The Mabinogi of Branwen

Introductory notes for this branch can be found at www.mabinogion.info/branwen.htm.


Bendigeidfran[1] son of Llyr[2] was the crowned king of this Island, and exalted with the crown of London.[3] One afternoon he was at Harlech in Ardudwy, a court of his. Seated on the rock of Harlech above the ocean[4] were [Bendigeidfran] with his brother Manawydan son of Llyr[5]; his two half brothers from his mother's side (Nisien and Efnisien); and such noblemen about them as was befitting around a king. His two maternal half-brothers were the sons of Euroswydd by his mother Penarddun [6] daughter of Beli[7] son of Mynogan. One of these young men was a good young man: he would make peace between two hosts, even when they were at their most incensed - that was Nisien. The other one would provoke conflict between two brothers, [even] while they were at their most amicable[8].

As they were seated thus, they could see thirteen ships, coming [up] from the South of Ireland[9], heading towards them with a swift and ardent motion, the wind behind them, drawing towards them swiftly.

'I see ships yonder,' said the king 'brazenly coming to land. Tell the men of the court to arm themselves., and go and see what their intention is.'

The men armed themselves and went down to them. When they could see the ships at close quarters, it was clear to them they had never seen vessels in more perfect[10] condition than those. Banners of brocaded silk - bold, seemly and beautiful - were upon them.

Then, lo! one of the ships came out ahead of the others, and they could see a shield raised above the deck - the point of the shield turned upwards as a sign of peace. The men went out towards them, so they might hear each other's conversation. For their part, [the ships] put out boats [which] made for land, and they greeted the king.

The king could hear them from the place where he was, on the rock high above.

'God give well to you,' he said 'and may you be welcome. To whom does this fleet of ships belong, and who is their captain?'

'Lord,' said they 'Matholwch king of Ireland is here: and it is to him that these ships belong.'

'What is his desire?' asked the king 'Does he wish to come to land?'

'He has a petition for you, my Lord' said they 'he does not wish to land unless he can have his petition satisfied.'

'What kind of petition does he have?' asked the king.

'He wishes to ally himself by marriage[11] to you, my lord' said they 'To ask Branwen daughter of Llyr he has come, and - if it is agreeable to you - he wishes to bind the Isle of the Mighty[12] and Ireland together, so that they [both] become stronger.'

'Aye,' he replied 'Let him come to land and we will take council on this.'

(That answer went [out] to him).

'I will go [to land], gladly'  he responded.

He came to land, and there was a joy at his coming, and there was a great throng in the court that night with both his host and the host of the court.

First thing the next day, they took council. The decision they made[13] was the giving of Branwen to Matholwch. She was one of the three High Matriarchs[14] of this Island, and the most beautiful maiden in the world. He was to sleep with her at Aberffraw[15], and they set out thence. The retinues also set off towards Aberffraw - Matholwch and his retinues by ship, Bendigeidfran and his host by land - until they reached Aberffraw.

In Aberffraw the feast and the gathering[16]  began. This is how they were seated: the king of the Island of the Mighty with Manawydan son of Llyr on one side and Matholwch on the other, with Branwen daughter of Llyr next to him.  They were not in a house, but rather in pavilions - Bendigeidfran had never been contained within a house.[17]

So they began the festivities. They continued feasting and conversing until sleep seemed more attractive than continuing drinking - then they went to sleep. That night Matholwch slept with Branwen.

The following day, the entire host of the court arose. The stewards began to discuss the billeting of the horses and the servants. They were quartered in every place as far as the sea.

Then one day, lo, there was Efnisien - that quarrelsome man we spoke of above[18], coming across the billets of the horses of Matholwch. He asked to whom the horses belonged.

'These are the horses of Matholwch king of Ireland' they said.

'What are they doing here?'  he demanded.

'The king of Ireland is here, and he has slept with your sister Branwen. These are his horses.'

'So this is what they have done with a girl as good as her, my own sister - giving her away without my consent! They could not have insulted me more!'[19]

With that he [started] striking up at the horses. He sliced their lips back to their teeth, and their ears back to their heads, and their tails to their backs - and wherever he could get a grip on their eyelids, he would cut these back to the bone. And the horses were mutilated thus, to the extent that no further use could be got from the horses[20].

The news came to Matholwch like this: he was told how his horses had been mutilated, how they had been ruined to the extent that there was no longer any joy to be had from them.

'Aye Lord'  said one 'your humiliation has been wrought. And that is the intention of whoever did this to you.'

'God knows, it seems strange to me - if they wanted to insult me - that they should give me a girl as good as her, and of such high rank and so beloved to her kindred, as the one they gave me.'

'Lord,' said another 'its obvious. There is nothing you can do except go back to your ships.'

With that they made for their ships.

The news came to Bendigeidfran that Matholwch was leaving the court, without asking or taking his leave. Messengers went back to ask him why this was. The messengers that went were Idic son of Anarawd and Hefeydd Hir. These men overtook him and asked him what he intending, and why he was going away.

'God knows,' he replied 'if I had known [what would happen] I would never have come here. I have been thoroughly insulted[21]. Never did anyone come out as badly as I have done here. And a strange thing has befallen me.'

'What is that?' they asked.

'Branwen daughter of Llyr was given to me, one of the High Matriarchs of this Isle, and a daughter of the king of Island of the Mighty[22], I slept with her - and after [all] this I'm insulted. It seems strange to me that it wasn't prior to such a great maiden as her being given to me, that the insult which was done to me was committed."[23]

'God knows, my Lord,' they replied 'it was not [through] the will of him who ruled the court, nor that of any of his council, that this insult should be put upon you. And though it may be that you have been insulted by that, greater is the insult to Bendigeidfran than to you from this mockery.'[24]

'Aye,'  conceded Matholwch 'I suppose so, [but] he will never be able [to do anything about] the dishonour that has left me with[25].'

Those men returned with that answer to the place where Bendigeidfran was, and asked him the reply that Matholwch had spoken.

'Aye,' said the King 'there is no advantage in him leaving in a quarrelsome mood, and we will not allow it.'

'Aye, Lord,' said they 'send messengers after him!'

'I will send [them],' he replied 'arise Manawydan son of Llyr, Hefydd the Tall and Unig Strong Shoulder, and go after him. Tell him he will get a healthy horse for each on of his that are ruined; and together with that, as an honour payment, he will get a silver rod as thick <as his little finger>[26] and as tall as himself and a gold plate as broad as his face. Tell to him the kind of man it was that did this, and [that] it was against my will that it was - [that] it was my [own] half-brother who committed that [atrocity] and [that] it is not easy for me to kill or destroy him. Let him come and meet me,' he continued 'and I will make peace on [whatever] terms he might desire.'

The messengers went after Matholwch and politely relayed that conversation to him, and he listened to them.

'Men,' he said 'let us take council.'

And [so] he went into council. What the council resolved was this: if they refused, they would be more likely to incur greater shame than get a better compensation. He settled on that council and came to the court in peace. Tents and pavilions were arranged for them, in the style of a hall - and they went to eat.

Matholwch and Bendigeidfran started making conversation and, lo! the conversation he was getting from Matholwch seemed [so] dreary and sad to Bendigeidfran, from one who had always been constantly cheerful before that. He wondered if the chieftain was in bad spirits over the meagreness of the compensation he had received for his injury.

'Man', ventured Bendigeidfran 'you are not such a good talker as you were the other night. If it seems to you that the compensation was too small, you will get it increased to your liking, and tomorrow your horses will be paid.'

'Lord,' replied the other 'God repay you.'

