’s second messenger with the arms of Thomas Cauntilupe, Bishop of Hereford (d.1282). The red lion on a yellow background she associates with the arms of the eleventh century Bleddyn ap Cynfyn, but also with those of Randolph Earl of Chester, Owain Gwynedd’s most powerful enemy. xxxiv
Rather more puzzling is the black serpent cresting the white pavilion, which is associated with Owain’s first messenger. The snake is far more rare (although not unheard of) in medieval heraldry, and I know of no instance of its use in Wales in the central or late middle ages. At the end of the gwyddbwyll sequence, this messenger is identified as Selyf son of Cynan Garwyn – a historical Powys king who died at the battle of Chester in 616. Giffen has drawn attention to a line in Cyndelw’s verse which praises Saint Tylsio (who was a scion of the same dynasty) as ‘a strong serpent huge, of proud movement’. No less significant is the cognomen of this Selyf himself: Sarffgadau ‘Serpent of Battles’. But although no trace the serpent device itself appears in medieval Welsh heraldry, the colour scheme is suggestive. We find the same black-on-white tincture in the coat of arms for Powys Fadog – a black lion on a white background. Again, we have no more than a suggestion, but it would appear that the critical split between North and South Powys, which forms the background of the frame tale, is somehow reconciled in the Dream, with both Powysian factions united within Owain’s retinue.
The ‘leopard’ described in connection with Arthur’s first messenger may also be significant. As Giffen correctly points out, a ‘leopard’ is the heraldic terms for a lion depicted face on, rather than in profile – or more precisely a lion passant guardant – walking with head turned to a face-on position and one paw raised. This, interestingly, was to be found in the arms used by Llywelyn Fawr, and subsequently adopted by the English princes of Wales from the fourteenth century onwards. In line with the hegemonic ambition of both of these parties, the quartered insignia on this shield effectively combined the arms of Powys and Deheubarth, thus signalling the unifying dominance of these would-be rulers of Wales. This device was subsequently associated with the Gwynedd-based House of Aberffraw, although an earlier (pre-heraldic) symbol of Gwynedd seems to have been the eagle.xxxv It may therefore be significant that the third one of Owain’s messengers in the Dream emerges from a ‘mottled yellow’ (=?green) tent crowned by a golden eagle: a device which was incorporated into the posthumous arms of Gwynedd’s twelfth century ruler, the nationalistic Owain Gwynedd. Can we understand the eagle as a symbol of the old tribal kingdom of Gwynedd, prior to the pan-Welsh ambitions of Llywelyn Fawr? If so, then it is interesting to see ‘tribal’ Gwynedd lining up with Owain, while the ‘hegemonic’ Gwynedd of the Age of Llywelyns is identified with Arthur.
This just leaves the image of a griffin associated with Arthur’s final messenger. Griffins are not uncommon in medieval heraldry, but I know of no examples from Wales in this period. One possibility is that rather than a heraldic emblem as such, this is a canting pun referring to the Welsh name Gruffydd (which is sometimes rendered as ‘Griffin’ in Anglo-Norman sources). The Gruffydd in question I would take to be Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn, who retained his lands in southern Powys as a reward for deserting the Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in 1282. However, given that we are dealing with one of the most common names in the Welsh royal nomenclature, this equation can only be regarded as hypothetical.
While none of these identifications taken alone are especially conclusive, but taken together they are highly suggestive. The animal symbols (in particular the red and gold lions); combined with the general prevalence of red/gold and black/white in the liveries described in the Dream, suggest that heraldic identifies may be being used in a conscious way to denote certain geo-political factions within the Welsh body politic, past and present. If my interpretation of the correspondence of these devices with significant Welsh dynasts from the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries can be sustained, then we have a broad confirmation of Carson’s hypothesis: which would equate Owain and his men with the nativist or nationalistic element within the Welsh aristocracy, and the men of Arthur with the internationalist element. The appearance of Llywelyn Fawr’s golden leopard on the helm of Arthur’s envoy may at first seem surprising (although as we have seen elsewhere, the wily son Iorwerth had been quite capable of assuming an internationalist position when it was in his interests to do so). But the quadruple leopard ensign would be adopted by the English Princes of Wales in the fourteenth century, and would thus became a symbol of English power (just as the famous ‘three lions’ had been since the reign of Richard I). If this was indeed the resonance of the flame-tongued leopard in the Dream, then Carson may be broadly correct in her geopolitical interpretation of the gwyddbwyll episode.
