The Mythology of All Races/Celtic Mythology/Chapter 14



NENNIUS, writing in the ninth century, is the first to mention Arthur.1 This hero is dux bellorum, waging war against the Saxons along with kings who had twelve times chosen him as chief; and twelve successful battles were fought, the last at Mount Badon, where Arthur alone killed over nine hundred men. Gildas (sixth century), however, refers to this struggle without mentioning Arthur's name.2 In one of these conflicts Arthur carried an image of the Virgin on his shoulder, or a cross made at Jerusalem; and the Mirabilia added by a later hand to Nennius's History state that Arthur and his dog Caball (or Cavall) hunted the Porcus Troit, the dog leaving the mark of its foot on a stone near Builth. Nennius himself gives a simple, possibly semi-historical, account of Arthur; and the Annales Camhriae (tenth century) say that Arthur with his nephew and enemy Medraut (Mordred) fell at Camlan.

Geoffrey of Monmouth (1100–54), who reports the Arthurian legend as it was known in South Wales, states that Uther Pendragon, King of Britain, loved Igerna, wife of Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall; but for safety Gorlois shut her up in Tintagel. Merlin now came to Uther's help and by "medicines" gave him Gorlois's form, and his confidant Ulfin that of the Duke's friend, while Merlin himself took another guise, so that Uther thus gained access to Igerna. News of Gorlois's death arrived, and the messengers marvelled to see him at Tintagel; but Uther disclosed himself and presently married Igerna, who bore him Arthur and a daughter Anne, the former becoming king at Uther's death. His exploits against Saxons are related and how he carried his shield Pridwen, with a picture of the Virgin, and his sword Cahburnus, which was made in the Isle of Avalon. His conquests extended to Ireland, Iceland, Gothland, the Orkneys, Norway, and Gaul; his coronation and his court are described, and how he resolved to conquer Rome. On the way he slew a giant who had abducted to St. Michael's Mount Helena, niece of Duke Hoel, and had challenged Arthur to fight after his refusal to send him his beard, which was to have the chief place in a fur made by the giant from the beards of other kings. This monster was greater than the giant Ritho, whom Arthur had fought on Mount Aravius. After conquering the Romans, Arthur heard how his nephew Mordred had usurped the throne, while Queen Guanhumara (Gwenhwyfar, Guinevere) had married him. Arthur returned and vanquished Mordred, but was mortally wounded and carried to Avalon, resigning the crown to Constantine, while Guanhumara entered a nunnery.3

Geoffrey obtained some information from a book in the British tongue, and some from Walter, Archdeacon of Oxford; besides which he must also have incorporated floating traditions, to which William of Malmesbury (ob. 1142) refers as "idle tales." The narrative has a mythical aspect and is embellished after the manner of the time. Arthur's widespread conquests and his fights with giants resemble Fionn's, while his birth of a father who changed his form recalls that of Mongan, son of Manannan, who did the same,4 whence Uther may be a Brythonic god, and Arthur a semi-divine hero like Mongan or Cuchulainn. Fionn, who in one account was a reincarnation of Mongan, was betrayed by his wife Grainne and his nephew Diarmaid,5 Arthur by his wife and nephew; and as Mongan went to Elysium, so Arthur went to Avalon. Geoffrey, as well as all existing native Welsh story, knows nothing of the Grail or of the Round Table, which first appears in Wace's Brut, completed in 1155.

Three questions now arise. Was there a historic Arthur on whom myths of a fabulous personage were fathered? Is Geoffrey in part rationalizing and amplifying in chivalric fashion an existing mythic story of Arthur? Does he omit some existing traditions of Arthur? These questions are probably to be answered in the affirmative. If the name "Arthur" is from Latin Artorius,6 it must have been introduced into Britain in Roman times; and hence the mythic Arthur need not have been so called unless the whole myth post-dates the possibly historic sixth century Arthur. If, moreover, the Latin derivation is correct, the supposed source in a hypothetical Celtic artor ("ploughman" or "one who harnesses for the plough") falls to the ground. Had the mythic personality a name resembling Artorlus? That is possible, and there was a Celtic god Artalos, who was equated with Mercury in Gaul. Artalos may be akin to Artio, the name of a beargoddess, from artos ("bear"), although Rhys connects It with words associated with ploughing, e. g. Welsh âr ("ploughland").7 Artalos would then be equivalent to Mercurius cultor; but the connexion of Artalos and Arthur is problematical.

In any case the story of Arthur is largely mythic, like that of Cúchulainn or of Flonn. Nennius appears to know a more or less historic Arthur; but If there was a mythic Arthursaga in his time, why does he not allude to It? Did the "ancient traditions" to which he had access not know this mythic hero, or was he not interested in this aspect of his "magnanimous Arthur?" Still more curious is it that neither Gildas nor Bede refers to Arthur. Geoffrey's narrative became popular and Is the basis of Wace's Brut, where the Round Table appears as made by Arthur to prevent quarrels about precedence, and it Is said that the Britons had many tales about it. Layamon {c. 1200), on the other hand, states that It was made by a cunning workman and seated sixteen hundred,



The bear-goddess (see p. 124) feeds a bear. The inscription states that "Licinia Sabinilla (dedicated this) to the goddess Artio," and the box pedestal has a slit through which to drop offerings of coins. Found at Berne ("Bear-City"), which still preserves a trace of the ancient Celtic cult in its famous den of bears. Cf. Plate II, 10.

while in the Romances it was made by Merlin. Layamon also declares that three ladies prophesied at Arthur's birth regarding his future greatness—the three Matres or Fées of Celtic belief, found also in other mythologies. Yet before Geoffrey's time Arthur was known in Brittany, whither Britons had fled from the Saxons; and there the Normans learned of the saga, which they carried to Italy before 1100 a. d., so that Alanus ab Insulis (ob. c. 1200) says that in his time resentment would have been aroused in Brittany by the denial of Arthur's expected return.

