Completed 12 January 2005.
Last modified .
© Text Copyright 2005 Michael Wild

Celtic Origins of Arthur and his knights



The section comprises transcriptions of two chapters of "Celtic Myth & Legend: Poetry & Romance" by Charles Squire and published in 1912. This work was re-published by Senate (an imprint of Tiger Books International) in 1998 under the title "Mythology of the Celtic People". The picture sketched out by Squires, seems from references given in footnotes, to derive mainly from opinions expressed by Sir John Rhys. Sir John, an Oxford academic, was an eminent Welsh philologist and was also an important figure in the broader field of Celtic studies. However, the Dictionary of National Biography does suggest that his views should be treated with caution because of the speculative nature of his theorising.

"As a scholar, Rhys combined with great industry and learning a singularly active, reconstructive imagination. Where a more cautious man would have decided that the data were insufficient he often preferred to suggest a series of alternative theories, sometimes without making it clear that he was presenting in each of them not something intended to be a definitive interpretation of the facts, but simply a suggestion which appeared to deserve consideration even if should later have to be withdrawn."

Having introduced this caution, I will attempt to summarise the identification of Arthur and Arthurian characters with figures from Celtic mythology. So we will have Rhys's summarised interpretation of Arthurian literature, as presented by Squires. Which will then be seen distorted through my pebble-thick spectacles. This section is followed by the text of the relavent chapters from Squire's book (Chaps. XXI and XXIII). Rhys's analysis of the Celtic origins of Arthurian myth and figures was certainly thoroughgoing and he drew parallels that are discounted today. Are his opinions of value? Is there some kernel of valid theorising in Rhys's writings? It is for you to decide.

Arthur's affinities to Celtic Myth

Parallels are suggested between Arthur and his Round Table fellowship and Finn and his Fenians (pp. 314-5). More specifically neither Arthur nor Finn died, but slept with their warriors waiting for a glorious return (P. 315).

The relationship between Arthur, Gwynhwyvar and Medrawt is likened to that which existed between Finn, Grainne and Dairmat (P. 315). Finn's betrothed wife, Grainne chose Dairmat as her lover and they were pursued by Finn (pp. 215-221). However, unlike Arthur, who killed his rival, Medrawt, in battle, Finn pretended to accept the relationship between Grainne and Diarmat, but still treacherously encompassed Diarmat's death. In addition, the Arthurian eternal triangle is also supposed to have had parallels with the story of Etain (Gwynhwyvar), Mider (Medrawt) and Airem Aochaid (Arthur) (pp. 332-3). In particular, the three Gwynhwyvar's mentioned in the Welsh Triads are likened to the three Etains (pp. 147-152) in the Irish story (P. 331).

Arthur is suppposed to have taken over the divine characteristics of Gwydion, son of the goddess Dôn (pp. 316-7). In particular, Arthur's despoiling of Annwn for its magical cauldron is seen as being like Gwydion's war with the powers of the underworld to gain power and wisdom (pp. 316-7 & 319-22). Though no parallel is suggested for the best known aspect of Gwydion's life. This was his part in the seduction of Mâth's virgin foot-holder, Goewen, which was followed by Mâth's grotesque revenge on Gwydion and the seducer: Gwydion's brother Gilfaethwy.

We now come upon the identification of Arthur and Arthurian characters with the ancient god's of light and darkness. Gwydion was father, by his sister Arianrod, of a god of light (Lleu) and his contrasting brother (Dylan), who was a god of darkness. For Rhys, Morgawse took the place of Arianrod, bearing the child of darkness, Medrawt (Dylan - P. 364), whose father was her half brother Arthur (who takes the place of Gwydion - P. 364). Medrawt, of course contrasts with his brother Gawain (Gwalchmei), who is certainly a solar being. Gwalchmei is proposed as the successor of the solar divinity Lleu Llaw Gyffes (pp. 322-3, 360, 364). However this does not completely dispose of the complex web woven around Gawain, for Lleu Llaw Gyffes is also equated with the Irish god Lugh Lamhfada (P. 370), and is supposed to be identical with Galahad. For the Welsh name for Galahad is Gwalchaved (hawk of summer) and it is noted that this name resembles Gawain's Welsh name__Gwalchmei (hawk of May) (P. 369). To return to Arianrod, she is held to be the original of the wife of Lott (Morgawse in Malory and Anna in Geoffrey of Monmouth).

Arainhod the progentor of Morgawse

Let's now have a look at the husband of Morgawse/Arianhod, King Lott. Arianhod was the "wife of a waning heaven-god Nwyvre (Space)" (P. 322), a god who can be surely identified with Lott. While Lott is seen as being a variant of the Welsh god Lludd (pp. 323, 359, 364), who Squires describes as the "Zeus of the older Pantheon" and was designated in the Welsh Triads as one of Arthur's "Three Chief War Knights" (P. 312). Obviously, Lott was originally a sky-god of supreme importance.

Arianhod, besides her incestuous infidelity with her brother, is also proposed to have had a baleful aspect. For she has been identified with a Welsh character called Gwyar. Her name means "shed blood" or "gore". This name leads to her being compared to the Irish war-goddess, Morrígú, who had a relationship with the Irish heaven-god Nuada (P. 323). This seems to bring us full circle back to the Welsh waning heaven-god Nwyvre, who has been equated above with Lott and leads us to identify Lott as a derivitive of Nuada: an identification not specifically stated by Squires.

Merlin's Celtic affinities

Another entity postulated to have been a sky god is Myrddin (Merlin) (P. 325); or even as a sun-god as exemplified by Mâth (P. 364). He is described as the "Zeus of the later cycle" under the name of Emrys. When personified as Emrys, Merlin was also equated with King Bors of Gaul (P. 369). Bors in his turn had as his brother King Ban of Benwyk. A man identified with "Brân of the square enclosure, the ubiquitous underworld god" (P. 360). In some ways the relationship between Arthur and Merlin reflects that which had earlier existed between Gwydion and Mâth. For Merlin, like Mâth, was an enchanter and could hear everything in the world (P. 361). Merlin also had as consort Elen Lwydhawg, the daughter of Coel, who is seen as being derived from Camulos, a god of war and the sky (P. 323). Elen appears in five guises in Malory (P. 362). Merlin's nemesis, Nimue who trapped him under a stone to prevent him importuning her, is seen a variant of the goddess Rhiannon (pp. 358, 361). Her trapping of Merlin is compared with the trick that Rhiannon employed to have Gwawl, her unwelcome suitor, trapped in a bag (pp. 284-5).

Solar Celtic origins of some Arthurian Knights

Further knights who are supposed to have had their origins in British local solar divinities are Sir Gawain, Sir Percival, Sir Tristrem and Sir Owain (P. 363). While the original of Lancelot is proposed to have been some un-named British sun-god or solar hero (P. 333). In particular, Percival, whose Welsh name is Peredur, is compared with Peredur Paladrhir ("Spearman with the Long Shaft") who is supposed to have possessed the same attributes of the sun-god as did Gawain (pp 369-70).

The Gods of Hades and the Arthurian mythos

Having dealt with many with the gods of light, now is the time to consider the gods of darkness. The archetypal god of darkness, or of Hell and Hades, was Brân (p. 329), whose name was detected in a number of guises in Malory. He is King Brandegore, or Brandegoris: which is supposed to be a contraction of Brân of Gower (P. 356). Or he is Brandil, or Brandiles: both of which are supposed to be derived from Brân of Gwales (P. 356). He is also King Ban of Benwyk; where Benwyk is said to mean the "square enclosure"__which equates with Taliesin's Caer Pedryvan of the "Spoils of Annwn" or with Malory's Carbonek (P. 356). He also appears as Uther Pendragon, whose name is a variant of Uther Ben, a name that is interpretted as meaning wonderful head__an appellation of Brân as the King of Hades (pp. 330-1, 356). Brán is also identified with Ogyrvran (ocur vran__evil vran), the father of Guinevere (pp. 331, 357); who has become Leodegrance in Malory.

By a further stretch, Brân becomes identified with King Uriens of Gore (Gower__see Brân of Gower above) and from Uriens with Arthur's enemy King Rience or Ryons of North Wales (P. 357). His shadow is even seen in King Nentres of Garloth (P. 357). While Brân, "this Proteus of British gods", also appears as Balan in the tragic story of Balin and Balan (P. 357) Here he is opposed to his brother Balin, who is said to be a manifestation of the Gallo-British sun-god Belinus (pp. 357, 358).

King Urien of Gore, who resembled Brân, had as his wife Modron, who was the mother of the sun-god Mabon. Mabon being possibly the same as Urien's son Owain (P. 328). However, a significant ommission throughout Squires' book is his failure to mention Morgan le Fay, who is in Malory the wife of King Urien.