'I'll augment your compensation further,' Bendigeidfran continued 'I will give you this cauldron, and the peculiarity of the cauldron is this: a man who is killed today and thrown in the cauldron, by the next day he will be as good as he was at his best, except he will not be able to talk.'[27]

Matholwch, for his part, thanked him for that and was greatly cheered by it. The next day, the horses were paid to him [to be kept] as long as tame horses last - until the tally was complete in his eyes. And they journeyed with him into another commote, and this commote was thereafter known as the Tal Ebolyon.[28]

On the second night they sat down together.

'Lord' asked Matholwch 'where did that cauldron you gave to me [originally] come  from?'

'It came to me from a man who was from your land, ' replied [Bendigeidfran] ' and for all I know he may have acquired it there'

'[And] who was that?' he asked.

'Llasar Llaes Gyfewid" said the other 'he came here from Ireland and his wife Cymidei Kymeinvoll together with him, and they had escaped from the Iron House in Ireland, when it had been made white hot around them, and they had escaped thence. I find it strange that you know nothing about this.'

'I do know [something], my Lord,'  he replied 'and what I know I'll tell you[29]:

'One day, while hunting [back] in Ireland, I was on top of a tumulus above a lake in Ireland, called "The Lake of the Cauldron". Then I saw a large, reddish-yellow [haired] man coming out of the lake with a cauldron on his back. Furthermore, the man was large and monstrous with an evil, anorles[30] look about him, and [he had] a woman following after him. And large as he was - twice as big as him was the woman. They made their way towards me and greeted me.

' "Aye," said I "how goes it with you?" 

' "This is how it goes with us, Lord" said he "this woman, at the end of a month and a fortnight will become pregnant: and the boy that will be born from that wombful - after a month and fortnight - will be a fully-armed fighting-man"

'For my part I took them in and maintained them: they were with me for a year. For a year they were no problem, but after that it became a disgrace for me. Four months later they had caused themselves to be hated and unwelcome throughout the land: by committing insults, and pestering and injuring the noble men and women. After that my people rose up around me to bid me to part with them and presented me with a choice: my country or them[31].

'I placed [the matter of] what should be done about them to the council of my people: they would not go of their own accord, nor did they have any cause to leave against their will by force. Then, from this compromised position, they decided to forge a solid iron chamber[32]; and once the chamber had been prepared, all the smiths in Ireland were summoned - all of those who were in possession of tongs and a hammer - and they piled charcoal up to the roof of the chamber. They had them - the man, the woman and their children - abundantly served with food and drink. And once it was clear that they were drunk[33], [the smiths] began to light a fire from the charcoal around the chamber and bellows were blown from every side of the house, a pair of bellows for every man: and they kept blowing the bellows until the house was white hot around them. Then there was a council among them, in the middle of the floor of the chamber, and he [the man] waited until a panel of the chamber was white [hot]. And because of its extremely great heat he charged it with his shoulder and broke his way out, and his wife came after him. And none of them escaped except for him and his wife. And then, I suppose, they came over to you, lord.'

'[It was] then, God knows,'  he replied 'they came here and gave the cauldron to me.'

'In what manner did you accommodate them, Lord?'

'They were quartered in every corner of the kingdom, and became numerous: raising up every area, and strengthening every place that they happened to be with men and arms that were the best that had ever been seen.[34]'

They made conversation that night, as long as they pleased, and [indulged in] song and carousal. And when they could see it was more beneficial to sleep than to stay up any longer, they went to bed. Thus they spent that feast in good spirits. At the end of it, Matholwch, together with Branwen, set out for Ireland. For that, the thirteen ships set out from Aber Menei, and came to Ireland. In Ireland, there was great joy at their arrival. Not one great man or noble lady would come to visit Branwen to whom she would not give a clasp, a ring or a royal jewel to them: which was matchless to see as it was given away.[35] In the meantime, that year brought her great fame, and she prospered with honour and friends. After that, it came to pass that she fell pregnant. And after the passing of the due period of time, a boy was born to her. This is the name that was given to the boy: Gwern[36] son of Matholwch. The boy was placed in fosterage in the very best place for men in Ireland.

Then, in the second year, there was a murmuring in Ireland about the humiliation Matholwch had received in Wales, and the shameful thing he had suffered on account of his horses. [About] that, his foster brothers and men closest to him [started] to mock him openly. And lo! [there was] such a throng in Ireland that he would get no peace until he would revenge that insult.

The revenge they took was this: driving Branwen out of the room she shared with [the king], and forcing her to bake in the court: and having the butcher - after he had been tearing up meat - to come and box her ears every day. In this way her punishment was wrought.[37]

'Aye, Lord,' said the men close to Matholwch 'Order an embargo of ships, small boats and coracles - so that nothing might go to Wales; and any that come here from Wales: imprison them so they cannot return, in case they find out about this.' And on that [decision] they settled[38].

No less than three years did they spend like this. In the meantime, what she did was rear a starling-bird on the edge of her kneading trough. She taught it speech and described her brother to the bird[39]. And she submitted in a letter the punishments and disgrace which she was enduring. This letter was tied around the base of the bird's wing and sent to Wales - and the bird came to this Island. The place where it found Bendigeidfran was in Caer Seint in Arfon, at an assembly of his one day. It alighted on his shoulders and ruffled its feathers until the letter could be seen, and it was realised that the bird was reared among dwellings.

The letter was then taken and examined[40]. When the letter was read, he was aggrieved on hearing about the punishment that was being endured by Branwen.  Then he had messengers sent to muster the Island. (Then) he ordered the bringing together of the full levy of the seven-score and fourteen districts, and personally declaimed before it about the punishment that was upon his sister[41]. Then they took council. The decision they made was this: to attack Ireland, and leave seven men as elders[42] here: with Cradawg son of Bran as their chief, with his seven riders.[43] These were the men that were left in Edeirnon: and hence the name 'Seven Riders' was given to the township. The seven riders were: Caradog son of Bran, Hefydd the Tall, Unig Strong- Shoulder, Idig son of Anarawd Walltgewm, Fodor son of Erfyll, Ulch Bone-Lip and Lashar son of Llayssar Llaesgygwyt - with Pendaran Dyfed as a serving-boy to them[44]. These seven remained as the seven governing elders over these Islands, and Caradog son of Bran as the chief elder among them.

Bendigeidfran, and the aforementioned hosting sailed towards Ireland. The ocean was not extensive [back] then: he went by wading. There used to be nothing except two rivers called the Lli and the Archen. And after that the ocean spread out, and the sea flooded the kingdoms. Then he advanced, carrying all the string-minstrels on his back, making for the land of Ireland[45].

Some swineherds of Matholwch were on the shore of the ocean one day, doing the rounds with their pigs. Because of the sight they saw on the ocean, they came to Matholwch.

'Lord' said they 'may you prosper'.

'And may God give kindly to you,' he replied. 'Do you have tidings?'

'Lord,' said they 'we have some strange tidings: we have seen a forest on the ocean, where we had never [before] seen a single tree.'

'That is a peculiar thing,' said he 'could you see anything other than that?'

'Lord,' they replied 'a great mountain beside the forest, and that was moving; and a soaring ridge on the mountain, and a lake on each side of the ridge; and the forest, and the mountain and all of that was moving.'

'Well,' said [Matholwch] 'there is no-one here who's going to know anything about this, if Branwen doesn't know. Ask her.'

Messengers went to Branwen.

'Lady,' said they 'what do you suppose this is?'

'Although a lady I am not,' she answered ' I know what this is. The men of the Island of the Mighty are coming over: having heard about my punishments and my dishonour.'

'What is the forest that was seen on the ocean?' they asked.

'The alder-masts of the ships and the sail trees[46]' said she.

'Aye,' said they 'what is the mountain that was seen alongside the ships?'

'That was Bendigeidfran my brother,' said she 'coming by wading. There is no boat that can contain him inside.'

'What is the soaring ridge and the lake on either side of the ridge?'

'He' she said 'is looking at the Island, and is angry. His two eyes on either side of his nose are the two lakes on either side of the ridge.'[47]

Then there was a mustering of all the fighting men of Ireland and all the coastlands in haste, and council was taken.