This brings us on to the question of the gwyddbwyll itself which, on the surface at least, seems to be heavily implicated with esoteric significance. Carson suggests the game should be understood as a magical strategem:
In Celtic literature board games are not presented as a diversion; on the contrary, their fundamental significance is that they are a means of controlling certain events of the present or of the immediate future. The gwyddbwyll scene in the Dream leaves little doubt that each player’s success in the game affects the success of his men in the field.xxxvi
The use of board games as symbolic representations of the battlefield has an enduring pedigree, from the thaumaturgic battle magic of Ancient Egypt to the ‘wargames’ of modern military theory. Nectanbo, the last native Egyptian pharaoh, was said to have used miniature figures to simulate and magically effect desired military outcomes, a technique that the thirteenth-century Arab writer Abu-Shâker also maintained had been used by Alexander the Great in his conquest of the Nile Delta.xxxvii While I know of no such clear-cut instance of the martial use of board games in the Celtic tradition, it is clear that a considerable aura surrounded these prestigious objects, which were sometimes accorded geo-political significance and almost always associated with prominent members of the social elite. A particularly unambiguous example of this is to be found in ‘The Settling of the Manor of Tara’, where Ireland is compared with a brandub board:
The centre of the plain of Fál is Tara’s castle, delightful hill; out in the exact centre of the plain, like a mark on a parti-coloured brandub board. Advance thither, it will be a profitable step: leap on that square, which is fitting for the branán (king), the board is fittingly thine. I would draw thy attention, O white of tooth, to the noble squares proper for the branán (Tara, Cashel, Croghan, Naas, Oileach), let them be occupied by thee. A golden branán with his band thou art with thy four provincials; thou o king of Bregia, on yonder square and a man on each square around thee.xxxviii
From the little we know about gwyddbwyll itself, it has usually been assumed that it was a representation of the hunting green rather than the battlefield. Comprising of the elements gwydd (meaning ‘tree’, ‘wild’ or ‘forest’) and a lenited form of pwyll (meaning ‘sense’ or ‘wisdom’), we might offer ‘Wood Sense’ as an etymological rendering. An exact cognate is found in Old and Middle Irish sources, suggesting a probable Common Celtic origin. Fídchel is mentioned in a number of traditional tales and, as with gwyddbwyll in the Mabinogion tales, it is characteristically represented as a game of skill played by kings, heroes and other elite figures. The Tain Bó Fróech includes a memorable passage which has some structural resemblance to the passage in the Dream of Rhonabwy: where the young hero Fróech plays fídchel first against Ailill and then against Medb, being engrossed in his game with the queen of Cruachain for three days and three nights, during which time the hospitality of the other guests is irresponsibly neglected.xxxix
Aside from its appearance in the Dream itself, there are two other Mabinogion texts in which gwyddbwyll features significantly. The first of these is Peredur, in the final section when the hero comes across the gwyddbwyll board of a mysterious figure simply called ‘the Empress’. Like the magical gwyddbwyll board of the old king Gwendolau, the pieces on this board move telekinetically, of their own accord. Peredur enters an empty room in the Empress’s castle and watches as the two sides on the board play against one another, without the intervention of a human agency. When the side that he was supporting is beaten, Peredur throws the board and the pieces out of the window in a fit of pique – thus incurring the rage of the Empress herself who, we are told ‘would not wish to lose [the board] for her empire.’xl
Gwyddbwyll paraphernalia is also described in The Dream of Macsen, when the Roman prince first sees the British court of Eudaf Hen in his dream. Here, ‘two auburn-haired youths’ were playing gwyddbwyll on a silver board with figures made of gold. The king himself is seen nearby with a second board in front of him, carving new figures from a bar of gold. When the king arrives at the court in person some time later, the same scene is witnessed again. xli
In each of these texts, gwyddbwyll as both an object and an activity seems to be endowed with magical significance. Its close association with Empresses and even the Empire itself, is suggestive – perhaps recalling a similar conceit to that represented in the Settling of the Manor of Tara. Its appearance in the Breudwyt Macsen is no less loaded. The fact that Eudaf Hen was carving out a new gwyddbwyll piece at precisely the moment that Emperor first arrives on the scene was no doubt intended to convey occult significance. We are getting close to the kind of mimetic high magic practiced by the Egyptian kings.