To continue with the gods of darkness. Arawn, the king of Annwn (the Celtic underworld - P. 329), who is named in the Welsh triads as one of Arthur's "Three Chief Counselling Knights" (p. 312). Arawn is supposed to have been transmuted, over time, into Anguish or Anguissance (P. 357). . While another king of the Celtic Hades (Annwn), Pwyll, Head of Annwn (P. 329) became Pelles, king of the Foreign Country or Sir Pelleas (pp. 358, 368). The son of Pwyll, Pryderi, became in Arthurian literature King Pellean (P. 358), King Pellam (pp. 358, 364) or King Peleur (P. 368).

Other gods of Hades may be mentioned who are, perhaps, identical. These are Gwyn, Gwynwas, Melvas, Avallon and Avallach (P. 329). Gwyn is Melvas, the Cornish abducter of Gwynhwyvar (P. 365). Melvas is the abducter in what is postulated to be the "eternal strife between the powers of light and darkness for the possession of a symbolical damsel" (P. 332). Of these characters Gwyn (ap Nudd) is identified in Malory with the multiple characters; Sir Gwinas, Sir Gwynas and Sir Gwenbaus (P. 359). While Melvas becomes Sir Melias, Sir Meleaus de Lile (of the Isle), Sir Meliagaunce (P. 359) or Sir Meliagraunce (pp. 359, 365). Melvas is also equated with Malory's King Evelake, through his alternative names of Avallon or Avallach (P. 359).

A final king with underworld associations is King Mark, who is equated with Morc, king of the evil undersea deities, called the Fomor, in Irish myth. The Fomor were distinguished by having animal features and, while Mark did not have an animal's face, he did have horses ears (pp. 327-8).

Pagan Celtic origins of the Holy Grail

Finally, the pagan origin of the Holy Grail is explored (pp. 365-6). For it is likened to the Dagda's Undry ("which fed all who came to it, and from which none went away unsatisfied"), Brân's cauldron ("which brought the dead back to life"), the cauldron of Ogyrvran the giant("from which the muses ascended") and the cauldron captured by Cuchulainn from the King of Dún Scaith__Shadowy City ("in which was always found an inexhaustible supply of meat"__pp. 175-6)




The "Coming of Arthur", his sudden rise into prominence, is one of the many problems of the Celtic mythology. He is not mentioned in any of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, which deal with the races of British gods equivalent to the Gaelic Tuatha Dé Danaan. The earliest references to him in Welsh literature seem to treat him as merely a warrior-chieftain, no better, if no worse, than several others, such as "Geraint, a tributary prince of Devon", immortalized both by the bards1 and by Tennyson. Then, following upon this, we find him lifted to the extraordinary position of a king of gods, to whom the old divine families of Dôn, of Llyr, and of Pwyll pay unquestioned homage. Triads tell us that Lludd__the Zeus of the older Pantheon__was one of Arthur's "Three Chief War-Knights", and Arawn, King of Hades, one of his "Three Chief Counselling Knights", in the Red Book of Hergest, he is shown as a leader to whom are subject those we know to have been of

1A poem in praise of Geraint, "the brave man from the region of Dyvnaint (Devon) . . . the enemy of tyranny and oppression", is contained in both the Black Book of Caermarthen and the Red Book of Hergest. "When Geraint was born open were the gates of heaven", begins its last verse. It is translated in Vol 1 of Skene, P. 267.


divine race__sons of Nudd, of Llyr, of Brân, of Govannan, and of Arianrod. In another "Red Book" tale, that of "Kulhwch and Olwen", even greater gods are his vassals. Amaethon son of Dôn, ploughs for him, and Govannon son of Dôn, rids the iron, while two other sons of Beli, Nynniaw and Piebaw, "turned into oxen on account of their sins", toil at the yoke, that a mountain may be cleared and tilled and the harvest reaped in one day. He assembles his champions to seek the "treasures of Britain"; and Manawyddan son of Llyr, Gwyn son of Nudd, and Pryderi son of Pwyll rally round him at his call.

The most probable, and only adequate explan-ation, is given by Professor Rhys, who considers that the fames of two separate Arthurs have been accidentally confused, to the exceeding renown of a composite, half-real, half-mythical personage into whom the two blended1 One of these was a divine Arthur, a god more or less widely worshipped in the Celtic world__the same, no doubt, whom an ex voto inscription found in south-eastern France calls Mercurius Artaius.2 The other was a human Arthur, who held among the Britons the post which, under Roman domination, had been called Comes Britanniae. This "Count of Britain" was the supreme military authority; he had a roving commission to defend the country against foreign invasion; and under his orders were to slightly subordinate officers, the Dux Britanniarum (Duke of the Britons), who had charge of the northern

1 Rhys: Arthurian Legend, p. 8
2 Rhys: Hibbert Lectures, pp. 40-41.


wall, and the Comes Littoris Saxonici (Count of the Saxon shore), who guarded the south-eastern coasts. The Britons, after the departure of the Romans, long kept intact the organization their conquerors had built up; and it seems reasonable to believe that this post of leader in war was the same which early Welsh literature describes as that of "emperor", a title given to Arthur alone among the British heroes.1 The fame of Arthur the Emperor blended with that of Arthur the God, so that it became conterminous with the area over which we have traced Brythonic settlement in Great Britain.2 Hence the many disputes, ably, if unprofitably, conducted, over "Arthurian localities" and the sites of such cities as Camelot, and of Arthur's twelve great battles. Historical elements doubtless coloured the tales of Arthur and his companions, but they are none the less as essentially mythic as those told of their Gaelic analogues__the Red Branch Heroes of Ulster and the Fenians.

Of those two cycles, it is with the latter that the Arthurian legend shows most affinity.3 Arthur's position as supreme war-leader of Britain curiously parallels that of Finn's as general of a "native Irish militia". His "Round Table" of warriors also reminds one of Finn's Fenians sworn to adventure. Both alike battle with human and superhuman foes.

1 Rhys: Arthurian Legend. p. 7.
2 "It is worthy of remark that the fame of Arthur is widely spread; he is claimed alike as a prince in Brittany, Cornwall, Wales, Cumberland and the Lowlands of Scotland; that is to say, his fame is conterminous with the Brythonic race, does not extend to the Gaels".__Chamber's Encyclopedia.
3 For Arthurian and Fenian parallels see Campbell's Popular Tales of the West Highlands.


Both alike harry Europe, even to the walls of Rome. The love-story of Arthur, his wife Gwynhwyvar (Guinevere), and his nephew Medrawt (Mordred), resembles in several ways that of Finn, his wife Grainne, and his nephew Diarmait. In the stories of the last battles of Arthur and of the Fenians, the essence of the kindred myth still subsists, though the actual exponents of it slightly differ. At the fight of Camlan, it was Arthur and Medrawt themsleves who fought the final duel. But in the last stand of the Fenians at Gabhra, the original protagonists have given place to their descendants ans representatives. Both Finn and Cormac were already dead. It is Oscar, Finn's grandson, and Cairbreé, Cormac's son who fight and slay each other. And again, just as Arthur was thought by many not to have really died, but to have passed to "the island valley of Avilion", so a Scottish legend tells us how, ages after the Fenians, a man, landing by chance upon a mysterious western island, met and spoke with Finn mac Coul. Even the alternative legend, which makes Arthur and his warrriors wait under the earth in a magic sleep for the return of their triumph, is also told of the Fenians.

But these parallels, though they illustrate Arthur's pre-eminence, do not show his real place among the gods. To determine this, we must examine the ranks of the older dynasties carefully, to see if any are missing whose attributes this new-comer may have inherited. We find Llud and Gwyn, Arawn, Pryderi, and Manawyddan side by side with him


under their own names. Among the children of Dôn are Amaethon and Govannan. But here the list stops, with a notable omission. There is no mention, in later myth, of Gwydion. That greatest of the sons of Dôn has fallen out, and vanished without a sign.

Singularly enough too, the same stories that were once told of Gwydion are now attached to the name of Arthur. So that we may assume, with Professor Rhys, that Arthur, the prominent god of a new Pantheon, has taken the place of Gwydion in the old.1 A comparison of Gwydion-myths and Arthur-myths shows an almost exact correspondence in everything but name.

Like Gwydion, Arthur is the exponent of culture and of arts. Therefore we see him carrying on the same war against the underworld for wealth and wisdom that Gwydion and the sons of Dôn waged against the sons of Llyr, the Sea, and of Pwyll, the Head of Hades.