'Lord,' said the nobles to Matholwch 'there is no other council but to withdraw across the Llinon (a river that was in Ireland), and let the Llinon be between you and him, and destroy the bridge that's on the river. And there are loadstones[48] at the bottom of the river: neither boat nor vessel can go over them.'

They retreated across the river and destroyed the bridge.

Bendigeidfran came to land, and the fleet with him, near the bank of the river.

'Lord,' said his nobles 'you know the peculiarity of this river - it is not possible for anyone to cross it; and nor is there a bridge over it. What is your council concerning the bridge?' they asked.

'Nothing,' he replied 'expect whoever would be head, let him be [the] bridge. I myself will be [the] bridge[49].'

And that was the first time those words were [ever] said, and it is still used as a proverb [today].

He then lay himself across the river, and hurdles were flung over him, and his warbands went across him to the other side[50].

At that, even as he arose - there was Matholwch's messengers coming towards him: greeting him and offering him salutations from Matholwch his kinsmen, and telling him that it was his will that nothing but good should come his way.

'And Matholwch will give the sovereignty of Ireland to Gwern son of Matholwch, your nephew, son of your sister, and he will bestow it your presence, in compensation for the hurt and injury that was done to Branwen. Wherever you yourself desire, either here or in the Island of the Mighty:  make provision with Matholwch.'

'Aye,' responded Bendigeidfran ' unless I can take the kingship for myself, perhaps I should take council about your message. Until I hear some different terms[51], you will not get an answer from me.'

'Aye,' they responded 'the best answer we can get for you, we will come to you with it - wait for our tidings.'

'I will wait,' he replied 'if you come quickly [enough].'

The messengers went on ahead, and to Matholwch they came.

'Lord,' said they '[you must] prepare an answer that is better for Bendigeidfran. He will not listern to any of the answer that came to him from us [before].'

'Men,' said Matholwch 'what is your council?'

'Lord,' said they 'there is for you no council but one. Never before has he been contained in a house. Make a house in his honour,' they continued 'which can contain him and the men of the Island of the Mighty in one side of the house, and you and your host in the other. And give him your sovereignty to his will, and pay him homage[52]. And from the honour of making the house - something he has never had: a house that can contain him, he will make peace with you.[53]'

And the messengers came to Bendigeidfran and with them that message - and he [also] took council. The decision that was taken was to accept [Matholwch's offer]. It was all through Branwen's counsel - to prevent further damage to the country, that was her [advice].[54]

The peace was arranged, and the house was built: large and spacious. But the Irish laid a trap[55]. The trap they laid was to put a hook on each side of every one of the hundred columns that were in the house, and put a crane skin-bag[56] on each peg, and an armed fighting man in every one of those.

Efnisien came in ahead of the host of the Isle of the Mighty, casting fierce, ruthless glances around the house. And straight away he caught sight of the bags in front of the posts.

'What is in this bag?' he demanded to one of the Irish

'Flour, friend[57]' he replied

What he did was this, feeling around till he found the [the hiding warrior's] head, and squeezing his head until he could feel his fingers sink into the brain through the bone[58]. He then leaves that, puts his hand on the next one and asks:

'What is in here?'

'Flour,' replied the Irishman.

And played the same trick on each one of them until there was just one man left from all the two hundred men (expect one). And he went up to that one and asked:

'What is in here?'

'Flour, friend.'

What he did was this: he felt around until he found his head, and just as he had squeezed the heads of all the others, he squeezed that [one's] head. He could feel armour around that one's head. [But] he didn't leave that one until he had killed him. Then he sang an englyn[59]:

In this bag there is flour of a kind,

Conquerors, defenders, descenders to the grind[60]

Facing fighting men ready for the hour[61]

At that the hosts came into the house. The men of the Island of Ireland came to the house from one side, and the men of the Island of the Mighty from the other. As soon as they had sat down there was accord between them - and sovereignty was bestowed upon the boy. And then, once peace had been concluded, Bendigeidfran called the boy to him. From Bendigeidfran, the boy went over to Manawydan, and all could see that he liked him[62]. From Manawydan, Nissien son of Euroswydd called the boy over to him. The boy went to him in friendship.

'Why doesn't my nephew - my sister's son - come to me?' asked Efnisien 'Even if he weren't the king of Ireland I would still like to show affection to the boy.'

'Let him go, gladly,' said Bendigeidfran. And the boy went to him gladly.

'To God I make my confession,' he said in his mind 'it is an unspeakable crime against the kindred, what I'm about to do this [very] hour.'

He rises up and takes the boy by his feet and without delay, before any man in the house catches him, he thrusts the boy headlong into the blaze. When Branwen saw her boy being burnt on the fire, she tried to leap into the fire [after him] from where she was sitting next to her two brothers. And Bendigeidfran seized her with one hand and his shield with the other. At that, everyone in the house arose. Lo! there was the greatest uproar there had ever been from a host in a single house, as everyone reached for his weapons[63].

That was when Mordwyt Tyllion said 'Dogs of Gwen, beware Mordwyt Tyllion![64]'

And as everyone went for their weapons, Bendigeidfran held Branwen between his shield and his shoulder.

Then the Irish began to kindle a fire under the Cauldron of Rebirth. (And then) the dead were thrown into the cauldron, until it was full. They would rise up the next day - fighting men as good as before, except they would not be able to talk. And then, when Efnissiyen saw the dead bodies, without room being made anywhere for the men of the Island of the Mighty, and said in his mind 'Alas God, woe to me - being the cause of this carnage of the men of the Island of the Mighty' he thought 'and shame on me if I don't seek deliverance from this.'

He crawls in amongst the corpses of the Irishmen, and two bare-bottomed Irishmen  come to him and throw him in the cauldron, along with the others[65]. He stretches himself out in the cauldron, until the cauldron breaks into four pieces, and his heart breaks [as well].

And that was how victory, such as it was, was [won] to the men of the Island of the Mighty[66]. [But] the victory[67] from that was no more than the escape of seven men, [along] with Bendigeidfran wounded in his foot with a poisoned spear. These were the seven men who escaped: Pryderi, Manawydan, Glifieu Eil Taran, Taliesin and Ynawg, Gruddieu son of Muriel and Heilyn son of Gwyn the Old[68].

And then Bendigeidfran ordered the severing of his head.

'Take the head' said he 'and bring it to the White Hill in London, and bury it with its face towards France. And you will be on the road a long time. In Harlech you will be seven years in feasting, the birds of Rhiannon singing to you. The head will be as good company to you as it was at its best when it was ever on me. And you will be at Gwales in Penfro for eighty years. Until you open the door facing Aber Henvelen on the side facing Cornwall, you will be able to abide there, along with the head with you uncorrupted. But when you open that door, you will not be able to remain there. You will make for London and bury the head. Cross over to the other side.'


Then they cut off his head and with the head they set out to the other side: these seven men with Branwen with them as the eighth. At Aber Alaw in Talebolion, they came to land. Then they sat and rested. She glances over to Ireland, and at the Island of the Mighty, what she could see of them.

'Alas son of God,' she exclaimed 'Woe to me that I was ever born. Two good islands have been ruined because of me.' She gives a great sigh, and with that breaks her heart. A four-sided grave was made for her[69], and she is buried at Glan Alaw.

At that, the seven men made for Harlech, and the head with them. As they were journeying, suddenly there was a crowd coming towards them, of men and women.

'Do you have any tidings?' asked Manawydan.

'We have none,' said they 'except that Caswallawn son of Beli[70] has overrun the Island of Britain, and is now [the] Crowned King in London.'

'What has happened to Cradawg son of Bran?' they asked 'and the seven men who were left with him in this Island?'