However, it is by no means clear that such a process is being represented by the gwyddbwyll episode of the Dream of Rhonabwy. Although some kind of parallelism between the game played by Owain and Arthur and the conflicts of their followers is strongly implied, we are not told who won or lost on the board, and Carson’s assertion that “the player’s success in the game affects the success of his men in the field” cannot be said to be explicit in the Dream. Indeed, the turning point in this conflict comes when the standard is raised – an equally symbolic act, but one which takes place on the battlefield rather than on the board. Slotkin makes the interesting suggestion that the passage serves as much to deflate the magical significance of the game, as much as to endorse it:
The two heroes, Arthur and Owain, play their unmotivated board game, a curious thing to do before a battle, each unconcerned about the other’s losses until a conflict is ended by Arthur crushing the gwyddbwyll pieces, a sign, I would suggest, of the way in which games and reality interact and a clue to the author’s view of the traditional narrative he has undermined. In microcosm, the Arthur and Owain episode reflects the entire work; a symbolic game, meaningless in context, is played between two men; reflecting it, and off to one side, two sets of men are engaged in meaningless, competitive combat. The text relating these events, however, overwhelms whatever significance they might have through lavish description. These descriptions, moreover, are not only the most lavish in the tale; they are also the least meaningful. xlii
One might note that on this last point, Slotkin’s interpretation of the gwyddbwyll episode appears to diverge some way from the perspectives of Giffen, Carson and Helen Fulton (whose hypothesis we will consider shortly). This is a familiar problem within Celtic studies, which has yet to be satisfactorily resolved. Modern critics have found it hard to accept that a text like the Dream could contain a message of significance, while simulataneously indulging in parody. A similar problem has afflicted our understanding of a number of other puzzling texts in the Medieval Welsh corpus - notably Culhwch ac Owlen and the 'mythological' poems from the Book of Taliesin. Needless to say, the 'parody' argument has tended to carry the day, discouraging further attempts 'serious' interpretation. (Nobody wishes to appear not to be getting the joke!) However, I would question whether this modern, reductive response to 'parody' is appropriate for these medieval expressions, which appears altogether more comfortable with the paradox of multiplicity and contradiction.
We might draw attention to a serious point that is consistently emphasised by the text of the Dream - a point which would have been immediately understood by anyone with even a superficial knowledge of the geo-political circumstances of native Wales. The congenital disunity of the native elite – plagued as it was with tribal and dynastic in-fighting – is the central fact of medieval Welsh history. The picture created by the gwyddbwyll scene – the image of two leading figures of native Welsh legend absorbed in a trivial yet damaging symbolic conflict, on the eve of a serious confrontation with a shared national foe – would have carried unavoidable significance in medieval Wales. Such an interpretation is supported by the poignant background of the frame tale: with Powys on the brink of fragmentation. Was this part of the 'parody', or something that could exist alongside it?
An emphasis here, naturally enough, is on the geo-politics of medieval Powys. Caught as they were on the frontline between the native Wales and Anglo-Norman worlds, the Powysian princes often opted for allegiance with the latter. The great Gwynedd-centred hegemonies of Llywelyn Fawr his grandson, Llywelyn son Gruffydd, rarely worked out well for the more marginal Powys. It is in this light that Helen Fulton’s interpretation - which would identify Arthur with Llywelyn Fawr – offers an interesting perspective.xliii According to Fulton, the Dream is hostile not just towards the Venedotian princes, but also the native Welsh tradition of prophesy as a whole. This reading in its broadest sense by no means incongruous with heraldic evidence considered above, nor with the suggestion (which we will explore in more detail below) that the satirical force of the Dream was aimed not only at the bards and cyfarwyddyd (as embodied by Cadyriaith son of Saidi), but also at the wider culture of the courts of the princes. Although Fulton situates this text at the unwilling periphery of this world during its zenith in the mid-thirteenth century, precisely the same tone and typology could have emerged from a post-conquest critique of the native milieu embodied by the bards and princes and inscribed by the later Mabinogion texts.