Among the Welsh romantic tales about Arthur the chief is that of Kulhwch and Olzuen,8 where he and his warriors, some of whom have magic powers, aid Kulhwch in different quests. The story, which antedates Geoffrey, and proves that an Arthurian legend existed before his time, is based on the folk-tale formula of a woman's hatred to her step-son. She bade Kulhwch seek as his wife Olwen, daughter of Yspaddaden Penkawr, whose eyelids, like Balor's, must be raised by his servitors, though he is not said to possess an evil eye. The quest was difficult, and when Kulhwch found Yspaddaden's castle, he learned that many suitors for Olwen had been slain, for Yspaddaden would die when she married—a variant of the theme of the separable soul.9 Yspaddaden set Kulhwch many tasks, some of them connected with each other, and in many of these his cousin Arthur assisted him. Among them is the capture of the Twrch Trwyth (Nennius's Porcus Troit), on account of the scissors, comb, and razors between its ears, which Yspaddaden desired. This boar was a knight transformed by God for his sins, and to capture it the aid of Mabon, son of Modron, must be obtained. First, however, his prison must be found, for he had been stolen on the third night after his birth, and none knew where he was. With the help of various animals his place of bondage was discovered, and he was released by Arthur, whose aid, with that of others, Yspaddaden had said that Kulhwch would never obtain. Arthur now collected an army for the chase of the boar, and this pursuit recalls many stories of Fionn. A great combat with it took place, and after Arthur had fought it for nine days and nights without being able to kill it, he sent to it and its pigs Gwrhyr Gwalstawt in the form of a bird to invite one of them to speak with him. The invitation was refused, however, and accordingly Arthur, with his dog Cavall and a host of heroes, hunted the boar from place to place. Many were slain, but at last the boar was seized, and the razor and scissors were taken. Nevertheless, before the comb could be obtained, the boar fled to Kernyu (Cornwall), where it was captured; although all that had happened previously was merely a game compared with the taking of the comb. The boar was now chased into the sea, and Arthur went north to obtain the blood of the sorceress Gorddu on the confines of hell, another of the things required by Yspaddaden. Arthur slew Gorddu, and Kaw of Prydein (Pictland) collected her blood, which, with the other marvellous objects, was taken to Yspaddaden, who was now slain.

In this story Kulhwch comes to Arthur's court, which is attended by many warriors and supernatural personages, some of whose names (e. g. Conchobar, Cúroi) recur in the Romances or are taken from other parts of Brythonic as well as Irish traditions. The gate was shut while feasting went on, save to a king's son or to the master of an art—an incident recalling the approach of Lug, "master of many arts," to the abode of the Tuatha Dé Danann before the battle of MagTured10—all others being entertained outside with food, music, and a bedfellow. Among the personages of this tale who recur in the Romances are Kel, Bedwyr (Bedivere), Gwalchmei (Gawain), and Gwenhwyfar; characters from the Mabinogion or other tales are Manawyddan, Morvran, Teyrnon, Tahesin, and Creidylad, daughter of Lludd. Mabon, son of Modron, is the Maponos of British and Gaulish inscriptions, where he is equated with Apollo; and his mother's name



The boar appears as a worshipful animal on Gaulish coins (see Plate III, 1, 3, 6), and there was a Gallic boar-deity, Moccus (p. 124). It also plays a róle in Irish saga (pp. 124–27, 172) and in the Welsh story of the Twrch Trwyth (or Porcus Troit) (pp. 108, 125, 187–88). Bronze figures found at Hounslow, Middlesex.

is equivalent to that of the goddesses called Matronae (akin to the Matres), whose designation appears in that of the Marne. Mabon means "a youth," and Maponos "the great (or divine) youth," whence he must have been a youthful god. His immortality is suggested by the fact that he had been in prison so long that animals which had attained fabulous ages had no knowledge of him, and only a salmon, older than any of them, knew where his prison was. It carried Kei and Gwrhyr thither on its shoulders, and when Arthur attacked the stronghold, it supported Kei and Bedwyr, who made a breach in the wall and released the captive. Mabon rode a horse swifter than the waves, and he is called "the swift" in the Stanzas of the Graves. The chase of the boar could not take place without him, and he followed it into the Bristol Channel, where he took the razor from it. Reference is made to Mabon's imprisonment in a Triad; and he and Gweir, whose prison is mentioned in a Taliesin poem about Arthur and his men, with LJyr Lledyeith, were the three notable prisoners. Yet there was one still more notable—Arthur, who was three nights in prison in Caer Oeth and Anoeth, three nights in prison by Gwenn Pendragon, and three nights in an enchanted prison under Llech Echymeint; but Goreu, his cousin, delivered him.11