'Caswallawn ambushed them, and killed six men and from that Cradawg broke his heart, out of bewilderment at seeing a sword kill the men, and not knowing who killed them. Caswallawn had gone about clothing himself in a magical cloak, and no-one could see him kill the men - only the sword. Caswallawn had not wished to kill him as he was his nephew and kinsman. And he was the third person who broke his heart with bewilderment[71]. Pendaran Dyfed, who was a serving boy with the seven, fled to the forest[72],' said they.

And then they made for Harlech, and they began a feast[73], and the indulgence in food and drink was begun. And [as soon as][74] they began to eat and drink there came three birds, which began to sing a kind of song to them; and when they heard that song, every other [tune] seemed unlovely beside it[75].  It seemed a distant sight, what they could see far above the ocean yet it was as clear as if they had been right next to them. And they were at that feast for seven years[76].

And at the end of the seventh year, they made for Gwales[77] in Penfro. And there at their disposal was a beautiful kingly place[78] [high] above the ocean - and a great hall it was. They went into the hall. They saw two open doors - the third door was closed, and that [was the one] facing Cornwall.

'Look over there,' said Manawydan ' the door which we must never open.'

And that night they were there, lacking nothing - and were completely free of care. Of all the grief that they had witnessed or experienced themselves - there was no longer any memory[79], or any of the sorrow in the world. Eighty years they passed there, having never enjoyed a period of time as carefree or light-hearted as that[80]. It was no more irksome to them - they didn't realise from their companions how long it had been since they came there[81]. And it was no more irksome for them having the head there, than it had been when Bendigeidfran had been alive with them. And because of that it was known as the 'Assembly of The Wondrous Head[82]'. (The Assembly of Branwen and Matholwch was the one where they went to Ireland).

This is what Heilyn son of Gwyn did one day:

'Shame on my beard,' said he 'if I don't open the door and find out whether it is true what is said about it. [So] he opened the door, and looked out to Cornwall and over Aber Henvelen. And when he looked, suddenly everything they had ever lost - loved ones and companions, and all the bad things that had ever happened to them; and most of all the loss of their king - became as clear as if it had been rushing in towards them[83]. And from that moment, they were not able to rest unless they were making for London with the head. However long they were on the road, they came to London, and they buried the head in The White Hill.

And that was one of the Three Fortunate concealments when it was buried, and one of the Three Unfortunate Disclosures when it was unearthed: since no affliction would ever came to this Island from across the sea, as long as the head was in that concealment[84]. That is what this tradition says. Their adventure 'The men who set out to Ireland', is [the name of] that [tale].

In Ireland, there was no person left alive, except five pregnant women in a cave in the wilderness of Ireland. And to those five women, after the same amount of time, were born five sons. They raised those five boys until they were fully-grown youths, and they thought about women and desired to take them.  And then, each sleeps willy-nilly[85] with the mother of his companion, and rules the country and inhabits it, and divides it between the five of them. And because of that division, the 'Five Parts of Ireland' are still so called.  And they searched the country, wherever there had been fighting - and found gold and silver, until they became wealthy.

Thus ends this Branch of the Mabinogi: [which tells] of the reason for the Beating[86] of Branwen - (this was) one of the Three Grievous Beatings of this Island;  and of the Assemblyof Bran (when five and seven-score districts came to Ireland to revenge the beating of Branwen), and about the feasting in Harlech for seven years; and (about) the Singing of the Birds of Rhiannon; and about the Assembly of the Head for four-score years.

[1] Bendigeidfran < Bendigeid + Brân  'Brân the Blessed'. Brân was a common personal name in medieval Wales, literally meaning 'Raven'. Animal elements are not unusual within Celtic names (e.g. Bleddrhi 'Wolf King' Cynvarch 'Leading Horse' etc).

The second element -bendigeid (> Lat benedictus )  is rather more complex. Despite its ecclesiatic origins, this word seems to have been applied to a number of  sub-Roman British kings - including, significantly, Vortimer (Gwythefyr) son of  Vortigern: whom the ninth-century Historia Brittonum describes as being dismembered after his death and having his remains interred strategic points on the channel coast for magical-protective purposes. The fact that the mortal remains of Brân were used in a similar fashion for the magical protection of the Island suggest that the epithet 'Bendigeid' may have acquired an older, pre-Christian ritual connotation (see p. ###, n. ## and p. ###). 

[2] Llyr is an ill-defined figure in the Mabinogi - but he is not completely unknown elsewhere within the Welsh tradition. When he is mentioned, it is most usually in conjunction with his epithet Llediath - meaning 'accented' of 'of indistinct speech'. This is the first of many clues to suggest a liminal, bi-lingual identity for the Children of Llyr - a group which seem to have been as well known on the Western side of the Irish sea as they are in Britain. Llyr/Ler is also known in Ireland, as the father of a certain Manannan mac Lir - whose similarities with the Welsh Manawydan mab Llyr are discussed further on.

[3] This is evidently used to signify rulership over the Island as a whole. Other kings understood to have ruled localised areas, but Brân was the 'High King' - with nominal authority even over regional hegemonies like that of Deheubarth ruled over by the House of Pwyll (see chapter 1).

The Crown of London might represent the hegemonistic sovereignty exercised by the Sons of Beli Mawr (see pp.########), but for the contemporary audience it would have been hard to disassociate this symbol from the more recent arrival of the Norman kings, whose elaborate coronations took place in Westminster abbey - and who were in the process of extending their power over from a powerbase in the South and East of the Island, just as had the Belgic dynasts some thousand years before.

[4] (G)weilgi 'the ocean' 'the deep'. D.S.Thomson notes (p. 19-20) that this obscure poetic word for the sea appears to be cognate with the Old Irish fáelchú 'wolf', and sometimes implies a turbulent or stormy sea. In the Second Branch, however, it is used consistently and generally for any body of maritime water.

[5] The connection between this character and the Irish Manannan Mac Lir is discussed in on p###

[6] Euroswyd = 'Golden Enemy'. Like the name of Gwawl vab Clud (pp ### n.###) this name has connotations of wealth and material power, as well as a specific demographic association. While even the telescoped perspective of tribal historic lore would have recognised that Saxons would have not yet been present in Britain at this time - the name Euroswyd nonetheless has a rather Germanic ring to it - not least because of Welsh rendering of their seventh century  Northumbrian adversary Oswiu/Oswy as Oswyd. Just as Gwawl might be seen to represent all that was hateful about the sub-Roman mercenary culture of the North, Euroswydd might have been readily conceived by the Medieval Welsh imagination as a kind of proto-Saxon: whose presence and activities in the Island were a sinister precursor of oppressions of the English race.

Triad 52 describes Llyr Llediath as one of the Tri Goruchel Garcharwr Ynys Brydein 'Three Exalted Prisoners of the Isle of Britain . who was imprisoned by Euroswydd'. The implication is of some degree of dynastic upheaval in the previous generation, which has been partly compensated by the succession of Bendigeidfran. The presence of the sons of Euroswydd carries in itself both the reminder of this instability, and the threat of its re-emergence in the future.

[7] Beli Mawr of the genealogical tradition (see p.###-###)

[8] The possible typological relationship between these two and Bleddyn and Rhiwallon, Gruffydd ap Llewelyn's half brother, is discussed on p.### below.

[9] Professor Thomas Charles-Edwards suggested this southerly provenance of the Irish fleet is reminiscent of the political geography of Ireland prior to 1116, before the shift of political power  from the Dal Caís of  Mumu to the Connachta-based descendents of Brian Borúma.

It might also be argued that this opening section of the narrative is drawing upon the North/South, Above/Below Celtic psycho-geographic matrix. This is further enforced by the (Northern-based) British king addressing the Irish King from the Rock of Harddlech 'high above'.

The connection between the Irish element and Southern-centred Indigenous Underworld is apparent elsewhere throughout the Mabinogi (see pp.. ###, ###, ###).