Like Gwydion, too, Arthur suffered early reverses. He failed, indeed, even where his prototype had succeeded. Gwydion, we know from the Mabinogion of Mâth, successfully stole Pryderi's pigs, but Arthur was utterly baffled in his attempt to capture the swine of a similar prince of the underworld, called March son of Meirchion.2 Also as with Gwydion, his earliest reconnaisance of Hades was disastrous,

1 See chap. 1 of Rhys's Arthurian Legend__"Arthur, Historical and Mythical".
2 A triad in the Hengwrt MS. 536, translated by Skene. It was Trystan who was watching the swine for his uncle, while the swineherd went with a message to Essylt (Iseult), "and Arthur desired one pig by deceit or by theft, and could not get it".


and led to his capture and imprisonment. Manawyddan son of Llyr, confined him in the mysterious and gruesome bone-fortress of Oeth and Anoeth, and there he languished for three days and three nights before a rescuer came in the person of Goreu, his cousin.1 But, in the end, he triumphed. A Welsh poem, ascribed to the bard Taliesin, relates, under the title "The Spoiling of Annwn",2 an expedition of Arthur and his followers into the very heart of that country, from which he appears to have returned (for the verses are somewhat obscure) with the loss of almost all his men, but in possession of the object of his quest__the magic cauldron of inspiration and poetry.

Taliesin tells the story as an eye-witness. He may well have done so; for it was his boast that from the creation of the world he had allowed himself to miss no event of importance. He was in Heaven, he tells us,3 when Lucifer fell, and in the Court of Dôn before Gwydion was born; he had been among the constellations both with Mary Magdelane and with the pagan goddess Arianrod; he carried a banner before Alexander, and was chief director of the building of the Tower of Babel; he saw the fall of Troy and the founding of Rome; he was with Noah in the Ark, and he witnessed the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; and he was present both at the Manger of Bethlehem and at the Cross of Calvary. But, unfortunately, Taliesin

1 See note to chap. XXII__"The Treasures of Britain".
2 Book of Taliesin, poem XXX, Skene, Vol. I. p. 256.
3 In a probably very ancient poem embedded in the sixteenth-century Welsh romance called Taliesin, included by Lady Guest in her Mabinogion.


as a credible person, rests under exactly the same disabilities as Arthur himself. It is not denied by scholars that there was a real Taliesin, a sixth-century bard to whom were attributed, and who may have actually composed, some of the poems in the Book of Taliesin.1 But there was also another Taliesin, whom, as a mythical poet of the British Celts, Professor Rhys is inclined to equate with the Gaelic Ossian.2 The traditions of the two mingled, endowing the historic Taliesin with the god-like attributes of his predecessor, and clothing the mythical Taliesin with some of the actuality of his successor.3

It is regrettable that our bard did not at times sing a little less incoherently, for his poem contains the fullest description that has come down to us of the other world as the Britons conceived it. Apparently the numerous names, all different and some now untranslatable, refer to the same place, and they must be collated to form a right idea of what Annwn was like. With the exception of an obviously spurious last verse, here omitted, the poem is magnificently pagan, and quite a storehouse of British mythology4.

1 "The existence of a sixth-century bard of this name, a contemporary of the heroic stage of British resistance to the Germanic invaders, is well attested. A number of poems are found in mediæval Welsh MSS., chief among them the so-called Book of Taliesin, ascribed to this sixth-century poet. Some of these are almost as old as any remains of Welsh poetry, and may well go back to the early tenth or the ninth century; others are productions of the eleventh, twelfth, and even thriteenth centuries."__Nutt: Notes to his (1902) edition of Lady Guest's Mabinogion
2 Rhys: Hibbert Lectures, p. 551.
3 "There can be little doubt but that the sixth-century bard succeeded to the form and attributes of a far older, a prehisoric, mythic singer."__Nutt: Note to Mabinogion.
4 I have been most obliged to collate four different translators to obtain an acceptable version of what Mr. T. Stephens, in his Literature of the Kymri, calls "one of the least intelligible of the mythological poems". My authorities have been Skene, Stephens, Nash, and Rhys.


"I will praise the Sovereign, supreme Lord of the land,
Who hath extended his dominion over the shore of the world.
Stout was the prison of Gweir1, in Caer Sidi,
Through the spite of Pwyll and Pryderi:
No one before him went into it.
The heavy blue chain firmly held the youth,
And before the spoils of Annwn woefully he sang,
And thenceforth till doom he will remain a bard.
Thrice enough to fill Prydwen2 we went into it;
Except seven none returned from Caer Sidi3.

"Am I not a candidate for fame, to be heard in song
In Caer Pedryvan4, four times revolving?
The first word from the cauldron, when was it spoken?
By the breath of nine maidens it was gently warmed.
Is it not the cauldron of the chief of Annwn? What is its fashion?
A rim of pearls is round its edge.
It will not cook the food of a coward or one foresworn.
A sword flashing bright will be raised to him,
And left in the hand of Lleminawg.
And before the gate of Uffern5 the lamp was burning.
When we went with Arthur__a splendid labour!__
Except seven, none returned from Caer Vedwyd6.

"Am I not a candidate for fame, to be heard in song
In Caer Pedryvan, in the Isle of the Strong Door,
Where twilight and pitchy darkness meet together,
And bright wine is the drink of the host?
Thrice enough to fill Prydwen we went on the sea.
Except seven, none returned from Caer Rigor7.

1A form of the name Gwydion.
2 The name of Arthur's ship.
3 Revolving Castle.
4 Four-cornered Castle.
5 The Cold Place.
6 Castle of Revelry.
7 Kingly Castle.


"I will not allow much praise to the leaders of literature.
Beyond Caer Wydyr1 they saw not the prowess of Arthur;
Three-score hundreds stood on the walls;
It was hard to converse with their watchman.
thrice enough to fill Prydwen we went with Arthur;
Except seven, none returned from Caer Golud2.

"I will not allow much praise to the spiritless.
They know not on what day, or who caused it,
Or in what hour of the serene day Cwy was born,
Or who caused that he should not go to the dales of Devwy.
They do not know the brindled ox with the broad head-band,
Whose yoke is seven-score handsbreadths.
When we went with Arthur, of mournful memory,
Except seven, none returned from Caer Vandwy3.

"I will not allow much praise to those of drooping courage.
They know not on what day the chief arose,
Nor in what hour of the serene day the owner was born,
Nor what animal they keep, with its head of silver.
When we went with Arthur, of anxious striving,
Except seven, none returned from Caer Ochren4".

Many of the allusions of this poem will perhaps never be explained. We know no better than the "leaders of literature" whom the vainglorious Taliesin taunted with their ignorance and lack of spirit in what hour Cwy was born, or even who he was, much less who prevented him from going to the vales of Devwy, wherever they may have been. We are in the dark as much as they were with

1 Glass Castle
2 Castle of Riches
3 Meaning is unknown. See chap. xvi__"The Gods of the Britons".
4 Meaning is unknown. See chap. xx__"The Victories of Light over Darkness".


regard the significance of the brindled ox with the broad head-band, and the other animal with the silver head.1 But the earlier portion of the poem is, fortunately, clearer, and it gives glimpses of a grandeur of savage imagination. The strong-doored, foursquare fortress of glass, manned by its ghostly sentinels, spun round in never-ceasing revolution, so that few could find its entrance; it was pitch-dark save for the twilight made by the lamp burning before its circling gate; feasting went on there, and revelry, and in its centre,choicest of its many riches, was the pearl-rimmed cauldron of poetry and inspiration, kept bubbling by the breathes of nine British pythonesses, so that it might give forth its oracles. To this scanty information we may add a few lines, also by Taliesin, and contained in a poem called "A Song Concerning the Sons of Llyr ab Brochwel Powys":__

"Perfect is my chair in Caer Sidi:
Plague and age hurt not him who's in it__
They know, Manawyddan and Pryderi.
Three organs round a fire sing before it,
And about its points are ocean's streams
And the abundant well above it__
Sweeter than white wine the drink in it."2

Little is,however added by it to our knowledge. It reminds us that Annwn was surrounded by the sea__"the heavy blue chain" which held Gweir so firmly;__it informs us that the "bright wine" which

1 Unless they should be "the yellow and the brindled bull" mentioned in the story of Kulhwch and Olwen.
2 Book of Taliesin poem xiv. The translation is by Rhys: Arthurian Legend, p. 301.


was "the drink of the host" was kept in a well; it adds to the revelry the singing of the three organs; it makes a point that its inhabitants were freed from age and death; and, last of all, it shows us, as we might have expected, the ubiqutous Taliesin as a privileged resident of this delightful region. We have two clues as to where the country may have been situated. Lundy Island, off the coast of Devonshire, was anciently called Ynis Wair, the "Island of Gweir", or Gwydion. The Welsh translation of the Seint Greal, an Anglo-Norman romance embodying much of the old mythology, locates its "Turning Castle"__evidently the same as Caer Sidi__in the district around and comprising Puffin Island off the coast of Anglesey.1 But these are slender threads by which to tether to firm ground a realm of the imagination.