Other mythical or magic-wielding personages in Kulhwch are the following. Gwrhyr, who could speak with birds and animals, transformed himself into a bird in order to speak to the boar; and Menw also took that shape and sought to remove one of the boar's treasures, when it hurt him with its venom. He could also make Arthur and his men invisible, though they could see other men. Morvran, son of Tegid Voel, seemed a demon, covered with hair like a stag; none struck him at the battle of Camlan on account of his ugliness, just as none struck Sandde Bryd-angel because of his beauty. Sgilti Light-Foot could march on the ends of tree-branches, and so light was he that the grass never bent under him. Drem saw the gnat rise with the sun from Kelliwic in Cornwall to Pen Blathaon in Scotland. Under Gwadyn Ossol's feet the highest mountain became a plain, and Sol could hold himself all day on one foot. Gwadyn Odyeith made as many sparks from the sole of his foot as when white-hot iron strikes a solid object; he cleared the way of all obstacles before Arthur and his men. Gwevyl, when sad, let one of his lips fall to his stomach, while the other made a hood over his head; and Ychdryt Varyvdraws projected his beard above the beams of Arthur's hall. Yskyrdaw and Yseudydd, servants of Gwenhwyfar, had feet as rapid as their thoughts; and Klust, interred a hundred cubits underground, could hear the ant leave its nest fifty miles away. Medyr could pass through the legs of a wren in the twinkling of an eye from Cornwall to Esgeir Oervel in Ireland; Gwiawn could remove with one stroke a speck from the eye of a midge without injuring it; Ol found the track of swine stolen seven years before his birth. Many of these invaluable personages have parallels in Celtic as well as other folk-tales, and are the clever companions of the hero, who execute tasks impossible to himself.12

In the Dream of Rhonahwy the hero had a vision of the knightly court of Arthur, different from that in Kulhwch, and found himself transported thither. Arthur had mighty armies, and he and others were of gigantic size, while his mantle rendered the wearer invisible. The story describes Arthur's game at chess with Owein, and how Owein's crows were first ill-treated and then killed their tormentors. These crows are frequently mentioned in Welsh poetry, and Arthur is said to have feared them and their master. In this tale we also hear of Iddawc (mentioned in the Triads), whose horse, on exhaling its breath, blows far off those whom he pursues, and as it respires, it draws them to him. He was an intermediary between Arthur and Mordred at Camlan, sent with gracious words from Arthur, reminding Mordred how he had nurtured him and desiring to make peace; but Iddawc altered these messages to threats and thus caused the battle. Arthur's court appears again In The Lady of the Fountain, a Welsh tale which is the equivalent of Chrétien's Yvain (twelfth century), but here again the conception of it is far more knightly and romantic than in Kulhwch. The supernatural in this story, whether Celtic or not, is found, e. g., in the one-eyed black giant with one foot and an iron club, who guards a forest in which wild animals feed. He tells Kynon to throw a bowlful of water on a slab by a fountain, when a storm will burst, followed by the music of birds, and a black-armoured knight will appear and fight with Kynon. In these two tales the following personages known to Welsh literature and the Romances appear—Mordred, Caradawc, Llyr, Nudd, Mabon, Peredur, Llacheu, Kei, Gwalchmei, Owein, March son of Meirchion (Mark, King of Cornwall), and Gwchyvar.

In the early Welsh poems there are many references to Arthur and his circle, as when, in the Black Book of Caermarthen (twelfth century), one poem, telling of Arthur's expedition to the north, mentions Kei, whose sword was unerring in his hand, Bedwyr the Accomplished, Mabon, Manawyddan, "deep was his counsel," and Llacheu, Arthur's son. Kei pierced nine witches, probably the nine witches of Gloucester mentioned in Peredur, while Arthur fought with a witch and clove the Paluc Cat. A Triad declares that this creature was born of a pig hunted by Arthur, because it was prophesied that the isle would suffer from its litter; and although Coll, its guardian, threw the cat into the Menai Strait, Paluc's children found it and nourished it until it became one of the three plagues of Mon (Anglesey). This demon cat, which should be compared with those fought by Cuchulainn, recurs in Merlin, but is then located on the continent. In this poem Arthur is also said to have distributed gifts.13 Llacheu figures in another poem, which tells of his death, as "marvellous in song," and he is mentioned there with Bran, Gwyn, and Creidylad.14 The Stanzas of the Graves refer to the graves of Gwythur, March, and Arthur, the latter's being anoeth bid ("the object of a difficult search"); and Arthur's horse Cavall, not his dog Cavall or Caball (as in Nennius and Kulhwch, where Bedwyr held it in leash), is mentioned in another poem.

Arthur's expedition to Annwfn in Kulhwch, where Annwfn Is equivalent to hell, lying to the north, is paralleled by another in a Taliesin poem to which reference has already been made.15 Arthur and others went in his ship Prydwn (Prytwenn in Kulhwch, where it goes a long distance in the twinkling of an eye 16) over seas to Caer Sidi for the "spoils of Annwfn," including the magic cauldron of Penn Annwfn, and apparently to release Gweir, who had been lured there through the messenger of Pwyll and Pryderi. While Annwfn was spoiled, Gweir "grievously sang, and thenceforth till doom he remains a bard"; but the expedition was fatal to many who went on it, for "thrice Prydwn's freight" voyaged to Caer Sidi, but only seven returned.17 This recalls Cúchulainn's similar journey to Scáth for its cauldron and cows;18 and there is also a parallel in Kulwch, where one of the treasures desired of the hero by Yspaddaden is the cauldron of Diwrnach the Irishman, who refused it when Arthur sent for it. Arthur then sailed for Ireland in his ship, and Bedwyr seized the cauldron, placing it on the shoulders of Arthur's cauldronbearer, who brought it away full of money.19 Another treasure which Kulhwch had to obtain, but of which there is no further mention, is the basket of Gwyddneu, from which the whole world might eat according to their desire, this basket resembling Dagda's cauldron.20

