Kestrel's Nest

Culhwch ac Olwen

The oldest Arthurian tale

Part Three
 
From the White Book of Rhydderch
and the Red Book of Hergest

 

 

The list of Anoethau86 - Culhwch is given his tasks.

Ysbaddaden Chief Giant said, 'Is it you that seeks my daughter?' 'It is I who seek her.' 'I wish a pledge from you that you may not do worse than is just with me.' 'You have it.' 'When I get what I shall specify to you, you will get my daughter.' 'Name what you wish.'

'I shall name it. Do you see the great thicket yonder?' 'I see it.' 'I want it to be uprooted from the earth and burnt on the face of the earth so that its charcoal and its ashes may be manure to it; and I want it to be ploughed and sowed so that it may be ripe in the morning by the time the dew is gone, so that it may be made into food and drink for your wedding guests and my daughter's. And all that I wish to be done in one day.'

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: A ploughman to till that land and that may not be done unless it is Amaethon son of Dn. 87 He will not come with you of his own will; you will not be able to force him.'

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: Gofannon son of Dn88 to come to the headland to set the iron. He will not work from his own will except for the rightful king; you will not be able to force him.'

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'89

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: The two oxen of Gwlwlydd Wineu, both yoked together to plough well the rough land yonder. He will not give them from his own will; you will not be able to force him.

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: I want the Melyn Gwanwyn and the Ych Brych90 both yoked together.

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: Two horned oxen, the one that is on the far side of Mynydd Bannawg and the other on this side, and bringing them together under the one plough.91 Those ones are Niniaw and Peibiaw, whom God transformed into oxen for their sins.92

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: Do you see the red tilled slope yonder?'

'I see it'

'When first I met the mother of that maiden nine hestors of flax seed were sown on it; neither black nor white has come from it yet, and I have that measure still.93 I wish that in the new land yonder, so that it may be a white head-dress for my daughter at your wedding feast.'

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: Honey that may be nine times sweeter than honey of the first swarm without drones, without bees, to make bragget for the feast.' 94

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: The Cup of Llwyr son of Llwyrion, the best drink is in it; since there is not a vessel in the world that may hold that strong drink except for it. You will not get it of his own will; you will not be able to force him.'

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: The Hamper of Gwyddno Garanhir: if each man in the world were to come around it in three nines at a time, the food that everyone might desire in his mind he would get from it.95 I wish to eat from that the night my daughter sleeps with you. He will not give it to anyone from his will; you will not be able to force him.'

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: The horn of Gwlgawd Gododdin to serve drink to me that night.96 He will not give it from his will; you will not be able to force him.'

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: The harp of Teirtu to entertain me that night.97 When a man might wish it, it plays by itself; when it was desired, it became silent. He will not give it from his will; you will not be able to force him.'

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: The Birds of Rhiannon that wake the dead and cause the living to sleep to entertain me that night.'98

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: The Cauldron of Diwrnach the Irishman, overseer of Odgar son of Aedd king of Ireland to boil the food of your wedding-guests.'99

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: I need to wash my hair and shave my beard. I desire the tusk of Ysgithyrwyn Chief of Boars to shave me.100 I will not be better from it unless it is removed from his head in life.'

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: There is none in the world that may draw it from his head except Odgar son of Aedd king of Ireland.'

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: I will not trust the keeping of the tusk to anyone except Caw of Pictland.101 Three score cantrefs of Pictland are under him. He will not come from his kingdom from his will; you will not be able to force him.'

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: I need to dress my beard to be shaved. It will never settle unless you get the blood of the Very Black Witch daughter of the Very White Witch from the Head of the Valley of Misery in the highlands of Hell.'

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: The blood will not be effective unless it is kept warm. There is not a vessel in the world that might keep the warmth of the liquid that may be placed in it except the bottles of Gwyddolwyn the Dwarf, which will keep their warmth when liquid is placed in them in the east until it comes to the west. He will not give them from his will; you will not be able to force him.'