There is, as we have already seen, plenty of material within the Dream to support ‘serious’ interpretations of this kind, within or alongside its more obviously satirical inclinations. As with so much else in medieval Welsh literature, an either/or interpretations is rarely warrented. On one level, it is simply a case of recognising that there were a variety of readers in medieval Wales itself, and consequently a variety of readings. For some among the audience, a dream vision of this kind would have been apprehended as a source of divine or supernatural revelation – an oracular summation of the national destinies of Powys and/or Wales as a whole. Other readers, of a more courtly disposition, would have marvelled at the richly described colours and devices on the liveries of the protagonists involved, and might have been tempted to interpret these according to the fashionable heraldic code that would have been gaining recognition in Wales in the second half of the thirteenth century. In doing so they would have found a reference to the Red Lion of Powys, the leopard ensign of the Prince of Wales (or the English king) and possibly also the older native totems: the eagle of Gwynedd and the serpent of the House of Selyf fab Brochfael. Readers of a more educated and cynical disposition, however, may have baulked at these symbolic interpretations. They would have taken note of the somatic causes of Rhonabwy’s insomnium, and the distinctly anti-heroic setting of the frame tale in general. These readers would have enjoyed the smug realisation that the Dream as a whole was as an elaborate spoof: both of vision-literature and the late Mabinogion style, chuckling to themselves as the narrative sunk under the weight of overblown description.
The question is whether this final reading is the 'right' one, which thus invalidates all of the others. I would argue that this is not necessarily the case. Paradox is inherant within the Medieval Welsh literary art which - as Walt Whitman said of himself - was capabable of containing multitudes. As in life itself, the sublime and the ridiculous frequently coincide on the pages of the Mabinogion.
The curious ritual stasis of the previous episode is brought to a close by Arthur’s crushing of the gwyddbwyll figure (an interesting reversal of Eudaf Hen’s carving such a figure in the Dream of Macsen Wledig). As with Arthur’s splashing by Addaon, this gesture serves to break the spell of inaction and allow the narrative flow to recommence. Or so, at least, is the expectation. The arrival of the messengers of Osla Gyllellfawr reminds us of the main item of business at hand: the Battle of Badon – the moment at which (according to a traditional Welsh historiography) the Saxon armies were beaten back and the reign of Arthur entered its most glorious phase.
Osla Gyllellfawr, who is represented here as the leader of the Saxon armies, is not unheard of elsewhere in the medieval Welsh literary record. Culhwch ac Olwen lists him as part of Arthur’s retinue, who later on has a cameo role in the hunting of the boar. Melville Richards, editor of the standard text of Breudwyt Rhonabwy, has suggested that this character may be based on the eighth century Mercian king Offa, who in one source is named as Offa Kyllellfawr.xliv We might also note Fulton’s observation that an allusion to the English King John is suggested here by the location of the Dream at Rhyd Y Groes, where the beleaguered Plantagenet parleyed with Llywelyn Fawr in 1215.xlv Osla Cyllellfawr’s association with Badon may or may not be tradition, but his role here is that of the generic Saxon enemy, onto whom any number of more contemporary antitypes.
The Saxon messengers arrive and ask for a truce ‘until the end of a fortnight and a month’. Arthur then calls his counsellors, who are listed thus:
Bedwin the bishop, and Gwarthegydd son of Caw, and March son of Meirchawn, and Caradog Freichfras and Gwalchmai son of Gwyar, and Edern son of Nudd, and Rhuawn son of Deorthach Wledig, and Rhiogan son of the king of Ireland, and Gwenwynwyn son of Naf, Hywel son of Emyr Lydaw, Gwilym son of the king of France, and Daned son of Oth, and Gorau son of Custennin, and Mabon son of Modron, and Peredur Paladr Hir and Hyfaidd Unllen, and Twrch son of Perif, Nerth son of Cadarn and Gobrw son of Echel Forddwyd Twll, Gwair son of Gwystyl, and Adwy son of Geraint, Drystan son of Tallwch, Morien Manog, Granwen son of Llyr, and Lacheu son of Arthur, and Llawfrodedd Farfog, and Cadwr, earl of Cornwall, Morfran son of Tegid, and Rhawdd son of Morgant, and Dyfyr son of Alun Dyfed, Gwrhyr Gwalstawd Ieithoedd, Addaon son of Taliesin, and Llara son of Casnar Wledig, and Fflewddwr Fflan, and Greidol Gallddofydd, Gilbert son of Cadgyffro, Menw son of Teirgwaedd, Gyrthmwl Wledig, Cawrdaf son of Caradog Freichfras, Gildas son of Caw, Cadyriaith son of Saidi, and many men from Norway and Denmark, together with many men from Greece. xlvi
What we have here is a condensed version of court list at the beginning of Culhwch ac Olwen. Virtually the same list appears the roll-call in the wedding scene in Geraint (and something similar at the equivalent point in Erec). Parallels can be drawn with the more stylised metrical sequences in traditional texts like Pa Gur and the Beddau stanzas. It is reasonable to assume this was an Arthurian commonplace, probably inherited from the pre-Galfredian oral tradition. In its most characteristic form, such lists begin with Arthur’s best known retainers (Cai, Bedwin, Gwalchmai etc.), and include various mythological figures (e.g. Mabon son of Modron) as well as prestigious foreign dignitaries (Gwilym king France). Erstwhile enemies of Arthur are often included, on the basis that they no pay the Emperor homage having been vanquished by his heroes (Geraint and Peredur both include examples of this process). The court list can also include more spurious figures, whose colourful epithets or unlikely-sounding patronymics suggest the narrator is playing with the form, indulging its carnivalesque propensities (this is especially evident in Culhwch ac Olwen). From their earliest transition into the literary medium these Arthurian roll-calls have offered rich material for parodists.