The Guinevere incident in Geoffrey is differently rendered in Welsh tradition. A Triad says that the blow given her by Gwenhwyfach (her sister in Kulhwch) caused the battle of Camlan,21 and another Triad speaks of Medraut's drawing her from her royal seat at Kelliwic and giving her a blow, while he is also said to have outraged her. Medraut at the same time consumed all the food and drink, but Arthur retalitated by doing likewise at Medraut's court and leaving neither man nor beast alive. Medraut resembled Hir Erwn and Hir Atrym in Kulhwch, who wherever they went ate all provided for them and left the land bare;22 although another view of him is found in a Triad which speaks of the blow given him by Arthur as "an evil blow" and of himself as gentle, kindly, and fair. Guinevere seems to have had an ill character in Welsh tradition, a spiteful couplet speaking of her as "bad when young, worse later." 23 Her name means "white phantom or fée," from gwen ("white") and ''hwyvar, a word cognate with Irish siabur, siahhra ("phantom," "fairy"), the corresponding Irish name being Finnabair;24 and this seems to point to her divine aspect, just as Etain was called bé find ("white woman") by Midir. A Triad speaks of three Guineveres, all wives of Arthur, with different fathers; but Celtic myth loved triple forms, and the different Guineveres, Llyrs, Manawyddans, etc., may have been local forms of the same divinity.

The departure of the wounded Arthur to Avalon, though mentioned by Geoffrey, does not occur in native Welsh story; yet in other sources which refer to it there is probably to be found a Brythonic tradition on the subject. In the Vita Merlini attributed to Geoffrey, Avalon appears as Insula Pomorum, or "Isle of Apples," where the labour of cultivating the soil is unnecessary, so abundant is nature. Grapes and corn grow plentifully, and nine sisters, of whom Morgen is chief, and who can take the form of birds, bear rule there. These nine recall the nine maidens whose breath boiled the cauldron of Annwfn, and the bird sisters perhaps recur in the Perceval story where Perceval, attacked by black birds, kills one which turns to a beautiful woman whom the others bear away to Avalon.25 In another description the island lacks no good thing and is unvisited by enemies. Peace, concord, and eternal spring and flowers are there; its people are youthful; there is no old age, disease, or grief; all is happiness, and all things are in common. A regia virgo rules it, more beautiful than the lovely maidens who serve her; she healed Arthur when he was brought to the court of King Avallo and now they live together.26 Her name is Morgen, though elsewhere Morgen is Arthur's sister, and Giraldus Cambrensis calls her dea phantastica; while William of Malmesbury speaks of Avalloc (Avallo) as dwelling at Avalon with his daughters. How close is the resemblance of this island to the Irish Elysium must at once be seen. It is mainly a land of women; there is no toil, but plenty; no sickness nor death, but immortal youth; and the divine women there can take the form of birds like Fand, Liban, and others. They who visit Arthur find the place full of all delights, says the Vita Merlini; and if Arthur went to Avalon to his sister, he resembles Oisin who, in one account, went with his mother to Elysium.27 In the Didot Perceval Arthur declares that he will return, so that Britons expect him and have sometimes heard him hunting in the forest;28 and Layamon, who lived in a district where Brythonic tradition must have abounded, says also that Arthur, when wounded, announced his departure to the fairest of all maidens, Argante, Queen in Avalon, who would heal him, but that he would return. A boat appeared, in which were two women, who placed him in it; and now he dwells in Avalon with the fairest of elves, the fées or goddesses of other traditions, while Britons await his coming.29 In Malory the boat is full of queens, among them Morgen, Arthur's sister, and Nimue, the Lady of the Lake, "always friendly to Arthur."

From her had come the sword Excalibur, and her home was in a wonderful palace within a rock in a lake—an Elysium water-world. All this points to the interest taken in a hero by other-world beings.

The identification of Glastonbury with Avalon may be due to two influences. Glastonbury and its Tor were surrounded by marshes, which would cause it to be considered as an island; and probably, too, the Tor was a divine abode analogous to the síd, as the legend of Gwyn suggests. Some local myth would lead this "island" to be regarded as Elysium, while in Arthur's case it came to be called Avalon either because a local lord of Elysium was named Avallo, or because magic trees with apples (avall, "apple-tree"), like those of the Irish Elysium, were supposed to grow there. Glastonbury as a síd Elysium is supported by another early Arthur tradition; and one form of this had been transferred to Italy by the Normans, for Gervase of Tilbury speaks of a groom finding himself in a castle on Etna, wherein Arthur lay in bed, suffering from Mordred's wounds, which broke out afresh each year.30 More usually, however, the legend is that of Arthur and his knights waiting, like Fionn, in an enchanted sleep within a hill for the time when their services will be required, this story being attached to the Eildon Hills and other places.31

Welsh literature shows that at a period contemporary with Geoffrey, and in manuscripts perhaps going back to an earlier period, there was an Arthurian tradition in Wales which differed considerably from that of the historian and was much fuller. Arthur became a figure to whom floating myths and traditions might be attached and, like Fionn, he was a slayer of witches, monsters, and serpents, so that in the Life of St, Carannog a huge reptile which devastated the land was hunted and destroyed by him. It is certain that, before the great French poems of the Arthurian cycle were written, Arthur was popular both in Britain and in Brittany.32