With Gwydion, too, have disappeared the whole of the characters connected with him in that portion of the Mabinogi of Mâth, Son of Mathonwy, which recounts the myth of the birth of the sun-god. Neither Mâth himself, nor Lleu Llaw Gyffes, nor Dylan, nor their mother Arianrod, play any more part; they have vanished as completely as Gwydion. But the essence of the myth of which they were the figures remains intact. Gwydion was the father by his sister Arianrod, wife of a waning heaven-god called Nwyvre (Space), of twin sons, Lleu, a god of light, and Dylan, a god of darkness; and we find this same story woven into the very innermost textures of the legend of Arthur.2 The new Arianrod,

1 Rhys: Arthurian Legend, p. 325.
2 Rhys: ibid., chap. I.


though called "Morgawse" by Sir Thomas Malory1, and "Anna" by Geoffrey of Monmouth2, is known to earlier Welsh myth as "Gwyar"3. She was the sister of Arthur and the wife of the sky-god, Lludd, and her name, which means "shed blood" or "gore", reminds us of the relationship of the Morrígú, the war-goddess of the Gaels, to the heaven-god Nuada4. The new Lleu Llaw Gyffes is called Gwlachmei, that is, the "Falcon of May"5, and the new Dylan is Medrawt, at once Arthur's son and Gwalchmei's brother, and the bitterest enemy of both6.

Besides these "old friends with new faces", Arthur brings with him into prominence a fresh Pantheon, most of whom also replace the older gods of the heavens and earth and the regions under the earth. The Zeus of Arthur's cycle is called Myrddin, who passed into the Norman-French romances as "Merlin". All the myths told of him bear witness to his high estate. The first name of Britain, before it was inhabited was, we learn from a triad, Clas Myrddin, that is, "Myrddin's Enclosure".7 He is given a wife whose attributes recall those of the consorts of Nuada and Lludd. She is described as the only daughter of Coel__the British name of the Gaulish Camulus, a god of war and the sky__and was called Elen Lwyddawg, that is, "Elen, Leader of Hosts". Her memory is still preserved in Wales in connection with ancient roadways; such names

1Malory's Morte Darthur, Book II, chap. ii.
2 Hitoria Britonum, Book VIII, chap. xx.
3 Rhys: Arthurian Legend, p. 169.
4 Rhys: ibid, p. 169.
5 Rhys: ibid, p. 13.
6 Rhys: ibid, pp. 19-23.
7 Rhys: Hibbert Lectures, p. 168.


as Ffordd Elen ("Elen's Road") and Sarn Elen ("Elen's Causeway") seem to show that the paths on which armies marched were ascribed or dedicated to her.1 As Myrddin's wife, she is credited with having founded the town of Carmarthen (Caer Myrddin), as well as the "highest fortress in Arvon", which must have been the site near Beddgelert still called Dinas Emrys, the "Town of Emrys", one of Myrddin's epiphets or names.2

Professor Rhys is inclined to credit Myrddin, or, rather, the British Zeus under whatever name, with having been the god especially worshipped at Stonehenge.3 Certainly this impressive temple, ever unroofed and open to the sun and wind and rain of heaven, would seem peculiarly appropriate to a British supreme god of light and sky. Neither are we quite without documentary evidence which will allow us to connect it with him. Geoffrey of Monmouth4, whose historical fictions usually conceal mythological facts, relates that the stones which compose it were erected by Merlin. Before that, they had stood in Ireland, upon a hill which Geoffrey calls "Mount Killaraus", and which can be identified as the same spot known to Irish legend as the "Hill of Uisnech", and, still earlier connected with Balor. According to British tradition, the primeval giants who first colonized Ireland had brought them from their original home on "the farthest coast of Africa",

1 Rhys: Hibbert Lectures, p. 167.
2 See Rhys's exposition of the mythological meaning on the Red Book romance of the Dream of Maxen Wledig, in his Hibbert Lectures, pp. 160-175.
3 Rhys: Hibbert Lectures, pp. 192-195.
4 Historia Britonum, Book VIII, chaps. ix-xii.


on account of their miraculous virtues; for any water in which they were bathed became a sovereign remedy either for sickness or for wounds. By the order of Aurelius, a half-real, half-mythical king of Britian, Merlin brought them thence to England, to be set up on Salisbury Plain as a monument to the British chieftains treacherously slain by Hengist ans his Saxons. With this scrap of native information about Stonehenge we may compare the only other piece we have__the account of the classic Diodorus, who called it a temple of Apollo.1 At first, these two statements seem to conflict. But it is far from unlikely that the earlier Celtic settlers in Britain made little or no religious distinction between sky and sun. The sun-god, as a separate personage, seems to have been the conception of a comparatively late age. Celtic mythology allows us to be present, as it were, at the births both of the Gaelic Lugh Lambfada and the British Lleu Llaw Gyffes.

Even the well-known story of Myrddin's, or Merlin's final imprisonment on a tomb of airy enchantment__"a tour withouten walles, or withoute eny closure"__reads marvellously like a myth of the sun "with all his fires and travelling glories round him".2 Encircled, shielded, and made splendid by his atmosphere of living light, the Lord of Heaven moves slowly towards the west, to disappear at last into the sea (as one local version of the myth puts it), or on to a far-off island (as another says), or into a dark forest (the choice of a third).3 When the

1 See chap. iv snd Rhys: Hibbert Lectures, p. 194.
2 Rhys: Hibbert Lectures
3 Ibid., p. 155.


myth became finally fixed, it was Bardsey Island, off the extreme westernmost point of Caernarvonshire, this was selected as his last abode. Into it he went with nine attendant bards, taking with him the "Thirteen Treasure of Britian", thenceforth lost to men. Bardsey Island no doubt derives its name from this story; and what is probably an allusion to it is found in a first-century Greek writer called Plutarch, who describes a grammarian called Demetrius as having visited Britain, and brought home an account of his travels. He mentioned several uninhabited and sacred islands off our coasts which he said were named after gods and heroes, but there was one especially in which Cronos was imprisoned with his attendant deities, and Briareus keeping watch over him as he slept; "for sleep was the bond forged for him".1 Doubtless this disinherited deity, whom the Greek, after his fashion, called "Cronos", was the British heaven- and sun-god, after he had descended into the prison of the west.

Among other new-comers is Kai, who as Sir Kay the Seneschal, fills so large a part in the romances. Purged of his worse offences, and reduced to a surly butler to Arthur, he is but a shadow of the earlier Kai who murdered Arthur's son Llacheu2, and can only be acquitted, through the obscurity of the poem that relates the incident, of having also carried off, or having tried to carry off, Arthur's wife Gwynhwyvar.3 He is thought

1 Plutarch: De Defecto Oraculorum.
2 The Seint Graal, quoted by Rhys: Arthurian Legend, pp. 61-62,
3 Rhys: Arthurian Legend, p. 59.


to have been a personification of fire,1 upon the strength of a description given of him in the mythical romance of "Kulhwch and Olwen". "Very subtle", it says, "was Kai. When it pleased him he could render himself as tall as the highest tree in the forest. And he had another peculiarity__so great was the heat of his nature, that, when it rained hardest, whatever he carried remained dry for a handsbreadth above and a handsbreadth below his hand; and when his companions were coldest, it was to them as fuel with which to light their fire."

Another personage who owes his prominence in the Arthurian story to his importance in Celtic myth was March son of Meirchion, whose swine Arthur attempted to steal, as Gwydion had done those of Pryderi. In the romances, he has become the cowardly and treacherous Mark, king, according to some stories, of Cornwall, but according to others, of the whole of Britain, and known to all as the husband of the Fair Isoult, and the uncle of Sir Tristrem. But as the deformed deity of the underworld2 he can be found in Gaelic as well as in British myth. He cannot be considered as originally different from Morc, a king of the Fomors at the time when from their Glass Castle they so fatally oppressed the Children of Nemed.3 The Fomors were distinguished by their animal features, and March had the same peculiarity.4 When Sir

1 Elton: Origins of English History, p. 269.
2 Rhys: Arthurian Legend, p. 12.
3 Ibid., p. 70.
4 The name March means "horse".


Thomas Malory relates how, to please Arthur and Sir Launcelot, Sir Dinadan made a song about Mark, "which was the worst lay that ever harper sang with harp or any other instruments",1 he does not tell us wherein the sting of the lampoon lay. It no doubt reminded King Mark of the unpleasant fact that he had__not unlike his Phrygian counterpart, ass's ears but__horse's ears. He was, in fact, a Celtic Midas, a distinction which he shared with one of the mythical kings of early Ireland.2

Neither can we pass over Urien, a deity of the underworld akin to, or perhaps the same as, Brân.3 Like that son of Llyr, he was at once a god of battle and minstrelsy;4 he was adored by the bards as their patron;5 his badge was the raven (bran in Welsh);6 while to make his identification complete, there is an extant poem which tells how Urien, wounded, ordered his own head to be cut off by his attendants.7 His wife was Modron,8 known as the mother of Mabon, the sun-god to whom inscriptions exist as Maponus. Another of the children of Urien and Modron is Owain, which was perhaps only another name for Mabon.9 Taliesin calls him "chief of the glittering west",10 and he is as certainly a sun-god as his father Urien, "lord of the evening",11 was a ruler of the dark underworld.