With the exception of one or two of these figures (perhaps Granwen son of Llyr?) there is little sign that the author is playing the same game here as the narrator of Culhwch ac Olwen (or a subsequent redactor) when he adds names like Gwydden Astrus (‘G. the Abstruce’) or Sugn mab Sugnedydd (‘Suck son of Sucker’) to the court list. However, once again, this Arthurian roll-call – unimpeachably traditional though it might be – serves merely to overburden the slender narrative framework of on which it hangs. It fulfils a similar function to the overblown descriptions elsewhere in the Dream. Like these, it feels suspiciously like yet another delaying tactic, a ruse to prevent the story being told.
At this point, Rhonabwy interrupts, asking Iddog to explain the presence of a youth like Cadyriaith son of Saidi amongst such an illustrious gathering. His guide explains that Cadyriath is exceptional - ‘no-one in Prydain gives more solid advice than he’ – thereby casting Cadyriath in the mould of the prodigious boy-wonder archetype familiar to the Welsh tradition: Taliesin, Ambrosius/Merlin, Lleu Llaw Gyfess. Evidence for the boy’s precocious genius is offered in the following sequence:
Then, behold, poets came to perform a poem for Arthur. And no one understood the poem, apart from Cadyriath himself, except that it was in praise of Arthur. Then, behold, twenty-four mules arrived with their loads of gold and silver, and a tired and weary man with each of them, bringing tribute to Arthur from the Islands of Greece. Then Cadyriath son of Saidi asked that a truce be given to Osla Gyllellfawr for a fortnight and a month; and that mules which had brought the tribute be given to the poets, along with what was on them, as a reward for waiting; and that during the truce they should be given payment for their singing. And that was agreed.xlvii
Here, perhaps more clearly than anywhere else in the tale, the satirical intention is explicitly revealed. Cadyriath, whose name means ‘Fine Speech’, is presented as a connoisseur of the praise poetry of the bards – poetry no-one other than himself can understand! This is a fairly unambiguous judgement on the work of the gogynfeirdd, the poets of the princes, whose style rapidly fell out of favour after 1282, to be replaced by the more unadorned and vital style of the cywydd poets, whose patrons were the uchelwyr or gentry of the post-independence period.
Most obviously, in the passage above, Cadyriaith and the bardic tradition of which he was a part, are presented as both abstruse and self-serving. The gogynfeirdd style – as has been noted by even its most generous editors – is indeed characterised by archaisms, impenetrable syntax and obscure allusions to traditional lore. In an earlier period, this may have created an impression of depth and grandeur; but it can be seen by what followed in Welsh poetic history that appetite for the archaic and the opaque was rapidly diminishing in the post-conquest years. Perhaps audiences had lost the ability to decode this poetic register, in the way that even a fairly educated audience today might struggle with the language of Spenser’s Faerie Queen. The gogynfeirdd recital had become a hollow occasion, and the author of the Dream was calling time on the charade.