The outburst of Arthurian romance proper, that of the Anglo-Norman writers, belongs to the end of the twelfth and the beginning of the thirteenth century, opening with the Lais of Marie de France and the Tristan, Erec, Chevalier de la Charette, and Conte del Graal of Chrestien de Troyes. Whence was its subject-matter drawn? Some hold that beyond the scanty facts related of the historic Arthur, all was taken from Armorican sources, popularized by conteurs there. These traditions, according to Zimmer, were originally Welsh, but were brought to Armorica by immigrants from Britain; but others, e.g. Gaston Paris and A. Nutt, find the sources in Welsh tradition and native Celtic tales, learned by Normans after the Conquest of England and passed thence to France, either directly or via Anglo-Norman poems. This is supported by the identity of episodes in the Romances with those of Irish sagas; and Miss Weston has adduced new evidence which indicates that in Wauchier's Perceval, the Elucidation, and the English Gawain poems "we have a precious survival of the earliest collected form of Arthurian romantic tradition."33 Wauchier de Denain refers to a certain Bleheris, of Welsh birth, whose patron was the Count of Poitiers, and to him he attributes the source of his narrative. Bleheris is probably the Blihis to whom the Elucidation refers as source of the Grail story, the Bledhericus described by Giraldus as famosus ille fabulator, and the Breri mentioned by an Anglo-Norman poet named Thomas, who wrote on Tristan about 1170.34 Arthurian romance is thus traced directly to Welsh sources through this writer, who certainly flourished not later than the beginning of the twelfth century.

Arthur and Arthur's court are a centre toward which or from which stories converge or issue, whence other personages are apt to be regarded as more interesting than he or to have a larger number of deeds attributed to them. Conchobar's court, with its heroes, where boys are brought up and go forth armed to their first adventures, suggests the primitive Celtic Arthurian court, unaltered by mediaeval chivalric ideas.35 In the Cúchulainn stories it is not so much Conchobar who is the chief figure as Cúchulainn, though he is always in the background, and in this Arthur in relation to Gawain, Perceval, and others corresponds to him. Arthur has little to do with the Grail, and new important personages, not necessarily of the early Celtic group, tend to be introduced.

Gawain was Arthur's nephew as úchulainn was Conchobar's, and the earlier presentation of him is more just than the later. "He never returned from a mission without having fulfilled it; he was the best of walkers and the best of horsemen," says Kulhwch; and according to the Triads, he had a golden tongue and was one of the best knights of Arthur's court for guests and strangers.36 He had a valuable steed Gringalet as Cúchulainn had two. His sword Escalibur (Latin Caliburnus), made in Avalon, was given him by Arthur, its first owner; and its Welsh name, Caledvwlch', seems identical with that of Cúchulainn's caladbolg, which was forged in the síd. One incident of Gawain's legend is his visit to an island castle where are many knights and maidens, who can never speak to each other, ruled by a mysterious lady allied with its magician chief, the captor of these knights and maidens; and he who goes there must remain always. Gawain reached it, guided by the lady, who met him at a fountain,37 a visit which suggests those of Bran, Connla, and Cúchulainn to Elysium (not the region of the dead) at the invitation of a goddess connected with its lord. Gawain was given up as dead, and this legend persisted, though he returned to Arthur. Probably, like Connla, he remained in Elysium, so that mediaeval tradition regarded him as living in fairy-land. In a second incident the other-world momentarily appears. Guinevere was abducted by Meléagant (Melwas) to a castle on an island whence no traveller returned. It was approached by a swordbridge and an under-water bridge, Lancelot crossing by the former, Gawain choosing the latter; and although in Chrestien's Le Chevalier de la Charette Lancelot rescues Guinevere, evidence exists which points to Gawain as the real hero of the adventure.38 A sword-bridge is otherwise unknown to Celtic myth; a realm reached by descending into water is known; and Gawain himself came to a palace under water, where he met with strange adventures.39 Possibly Gawain, like his brother Mordred, was lover of Guinevere, a situation to which Lancelot succeeded when he was later evolved. The question also arises whether Gawain and Mordred were Arthur's sons by his sister, wife of King Loth, as Malory asserts of Mordred.40 This is not impossible, just as one tradition made Cuchulainn son of Conchobar by his sister Dechtire. Gawain, in Miss Weston's opinion, is the earliest hero of the Grail, his position as such being emphasized by Wauchier, drawing on a version by Bleheris. Perceval next became the hero of the Quest, then Lancelot, and finally Galahad, who achieved it.

Among those who are known to Welsh literature and who appear in the Romances is Kei. His counsel was not to open the gate to Kulhwch, but Arthur said that courtesy must be shown; and he was one of those whose help Kulhwch demanded on entering. He passed for offspring of Kynyr Keinvarvawc, who told his wife that if her son took after him, his heart and hands would always be cold, and he would be obstinate; when he carried a burden, none would perceive him from behind or before, and none would support fire and water as long as he. Kei could breathe for nine days and nine nights under water and could remain that time without sleeping, while nothing could heal a blow of his sword. When he pleased, he could become as high as the highest tree; and when heavy rain fell, all that he held in his hand was dry above and below to the distance of a handbreadth, so great was his natural heat, which also served as fuel to his companions when they suffered most from cold.41 These characteristics recall those of Celtic saints, who remained dry in wet weather and could produce light from their hands, and also Cúchulainn's "distortion" and heat. Kei took an important part with Bedwyr in seeking Olwen for Kulhwch, Bedwyr seizing one of the poisoned javelins thrown at them by Yspaddaden; and he was also active in questing for the treasures and reached the castle of Gwrnach Gawr, where, as at the stronghold of Arthur and the Tuatha Dé Danann, none could enter but the master of an art. Kei proclaimed himself the best sword-polisher in the world and gained entrance by saying that he had a companion whom the porter would recognize because his spear-head would detach itself from the shaft, draw blood from the wind, and resume its place on the shaft. This was Bedwyr. Kei then killed Gwrnach with his own sword and carried it off, since the boar could be killed by it alone.42 Kei and Bedwyr discovered and aided in releasing Mabon, and obtained the leash made from the beard of DIUus Varvawc while he was living, which alone could hold the Little Dog of Greit; but Arthur sang a teasing verse about this and irritated Kei so much that peace between them was restored with difficulty. At the hunt of the boar Bedwyr held Arthur's dog Cavall in leash.43