[10] Kyweirach the equative form of the adjective kyweir (see p.###)

[11] Ymgyuathrachu < ym-cyf-athr-ach-u D.S. Thomson suggests (p.22) this otherwise unattested word 'implies the uniting of two families by marriage'.  A. Welsh (####, p.###) quotes the historian Morfydd Owen, who suggests of this passage that it contains 'the most explicit expression in Welsh literature of the idea that he role of the wife is that of a link between kins, a peace-weaver, the friđstofe [sic], a role which is a familiar one for the heroines of Germanic and Anglo-Saxon saga.

[12] Ynys Y Kedeirn 'Island of the Strong Ones' A bardic epithet for Britain.

[13] Sef a gahat yn y kynghor lit. 'this is what was obtained in the council'

[14] 'Prif Rieni' the meaning of this appallation is unclear - but it would denote an unusually exalted rank in the Celtic social order. It was probably attached to women within the royal kindred whose male offspring would be eligible for the High Kingship of the island.

[15] A gwneuthur oed yn Aberffraw y gyscu genti lit. 'An appointment was made in Aberffraw for him to sleep with her'

Aberffraw was the principal court of Gwynedd from the 6th to the 13th centuries. It is not inconsistent with the general geo-political outlook of the Four Branches that this should be seen as the natural powerbase in Wales for a pan-Brythonic king.

[16]  Eisted 'gathering' lit. 'the sitting' (cf. Eisteddfodd - 'sitting place') - signifying a social occasion involving food, drink and relaxed conversation. Interestingly, the word is also used for 'a beseigement'.

[17] This comment has usually been interpreted to as a comment on Bendigeidfran's giant-like stature. Indeed there are moments in the narrative when Bendigeidfran appears to swell to larger-than-life proportions, such as when he leads the hosts of the Island of the Mighty across the Irish Sea (p ####-####). However, for the majority of the narrative Bendigeidfran behaves and interacts with other people on an ordinary scale. This paradox has been noted by previous commentators on the Second Branch (######################). It seems more likely, however, what the author is suggesting at this point is that the retinue of Bendigeidfran was so large there had never been a house large enough to contain it. If we are to  accept the Belgic origin of Bendigeidfran as Brennos - the leader of the great host responsible for the Sack of Delphi in 279 BC - this would be a fitting assignation. It would seem that the person of Bendigeidfran had a mystical identification with his war-host. Just as the host was considered an extenion of Bendigedfran's will, he would also have been seen as an embodiment its group-mind. More of this occult aspect of the Romano-Belgic military tradition is discussed on pp. ####### below.

[18] The phrase 'the quarrelsome man we spoke of above' (gwr anagneuedus a dywedassam uchot) is a strong suggestion that the Mabinogi was composed, self-consciously, as a literary work - to be read and enjoyed as such. Such a reference would make no sense in a purely oral context.

[19] Efnisien is a study in the psychopathic personality. The rage here is calculated, as is the horrific orgy of violence that follows. His actions are deliberately staged to inflict the most profound damage to the weak points of the social fabric around him - in this case relations with the men of Ireland. While he is in some ways an embodiment of the forces of anti-social disruption the author is targeting throughout the Mabinogi - there is also the hint complex inner life, which finds a poignant expression in his final demise.

A close parallel to this incident has been identified by Alaric Hall (CMCS 42 p. in this section of the Hrolfsaga Kraka, which (like the second Branch) occurs within the context of an intermarriage between two feuding families. On the approach to his new step-father's hall, the eponymous hero's servant demands that his master's horses should be 'tended well', and their 'coats should not be jerked, nor their forelocks nor their tails'. At this, their evil-minded host erupts:

'This is the greatest of their arrogance and pride . hack off their tail-stumps where they meet the rump and cut off their forelocks, so that the skin of their forehead comes off these, and play thenceforth the most mockingly in all your ability, except that you will only allow them to live.'

Whether this correspondence suggests the direct influence of the Dark Age Scandinavian culture in Wales, or merely a common inheritance from the pre-Christian, Heroic Age traditions is an open question. It may well be, given other evident parallels between the Second Branch and the Illiad and the Volsung cycle - that many if not all of these correspondences might be explained in terms of derivation from a common, Indo-European narrative epic (now lost): involving the motifs of (deliberately engineered) strife between kindreds, in which a ritual horse-mutilation sequence might have played an instrumental role.

Hall suggests that Efnisien fits the character type of the 'Óđinn hero' of the Germanic tradition: being preoccupied with the deliberate perpetuation of war and strife as an end in itself, rejecting the Christian moral code in favour of an older, tribal warrior ethos.

For the functional significance of this episode from a synchronic perspective see pp.###-### below.

[20] The mutilation of Matholwch's horses was intended to wreck humiliation on the Irish king, and trigger a cycle of recrimination. As subsequent events prove, this strategy proves devastatingly successful.

Beyond this, the recurrent equine imagery of the 1st Branch is being deliberately recalled. The horse, as we have seen, was symbolic of the Sovereignty Goddess in the pre-Christian tradition (see pp ##### above). The subsequent fate endured by Branwen is therefore reminiscent of the penance of Rhiannon. This dovetailing of symbolism between Branches is discussed below on p.###-###

[21] Cwbyl waradwyd a geueis  lit. 'a total insult have I got'

[22] Here it is confirmed that Llyr, the father of Bendigeidfran, Branwen and Manawydan had himself at one stage held the High Kingship of Britain (or the 'Isle of the Mighty' as it is called here).

 A certain King Lear is also present in Geoffrey's Historia. As in the Shakespearean play of that name, this King Lear is represented as the recipient of disingenuous flattery from his eldest two daughters, Goneril and Regan: while misinterpreting the faithful sincerity of the youngest (Cordelia), whom he sends into unjustified exile. While this legend is based on a narrative scenario found throughout the human world* , there is no reason to assume that such a tradition was not in circulation in the Brythonic world at the time of Geoffrey's composition - and that his King Lear is based, in name at least, on this significant figure from the Welsh tribal-historical tradition.

[23] Matholwch comes across in the Second Branch as a somewhat weak, depressive character: given to verbose brooding on his own misfortunes. His reaction here is one of self-pity and bewilderment. This characterisation is important: as it qualifies his subsequent capitulation when confronted with the primitive and vengeful emotions of the mob at other junctures in the Second Branch.

[24] In Celtic cultures, there was a strong ethic of hospitality. The larger the crowd a chieftain was able to feed and entertain, the greater his prestige. Furthermore, the duty of hospitality also extended to the physical protection of the guest. As Bendigeidfran's messengers point out - any injury done to a guest of the king, is an injury and slight to the honour of the king himself.

[25] Ac eissos ni eill ef uy niwaradwydaw i o hynny  lit. 'but he will never be able to dis-insult me from that'

[26] This is a consistent with medieval Welsh tribal law. The honour price (see p#####) of the 'King of Aberffraw' was set at '100 cows from every cantref in his lordship, and a golden rod as tall as himself and as thick as his little finger, together with a golden platter as brad as his face, and as thick as the nail of a husbandman of seven years standing'. Variants on this are found in the Demetian and the Gwentian code - suggesting it was the traditional base-rate of compensation for a regional king.

[27] More will be said further on about the Peir Dadeni - The Cauldron of Rebirth - which plays a critical role on the magical-symbolic level of the text. It relates on one hand to the Pair Pen Annwfyn dicussed in Chapter 2 (p####) and other vivifying cauldrons of Celtic myth, and on the other to the Holy Grail or San Graal of Arthurian myth. In terms of the internal symbolic idiom developed within the Mabinogi, it also fulfills as similar role to the magical bag of Rhiannon, the chest in which Gwydion 'incubates' the infant Lleu in the fourth branch and other enclosing, womb-like receptacles.