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: Some will desire milk; there is no way to get milk to everyone until the bottles of Rhynnon the Stiff-bearded are obtained. No liquid ever sours in them. He will not give them to anyone from his will; you will not be able to force him.'

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: There is not in the world a comb and shears able to deal with my hair, because of its stiffness, except the comb and shears that are between the ears of Twrch Trwyth son of Taredd Wledig.102 He will not give them from his will; you will not be able to force him.'103

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: Twrch Trwyth will not be hunted until Drudwyn, the whelp of Greid son of Eri may be obtained.'

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: There is not in the world a leash that might hold him except the leash of Cors Hundred-claws.'

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: There is not a collar in the world that might hold the leash except the collar of Canhastyr Hundred-hands.'

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: The chain of Cilydd Hundred-holds to hold the collar together with the leash.'

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: There is not a huntsman in the world who can hunt with that dog, except Mabon son of Modron, who was taken when three nights old from his mother.104 It is not known where he is, nor what he is, either alive or dead.'

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: Gwyn Dark-mane, the horse of Gweddw - as swift as a wave is he - under Mabon to hunt Twrch Trwyth. He will not give it from his will; you will not be able to force him.'105

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: Mabon will never be got, it is not known where he is, until his kinsman Eiddoel son of Aer is got first, since he is tireless in seeking him. He is his cousin.'

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: Garselyd the Irishman, he is Chief Huntsman of Ireland. Twrch Trwyth will never be hunted without him.'

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: A leash from the beard of Dillus the Bearded,106 since nothing will hold these two whelps without it.107 You will not be able to use it unless it is plucked from his beard while he is alive, and it is plucked with wooden tweezers. No one will be able to do that to him while he lives. It will not be effective after death since it will be brittle.'

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: There is not a huntsman in the world will hold those two whelps except Cyneddyr the Wild son of Hetwn the Leprous.108 He is nine times wilder than the wildest wild beast in the mountain. You will never get him, and you will not get my daughter.'

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: Twrch Trwyth will not be hunted unless you get Gwyn son of Nudd in whom God placed the spirit of devils of Annwfn before they destroyed the world. He cannot be spared from there.'

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: There is not a horse that will avail Gwyn to hunt Twrch Trwyth, except Black the horse of Moro Oerfeddog.'

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: Until Gwilenhin king of France109 comes, Twrch Trwyth will never be hunted without him. It is improper for him to leave his kingdom, and he will never come here.'

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: Twrch Trwyth will never be hunted without getting the son of Alun Dyfed. He is a good unleasher.'

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: Twrch Trwyth will not be hunted until you get Aned and Aethlem. They are as swift as a gust of wind; they have never been unleashed on an animal they did not kill.'

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: Arthur and his huntsmen to hunt Twrch Trwyth. He is a powerful man and will not come with you. This is the cause, he is under my control.'110

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: Twrch Trwyth will never be hunted until you get Bwlch and Cyfwlch and Sefwlch, sons of Cilydd Cyfwlch, grandsons of Cleddyf Difwlch. Three shining whites their three shields, three pointed stabs their three spears, three keen carvers their three swords; Glas, Glesig, Gleissad their three dogs; Call, Cuall, Cafall their three horses; Hwyr Dyddwg and Drwg Dyddwg and Llwyr Dyddwg their three wives; Och and Garym and Diaspad their three witches; Lluched and Neued and Eisseywed their three daughters; Drwg and Gwaeth and Gwaethaf Oll their three maid-servants. 111 The three men sound their horns, and all the others come to shriek, so that no one cares if the sky should fall on the earth.'

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get: The sword of Wrnach the Giant.112 He can never be slain unless with it. He will not part with it to anyone either by sale or by gift; you will not be able to force him.'

'It is easy for me to get that, though you might not think it's easy.'

'Even though you may get that, there is something you will not get. Sleeplessness without rest at night you will get in seeking those things, and my daughter you will not get.'

'Horses I have and horsemen. And my lord and kinsman Arthur will get me all those. And your daughter I will get, and your life you will lose.'