In Kulhwvch, as in the Black Book of Caermarthen, Kei is not only a mighty warrior, fighting against a hundred, but also a great drinker, and his valour as well as his nobility and wisdom is sung in later poetry. In a curious dialogue between Arthur and Guinevere after her abduction she told him that Kei could vanquish a hundred, including Arthur, while she described Arthur as small compared with Kei the tall. Possibly Kei rather than Melwas was here Guinevere's ravisher.44 In Geoffrey, Kei is Arthur's sewer and received a province from him, while Bedwyr is butler and Duke of Normandy, and both assist Arthur in his adventures and are mentioned together.45 Kei is also sewer in the Welsh romances which show traces of Continental influence—Peredur, Olwen and Lunet—where, as in the Anglo-French romances, his boastful, quarrelsome nature appears. He is always ready to fight, yet always overthrown; and he is to the Arthur saga what Conan and Bricriu are to those of Fionn and Cúchulainn. Reference is made in Kulhwch to his death at the hands of Gwddawc, a deed revenged by Arthur, but in the Welsh Saint Graal Kei slew Arthur's son, Llacheu, and made war on Arthur.

Of Bedwyr Kulhwch says that he never hesitated to take part in any mission on which Kei was sent; none equalled him in running save Drych; though he had but one hand, three combatants did not make blood flow more quickly than he; and his lance, which produced one wound in entering, caused nine in retiring—i. e. it was studded with points turned back so that they caught the flesh on being withdrawn.46 In like manner Cúchulainn's gaí bolga inflicted thirty wounds when pulled out, and reference is frequently made to pointed spears of similar character. Bedwyr is praised in Welsh poetry and is the Sir Bedevere of the Romances. In Geoffrey he reconnoitred the hill where the giant was supposed to live and comforted the nurse of the dead woman abducted by him, and he is also said to have been slain by the Romans.47

Nennius relates that Vortigem's attempts to build a city mysteriously failed until his wise men said that he must obtain a child without a father and sprinkle the foundation with his blood—an instance of the well-known Foundation Sacrifice. This victim Is at last found because a companion is heard taunting him, as they play at ball, that he is "a boy without a father." His mother alleged that he had no mortal sire, and the child exposed the wise men's ignorance, by telling what would be discovered beneath the foundation—a pool, two vases, with a tent, and In It two serpents. One of these expelled the other, and all this Is explained as symbolic of the world, Vortigern's kingdom, the Britons, and the Saxon invaders. Giving his name as Ambrose (Embrels gwledig, or "prince") and saying that a Roman consul was his father, the boy obtained the place as a site for a citadel of his own, Dinas Emrys.48 Ambrosius Aurelianus the gwledig was a real person who fought the Saxons in the fifth century,49 and to his history these myths have been attached. In Geoffrey this boy is Merlin or Ambrosius Merlin, whose mother said that often a beautiful youth appeared, kissed her, and vanished, although afterward he sometimes spoke with her Invisibly and finally as a man slept with her, leaving her with child. One of Vortigern's wise men explained him as an incubus (the Celtic dusius). Merlin told how two dragons were asleep In two hollow stones, and when dug up, they fought, the red dragon finally being worsted; and he now uttered many tedious prophecies. that of the coming of Ambrosius as king. At a later time he advised Ambrosius, who wished to erect a memorial for native heroes, to send for the "Giants' Dance" to Ireland, whither African giants had carried it; and by Merlin's Ingenuity the stones, which had healing and magic virtues, were removed to Stonehenge. Geoffrey then recounts how Merlin transformed Uther so that he might gain access to Igerna.50

In Welsh literature Merlin or Myrddin is connected with the Britons of the north. Whether this Merlin is the same as Geoffrey's is uncertain, the former being called Merlin the Wild or Caledonius, but at all events the two are combined in later literature. He is a bard and prophet who fled frenzied to the Caledonian Forest after learning of his sister's son's death; and there he prophesied to his pig under an apple-tree and had a friend Chwimbian, the Viviane of romance. The later chroniclers and romantic accounts develop Merlin's magic, e. g. his shape-shifting, the removal of the stones here becoming supernatural; while his birth is ascribed to demoniac power, and but for his baptism he would have been a kind of Antichrist. He took the child Arthur; and when, as King, Arthur unwittingly had an amour with his sister, he appeared as a child and revealed the secret of the king's birth, after which, as an old man, he disclosed to Arthur how he had sinned with his sister in ignorance. In the Triads he and his nine bards went into the sea in a glass house, or he took with him the Treasures of Britain to the isle of Bardsey. In other accounts, however, his disappearance was caused by his fairy mistress's treachery, for she learned the secret of his magic power and how to imprison a man in a wall-less tower; in which she shut him up, visiting him daily, while it appeared to others as a "smoke of mist." Another version describes him as enclosed in a rocky grave, whence perhaps the phrase of a Welsh poem—"the man who speaks from the grave"—and in yet another tradition he retires from the world in an Esplumeor, which he made himself.51