As well as the obscurity of their art, this passage draws attention to the cynical self-promotion the bardic orders. The mercenary aspect to the bardic art was of course not unknown. Posidonius had been amused by the Gaulish bard's gushing tribute to the chieftain Lovernios, which included the image of gold emerging from the tracks of the great man's chariot. Gildas was rather more blunt, describing the bardic poets, not entirely unfairly, as paristores venerata ‘flattering parasites’. One does not have to look far through the surviving corpus of the gogynfeirdd poetry to find loaded references to the patron’s generosity, suggestively intertwined with references to his potency as a warrior and a leader of men. All this would be little more than a harmless (if rather crude) manipulation of the royal ego, were it not for the fact that the bard also wielded political influence as a result – as was illustrated by this final episode of the Dream. Cadyriaith is included among Arthur’s chief counsellors, and as such was accorded decision-making power. As well as commending the truce with Osla (this geo-political development is noted almost parenthetically), Cadyriaith was also able to appropriate the tribute that had been sent to the king, distributing this booty amongst his bardic colleagues, and receiving great praise for doing so.
But more was at stake here than poetic style or pecuniary licence. The gogynfeirdd belonged to a tradition that stretched back to the hengerdd and beyond. It embraced six centuries or more of poetic tradition, as well as the distinctive narrative style and historiography that we find captured in prose in the Mabinogion tales and the Triadic indexes. It reflected a way of life – that of the independent princes and their court communities. It is, in a sense, at this point that the text reveals its true purpose, which could be read as a rejection not just of the bards, but also of their ideological narratives (the Mabinogion tales) and thus of the entire cultural system of the courts of the princes.
It is in this light that we might interpret the sentiment that lies behind the much-discussed colophon of the Dream, which seems to proclaim its own superiority to the oral culture of the earlier middle ages:
And this story is called the Dream of Rhonabwy. This is why no one knows the dream – neither poet [bard] nor storyteller [cyfarwydd] – without a book, because of the number of colours on the horses, and the many unusual colours on the armour and their trappings, and on the precious mantles and the magic stones.xlviii
By the later middle ages, it was questionable to what extent the oral cyfarwyddyd would have survived as a living tradition, as it had been when texts like the Four Branches or Culhwch ac Olwen were composed. But was not the cyfarwyddyd itself that was being satirised here, but rather the increasingly ossified literary culture that emerged from it during the central middle ages. Numerous examples have been noted where the text appears to satirise ‘the late Mabinogion style’, with its extended personal descriptions and unwieldy narrative structure. One is left with the impression that there were two particular exemplars of this style that the author had in mind when composing the Dream.
The first of these was that bloated monster of a Romance: Peredur ap Efrawg. This was characterised by narrative structure which exposed the worst excesses of native Welsh storytelling at its most excitably prolific and digressive. While, as I have argued elsewhere, there s considerable artistic merit in this literary equivalent of a gothic cathedral – it nonetheless represented only too well what it was that made native narrative prose diverge from the Continental models that were increasingly emulated in late medieval Wales. Albeit in a highly abbreviated form, the ‘anti-narrative’ that is the Dream of Rhonabwy cleverly embodies this native instinct for digressio, and subsequent departure from anything approaching the structure and proportion of the Aristotelian narrative paradigm.
But perhaps more than the structure of Peredur, it is the style and atmosphere of Breudwyt Macsen that is recalled most distinctively in this literary parody. Of all the late Mabinogion tales, this neo-Galfredian Romano-British tractate has always struck me as the most overblown, lifeless and stilted. The extended personal descriptions of Eudaf Hen and his daughter Elen have all the grandeur but none of the joie de vivre of the equivalent vignettes in Culhwch ac Olwen. The distinctive trope of the gwyddbwyll game also appears in Macsen, as we have seen, but with none of the brawling humour of its appearance in Peredur. The ironic self-depreciation expressed through the treatment of their main protagonists – a key redeeming feature of Welsh traditional narrative – is present only as an afterthought in Macsen. The end result is a text that feels as if it takes itself rather too seriously, and represents the Mabinogion in a state of stylised over-ripeness.
Various authorities have suggested that the dream-motif itself was a target for ridicule, and not just that of the Welsh tradition either. It may well have been the case that the author was taking a side-swipe at what seems to have been a fashionable topos in the late medieval literatures of England and France. In an influential essay, Dafydd Glyn Jones represents the Dream as a parody of the medieval dream vision which delights in a systematic violation of the all the rules of that genre. xlixactual dream it is – and how, in precisely the same way, it differs from the literary dream:
I do not know of any other medieval dream vision which resembles a genuine dream – at least my dreams. For all the vaunted psychological accuracy of Chaucer’s dream visions, for instance, my dreams are never like them. My dreams do not project complete narratives with Aristotelian beginnings, middles and endings. Maybe this failure is a personal deficiency, but, from what I can tell, most people dream in mostly disjointed narrative fragments with many delays or digressions from whatever natural denouements a narrative fragment may be heading towards. l
It is precisely this quality, of course, that also characterises a number of other traditional Welsh narrative. One has to marvel at the double-edged adroitness through which the Dream succeeds in lampooning the late Mabinogion style by exaggerating what it was, while simultaneously ridiculing the dream-vision by exposing what it was not. But this late medieval observation of the (genuinely) dream-like qualities the Mabinogion text, among other things, offers a significant hermeneutic point of entry. The ‘text as dream’ equation is a useful one for scholars of the Mabinogion, not least given the aforementioned multiplicity of purpose and authorial intention that so often seems to characterise its literary products.
