Kestrel's Nest

Math uab Mathonwy

The fourth branch of the Mabinogi

Part One - Goewin
From the White Book of Rhydderch
and the Red Book of Hergest


Math son of Mathonwy was lord over Gwynedd, and Pryderi son of Pwyll was lord over twenty-one cantrefs2 in the South. These were those, the seven cantrefs of Dyfed, and the seven of Morgannwg, and the four of Ceredigion, and the three of Ystrad Tywi. And in that time, Math son of Mathonwy could not remain alive except while his two feet were in the fold of a maiden's lap, unless the tumult of war prevented him. This was the maiden with him, Goewin daughter of Pebin of Dol Pebin3 in Arfon. And at that time she was the fairest maiden of those that were known then. And in Caer Dathyl4 in Arfon was his dwelling-place. And he was not able to make a circuit of his land, unless Gilfaethwy son of Don and Gwydion son of Don, his nephews, sons of his sister, and the war band with them went to make a circuit of the land on his behalf.

And the maiden was with Math all the time. And Gilfaethwy son of Don set his mind on the maiden, and loved her so that he knew not what he did because of her. And so his colour and his appearance and his manner declined as a result of his love, so that it was not easy to recognize him. One day Gwydion his brother looked at him closely. 'Lad,'5 said he, 'what has happened to you?'

'Why?' said the other. 'What do you see upon me?'

'I see,' said he, 'that you are losing your looks and your colour, and what has happened to you?'

'Lord brother,' said he, 'there is no point my confessing to anyone what has happened to me'

'What is that, friend?' said he.

'You know,' said the other, 'the special ability of Math son of Mathonwy: whatever whisper, no matter how small, there might be between men, if the wind might meet with it, he will hear it.'6

'Well,' said Gwydion, 'say no more. I know your thoughts - you love Goewin.' When Gilfaethwy knew that his brother was aware of his thoughts, he gave the heaviest sigh in the world.

'Be silent, friend, with your sighing,' said he, 'that will not bring success. I will bring it about,' said he, 'since it cannot be done otherwise, it will need a mustering of Gwynedd and Powys and Deheubarth to approach the maiden. Be of good cheer, I will bring it about for you.'

And thereupon they went to Math son of Mathonwy. 'Lord,' said Gwydion, 'I have heard that certain animals have come to the south that have never come to this island before.'

'What is their name?' said he.

'Hogs, Lord.'

'What kind of animals are those?'

'Small animals, their meat is better than ox meat. They are small, and they have variable names; they are called pigs now.'

'Who owns them?'

'Pryderi son of Pwyll. They were sent to him from Annwn by Arawn King of Annwn. And the old name is still preserved in the saying: 'Half a pig's a hog's-half.''7

'Well,' said the other, 'how will they be got from him?'

'I will go as one of twelve men, in the guise of bards,8 Lord, to ask for the pigs.'

'He can deny them to you,' said the other.

'My plan is not bad, Lord,' said he. 'I will not come back without the pigs.'

'Then gladly,' said the other. 'go on your way.'

He went, with Gilfaethwy, and ten men with them, as far as Ceredigion, in the place now called Rhuddlan Teifi;9 there was a court there of Pryderi's. And in the guise of bards they came inside. They made them welcome. And Gwydion was seated at the side of Pryderi that night.

'Well,' said Pryderi, 'we would like to get a tale from some of the young men yonder.'

'We have a custom, Lord,' said Gwydion, 'on the first night we are come to a great man, that the chief poet tells a tale. I will happily tell a story.' He, Gwydion, was the best storyteller in the world. And that night, he entertained the court with pleasant conversations10 and storytelling, until he endeared himself to everyone in the court and it was entertaining for Pryderi to converse with him.

And at the end of that, Gwydion said: 'Lord, will it be better for anyone to convey my errand to you other than myself?'

'No,' said Pryderi, 'a full good tongue is yours.'

'This is my business, Lord, to request of you the animals that were sent to you from Annwn.'

'Well,' said the other, 'that would be easiest in the world if there were not an agreement between me and my country about them. That is that they might not go from me until they might have brought forth twice their number in the land.'

'Lord,' said the other, 'I am able to free you from those words. This is how I can: do not give me the pigs tonight and do not deny them to me. Tomorrow I will reveal an exchange for them.'

And that night he and his companions went to the lodgings in counsel. 'Men,' he said, 'we will not get the pigs by asking for them.'

'Well,' said they, 'by what plan will they be got?'