How much of all this is pure romance, how much is genuine Brythonic myth, is uncertain; and Merlin may be an old god degraded to a mere magician. Nennius and Geoffrey in their narratives suggest the well-known "Expulsion and Return" formula—the boy without a father, taunted when playing at ball, comes into favour because he shows why a castle cannot be built. This recalls Fionn's youth and how, overcoming the beings who destroyed a dún, he thus regained his heritage,52 Merlin's father was doubtless a god, but as "the son without a father" he recalls "the son of a sinless couple" in the story of Becuma, as well as Oengus, who was taunted with having no known father.^^ The incident of his disappearance of his own will suggests the legends of heroes sleeping in hills, just as his imprisonment by his mistress recalls that of Kronos in the British myth cited by Plutarch and the stories of mortals bound by the love of immortals to the other-world. While Merlin is connected with Arthur in Geoffrey and the Romances, he is not one of the throng around the hero in Kulhwch.

The debatable ground of the Grail romances cannot be discussed here in detail, especially as the episode did not enter into the earliest Perceval romances, of Welsh origin, and is lacking in the Welsh Peredur, written in full knowledge of the Perceval-Grail stories, and in the English Syr Percyvelle. Perceval probably succeeded Gawain as the hero of the Grail, to be superseded himself by Galahad. In Wauchier's continuation of Chrestien's Perceval Gawain rode beyond Arthur's kingdom through a waste land to a castle by the sea, where he saw a knight on a bier with a sword on his breast. A procession of clergy, singing the Vespers of the Dead, entered; and then followed a feast at which "a rich Grail" provided the food and served the guests, "upheld by none." Later Gawain saw a lance with a stream of blood flowing from it into a silver cup, and finally the King of the castle entered and bade Gawain fix the two halves of a broken sword together. Unable to do this, he failed in the Quest, but having asked about lance and sword, he learned that the lance was that by which Christ's side was pierced, while the sword was that of the Dolorous Stroke by which Logres and all the country was destroyed. Here Gawain fell asleep and next morning found himself on the shore, while the castle had vanished. Nevertheless the land was now fertile, because he had asked about the lance; had he asked about the Grail, it would have been fully restored.

In Chrestien's Perceval there is a procession with a sword, a lance from which a drop of blood runs down, the Grail, shining so as to put out the candles' light, and finally a maiden with a silver plate. The Grail is of gold and precious stones; but in other versions it is the dish or cup of the Last Supper, or a vessel in which Joseph received the Saviour's Blood, or a chalice, or a reliquary, or even something of no material substance, or a magic stone (Wolfram's Parzival). It provides food magically, with the taste which each one would desire, though sometimes it feeds those only who are not in sin. It gives perfume and light, heals the wounded, and, after the successful quest, removes barrenness from the land and cures its guardian or raises him from death. It prevents those who see it from being deceived or made to sin by devils, or it gives the seeker spiritual insight. In Peredur there is no Grail, but the hero sees a procession with a spear from which come three drops of blood, and a salver containing a head.

The Grail and its accompanying objects have a twofold aspect and source, pagan and Christian. The Grail and lance are associated with events of Christian history, but they have pagan Celtic parallels—the divine cauldron from which none goes unsatisfied and which restores the dead, the enchanted cup in tales of Fionn which heals or gives whatever taste is desired to him who drinks from it, and which is sometimes the object of a quest. The head in Peredur recalls Bran's head, the lance and sword the spear which slew him and the sword by which he was decapitated, as well as Lug's unconquerable spear, Nuada's irresistible sword, Manannan's magic sword, Tethra's talking sword. The Stone of Fal suggests the Grail as a stone, and it, like Dagda's cauldron and the spear and swords of Lug, Nuada, and Manannan, belonged to the Tuatha De Danann. The Grail, sword, and spear have affinity with these as much as with the Christian symbols. Yet no theory quite accounts for the assimilation of the two groups, and while the Grail has magic properties, we should remember that miraculous food-producing and healing of the sick were works of our Lord, which might easily be associated with objects connected with Him, as a result of the belief in relics. Failing the discovery of an early manuscript in which the actual sources of the Grail story may be found, much is open to conjecture.

A theory connected with the prevailing study of vegetation rituals sees in the objects and their effects survivals of Celtic ritual resembHng that of Adonis or Tammuz, its aim being the preservation of the fertility of the land.54 There is no evidence, however, that at such rituals a miraculous foodsupplying vessel had any part; such vessels belong to the domain of myth, and the story of the Grail has more the appearance of being derived from a myth which was possibly based on such rituals. It is in myth that magico-miraculous powers flourish, not in ritual; and such a myth could be Christianized. When, moreover, the theory makes the further assumption that the ritual was of the nature of a "mystery," there is again no evidence for this, for vegetation rituals are open to all in the fields, even where Christianity has been adopted. The theory, however, postulates a mystery-cult, with a plain and evident meaning for the folk—associated with powers of life and generation—and with other significations for the initiate—phallic, philosophic, spiritual. The story of this pagan mystery, which expressed three planes or worlds—"the triple mysteries of a life-cult"—was gradually Christianized by those ignorant of its meaning and was finally