Here, it is worth noting, the cauldron plays a similar role Andvarr's ring in the Völsunga Saga - which is used to complement the 'otter payment' made to the Hreidmar and his sons, Fafnir and Regin. Although there is no precise analogue to this incident in Das Niebelungleid (Wagner's Medieval German source) there are number other parallels between this body of Germanic traditional lore and the Mabinogi - some of which may share a common (Romano-Belgic) origin in legends surrounding the Gold of Toulouse (see p ###-### above)

[28] 'Payment of Horses'. This small piece of folk-etymology is entirely characteristic of the Celtic narrative tradition. An essential part of the bardic art was the explanation of the names of places, and the relation of these explanatory ancedotes into a broader mythic context.

[29] Mac Cana (#############) has drawn attention to the Irish origins of this story, coming (appropriately enough) from the mouth of the Irish King. Nonetheless, the 'Iron House' episode, as it is known, incorporates a number of the broader themes and motifs developed elsewhere in the Mabinogi - and should be understood in this context as well.

The hulking figures emerging from the lake are clearly of supernatural origin - and belong to a well-established Celtic tradition of Otherworld entities of water monsters and lake fairies: and magical realms accessed via an entrance under a pool or under the sea. The evidence of metalwork, coins and other riches seemingly ritually deposited in lakes throughout the Celtic world suggests that there may have been an Iron Age religious tradition underlying this belief.

Matholwch's position 'on top of a tumulus', at the moment of their appearance, also recalls the megalithic background of the Indigenous Underworld. The misshapen aspect of these figures as well as their evident fecundity and possession of a magical cauldron also brings them into close association with the Pen Annwfn cauldron god archetype discussed in Chapter 2 (see p.#### above).

[30] Anorles The meaning of this word is unclear. D.S Thomson suggests 'unsightly'. P.K Ford offers 'uncompromising' - though the etymological basis for either of these speculations is unclear. Thomas Jones suggested an emendation to anorlas - another unattested word, but one which could be analysed as an-gor-llos 'brigand' 'warrior'. Jones thus translates drygweith anorles as 'the evil look of a brigand'

[31] The boorish behaviour of Matholwch's supernatural guests presents a dilemma familiar by its recurrance throughout the Mabinogi: that is the discontent amongst the nobility of the land which forces the king to act - sometimes against his will. We see this situation occur at various  numerous intervals throughout the Mabinogi of Pwyll - notably in the whispering campaign directed against Rhiannon for her apparent infertility - and also later in this branch where the undeserving Branwen is the recipient of a similarly xenophobic animus. Here, it will be noted, the popular grievance is more substantial and justified. Here

[32] Gruffydd (###############) draws attention to numerous examples (both medieval and modern) which add up to a tradition suggesting the aversion of faery-folk to iron - which adds weight to the theory that a significant constituent of the myth of the faery people comes from a Bronze/Iron Age folk memory of an indigenous Neolithic race. Whether or  not this is the case: there are numerous stories throughout rural Wales of a local man who marries a mysterious lady (who often emerges from a lake), and enjoys many years of wealth and domestic fulfilment - until he breaks a taboo by (accidentally) striking the woman with an iron object (the 'Grievous Blow' motif - see p#####). In one case, such as the story recorded in the Llanfrothen area of Merionethshire - the off-spring of this union were the red-haired, long-nosed 'Wild Red Men of Mawddy' - who perpetrated acts of brigandry throughout the countryside of 11th  century Wales.

More pertinent perhaps, than the faery-averting properties of iron - was the fact that like the Bag of Rhiannon, in the First Branch, the iron house was employed as an enclosing object used to vanquish an otherwise intractable enemy. This motif is repeated almost to the obsession throughout the Mabinogi. We will explore its possible significance later on in this study (##########).

[33] A phan wybuwyt eu medwi wynteu  'and when their drunkedness was known'

[34] Part of the point of this story - as well as to qualify the Otherworld significance of the Cauldron of Rebirth - is to draw attention the differences in style between the governance of Matholwch and Bendigeidfran respectively. As has been already suggested, Matholwch is consistently characterised as a rather morose, weak and reactive individual. In this episode he displays little or no control: either over his Otherworldly guests or his native peers. It is only in response to the latter that any action is taken against the depredations of the People of the Lake: and then (it is implicitly suggested) the action taken is disproportionate and peculiarly cruel. Bendigeidfran, however, as a strong and just king, is able to integrate this element into his kingdom - where they become a positive asset, rather than a menace. In this way, the historic presence of the Irish in Wales is accounted for (see p##, #### and ####).

[35] a uei arbennic y welet yn mynet e ymdeith  lit. 'which would be matchless to see going away'. This slightly convoluted sentence suggests as ritual process similar to that described on p. ###, n## above. This heightens the association between Rhiannon and Branwen, in their common role as foreign princess as is further discussed on p. ###-### below.

[36] Gwern = "Alder". For a discussion on the possible significance of this name, see p. ### below

[37] The persecution suffered by Branwen has been linked to the 'Calumniated Wife' tale-type: a plot-structure identified by folklorists as common to a wide range of narrative traditions. Significant here is the parallelism between the fate of Branwen, and that of Rhiannon in the previous branch (p. #####, n##). It has been pointed out that both women "share the experience of persecution after marriage" and that "ultimately their persecution stems from the fact that these women are foreigners, intruders as it were, into a world which will not readily accept them". As with Pwyll and Rhiannon, it is the foster brothers - that most intimate and coercive of peer influences (p.###) - who provide the most vocal hostility to the foreign queen and, through her, to their adopted kinsmen.

 Interestingly, the punishment of Branwen is causally associated with the maiming of the horses, which as has already been suggested - builds a further esoteric relationship between the two abused wives and the Celtic mythological archetype of the Lady of the Horse discussed in the previous chapter. The degrading 'penance' of Rhiannon (p####), Efnisien's mutilation of the Irish horses and Branwen's daily beating at the hands of the blood-stained butcher all recall the primitive roots of the pagan cult involved (p #### ). This is further discussed on p. #### below

The striking of Branwen is referred to in the 53rd triad: 'The Three Harmful Blows of the Island of Britain'. At least one of the other two Harmful Blows (the striking of Gwenhwyfar) is seen as the catalyst for an epoch-marking battle, which brings an end to a historically-significant regime (the Battle of Camlan) 

[38] Disykynyssant < dyskynnu  'descend' 'settle' 'alight'. It is possibly significant that the same verb is used to describe the rather tentative decision-making process of the Irish council, and the movements of the starling towards the end of the following paragraph  (p. ### below).

[39] A menegei y'r ederyn y ryw wr oed y brawt  lit: "told the bird the kind of man her brother was"

[40] Ac yna kymryt llwythyr a'y edrych lit. 'and then the taking of the letter and its looking'

[41] bot y poen a oed ar y chwaer lit. 'the being of the punishment which was upon his sister'

[42] 'Twysogian' 'overlords' 'stewards' 'noblemen' 'princes'. Twysog designates a rank in the Celtic world (= Gaelic taosoich) which is imbued with significant authority, but is always understood to be subordinate to, or a proxy for the king. I have used the term 'elder' (c.f. Anglo-Saxon ealdorman) to evoke the proto-feudal  social world involved.

[43] This may reflect the memory of a traditional partition of Britain from the Iron Age period (which might be compared with the sevenfold partition of Pictish Scotland (#######), and the '28 cities' listed in Historia Brittonum (#######)

[44] The Seven Riders themselves, with their rather colourful epithets, sound more like folktale characters than tutelary or ancestral figures with specific tribal associations. The exception to this is Pendaran Dyfed, who might be seen as a representation of the men of the south - who, it is noted, is given a somewhat junior role in relation to the others. This continues a theme which runs throughout the Mabinogi - which recognises the South as a distinct and partially independent cultural bloc - but one which is essentially subordinate to the royal houses of the North, with their implicit link to the sovereignty of the Island as a whole.