'Set out at once. You will not be answerable for food nor raiment for my daughter. Seek those things. And when those are got, my daughter you will get.'

The Quest for the Anoethau - the sword of Wrnach the Giant.

They journeyed that day until evening, until a fort of mortared stone was seen, the greatest of forts in the world. Behold, they saw coming from the fort a black-haired man, bigger than three men of this world. They said to him, 'Whence come you, man?' 'From the fort that you see there.' 'Who owns the fort?' 'You are foolish men. There is none in the world who might not know who owns this fort. Wrnach the Giant owns it.' 'What custom is there to a guest and person from afar arriving in this fort?' 'Ah chieftain, may God protect you. Never came any guest from it with his life with him. No one is allowed in it save he who may bring his craft.'

They made their way to the gate. Gwrhyr Interpreter of Tongues said, 'Is there a porter?' 'There is. And as for you, may your head not be yours, why do you ask?'113 'Open the gate.' 'I will not open it.' 'For what reason will you not open it?' 'Knife has gone into meat and drink into horn, and a thronging in the hall of Wrnach. Except for a craftsman who may bring his craft, none enters.' Kei said, 'Porter, I have a craft.' 'What craft do you have?' 'I am the best furbisher of swords in the world.' 'I will go to tell that to Wrnach the Giant, and I will bring answer to you.'

The porter came inside. Wrnach the Giant said, 'You have news from the gate?' 'I have. There is a company at the entrance of the gate and they desired to come inside.' 'Did you ask if they had a craft?' 'I asked. And one of them said he was able to furbish swords.' 'I have need of that. It is a while I am seeking to polish my sword; I have not yet got it. Let that one inside, since he has a craft.'

The porter came and opened the gate, and Kei came inside by himself. And he greeted Wrnach the Giant. A chair was placed under him. Wrnach said, 'Well, man, is it true what was said of you, that you are able to furbish swords?' 'That I can do.' The sword was brought to him. Kei took a striped whetstone from under his armpit. 'What do you prefer on it, white-bladed or dark-bladed?'114 'That which you may prefer, as if it were yours, do on it.' He cleaned half of one side of its blade, and placed it in his hand, 'And does that please you?' 'I would prefer it to all my land if it were all like this. A shame it is that a man as good as you is without a companion.' 'Ho, noble sir, I have a companion though he might not practice this craft.' 'Who is that?' 'Let the porter go out and I will tell his tokens. The head of his spear will come from its shaft, and it will draw the blood from the wind, and will arrive again on its shaft.' The gate was opened and Bedwyr came inside. Kei said, 'Bedwyr is clever, although he may not practice this craft.'

And there was great debate between those men outside. Kei and Bedwyr came inside, and a young lad came inside together with them - the only son of Custennin the shepherd. This is what he did, and his companions kept close to him, as if it were no great thing to them, they went across the three baileys so that they came inside the fort. His companions said of the son of Custennin, 'He is the best of men.' From that forward he was called Goreu son of Custennin.115 They dispersed to their lodgings so they might set about killing their lodgers without the Giant knowing. The furbishing of the sword was finished and Kei placed it in the hand of Wrnach the Giant as it were to see if the work satisfied him. The Giant said, 'The work is good, I am satisfied with it.' Kei said, 'Your scabbard has damaged your sword. Give it to me to take out the wooden side pieces from it, that I might be able to make new ones for it.' And he took the scabbard from him, with the sword in his other hand. He came above the head of the Giant as if he might place the sword in the scabbard. He placed it in the head of the Giant and struck off the head by means of a violent blow. They laid waste the fort and took what they desired of jewels. On that same day at the end of the year they came116 to the court of Arthur, and the sword of Wrnach the Giant with them.