1 Morte Darthur. Book X, chap. xxvii.
2 Called Labraid Longsech.
3 Rhys: Arthurian Legend. See chap xi__"Urien and his Congeners".
4 Ibid., p. 260.
5 Ibid., p.261
6 Ibid., p. 256.
7 Red Book of Hergest, XII. Rhys: Arthurian Legend, pp. 253-256.
8 Rhys: Arthurian Legend, p. 247.
9 Ibid.
10 The Death-song of Owain, Taliesin, XLIV, Skene, Vol. I,p. 366.
11 Book of Taliesin,XXXII. Skene, however, translates the word rendered "evening" by Rhys as "cultivated plain".


It is by reason of the pre-eminence of Arthur that we find gathered round him so many gods, all probably various tribal personifications of the same few mythological ideas. the Celts, both of the Gaelic and the British branches, were split up into numerous petty tribes, each with its own local deities embodying the same essential conceptions under different names. There was the god of the underworld, gigantic in stature, patron alike of warrior and literature, teacher of the arts of eloquence and literature, and owner of boundless wealth, whom some of the British tribes worshipped as Brân others as Urien, others as Pwyll, or March, or Mâth, or Arawn, or Ogyryvan. There was the lord of an elysium__Hades in its aspect of a paradise of the departed rather than of the primeval subterranean realm where all things originated__whom the Britons of Wales called Gwyn, or Gwynwas; the Britons of Cornwall, Melwas; and the Britons of Somerset Avallon or Avallach. Under this last title, his realm is called Ynis Avallon, "Avallon's Island", or, as we know the word, Avilion. It was said to be in the "Land of Summer", which, in the the earliest myth, signified Hades; and it was only in later days that the mystic Isle of Avilion became fixed to earth as Glastonbury, and the Elysian "Land of Summer" as Somerset.1 There was a mighty ruler of heaven, a "god of battles", worshipped on high places, in whose hands was "the stern arbitrament of war"; some knew him as Lludd, others as Myrddin, or as Emrys.

1 Rhys: Arthurian Legend p. 345.


There was a gentler deity, friendly to man, to help whom he fought or cajoled the powers of the underworld; Gwydion he was called, and Arthur. Last, perhaps, to be imagined in concrete shape, there was a long-armed, sharp-speared sun-god who aided the culture-god in his work, and was known as Lleu, or Gwalchmei, or Mabon, or Owain, or Peredur, and no doubt by many another name; and with him is usually found a brother representing, not light, but darkness. This expression of a single idea by different names may be also observed in Gaelic myth, though not quite so clearly. In the hurtling of clan against clan, many such divinities perished altogether out of memory, or survived only as names, to make up, in Ireland, the vast, shadowy population claiming to be Tuatha Dé Danann, and, in Britain, the long list of Arthur's followers. Others__gods of stronger communities__would increase their fame as their worshippers increased their territory, until, as happened in Greece, the chief deities of many tribes came together to form a national Pantheon.

We have already tried to explain the "Coming of Arthur" historically. Mythologically, he came, as, according to Celtic ideas, all things came originally, from the underworld. His father is called Uther Pendragon.1 But Uther Pendragon is (for the word "dragon" is not part on the name, but a title signifying "war-leader") Uther Ben, that is, Brân under his name of the "Wonderful Head",2 so that, in spite of the legend which describes

1 Both by Malory and Geoffrey of Monmouth.
2 Rhys: Arthurian Legend, p. 256.


Arthur as having disinterred Brân's head on Tower Hill, where it watched against invasion, because he thought it beneath his dignity to keep Britain in any other way than by valour,1 we must recognize the King of Hades as his father. This being so, it would only be natural that he should take a wife from the same eternal country, and we need not be surprised to find in Gwynhwyvar's father, Ogyrvran, a personage corresponding in all respects to the Celtic conception of the ruler of the underworld. He was of gigantic size;2 he was the owner of a cauldron out of which three Muses had been born;3 and he was patron of the bards,4 who deemed him to have been the originator of their art. More than this, hsi very name analysed into its original ocur vran, means the evil bran, or raven, the bird of death.5

But Welsh tradition credits Arthur with three wives, each of them called Gwynhwyvar. This peculiar arrangement is probably due to the Celtic love of triads; and one may compare them with the three Etains who pass through the mythico-heroic story of Eochaid Airem, Etain, and Mider. Of these three Gwynhwyvars,6 besides the Gwynhwyvar, daughter of Ogyrvran, one was the daughter of Gwyrd Gwent, of whom we know nothing but the name, and the other of Gwyrthur ap Greidawl,

1 See chap. XVIII__"The Wooing of Branwen and the Beheading of Brân".
2 He is called Ogyrvran the Giant.
3 Rhys: Arthurian Legend, p. 326.
4 Rhys: Hibbert Lectures, pp. 268-269.
5 Rhys: Lectures on Welsh Philology, p. 306. but the derivation is only tentative, and an interesting alternative one is given, which equates him with the Persian Ahriman.
6 The enumeration of Arthur's three Gwynhwyvars forms one of the Welsh triads.


the same "Victor son of Scorcher" with whom Gwyn son of Nudd, fought, in earlier myth, perpetual battle for the possession of Creudylad, daughter of the sky-god Lludd. This same eternal strife between the powers of light and darkness for the possession of a symbolical damsel is waged again in the Arthurian cycle; but it is no longer for Creudylad that Gwyn contends, but for Gwynhwyvar, and no longer with Gwyrthur, but with Arthur. It would seem to have been a Cornish form of the myth; for the dark god is called "Melwas", and not "Gwynwas", or "Gwyn", his name in Welsh.1 Melwas lay in ambush for a whole year, and finally succeeded in carrying off Gwynhwyvar to his palace in Avilion. But Arthur pursued, and besieged that stronghold, just as Eochaid Airem had, in the Gaelic version of the universal story, mined and sapped at Mider's sídh of Bri Leith.2 Mythology, as well as history, repeats itself; and Melwas was obliged to restore Gwynhwyvar to her rightful lord.

It is not Melwas, however, that in the best-known versions of the story contends with Arthur for the love of Gwynhwyvar. The most widespread early tradition makes Arthur's rival his nephew Medrawt. Here Professor Rhys traces a striking parallel between the British legend of Arthur, Gwynhwyvar, and Medrawt, and the Gaelic story of Airem, Etain, and Mider.3 The two myths are practically counterparts; for the names of all

1 Rhys: Arthurian Legend, p. 342.
2 See chap. XI__"The Godsin Exile".
3 Rhys: Arthurian Legend, chap. II__"Arthur and Airem".


the three pairs agree in their essential meaning. "Airem", like "Arthur", signifies the "Ploughman", the divine institutor of agriculture; "Etain", the "Shining One", is a fit parallel to "Gwynhwyvar", the "White Apparition"; while "Mider" and "Medrawt" both come from the same root, a word meaning "to hit", either literally, or else metaphorically, with the mind, in the sense of coming to a decision. To attempt to explain this myth is to raise the vexed question of the meaning of mythology. Is it day and dark that strive for dawn, or summer and winter for the lovely spring, or does it shadow forth the rescue of the grain that makes man's life from the devouring underworld by the farmers wit? When this can be finally resolved, a multitude of Celtic myths will be explained. Everywhere arise the same combatants for the stolen bride; one has the attributes of light, the other is a champion of darkness.

Even in Sir Thomas Malory's version of the Arthurian story, taken by him from French romances far removed from the original tradition, we find the myth subsisting. Medrawt's original place as the lover of Arthur's queen had been taken in the romances by Sir Launcelot, who, if he was not some now undiscoverable Celtic god,1 must have been an invention of the Norman adaptors. But the story which makes Medrawt Arthur's rival

1 In the mysterious Lancelot, not found in Arthurian story before the Norman adaptations of it, Professor Rhys is inclined to see a British sun-god, or solar hero. A number of interesting comparisons are drawn up between him and the Peredur and Owain of the later "Mabinogion" tales as well as with the Gaelic Cuchulainn. See Studies in the Arthurian Legend.


has been preserved in the account of how Sir Mordred would have wedded Guinevere by force, as part of the rebellion which he made against his king and uncle.1 This strife was Celtic myth long before it became part of the pseudo-history of early Britain. The triads2 tell us how Arthur and Medrawt raided each other's courts during the owner's absence. Medrawt went ot Kelli Wic, in Cornwall, ate and drank everything he could find there, and insulted Queen Gwenhwyvar, in revenge for which Arthur went to Medrawt's court and killed man and beast. Their struggle only ended with the Battle of Camlan; and that mythical combat, which chroniclers have striven to make historical, is full of legendary detail. Tradition tells how Arthur and his antagonist shared their forces three times during the fight, which caused it to be known as one of the "Three Frivolous Battles of Britain", the idea of doing so being one of "Britain's Three Criminal Resolutions". Four alone survived the fray: one because he was so ugly that all shrank from him, believing him to be a devil; another, whom no one touched because he was so beautiful that they took him for an angel; a third, whose great strength no one could resist; and Arthur himself, who, after revenging the death of Gwalchmei upon Medrawt, went to the island of Avilion to heal him of his grievous wounds.