[45] Ac yna y kerdwys ef ac a oed a gerd arwest y geuyn e hun a chyrchu tir Iwerdon lit. 'and then he advanced with what there was of string minstelsy on his back'

The peculiarity of this image, as well as its alliterating qualities - suggest it may (like the 'dogs of Gwern' sequence discussed below) belong to an older, pre-existing bardic tradition, which the author felt obliged to include for the sake of completeness. The idea of a king carrying minstrelsy one his back maybe a metaphor for patronage of the musical arts. If this is the case, it lends further substance to the case that the notion of Brân's gigantic proportions were primarily an expression of his symbolic role as the personal embodiment of the tribal group identity

[46] As well as the word-play linking the 'forest on the ocean' with the 'sail-trees' of the ships, there is also a further pun linking the term for mast (gwernenni) and the name of Branwen and Matholwch's son Gwern  (who was evidently a more significant figure in the older bardic tradtion than his brief appearance in the Second Branch would tend to suggest p.### ff.).

[47] This sequence, involving the interpretation of a distant and terrifying vision by a third party is known as 'The Watchman Device', a motif which is particularly popular in Medieval Irish Literature. MacCana (#######) identifies a close parallel in the eleventh century Togail Bruide Da Derga which he believes may be the direct inspiration for this passage in the Second Branch.

Whether or not this is the case, the surreal, animistic imagery of the 'forest on the ocean' and the 'walking mountain' plays an important role in the Medieval Welsh bardic tradition in its own right. As well as evoking the menace of the approaching army, the giant-like proportion of the British warlord may have a metaphorical relationship with the notion of the martial-tribal group mind (this possibility is further discussed on page ### below). Other references to Bendigeidfran's great size in the Second Branch (see n.### and n.###) that it is in his capacity as the embodiment of the people as a whole that 'no building can contain him' or he 'carried the string minstrelsy on his back' (patronage).

The bardic tradition of Cad Goddeu is possibly also being recalled at this stage (see p.### below). The elemental nature of this representation of the Assembly of Brân suggest that army and its leader are being likened to the very landscape itself, rising up to avenge the Princess Branwen. With Brân as an embodiment of the land itself, as well as its people, addition meaning is given to the dyf y rwyng deu llen of the Four Branch, as we shall see (p.###. n.####).

[48] mein sugyn  lit. 'sucking stones'. This motif may be related to an incident in the Sack of Delphi, in which a large number of Brennus' host drowned in the mud of a swamp near Thermapylae (Pausalinias xxi 2-3). See note ## below.

[49] A vo penn bit pont 'Whoever would be chief , let him be the bridge'. The choice of words penn ('head' 'leader') is particularly interesting, in the light of subsequent events (see p.###, n###).

[50] J.T. Koch draws attention to the similarity between this incident, and an episode in the Sacking of Delphi (see p.####) as reported by Pausalinias (x.20 5-8):

When the Greeks. learnt that the army of Gauls was already in the neighbourhood of Magnesia and Phthios.. [they] broke down the bridges [over the River Sperchieus]. But Brennos himself was not utterly stupid, even for a barbarian, in devising tricks of strategy. So on that very night he dispatched some troops to Sperchieus, not ot the places where the old bridges had stood, but lower down, where the Greeks would not notice the crossing, and just where the river spread over the plain and made a marsh and a lake instead of a violent stream. Hither Brennos sent some ten thousand Gauls, picking out the swimmers and the tallest men. So these crossed that very night. the tallest of them able to cross by wading.. Brennus ordered the dwellers around the Malian gulf to build bridges across the Spercheius.


See pp. ### where the magical significance of this episode is discussed

[51] O hyn hyt ban del amgen  lit. 'until [something] different comes'

[52] gwra  < gwrha  related to the notion of clientship (gwrogaeth). See p. ###, n. ###.

[53] Saunders Lewis compares this development with an incident recorded in Henry II's 1172 invasion of Ireland (which included substantial Welsh participation). English accounts record how a great house was built by the Irish for the king while he was wintering in Dublin (Saunders Lewis 19##, p.###). If we can accept a post 1172-date for the composition of the Mabinogi, it would be entirely consistent with the typological outlook of the medieval bardic author to draw such parallels between these two invasions, and these two 'Great Houses', built for a conquering king from the other side of the Irish Sea. Thomas Charles-Edwards questions this, suggesting that the Mabinogi is more likely to have been composed in the earlier part of the twelfth century, and that the building of a house for a conquering king was a traditional Gaelic gesture of submission.

Sims-Williams provides a counterpoint to both these positions, suggesting that the 'Great House' motif should be seen in the context of the motif of 'containment' found throughout the Mabinogi, especially in the Second Branch. The most obvious parallel is the Iron House episode (p.###, n###), but the Cauldron of Rebirth, Rhiannon's bag,  Manawydan's glove and Gwydion's chest in the Fourth Branch can all be related to this function of containment, which as we have already suggested, can be seen to carry strong associations with the womb-like capacity of the feminine. We will explore this question at greater length on p.###-### below.

[54] .ac rac llyygru y wlat oed genti hitheu hynny lit. 'and against damage to the country was that to her'. Here Branwen is playing the role of the Peaceweaver in its most imminent sense.

[55] Ystryw lit. 'plan' 'ruse'. In the Peniarth 6 fragment of the Mabinogi (which predates the White Book version) we find the archaic spelling stryw, which used to be taken (Williams, PKM, p. ###) as an indicator of the pre-Norman origins of the Four Branches. More recently, it has been noted by Thomas-Edwards (p. ###), Hamp (p.###) and others that orthographic archaisms of this kind persist for a number of reasons, and may do not form a definitive dating criterion in themselves.

[56] boly = 'cavity' 'swelling' 'bulge' 'hide or leather bag' The womb-like properties of these 'skin bags' are emphasised, adding additional horror to the events that follow, and further qualifying the motif of containment developed throughout the Second Branch. The words of Llaser Llaes Gyfnewid are being recalled at this juncture: ".this woman, at the end of a month and a fortnight will become pregnant: and the boy that will be born from that wombful - after a month and fortnight -  will be a fully armed fighting man.". For a fuller discussion of this complex of 'containment' images see pp. ###-### and ###.

[57] eneit = lit 'soul' a term of cordiality/affection for another, usually translated here as 'friend'. The literal meaning of this word is worth bearing in mind when considering the possible metaphysical implications of this act.

[58] Once again, the sadistic violence of Efnisien is described, but no comment is supplied. Aside from the physical horror of the atrocity itself,  this may have been a profoundly malignant magical act, similar to the degradation of Gwawl in the First Branch. This is more fully discussed in the concluding section of this chapter (p.###).

[59] A three-line epigrammatic verse, popular in the Welsh poetic tradition

[60] dikenneit yn trin 'descenders to the grind'. In Modern Welsh trin has two meanings: the first 'to chide' or 'to treat' (i.e. a process of nuturing/refinement), and the second - a noun meaning 'battle'. Efnisiyen is probably punning on these two meanings: likening the descent of warriors into the melee of war with the grinding of corn-seeds in the mill. This would reinforce the suggestion of the possible magical significance of this episode (see. p###)

[61] .kydwyr cadbarawt lit. 'fighting men ready for the fight'

[62] .a phawb o'r a'e guelei yn y garu lit. 'and all of those who saw him in his love'. Ford suggests 'and all who saw him loved him'

[63] This 'Fight in a Great House' sequence is a commonplace within both the Celtic and the Germanic traditions: from the slaughter of Finnsburgh Hall in Beowulf, to the riotous mayhem in the HousHouse of Mac Da Tho. Undoubtedly, such accounts were based to some extent on the violent realities of Heroic Age life (see p. ### above). But there is also a discernable tradition - based around the complex of what Andrew Welsh calls the 'Tragic Peaceweaver Tale' which would seem to underlie a number of these accounts (p.###-###). As we have already suggested, elements such as the horse-mutilation, and 'bird-as-messenger' may well have been part of the assemblage of this Indo-European tale, even if these motifs were simultaneously interwoven with the Horse Goddess complex of the First Branch (p. ###-###).