Horned God

The deity, wearing a torque and pressing a bag from which escapes grain on which a bull and a stag feed, is supported by figures of Apollo and Mercury (cf. pp. 8-9). He may possibly be identical with Cernunnos, a deity of the underworld (Plate XVI). His attitude suggests the squatting god of Plates HI, 3, VHI, IX, and his cornucopia corresponds to the purse of the divinity of Plate IX, B, as well as to the cup held by Dispater (Plate XIV). For other gods of the underworld see Plates V, VII, XII, XIII, XXVI. From a Gallo-Roman altar found at Rheims.

worked up by Robert de Borron (twelfth century) in terms of a corresponding traditional esoteric Christian mystery. The procession with Grail, etc., was the presentation of the mystery, its meaning being divulged according to the degree of initiation; but though the quester is the initiate, yet he fails in his Quest.55 The present writer is wholly unable to believe that such mysteries and initiations existed among the barbarous Celts or that they survived until the early middle ages, or that lance and cup have a phallic significance—"life symbols of the lowest plane"—or that there was a traditional esoteric Christianity, save in the minds of cranks of all ages. Why, again, should a mystery known only to initiates have been the subject of a story .^ Were initiates likely to reveal it? To regard the Grail story from a phallic, occult point of view and to interpret it by means of a mystic jargon is to degrade it. If the modern occultist possesses a divine secret, the world does. not seem to be much the better for it; and such secrets are apt to be mere "gas and gaiters." The truth is that occultism renders squalid whatever it touches, be that Christianity, or Buddhism, or the romantic stories of the Grail.

In spite of the numerous and important characters who enter into the saga, Arthur is the central figure, the ideal hero of Brythonic tribes In the past, to whom leadership at home and abroad might be assigned, and whose presence in all battles might be asserted. Originating as a champion, real or mythical, of northern Brythons in southern Scotland, his legend passed with emigrants to Wales, where it became popular. Like Fionn among the Goidels, so Arthur among the Brythons was located in every district, as numerous place-names show; and if Fionn was at first a non-Celtic hero adopted by Goidels, so Arthur was a Brythonic hero adopted by Anglo-Normans as their truest romantic figure.56


Chapter XIV

  1. Historia Britonum, § 50.
  2. De excidio Britanniae, § 26.
  3. Historia regum Britanniae, viii. 19 ff.
  4. See supra, pp. 62–63.
  5. See supra, pp. 66–67.
  6. E. Anwyl, in ERE ii. i.
  7. Holder, s. vv. "Artaios," "Artos"; Rhŷs [c], p. 39 f.
  8. Loth, Mabinogion, i. 243 f.
  9. See supra, p. 181, on the king of Tír na nOg.
  10. See supra, pp. 28-29.
  11. Loth, Mabinogion, i. 256.
  12. Maclnness and Nutt, p. 53.
  13. Skene [a], i. 261 f., ii. 458; Loth, Mabinogion, i. 310.
  14. Skene [a], i. 295.
  15. See supra, p. iii.
  16. Loth, Mabinogion, i. 328, 337. In Geoffrey (ix. 4) Prytwenn is Arthur's shield.
  17. Skene [a], i. 265; J. G. Evans, Llyvyr Taliesin, p. 127.
  18. See supra, p. 151.
  19. Loth, Mabinogion, i. 307, 334.
  20. ib. i. 305; see also supra, pp. II2, 120.
  21. ib. i. 259, 269.
  22. ib. i. 278.
  23. ib. i. 260.
  24. Cf. supra, pp. 130–31, 154.
  25. Weston [f], ii. 205 f.
  26. Rhys [c], p. 335.
  27. See supra, pp. 180–81.
  28. Weston [f], ii. iii.
  29. Layamon, Brut, ed. F. Madden, ii. 144, 384.
  30. Otia Imperialia, ed. F. Liebrecht, p. 12.
  31. Stuart-Glennie [a]; Hartland [a], p. 207; Nutt [b], p. 198.
  32. Cf. E. Anwyl, in ERE ii. 5.
  33. Weston [f], i. 287.
  34. ib. i. 288 f., ii. 250, [e], p. 81 f.; Loth, Mabinogion, i. introd., p. 72-
  35. See Windisch, Táin, p. xxxix.
  36. Loth, Mabinogion, i. 288.
  37. Weston [a], p. 32 f.
  38. ib. ch. viii, [b], p. 46 f.
  39. F. Madden, Sir Gawayne, p. xxxii.
  40. Rhŷs [c], p. 21; Malory, Morte d'Arthur, i. 19.
  41. Loth, Mabinogion, i. 274, 286.
  42. ib. i. 286 f., 318 f.
  43. ib. i. 330, 338.
  44. Rhŷs [c], p. 59.
  45. Historia regum Britanniae, ix. ii, x. 3.
  46. Loth, Mabinogion, i. 286.
  47. Historia regum Britanniae, x. 3, 9.
  48. Historia Britojium, § 40 f.
  49. Gildas, De excidio Britanniae, § 25.
  50. Geoffrey, Historia regum Britanniae , vi. 17–viii. 20.
  51. Weston [f], ii. 112.
  52. See supra, p. 165.
  53. See supra, pp. 72, 52.
  54. Weston [g].
  55. Weston [f], i. 330 f., ii. 249 f.; cf. also [e], p. 75 f.
  56. K. Meyer, "Eine verschoUene Artursage," in Festschrift Ernst Windisch . . . dargehracht, Leipzig, 1914, pp. 63–67, believes that he has found allusions to Arthur in Irish literature.