And thence__from the Elysium of the Celts__

1 Morte Arthur, Book XXI, chap. i.
2 The fullest list of translated triads is contained in the appendix to Probert's Ancient Laws of Cambria, 1823. Many are also given as an appendix in Skene's Four Ancient Books of Wales.


popular belief has always been that he will some day return. But just as the gods of the Gaels are said to dwell sometimes in the "Land of the Living", beyond the western wave, and sometimes in the palace of a hollow hill, so Arthur is sometimes thought to be in Avilion, and sometimes to be sitting with his champions in a charmed sleep in some secret place, waiting for the trumpet to be blown that shall call him forth to reconquer Britain. The legend is found in the Eildon Hills; in the Snowdon district; at Cadbury, in Somerset, the best authenticated Camelot; in the Vale of Neath, in South Wales; as well as in other places. He slumbers,but he has not died. The ancient Welsh poem called "The Verses of the Graves of the Warriors"1 enumerates the last resting-places of most of the British gods and demi-gods. "The grave of Gwydion, is in the marsh of Dinlleu", the grave of Lleu Llaw Gyffes is "under the protection of the sea with which he was familiar", and "where the wave makes a sullen sound is the grave of Dylan"; we know the graves of Pryderi, of Gwlachmei, of March, of Mabon, even of the great Beli, but

"Not wise the thought__a grave for Arthur".2

1 Black Book of Caermarthen XIX, Vol I, pp. 309-318 in Skene.
2 This is Professor Rhys's translation of the Welsh line, no doubt more strictly correct than the famous rendering: "Unknown is the grave of Arthur".




It is not, however, by such fragments of legend (The "Dream of Rhonabwy" and Kulhwch and Olwen" in the Mabinogion - editorial note) that Arthur is best known to English readers. Not Arthur the god, but Arthur the "blameless king", who founded the Table Round, from which he sent forth his knights "to ride abroad redressing human wrongs",1 is the figure which the name conjures up. Nor is it even from Sir Thomas Malory's Morte Darthur that this conception comes to most of us, but from Tennyson's Idylls of the King. But Tennyson has so modernized the ancient tradition that it retains little of the old Arthur but the name. He tells us himself that his poem had but very slight relation to__

. . . "that gray king, whose name, a ghost,
Streams like a cloud, man-shaped, from mountain-peak,
And cleaves to cairn and cromlech still; or him
Of Geoffrey's book, or him of Malleor's . . . ";2

but that he merely used the legend to give a substantial form to his ideal figure of the perfect English gentlemen__s title to which the original Arthur could scarcely have laid claim. Still less does there remaining it the least trace of anything that could suggest mythology.

As much as this, however, might be said of

1 Tennyson's Idylls of the King: Guinevere.
2 Ibid. To the Queen.


Malory's book. We may be fairly certain that the good Sir Thomas had no idea that the personages of whom he wrote had ever been anything different from the Christian knights which they had become in the late French romances from which he compiled his own fifteenth century work. The old gods had been from time to time, very completely euhemerized. The characters of the "Four Branches of the Mabinogi" are still recognizable as divine beings. In the later Welsh stories, however their divinity merely hangs about them in shreds and tatters, and the first Norman adapters of these stories made them still more definitely human. By the time Malory came to build up his Morte Darthur from the foreign romances, they had altered so much that the shapes and deeds of gods could only be recognized under their mediæval by those who had known them in their ancient forms.

We have chosen Malory's Morte Darthur, as almost the sole representative of Arthurian literature later than the Welsh poems and prose stories, for three reasons. Firstly, because it is the English Arthurian romance par excellence from which all later English authors, including Tennyson, have drawn their material. Secondly, because the mass of foreign literature dealing with the subject of Arthur is in itself a life-study, and could not by any possibilty be compressed within the limits of a chapter. Thirdly, because Malory's fine judgement caused him to choose the best and most typical foreign tales to weave into his own romance; and hence it is that we find most of our old British gods__both


those of the earlier cycle and those of the system connected with Arthur__striding disguised through his pages.

Curiously enough, Sir Edward Strachey, in his preface to the "Globe" edition of Caxton's Morte Darthur, uses almost the same image to describe Malory's prose-poem that Matthew Arnold handled with such effect, in his Study of Celtic Literature, to point out the real nature of the Mabinogion. "Malory", he says, "has built a great rambling mediæval castle, the walls of which enclose rude and even ruinous work of earlier times." How rude and how ruinous these relics were Malory doubtless had not the least idea, for he has completely jumbled the ancient mythology. Not only do gods of the older and newer order appear together, but the same deities, under very often only slightly varying names, come up again and again as totally different characters.

Take, for example, the ancient deity of death and Hades. As King Brandegore, or Brandegoris (Brân of Gower), he brings five thousand mounted men to oppose King Arthur;1 but, as Sir Brandel, or Brandiles (Brân of Gwales2), he is a valiant Knight of the Round Table, who dies fighting in Arthur's service.3 Again, under his name of Uther Pendragon (Uther Ben), he is Arthur's father;4 though as King Ban of Benwyk (the "Square Enclosure" doubtless the same as Taliesin's Caer Pedryvan and

1 Morte Darthur, Book I, chap. x.
2 Gresholm Island, the scene of "The Entertaining of the Noble Head".
3 Morte Darthur, Book XX, chap. viii.
4 Ibid., Book I, chap. iii.


Malory's Carbonek), he is a foreign monarch, who is Arthur's ally.1 Yet again, as the father of Guinevere, Ogyrvran has become Leodegrance2 As King Uriens or Urience, of Gore (Gower), he marries one of Arthur's sisters,3 fights against him, but finally tenders his submission, and is enrolled among his knights.4 Urien may also be identified in the Morte Darthur as King Rience, or Ryons of North Wales,5 and as King Nentres of Garloth;6 while, to crown the varied disguises of this Proteus of British gods, he appears in an isolated episode as Balan, who fights with his brother Balin until they kill each other.7

One may generally tell the divinities of the underworld in these romances by their connection, not with the settled parts of England, but with the wild and remote north and west, and the still wilder and remoter islands. Just as Brân and Urien are kings of Gower, so Arawn, under the corruptions of his name into "Anguish" and "Anguissnace", is made King of Scotland or Ireland, both countries having been probably confounded as the same land of the Scotti, or Gaels.8 Pwyll, Head of Annwn, we likewise discover under two disguises. As Pelles, "King of the Foreign Country"9 and Keeper of the Holy Grail, he is a personage of great mythological significance, albeit the real nature of him and his surroundings has been overlaid with a Christian veneer as foreign to the

1 Morte Darthur, Book I, chap. viii.
2 Ibid., Book I, chap. xvi.
3 Ibid., Book I, chap. ii.
4 Ibid., Book IV, chap., iv.
5 Ibid., Book I, chap. xxiv.
6 Ibid., Book I, chap. ii.
7 Ibid., Book II, chap. xviii.
8 Ibid., Book V, chap. ii; book VIII, chap iv: Book XIX, chap. xi
9 Ibid., Book XI, chap. ii.


original of Pelles as his own kingdom was to Arthur's knights. The Chief of Hades figures as a "cousin migh unto Joseph of Aramathie",1 who, "while he might ride supported much Christendom, and holy church".2 He is represented as the father of Elayne (Elen3), whom he gives in marriage to Sir Launcelot, bestowing upon the couple a residence called "Castle Bliant",4 the name of which, there is good evidence to show, is connected with that of Pwyll's vassal caled Teirnyon Twryf Vliant in the first of the Mabinogi.5 Under his other name of "Sir Pelleas"__the hero of Tennyson's Idyll of Pelleas and Ettarre__the primitive myth of Pwyll is touched at a different point. After his unfortunate love-passage with Ettarre (or Ettard, as Malory calls her), Pelleas is represented as marrying Nimue,6 whose original name, which was Rhiannon, reached this form, as well as that of "Vivien", through a series of miscopyings of successive scribes.7

With Pelles, or Pelleas, is associated a King Pellean,or Pellam, his son, and, equally with him, the Keeper of the Grail, who can be no other than Pryderi.8 Like that deity in the Mabinogi of Mâth, he is defeated by one of the gods of light. The dealer of the blow, however, is not Arthur, as successor to Gwydion, but Balin, the Gallo-British sun-god Belinus.9

1 Morte Darthur, Book XI, chap. ii.
2 Ibid., Book XVII, chap, v.
3 Ibid., Book XI, chap. ii.
4 Ibid., Book XII, chap. v.
5 Rhys: Arthurian Legend, P. 283.
6 Morte Darthur, Book IV, chap. xxiii.
7 Rhys: Arthurian Legend, P. 284 and note.
8 the subject is treated at length by Professor Rhys in his Arthurian Legend chap. xii__"Pwyll and Pelles".
9 Morte Darthur, Book II, chap. xv.