'I'll bring it about that they will be obtained,' said Gwydion. And then he went into his magic arts and he began to reveal his magic. And he created by magic twelve war-horses and twelve hunting-hounds - every one of them was black with a white breast, and twelve collars and twelve leashes on them. And anyone that saw them would not have known they were not made of gold. And twelve saddles on the horses, and everywhere iron ought to be on them, it was completely gold; and bridles of comparable workmanship. He came to Pryderi with the horses and with the dogs.

'Good day to you, Lord,' said he.

'God prosper you,' said he, 'and welcome to you.'

'Lord,' said he, 'here is release for you from the word you spoke last night about the pigs, that you would not give them and you would not sell them. You can exchange them for what may be better. I will give these twelve horses as they are equipped, and their saddles and their bridles, and the twelve hunting-hounds and their collars and their leashes, as you see them, and the twelve golden shields that you see yonder.' Those he had shaped by magic from toadstools.

'Well,' said the other, 'we will take counsel.' This is what they decided upon in the council, to give the pigs to Gwydion and to take the horses and the dogs and the shields from him.

And then they took their leave, and they began to journey with the pigs. 'My bold lads,' said Gwydion, 'we must journey swiftly. The magic will not last from one day to the next.' That night they journeyed as far as the upper part of Ceredigion, to the place that is still called, because of that, Mochdref.11 And the next day they took their route - over Elenid12 they came. And that night they were between Ceri and Arwystli, in the steading13 that is called, also from that cause, Mochdref. And thence they journeyed on, and that night they went as far as a commote14 in Powys, that is called, from this reason also, Mochnant;15 and there they were that night. And thence they journeyed as far as the cantref of Rhos, and there they were that night within the steading that is still called Mochdref.

'Men,' said Gwydion, 'we will make for the fastness of Gwynedd with these animals. There is a mustering behind us.' They made for the highest steading of Arllechwedd, and there made a sty for the pigs. And from that cause, the name Creuwrion16 was placed on the steading. And then after making a sty for the pigs they made for Math son of Mathonwy, as far as Caer Dathyl. And when they came there, there was a mustering in the land.

'What news is there?' said Gwydion.

'A mustering,' they said, 'Pryderi is behind you with twenty-one cantrefs. Wonder was how slowly you've travelled.'

'Where are the animals you went after?' said Math.

'We made a sty for them in the cantref below,' said Gwydion. Thereupon, they heard the war-trumpets and the mustering in the land. At that they equipped themselves and journeyed until they were in Pennardd in Arfon. And that night Gwydion son of Don and Gilfaethwy his brother returned to Caer Dathyl. And, in the bed of Math son of Mathonwy, Gilfaethwy and Goewin daughter of Pebin were placed to sleep together, and the maidens were roughly forced out, and he slept with her against her will that night.

When they saw the day on the next day, they approached the place where Math son of Mathonwy was with his host. When they came, those men were going to take counsel what side they awaited Pryderi and the men of the South. And to the council they came themselves. This is what they decided in their council, to stay in the fastness of Gwynedd in Arfon. And in the middle of the two districts a stand was made: Maenor Bennardd and Maenor Coed Alun.

And Pryderi met with them there, and there was the battle. And great slaughter was done on every side, and there was need for the men of the South to retreat. They retreated to the place still called Nant Call17 and to there they were pursued. And there was slaughter of immeasurable magnitude. And then they retreated to the place called Dol Benmaen.18 And there they waited and sought to make peace, and Pryderi gave hostages on the peace. This was who he gave, Gwrgi Gwastra, and twenty-three sons of noblemen. And after that, they journeyed on in their peace as far as Y Traeth Mawr.19 And as soon as they came to Y Felenrhyd20 the foot-soldiers were not able to control shooting at each other, messengers were sent from Pryderi to ask to prevent the two hosts fighting and to ask to allow it between him and Gwydion son of Don, since he had caused all that. They came to Math son of Mathonwy with that.

'Well,' said Math, 'between me and God, if Gwydion son of Don thinks well of it, I will allow it happily. I will not myself compel anyone to go to fight, over and above what we ourselves may do.'

'Indeed,' said the messengers, 'Pryderi says it would be fair for the man who did this wrong to him, to pit his body against him himself, and allow the two hosts to be disengaged.'

'I bring to God my confession,' said Gwydion, 'I will not ask the men of Gwynedd to fight on my behalf, and I myself can fight with Pryderi. I will pit my body against his happily.'