To give an example of this, we might recall that a number of apparently different agendas were being simultaneously pursued in the Four Branches of the Mabinogi. It was, at one and the same time, both comic and serious, narrative entertainment and traditional history. On one hand the author was apparently attempting a synthesis of received tradition. At the same time, he also appears to have been attempting to use this material in a very specific way to construct a typological commentary on the political present. The towering figure of Bendigeidfran appears to echo (or foreshadow) the great Angevin king Henry II (who, elsewhere in the text, was also prefigured in the person of Casswallon). Yet aspects of Bendigeidfran’s situation – his dynasitic context and final demise – which also seem to recall the career of the eleventh-century Gruffydd ap Llywelyn.li This process of doubling and merging of identities closely resembles the Freudian mechanisms of condensation and over-determinationlii , and reflects a formative principle we find at work so many different levels of the medieval Welsh traditional tale. But more important here perhaps is the underlying sense of a parallelism between past and present, an expectation that mythical history informed contemporary politics and vice versa, that was so instrumental to the reception of such texts in Medieval Wales – even where satire or parody was evidently part of the authorial intention.
A cyclic view of time can be seen most clearly in the semantic field that developed around the word brut (pl. brutiau). Derived from the Welsh rendition of Brutus, the eponymous founder of Britain in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s legend – the word was generalised to mean ‘history’ or ‘chronicle’, as in Brut y Twysogion (a continuation of the original Brut y Brenhinedd). However, by the fourteenth century brut had also acquired the secondary meaning ‘prophesy’. It was in this spirit that at least some late medieval readers of the Dream might have sought oracular significance in this Arthurian vision – pertaining not only to their own times, but also indicating the shape of things to come. Literature of this kind assumed the existence of recurring patterns – perennial fault-lines in the geopolitical landscape. Thus, it would come as no surprise that the rivalry between Arthur and Owain had parallels in the twelfth-century opposition between Madog and Owain Gwynedd; while at the same time it would be perfectly possible to read the Arthur figure as an precursor of Llywelyn Fawr (with King John in the role of Osla Cyllellawr). Neither would this rule out Carson’s suggestion that it would have had further resonance in the time of Owain Glyndwr:
It seems to me that the wisdom yielded by [Rhonabwy’s] dream is the awareness of the bitter futility of brother being at odds with brother. Within the dream, this is the realization which, according to Iddawg’s account, might have prevented the battle of Camlan; it would have served to temper the positions represented by Owein and Arthur in the game of gwyddbwyll; and within the context of the tale, it serves as an appropriate message for both Madawg and Iorwerth…When we look beyond the tale to the late fourteenth century in which it was written – when the country was divided and personal hostilities ran so high that even the colourful figure of Owain Glyndwr was not entirely successful as a catalyst, it becomes clear that for the first audiences of The Dream of Rhonabwy the story brought a message that might well strike home.liii
The genius of the brut or Mabinogion chwedl was that it could be so many things to so many men. Like a dream, it expressed ‘a meeting point of many different trains of thought’. It was polycausal in origin, and overdetermined in significance. It arose through a complex interaction of tradition, inspiration and patronage and thus expressed a characteristically human blend of values and motivations. It could combine the most evolved humanist insights with the most self-serving dynasty propaganda. With such multiplicity of purpose, we should not be alarmed or confused to find a piece of work like the Dream of Rhonabwy – simulaneously expressing both a perfect execution of a brut in the Late Mabinogion style, and a ruthless parody of this literary form which expressed the social world of the Age of the Llywelyns.