Another dark deity, Gwyn son of Nudd, we discover under all of his three titles. Called variously "Sir Gwinas",1 "Sir Guynas",2 and "Sir Gwenbaus"3 by Malory, the Welsh Gwynwas (or Gwyn) is altogether on Arthur's side. The Cornish Melwas, split into two different knights, divides his allegiance. As Sir Melias,4 or Meleaus,5 de Lile ("of the Isle"), he is a Knight of the Round Table, though, on the quarrel between Arthur and Launcelot, he sides with the knight against the king. But as Sir Meliagraunce, or Meliagaunce, it is he who, as in the older myth, captures Queen Guinevere and carries her off to his castle.6 Under his Somerset name of Avallon, or Avallach, he is connected with the episode of the Grail. King Evelake7 is a Saracen ruler who was converted by Joseph of Aramathea, and brought by him to Britain. In his convert's enthusiasm, he attempted the quest of thr holy vessel, but was not allowed to succeed.8 A a consolation, however, it was divinely promised him that he should not die until he had seen a knight of his blood in the ninth degree who should achieve it. This was done by Sir Percivale, King Evelake being then three hundred years old.9

Turning from deities of darkness to deities of light, we find the sky-god figuring largely in the Morte Darthur. The Lludd of the earlier mythology is Malory's King Loth, or Lot, of Orkney,10

1 Morte Darthur, Book I, chap. xii.
2 Ibid., Book I, chap. xv.
3 Ibid., Book I, chap. ix.
4 Ibid., Book XIII, chap. xii.
5 Ibid., Book XIX, chap. xi.
6 Ibid., Book XIX, chap. ii.
7 Ibid., Book XIII, chap. x.
8 Ibid., Book XIV, chap. iv.
9 Morte Darthur, Book XIV, chap. iv.
10 Rhys: Arthurian Legend, p. 11.


through an intrigue with whose wife Arthur becomes the father of Sir Mordred. Lot's wife was the mother also of Sir Gawain, whose birth Malory does not, however, attribute to Arthur, though such must have been the original form of the myth.1 Sir Gawain, of the Arthurian legend, is the Gwalchmei of the Welsh stories, the successor of the still earlier Lleu Llaw Gyffes, just as Sir Mordred__the Welsh Medrawt__corresponds in Lleu's brother Dylan. As Sir Mordred remains the dark character of Medrawt, so Sir Gawain, even in Malory,2 shows the attributes of a solar being. We are told that his strength increased gradually from dawn till high noon, and then as gradually decreased again__a piece of pagan symbolism which forms a good example of the appositeness of Sir Edward Strachey's figure; for it stands out of the mediæval narrative like an ancient brick in some modern building.

The Zeus of the later cycle, Emrys or Myrddin, appears in the Morte Darthur under both his names. The word "Emrys" becomes "Bors", and King Bors of Gaul is made a brother of King Ban of Benwyck3__that is Brân of the Square Enclosure, the ubiquitous underworld god. Myrddin we meet under no such disguise. The ever-popular Merlin still retains intact the attributes of the sky-god. He remains above, and apart from all the knights, higher even in some respects than King Arthur, to whom he stands in much the same position as Mâth does to Gwydion in the Mabinogi.4 Like

1 Op. cit., pp. 21-22.
2 Morte Darthur, Book IV, chap. xviii.
3 Ibid., Book I, chap. viii
4 Rhys: Arthurian Legend, p, 23.


Mâth he is an enchanter, and like Mâth, too, who could hear everything said in the world, in however low a tone, if only the wind met it, he is practically omniscient. The account of his final disappearance, as told in the Morte Darthur, is only a re-embelishment of the original story, the nature-myth giving place to what novelists call "a feminine interest". Everyone knows how the great magician fell into a dotage upon the "lady of the lake" whom Malory calls "Nimue", and Tennyson "Vivien"__both names being that of "Rhiannon" in disguise. "Merlin would let her have no rest, but always he would be with her . . . and she was ever passing weary of him, and fain would have been delivered of him, for she was afeard of him because he was a devil's son, and she could not put him away by no means. And so on a time it happed that Merlin showed to her in a rock whereas was a great wonder, and wrought by enchantment, that went under a great stone. So, by her subtle working, she made Merlin to go under that stone to let her wit of the marvels there, but she wrought so there for him that he never came out for all the craft that he could do. And so she departed and left Merlin."1

Merlin's living grave is still to be seen at the end of the Val des Fées, in the forest of Brécilien, in Brittany. The tomb of stone is certainly but a prosaic equivalent for the tower of woven air in which the heaven-god went to his rest. Still, it is not quite so unpoetic as the leather sack in which

1 Morte Darthur, Book IV, chap. i.


Rhiannon, the original of Nimue, caught and imprisoned Gwawl, the earlier Merlin, like a badger in a bag.1

Elen, Myrddin's consort, appears in Malory as five different "Elaines". Two of them are wives of the dark god under his names of "King Ban"2 and "King Nentres"3 A third is called the daughter of King Pellinore, a character of uncertain origin.4 But the two most famous are the ladies who loved Sir Launcelot__"Elaine the Fair, Elaine the lovable, Elaine the lily maid of Astolat",5 and the luckier and less scrupulous Elaine, daughter of King Pelles, and mother of Sir Launcelot's son, Galahad.6

But it is time, now that the most important figures of British mythology have been shown under their knightly disguises, and their place in Arthurian legend indicated, to pass on to some account of the real subject-matter of Sir Thomas Malory's romance. Externally, it the history of an Arthur, King of Britain, whom most people of Malory's time considered as eminently a historical character. Around this central narrative of Arthur's reign and deeds are grouped, in the form of episodes, the personal exploits of the knights believed to have supported him by forming a kind of household guard. But, with the exception of a little magnified and distorted legendary history, the whole cycle of romance may

1 See chap. XVII__"The Adventures of the Gods of Hades".
2 Morte Darthur, Book IV, chap. i.
3 Ibid., Book I, chap. ii.
4 Ibid., Book III, chap. xv.
5 Whose story is told by Tennyson in the Idylls, and by Malory in Book XVIII of the Morte Darthur
6 Morte Darthur, Book XI, chaps. ii and iii.


be ultimately resolved into a few myths, not only retold, but recombined in several forms by their various tellers. The Norman adapters of the Matière de Bretagne found the British mythology already in process of transformation, some of the gods having dwindled into human warriors, and others into hardly less human druids and magicians. Under their hands the British warriors became Norman knights, who did their deeds of prowess in the tilt-yard, and found their inspiration in the fantastic chivalry popularized by the Trouveres, while the druids put off their still somewhat barbaric druidism for the more conventional magic of the Latin races. More than this, as soon as the real sequence and raison d'être of the tales had been lost sight of, their adapters used a free hand in reweaving them. Most of the romancers had their favourite characters whom they made the central figure in their stories. Sir Gawain, Sir Percival, Sir Tristrem, and Sir Owain (all of them probably once local British sun-gods) appear as the most important personages if the romances called after their names, stories of the doughty deeds of christened knights who has little left about them either of Briton or of pagan.

It is only the labours of the modern scholar that can bring back to us, at this late date, things long forgotten when Malory's book was issued from Caxton's press. But oblivion is not annihilation, and Professor Rhys points out to us the old myths lying embedded in their later setting with almost the same certainty with which the geologist can


show us the fossils in the rock.1 Thus treated, they resolve themselves into three principal motifs, prominent everywhere in celtic mythology: the birth of the sun-god; the struggle between light and darkness; and the raiding of the underworld by friendly gods for the good of man.

The first has been already dealt with.2 It is the retelling of the story of the origin of the sun-god in the Mabinogi of Mâth son of Mâthonwy. For Gwydion we now have Arthur; instead of Arainrod, the wife of the superannuated sky-god Nwyvre, we find the wife of King Lot, the superannuated sky-god Lludd; Lleu Llaw Gyffes rises again as Sir Gawain (Gwalchmei), and Dylan as Sir Mordred (Medrawt); while the wise Merlin, the Jupiter of the new system, takes the place of his wise prototype Mâth. Connected with this first myth is the second__the struggle between light and darkness, of which there are several versions in the Morte Darthur. The leading one is the rebellion of the evilly-disposed Sir Mordred against Arthur and Sir Gawain; while, on other stages, Balan__the dark god Brân;__fights with Balin__the sun-god Belinus, gives an almost mortal stroke to Pellam, the Pryderi of the older mythology.