[64] The source of this peculiar interjection would appear to be an old  bardic tradition, also referenced in lines 26-27 of the 10th/11th century poem from the Book of Taliesin:

I was with Brân in Ireland

I saw where Mordwyt Tyllon was slain..

Mordwyt Tyllion literally means 'pierced thigh' - and has been taken by some commentators to refer to Bendigeidfran himself, who is wounded in the leg with a poisoned spear. Others have suggested that this wound links Bran with the Fisher King of the later Arthurian tradition (p. ####).

It seems most likely that the significance of Gwern was more pronounced in this bardic tradition. The place of the alder (gwern) was prominent in Cad Goddeu ('The Battle of the Trees'), and a later bardic riddle identified Bran by 'the high sprigs of Alder' in his hand'. This riddle, and the Battle of the Trees lies close to the esoteric core of the Mabinogi as a whole, and is discussed more fully on p.### below.

[65] yn rith Gwydel lit. 'in the guise of an Irishman'

[66] Ac o hynny y bu y meint goruot a uu wyr Ynys y Kedyrn lit. 'and from that was such victory as there was to the men of the Isle of the Mighty

[67] The word goruot - meaning 'survival' as well as 'victory' is used here, underlying the pyrrhic  nature of the victory.]

[68] The tradition of Seven Survivors is also found in the aforementioned poem of Preiddeu Annwfn (c.f. p.###-###, p.### etc), which (like other works of the 'School of Taliesin') was heavily referenced by the author of the Mabinogi. The full text of this and other relevant poems from the Book of Taliesin is discussed on p.###.

[69] The death of Branwen has both linguistic and structural parallels to that of Efnisien (see p. ###, n ###). Both (like Cradog below) die of a 'broken heart'. In the process of dying, Efnisien breaks the Cauldron of Rebirth 'into four pieces' (yn pedwar dryll), while Branwen is buried in a 'four-sided grave' (bed petrual). This symbolism, and its possible figurative significance, is considered on p.###.

[70] This figure is usually identified with Cassivelaunos, who led a hegemony of British Celtic tribes against the armies of Julius Caesar in 54/55 BC (see pp. ##, ### ff. above)

[71] This Cradawg may be identical with Caractācos, the first century leader of the British Celtic resistance against the Claudian invasion of 45 AD. Caractācos may indeed have been a kinsman of Cassivelaunos, although they are unlikely to have been contemporaries. After taking refuge amongst the Silures (the possible origin of the tradition of a friendship between the dynasty of Llyr and the South Walian Pryderi), Caractācos was eventually betrayed by Cartimandua of the Brigantes. The folk-memory of this betrayal - which signalled the end of independent, Celtic Britain - may have been being indirectly recalled in this medieval story, but the correspondences are too vague and symbolic to form any solid conclusion.

[72] It has already been suggested that Pendaran Dyfed may have been a tutelary figure, associated with an indigenous tribal element in South-West Wales. Local folk-belief may have associated him with the forests and wilderness places in that area, and his flight to the woods at this juncture may have been a rationalisation of this tradition.

[73] Eisted lit. 'a sitting' 'a session'. See n. ### above

[74] Emendation supplied by Sir Ifor Williams

[75] These are evidently 'The Birds of Rhiannon' (Adar Rhiannon) referred to Bendigeidfran above (p.###, n.###). These birds are described in Culhwch ac Olwen as being able 'to wake the dead, and send the living to sleep'. Their appearance at this juncture is not explained, though it may be related to the presence of Pryderi among the Seven Survivors. The relationship between these birds and the Head of Brân is considered on p.### below.

Ross (p. 404 ff) notes a traditional association between horses and birds in pre-Christian Celtic iconography.

[76] The seven year feast (with the distortions of time and space so characteristic of the Island Otherworld tradition) takes place at no more exotic location than Harlech in Ardudwy, where the action of the Second Branch began. The existence of two separate feasts - which are in many ways doublets of one another - suggests the prior existence of two separate (but similar) traditions which the bardic author was attempting to synthesise.

[77] It has been suggested that this might be identified with the small island known today as Grassholm,  off the South West Coast of Wales. Aber Henvelen is probably the Bristol Channel (DS Thompson p.38)

[78] Ac yno yd oed udunt lle teg brenhineid  lit. 'and there there was to them a fair and kingly place'

[79] .ny doy gof udunt wy dim lit. 'there came no memory [of it] to them'

[80]  .hyt na wybuant wy eiryoet dwyn yspeit digriuach na hyurydach no honno lit. 'so that they had never known the spending of a time more carefree or light-hearted than that'

[81] Nyt oed anesmwythach, nac adnabot o un ar y gilyd y uot yn hynny amser, no fan doethan yno  lit. 'It was not more irksome, nor [was there] realisation of anyone on his companion that it was that [much] of time'. This sentence may be corrupt, as its syntax appears to broken by the second clause. (Thomson p.39). The general sense would appear to be that among the company of the Wondrous Head the effects of aging and/or wearying of one another's company appear to be in temporary abeyance.

[82] Urdaul benn  The precise meaning of these words is not clear, although it almost certainly relates to the Living Head archetype magico-religious complex outlined above (pp. ###-###). The following interpretations of urdaul have been offered (Thomson, pp. 39-40):

1.        a misspelling of uthrawl = 'wondrous' 'terrible' (cf. Mod. Welsh  uthr  'awful' 'awesome', Uthyr Pendragon)

2.        an adjective deriving from urdd meaing 'series or row'. Perhaps referring to the successive feasts described in the Second Branch

3.        a mutation of guirdaul, an Old Welsh spelling of gwyrthriol 'miraculous'

4.        a misspelling of urddasol 'honourable' 'noble'

[83] A phan edrychwys, yd oed yn gyn hyspysset ganthunt y gyniuer collet a gollyssant eiryoet, a'r gyniuer car a chedymdeith a gollyssynt, a'r gyniuer drwc a dothoed udunt, a chyt bei yno y kyuarffei ac wynt; ac yn benhaf oll am eu harglywyd lit. 'And when he looked, it was a clear to them as many losses as they had ever lost, as many loved ones and companions they had lost, and as many bad things as had happened to them - as if [all these things] were approaching them there - and most of all the loss of their king.'

[84] This is an example of apotropaic magic: aimed at protecting the island from evil or bad luck. It might be compared with the ritual burial of the Dark Age British hero Vortimer, as described in the ninth-century Historia Brittonum:

Before his dicease, anxious for the fututre prosperity of his country, he charged his friends to inter his body at the entrance of the Saxon port, viz. upon the rock where the Saxons first landed; 'for though,' said he 'they may inhabit other parts of Britain, yet if you follow my commands, they will never remain in this island.'

It is possibly significant, as suggested above on p. ### n ##, that Vortimer (= MW Gwythyfyr) shares the same epithet (bendigeit 'Blessed') as Brân. Despite the Latin/Christian origins of this term, it seems likely that some form of Romano-British (pagan) magical thinking is involved with this cult of apotrpaic relics.

[85] un lau, heb lau  lit. 'the same hand, without hand' An unknown idiom. IW offers a number of meanings including 'with or without authroity' - which is the sense that has been followed here. It fits with the rather negative portrayal of the Irish as lawless and primitive we find elsewhere in the Second Branch.

This anecdote also serves as an origin myth - explaining the political geography of the Island in tribal-historical terms.

[86] Paluawt lit. 'Slapping'


© W. M. Parker 2003