iThis possibility is considered by Catherine McKenna ‘What dreams may come must give us pause’ Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies 58 (Winter 2008) pp.70-99
iiThe Mabinogion (2007) tr. Sionedd Davies p.214
iii‘The Structure and Meaning of The Dream of Rhonabwy’ J. Angela Carson Philological Quartlery 53 (1974) pp.292-294.
ivThe Mabinogion (2007) tr. Davies p.214-215
v ibid. p.276
vi ibid. p.215
vii op. cit. n.i.
viii trans. Gantz, Early Irish Myths and Sagas (1981) p.65
ix History of the Kings of Britain trans. Lewis Thorpe (1966) p.65
x trans. William Stahl Macrobius – Commetary on the Dream of Scipio (1952) p.88
xi trans. Lewis Thorpe The Journey through Wales and The Description of Wales (1978) p.170
xii Mckenna, op. cit. p.83
xiii The Mabinogion (2007) p.215
xiv ibid. p.241-215
xv ‘Traddodiad a Dychan yn Breuddwyd Rhonabwy’ Llen Cymru 13 (1980-1981)
xvi ‘The Date of the “Dream of Rhonabwy” Transactions of the Honourable Society of the Cymmrodorion (1958) pp.33-40
xvii The Mabinogion (2007) p.216
xviii ‘The Fabula, Story and Text of Breuddwyd Rhonabwy’ Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies 18 (1989)
xix ibid. p.96
xx The Mabinogion (2007) p.217
xxii ibid. p.218
xxiii Carson, op. cit. (niii) p.297
xxiv Both of these figures are of course linked to the mythical poet Taliesin: Addaon (known in TYP as one the ‘three bull-spirits of the Island of Britain’) was his son; Elphin his patron, at whose court he was reared after being discovered in a hide-covered basket in the weir. We might compare this generational concertina with the process which saw Pryderi’s foster-father, Pendaran Dyfed, rather anachronously installed as a ‘young lad’ (gwas ieuanc) to the Seven Stewards of Britain towards the end of the Second Branch.
xxv The critic was Clifton Fadiman, quoted by Slotkin (op cit.) on p.98
xxvi The Mabinogion (2007) p.219
xxvii ibid. p.220
xxviii ibid. p.220-221
xxix ibid. p.222
xxx ibid. p.224
xxxi Carson, op cit pp.300-301
xxxii trans. J.Clancey The Earliest Welsh Poetry (1970) p.145
xxxiii Giffen, op cit. n.xvi p.38-39
xxxiv Carson, op. cit. p.300
xxxv The Welsh name for Snowdonia, Eyri, means “Nest of Eagles”, and there are other signs that this bird had totemic significance for this part of Wales. We might recall the heirophanic image of the eagle in the oak which occurs at the denouement of the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi. The eagle here is placed in binary opposition with the pig, representing the Ancient South.
xxxvi Carson, op. cit. p.298
xxxvii Bob Brier Ancient Egyptian Magic (1981) pp.51-52
xxxviii Quoted by Rees and Rees Celtic Heritage p.155
xxxix Early Irish Myths and Sagas trans. Gantz (1981) pp.117-118
xl The Mabinogion (2007) p.100
xli ibid p. 104, 107
xlii Slotkin, op. cit p.107
xliii ‘Cyd-destun Gwyleidyddol Breudwyt Ronabwy’ Llên Cymru 22 (1999) pp.42-56
xliv Breudwyt Ronabwy (1948) p.46
xlv Fulton, op cit. p.47-50
xlvi The Mabinogion (2007) p.225
xlvii ibid p.225-226
xlviii ibid p.226
xlix ‘Breuddwyd Rhonabwy’ in Y Traddodiad Rhyddiaith yn yr Oesau Canol (1974)
l Slotkin, op. cit. p.94
li The Bendigeidfran:Henry II parallel was first suggested by Saunders Lewis (Meistri'r canrifoedd, 1973, p.13). My own work, The Four Branches of the Mabinogi (2005), explores this and other possible typologies within the late-twelfth century text. The Bendigeidfran-Gruffydd parallel is discussed on pp. 362 ff., 373,432, 597, 607 of this book.
lii Freud distinguishes between the ‘dream-content’ (the manifest elements of the dream itself) and ‘dream-thoughts (the underlying thoughts and emotions which trigger these representations). From The Interpretation of Dreams (1997 edition) “Not only are the elements of the dream determined several times over by the dream thoughts, but the individual dream thoughts are represented several times in the dream by several elements.”
liii Carson, op cit. p.303