And that was sent to Pryderi. 'Well,' said Pryderi, 'I will not myself ask anyone to claim my right except myself.' Those men were set apart, and they began to be equipped and they fought. And by means of power and force, and magic and enchantment, Gwydion succeeded and Pryderi was killed. And at Maentwrog,21 above Y Felenrhyd, he was buried, and there is his grave. The men of the South marched, with wretched lamentation, towards their land. And it was not a wonder: they had lost their lord and many of their foremost men, and their horses and their arms, for the most part.

The men of Gwynedd returned back in joyful happiness. 'Lord,' said Gwydion to Math, 'Is it not right for us to release their high-born to the men of the South that they gave as hostage for the peace? We ought not to imprison him.'

'Free him,' said Math. And that youth and the hostages that were with him were set free to follow the men of the South.

Math himself returned to Caer Dathyl. Gilfaethwy son of Don and the war-band that had been with him, went off on a circuit of Gwynedd as they had been accustomed, and no one approached the court. Math himself approached his chamber and caused a place to be arranged for him to recline, so that he could place his feet in the fold of the maiden's belly.

'Lord,' said Goewin, 'seek a maiden who might be under your feet now. I am a woman.'22

'By what reason is that?'

'An attack, Lord, was made upon me and that openly, and I was not silent myself. There was no one in the court that had not known it. Your nephews came, sons of your sister, Gwydion son of Don and Gilfaethwy son of Don. And they raped me and disgraced you, and slept with me, and that in your chamber and in your bed.'

'Well,' said the other, 'whatever I can do, I will do right by you first, and afterwards I will do right by myself. And you,' said he, 'I will take you as my wife, and I will give possession of my dominions into your hands.'

And in the meantime they came not into the vicinity of the court but they stayed on a circuit of the land until a prohibition went out on them on their food and their drink.23 At first they did not come near him. Then they themselves came to him.

'Lord,' said they, 'good day to you.'

'Well,' said the other, 'is it to do right by me that you have come?'

'Lord, we are at your will.'

'If it were my will, I would not have lost the men and arms that I lost. You are not able to repay my shame, quite apart from the death of Pryderi. And since you have come to my will, I will begin your punishment.' And then he took his magic wand and he struck Gilfaethwy until he became a good-sized hind. And he seized the other quickly. Although he wished to escape he could not, and struck him with the same wand until he became a stag. 'Since you are bound together, I will make you journey together, and you will be coupled and of the same nature with the wild animals in whose form you are. And when there will be offspring to them, it will be also to you yourselves. And a year from today, come here to me.'

At the end of a year from that day, behold they heard a commotion under the wall of the chamber, and a barking of the dogs of the court in addition to the commotion. 'Look,' said he, 'what it is outside.'

'Lord,' said one, 'I have looked. A stag and a hind is there, and a fawn together with them,' And thereupon, Math himself rose up and came outside. And when he came, he saw the three animals. The three animals were a stag and a hind and a strong fawn. So he raised his magic wand.

'He of you that was a hind last year, let him be a wild boar this year; and he of you that was a stag last year, let him be a wild sow this year.' And at that he struck them with the wand. 'The boy, however, I will take and I will have him fostered and baptised.' This name was given to him, Hyddwn.24 'Go you, and let the one be a wild boar and the other a wild sow. And the nature that may be to wild pigs, let it be to you. And a year from today be here under the wall and your offspring together with you.'

At the end of the year, behold there was a barking of dogs under the wall of the chamber, and a mustering of the court at that in addition. Thereupon, he himself rose up and went outside. And when he came outside he saw three animals. This was the sort of animals he saw, a wild boar and a wild sow and a good small animal with them. Strong he was for his age.

'Well,' said he, 'this I will take and I will have him baptised.' And he struck him with the wand until he became a rather swarthy handsome boy. This is the name he gave him, Hychdwn.25 'And you, the one of you that was a wild boar this year, let him be a she-wolf this year; and the one that was a wild sow this year, let him be a wolf this year.' And thereupon he struck them with the wand until they became a wolf and a she-wolf. 'And the nature of the animals in whose form you are, let it be yours. And you be here a year from today under this wall.'

On the same day a year from thence, behold they heard a mustering and a barking under the wall of the chamber. Math himself rose up outside, and when he came, behold he saw a wolf and a she-wolf, and a strong wolf-cub together with them. 'This I will take,' said he, 'and I will have him baptised and a name is ready prepared. That is, Bleiddwn.26 Three sons they are to you, and those three are:

Three sons of wicked Gilfaethwy,
Three loyal champions,
Bleiddwn, Hyddwn, Hychdwn Hir.'