The same myth has also a wider form, in which the battle is waged for possession of a maiden. Thus (to seek no other instances) Gwynhwyvar was contended for by Arthur and Medrawt, or, in an

1 See his Studies in the Arthurian Legend.
2 See chap. XXI__"The Mythological 'Coming of Arthur'".


earlier form of the myth, by Arthur and Gwyn. In the Morte Darthur, Gwyn, under the corruption of his Cornish name Melwas into "Sir Meliagraunce", still captures Guinevere, but it is no longer Arthur who rescues her. That task, or privilege, has fallen to a new champion. It is Sir Launcelot who follows Sir Meliagraunce, defeats and slays him, and rescues the fair captive.1 But Sir Launcelot, it must be stated__probably to the surprise of those to whom the Arthurian story without Launcelot and Queen Guinevere must seem almost like the play of "Hamlet with Hamlet left out",__is unknown to the original tradition. Welsh song and story are silent with regard to him, and he is not improbably a creation of some Norman romancer who calmly appropriated to his hero's credit deeds earlier told of other "knights".

But the romantic treatment of these two myths by the adapters of the Matière de Bretagne are of smaller interest to us at the present day than that of the third. The attraction of the Arthurian story lies less in the battles of Arthur or the loves of Guinevere than in the legend that has given it its lasting popularity__the Christian romance of the Quest of the Holy Grail. So great and various has been the inspiration of this legend to noble works of art and literature that it seems almost a kind of sacrilege to trace it back, like the rest of Arthur's story, to a paganism which could not have even understood, much less created, its mystical beauty. None the less the whole story

1 Morte Darthur, Book XIX, chaps. i-ix.


directly evolved from primitive pagan myths concerning a miraculous cauldron of fertlity and inspiration.

In the later romances, the Holy Grail is a Christian relic of marvellous potency. It had held the Paschal lamb eaten at the Last Supper;1 and after the death of Christ, Joseph of Aramathea had filled it with the Saviour's blood.2 But before it received this colouring, it had been the magic cauldron of all the Celtic mythologies__the Dagda's "Undry" which fed all who came to it, and from which none went away unsatisfied;3 Brân's cauldron of Renovation, which brought the dead back to life;4 the caudron of Ogyrvran the Giant, from which the Muses ascended;5 the cauldrons captured by Cuchulainn from the King of the Shadowy City,6 and by Arthur from the chief of Hades;7 as well as several other mythic vessels of less note.

In its transition from pagan to Christian form, hardly one of the features of the ancient myth has been really obscured. We may recount the chief attributes, as Taliesin tells them in his "Spoiling of Annwn", of the cauldron captured by Arthur. It was the propery of Pwyll, and of his son Pryderi, who lived in a kingdom of the other world called, among other titles, the "Revolving Castle", the "Four-cornered Castle", the Castle of Revelry", the

1 Morte Darthur, Book XVII, chap. xx.
2 Ibid., Book II, chap. xvi; Book XI, chap. xiv.
3 See chap. v__"The Gods of the Gaels".
4 See chap. xviii__"The Wooing of Branwen and the Beheading of Brân".
5 See chap. xxi__"The Mythological 'Coming of Arthur'".
6 See chap. xii__"The Irish Iliad".
7 Chap. xxi__"The Mythological 'Coming of Arthur'".


"Kingly Castle", the "Glass Castle", and the "Castle of Riches". This place was surrounded by the sea, and in other ways made difficult of access; there was no lack of wine there, and its happy inhabitants spent with music and feasting an existence which neither disease nor old age could assail. As for the cauldron, it had a rim of pearls around its edge; the fire beneath it was kept fanned by the breaths of nine maidens; it spoke, doubtless in words of prophetic wisdom; and it would not cook the food of a perjurer or coward.1 Here we have considerable data on which to base a parallel between the pagan cauldron and the Christian Grail.

Nor have we far to go in search of correspondences, for they are nearly all preserved in Malory's romance. The mystic vessel was kept by King Pelles, who is Pwyll, in a castle called "Carbonek", a name which resolves itself, in the hands of the philologist, into Caer bannawg, the "square" or "four-cornered castle"__in other words the Caer Pedryvan of Taliesin's poem.2 Of the character of the place as a "Castle of Riches" and a "Castle of Revelry", where "bright wine was the drink of the host", we have more than a hint in the account twice given,3 of how, upon the appearance of the Grail__borne, it should be noticed, by a maiden or angel__the hall was filled with good odours, and every knight found on the table all the kinds of meat and drink he could imagine as most

1 Chap. xxi__"The Mythological 'Coming of Arthur'".
2 Rhys: Arthurian Legend, p. 305.
3 Morte Darthur, Book XI, chaps. ii and iv.


desirable. it could not be seen by sinners,1 a Christian refinement of the savage idea of a pot that would not cook a coward's food; but the sight of it alone would cure wounds and sickness those who approached it faithfully and humbly,2 and in its presence neither old age nor sickness could oppress them.3 And though in Malory we find no reference either to the spot having been surrounded by water, or to the castle a a "revolving" one, we have only to turn from the Morte Darthur to the romance entitled the Seint Greal to discover both. Gwalchmei, going to the castle of King Peleur (Pryderi), finds it encircled by a great water, while Peredur, approaching the same place, sees it turning with greater speed than the swifest wind. Moreover, archers on the walls shoot so vigorously that no armour can resist their shafts, which explains how it happened that, of those that went with Arthur, "except seven, none returned from Caer Sidi".4

It is noticeable that Arthur himself never attempts the quest of the Grail, though it was he who had achieved its pagan original. We find in Malory four competitors for the mantle of Arthur__Sir Pelleas,5 Sir Bors, Sir Percivale, and Sir Galahad.6 The first of these may be put out of court at once, Sir Pelleas, who, being himself Pelles,

1 Morte Darthur, Book XVI, chap. v.
2 Ibid., Book XI, chap. xiv: Book XII, chap. iv; Book XIII, chap. xviii.
3 Not mentioned by Malory, but stated in the romance called Seint Greal.
4 Rhys: Arthurian Legend, pp. 276-7; 302.
5 Morte Darthur, Book IV, chap. xxix.
6 Ibid., Book XVII, chap. xx, in which Sir Bors, Sir Percivale, and Sir Galahad are all fed from the Sangreal.


or Pwyll, the keeper of it, could have had no reason for such exertions. At the second we may look doubtfully; for Sir Bors is no other than Emrys, or Myrddin,1 and, casting back to the earlier British mythology, we do not find the sky-god personally active in securing boons by force or craft from the underworld. The other two may have better claims__Sir Percivale and Sir Galahad. "Sir Percivale" is the Norman-French name for Peredur,2 the hero of a story in the Red Book of Hergest3 which gives the oldest form of a Grail quest we have. It is anterior to the Norman romances, and forms almost a connecting-link between tales of mythology and chivalry. Peredur, or Sir Percivale, therefore is the oldest, most primitive, of Grail seekers. On the other hand Sir Galahad is the latest and youngest. But there is reason to believe that Galahad, in Welsh "Gwlachaved", the "Falcon of Summer", is the same solar hero as Gawain, in Welsh "Gwalchmei", the "Falcon of May".4 Both are made, in the story of "Kulhwch and Olwen", sons of the same mother, Gwyar. Sir Gawain himself is, in one Arthurian romance, the achiever of the Grail.5 It is needless to attempt to chose between these two. Both have attributes of sun-gods. Gwalchmei, the successor of Lleu Llaw Gyffes, and Peredur Paladrhir, that is to say, the "Spearman with the Long

1 Rhys: Arthurian Legend, p. 162.
2 Ibid., p. 133.
3 Translated by Lady Guest in her Mabinogion, under the title of Peredur, the son of Evrawc.
4 Rhys: Arthurian Legend, p. 169. But see the whole of chap. VIII__"Galahad and Gwalchaved".
4 The German romance Dui Crone, by Heinrich von dem Tûrlin .


Shaft",1 may be allowed to claim equal honours. What is important is that the quest of the Grail, once the chief treasure of Hades, is still accomplished by one who takes in later legend the place of Lleu Llaw Gyffes and Lugh Lamhfada in the earlier British and Gaelic myths as a long-armed solar deity victorious in his strife against the Powers of Darkness.

1 Rhys: Arthurian Legend, p. 72.


Campbell; Popular Tales of the West Highlands.
Ellton, Charles I., Origins of English History, London, 1890.
Guest, Lady Charlotte: The Mabinogion, 1st Edition 1849 (text, translation and notes in three volumes), 1877 ( translation and notes only).
Probert, Ancient Laws of Cambria.
Rhys John; Lectures on Welsh Philology 1877.
Rhys, John; Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by Celtic Heathendom (The Hibbert Lectures for 1886)< London 1898.
Rhys, John; Studies in the Arthurian Legend, Oxford 1901.
Skene, W. F.; Four Ancient Books of Wales.
Stephens, T.; Literature of the Kymri.
Tennyson, Lord A., Idylls of the King

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