 

Notes:

(86) An anoeth is generally interpreted as a wonder or something difficult to find or obtain. The word appears rarely in Middle Welsh literature, the most important and earliest reference is in the last line of the 'Stanzas of the Graves' in the Black Book of Carmarthen, which reads anoeth bid bet y arthur, which has been interpreted as meaning 'a wonder of the world [is] the grave of Arthur', presumably because it doesn't exist. It is worth noting that all the anoethau concern the preparations for the wedding: veil, food, preparing Yspaddaden, etc. (back)

(87) Amaethon, who has the name and attributes of a divine ploughman, only appears here and in the poem 'Cad Goddau' in the Book of Taliesin. (See Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, ed. J. MacKillop (Oxford, 1998), p. 13) His name comes from British *Ambactonos, 'Divine Ploughman'. Cf. Modern Welsh amaethyddol, 'agricultural'. (back)

(88) Gofannon has the attributes of a divine smith. In the Fourth Branch there is a reference to his killing of his nephew Dylan. Medieval ploughs were mostly of wood except for the cutting edges of the share and coulter, which had to be set before use. (See Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, op. cit., p. 227 and Ffransis Payne, Yr Aradr Gymreig [The Welsh Plough] (Cardiff, 1975)). (back)

(89) At this point these formulae between the anoethau start to be abbreviated in the text, though it seems quite clear that the whole formula is intended to be read each time thus emphasizing the oral nature of the text. I have kept to the full formulae in each case to make this clear. (back)

(90) The 'Yellow Spring' and the 'Speckled Ox'. (back)

(91) According to Kenneth Jackson 'Bannog is a range of uplands . which almost entirely blocks the narrow neck-land of Scotland between Stirling and Dumbarton . the Bannock Burn . flows out into the Forth near Stirling'. (See The Oldest Scottish Poem: The Gododdin (Edinburgh, 1969), pp. 5-6, 78-9) Anything up to eight oxen could be used in a plough team. (See Ffransis Payne, Yr Aradr Gymreig [The Welsh Plough] (Cardiff, 1975)) (back)

(92) Nyniaw and Peibiaw were the sons of Erb, a king of Ergyng (Archenfield) in the 6th century. (See Rachel Bromwich and D. Simon Evans, Culhwch and Olwen (Cardiff, 1992), pp. 124-5) (back)

(93) According to Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru - University of Wales Dictionary a hestor is a dry measure equivalent to two bushels. It is also the name of a vessel that would measure that quantity. (back)

(94) Bragget was a drink made by fermenting honey and ale together. In modern times it is made by fermenting sugar, spices and ale. (back)

(95) The Hamper of Gwyddno is one of the Thirteen Treasures of Britain - Tri Thlws ar Ddeg Ynys Prydain (See Rachel Bromwich (ed.), Trioedd Ynys Prydein - The Triads of the Island of Britain (Cardiff, 2006), pp. 258-265). Gwyddno Garanhir (Long-shank) is a legendary figure associated with both the story of Taliesin and that of the drowning of Cantre'r Gwaelod. (See Trioedd Ynys Prydein, op. cit., pp. 391-2) (back)

(96) Gwlgawd Gododdin was steward to Mynyddawg Mwynfawr. (See Ifor Williams (ed.), Canu Aneirin (Cardiff, 1938), p. 166, ll. 369-370) (back)

(97) The harp of Teirtu is referred to by Dafydd ab Edmwnd (fl. c. 1450-90) (See T Parry (ed.), Oxford Book of Welsh Verse (Oxford, 1962), 140,18). (back)

(98) The three Birds of Rhiannon entertain the survivors returning with Bran's head in the Second Branch during their seven years at Harlech. (back)

(99) This is probably linked to the Cauldron of Dyrnach the Giant listed among the Thirteen Treasures (see note 95 above). (back)

(100) 'White Tusk Chief of Boars'. (back)

(101) The word Prydein is ambiguous in this text. Here it means Pictland (usually Prydyn) rather than Britain as a whole. (See Sir Ifor Williams, Armes Prydein, English version by Rachel Bromwich (Dublin, 1982), pp. 20-1) One of Caw's sons was St Gildas who wrote De Excidio Britanniae and, according to the Breton Life of Gildas Caw ruled at Arecluta (Dumbarton). (See Hugh Williams, Gildas (London, 1901), pp. 323-5) (back)