And thereupon, he struck the two of them with the wand until they were in their own flesh. 'Men,' he said, 'if you did wrong to me, you were punished enough, and great shame you have, there being children of each one of you from his companion.27 Let the men bathe and wash their heads, and prepare them.' And that was done for them.



(1) The text is found in both the White Book of Rhydderch (Peniarth MS4, National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth), which dates from around 1350, and the Red Book of Hergest (Jesus College, Oxford, MS111), which dates from between 1382 and c.1410. For practical purposes this translation has been made from the annotated text of the Fourth Branch in Patrick Ford's Math uab Mathonwy: Text from the Diplomatic Edition of the White Book of Rhydderch, by J. Gwenogvryn Evans (Belmont, MA, 1999). Most of the geographical notes below are sourced from that volume. (back)

(2) A cantref has a similar size and purpose to an English hundred as a land division. Cant (100) + tref 'settlement' or 'steading'. (back)

(3) Uncertain location. Arfon is the area of Gwynedd south of the Menai Straight. (back)

(4) Uncertain. Pen y Gaer, Caer Engan and Tre'r Ceiri have all been suggested as possibilities. (back)

(5) The word used for lad is gwas. This implies that Gwydion is the elder brother. A few lines on Gilfaethwy addresses him as Arglwyd urawt, 'lord brother', which confirms this. (back)

(6) This is reminiscent of the ability of the Coranieid in the Tale of Lludd and Llefelys. (back)

(7) The old name in the text that I've translated by 'hog' is hob, pl. hobeu. Half a hog, otherwise a flitch of bacon. I'd like to thank Mark Williams for the suggestion how to translate the old saying. (back)

(8) A travelling bard could expect a gift in return for a praise poem, hence Gwydion's disguise. (back)

(9) Probably the village of Rhuddlan in south Cardiganshire, which is on the Teifi river. (back)

(10) The word used here is ymdidaneu. This normally means 'conversations' but Mark Williams has pointed out that there exists a genre of dialogue poems called by this name, such as Myrddin and Taliesin, and Arthur and the Eagle. This might be what is intended here. (See Brynley F Roberts, 'Rhai o Gerddi Ymddiddan Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin' in Rachael Bromwich and R Brinley Jones (eds.), Astudiaethau ar yr Hengerdd: Studies in Old Welsh Poetry (Cardiff, 1978), pp. 281-325). (back)

(11) Literally 'Pig Town'. Onomastic stories are common in Welsh literature. There is a Mochdre near Newtown, Montgomeryshire that might fit, but it equally could fit the Mochdref mentioned a few lines on. (back)

(12) Elenid is the mountainous land round Plymlimon. (back)

(13) The term used in Welsh is tref. In modern terms this means town but, at the time the story was written, it meant little more than a farmstead or hamlet. I have therefore translated the word as 'steading', which gives a better idea of the size than the more commonly used 'township'. (back)

(14) A subdivision of a cantref. (back)

(15) Literally 'Pig Brook'. Mochnant is on the Denbighshire/Montgomeryshire border. (back)

(16) There is a farm near Tregarth called Cororion. Creu means 'sty'. Mark Williams has suggested Creuwrion might be a by-form of Creuwydion - 'Gwydion's sty'. (back)

(17) There are farms near Pant Glas called Nant Cyll. (back)

(18) Dolbenmaen north of Criccieth. (back)

(19) The beach at the estuary of the Glaslyn and Dwyryd rivers at Porthmadog. (back)

(20) Y Felenrhyd on the south side of the Dwyryd river. (back)

(21) Probably Maentwrog north of Criccieth. (back)

(22) In other words she had lost her virginity and Math required his footholder to be a virgin. (back)

(23) As Lleu later ruled over Gwynedd, Gwydion was presumably at this point edling or heir-apparent. Under the Welsh laws he could expect unlimited food and drink from the king. Math's prohibition would therefore quickly bring him to heel. Gilfaethwy may also have been considered edling as sometimes this term included the king's sons, nephews and his male first-cousins. (See Dafydd Jenkins, The Law of Hywel Dda (Llandysul, 2000), pp.6-7). (back)

(24) From hydd, a stag. (back)

(25) From hwch, a pig. (back)

(26) From bleidd, a wolf. (back)

(27) It is interesting to note that Gilfaethwy, as the perpetrator of the rape has to bear the pangs of childbirth twice, and Gwydion, as his accomplice, only once. (back)


Translation and notes © Angela Grant 2008