(102) The 'Boar Trwyth' (orig. Trwydd) is the mythical great Boar known also in Ireland as the Torc Triath. He also appears in the Historia Brittonum and in early Welsh poetry. He is given a patronymic here to emphasise that he is a king transformed. (See Culhwch and Olwen, op. cit., p. 131) (back)

(103) The formula in the text ends o'e uod 'from his will' and is continued with the Latin phrase et cetera. It is not clear whether this simply means the formula here should be completed 'as above' or whether the formula should be added to each of the following anoethau. (back)

(104) There is a link with Maponos son of Matrona, the 'Young God' son of the 'Mother Goddess', recorded in Romano-Celtic inscriptions in North Britain and in Gaul, particularly on Hadrian's Wall. (See Culhwch and Olwen, op. cit., p. 132) There is an interesting parallel with the story of Pryderi and Rhiannon in the First Branch. (back)

(105) Once again the formula ends o'e vod et cetera (See the note before last). (back)

(106) The word used here is Varchawg 'horseman' but he is referred to elsewhere as Uaruawg 'bearded', which makes more sense, so I have taken Varchawg as a scribal error. (back)

(107) These must be the two whelps of the bitch Rhymni that are mentioned out of place in the court list and are not mentioned in the list of anoethau. (back)

(108) Cyneddyr is given a different patronymic in the court list, Hetwn Silver Brow. This could be another way of describing the same condition. (back)

(109) Gwilenhen (sic) has already been mentioned in the court list earlier and he is killed later by the Twrch Trwyth. It is thought that William the Conqueror is intended. (See Culhwch and Olwen, op. cit., pp. 98 and 136) (back)

(110) Literally 'under my hand'. This seems to be the Giant blustering since Arthur says he knows nothing of him. However, it is puzzling since Arthur's wife is Custennin's wife's sister. (back)

(111) This curious assemblage has already been mentioned in the court list save that the former Cleddyf Cyfwlch is now Cilydd Cyfwlch, and Och and Garym and Diaspad are no longer his three grandchildren but his three witches. (back)

(112) The name Wrnach is similar to that of Diwrnach the Irishman or Giant whose Cauldron is required earlier in the list and also to Awarnach in the poem Pa Gur in whose hall Arthur fights with a witch. The -ach suffix tends to be pejorative. (See Culhwch and Olwen, op. cit., pp. 137-8) (back)

(113) This interchange bears a strong resemblance to the one on Culhwch's arrival at Arthur's court. (back)

(114) The words used, guynseit and grwmseit, are repeated in a passage in the Welsh Laws valuing swords: Kledyf, o byd breulyf, xii.k'; o byd gurymseyt, xvi.k'; o byd guynseyt, xxiiii.k. 'A sword, if it be whetted (sharp), 12 pence; if it be dark(-blue) bladed, 16 pence; if it be white bladed, 24 pence.' (Aled Rhys Wiliam (ed.), Llyfr Iorwerth (Cardiff, 1960) p.94, 141) Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru suggests this refers to the colour of the hilts (Vol.II, 1968-1987, pp.1710 & 1778) but that makes no sense in the current passage. Dafydd Jenkins has suggested that 'the blue-bladed sword had acquired its colour in the process of tempering, whereas the white-bladed one had afterwards been polished and burnished'. (Dafydd Jenkins, The Law of Hywel Dda (Llandysul, 1986), p.300) (back)

(115) This is a play on the word goreu = 'best'. This could have arisen from confusion over the word Corneu as the name Custennin Gorneu (Custennin of Cornwall) is attested in the genealogies. Old Welsh Corneu = Middle Welsh Cernyw = 'Cornwall'. (back)

(116) The text in the White Book of Rhydderch ends at this point. The rest of the tale is drawn from the Red Book of Hergest. (back)

 

Translation and notes © Angela Grant 2008