Pwyll Pen Annwn is a prominent figure in Welsh mythology and literature, the lord of Dyfed, husband of Rhiannon and father of the hero Pryderi. He is the eponymous hero of Pwyll Pendefig Dyfed, the first branch of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, and also appears briefly as a member of Arthur's court in the medieval tale Culhwch ac Olwen.
Origin of Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed
Tale is one of a group found in The Mabinogion Mabinogion. The Mabinogion is one of the earliest known efforts to form a contemporary collection of Welsh tales. Such tales, which date back to circa 1325 C.E., were originally passed from person to person and generation to generation orally. The Celtic oral tradition lasted for several centuries and is a possible reason for the abundance of errors and discrepancies found in The Mabinogion as well as other Welsh literature dating back to the fourteenth century or earlier. Professor Sioned Davies of Cardiff University explains the importance of the Celtic oral tradition, in appreciating Welsh literature, this way; "The Mabinogion were tales to be read aloud to a listening audience--the parchment was "interactive" and vocality was of its essence. Indeed, many passages can only be truly captured by the speaking voice."
Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed
Whilst hunting in Glyn Cuch, Pwyll, prince of Dyfed becomes separated from his companions and stumbles across a pack of hounds feeding on a slain stag. Pwyll drives the hounds away and sets his own hounds to feast, earning the anger of Arawn, lord of the otherworldly kingdom of Annwn. In recompense, Pwyll agrees to trade places with Arawn for a year and a day, taking on the lord's appearance and takes his place at Arawn's court. At the end of the year, Pwyll engages in single combat against Hafgan, Arawn's rival, and mortally wounds him with one blow and earns Arawn overlordship of all of Annwn. After Hafgan's death, Pwyll and Arawn meet once again, revert to their old appearance and return to their respective courts. They become lasting friends because Pwyll slept chastely with Arawn's wife for the duration of the year. As a result of Pwyll's successful ruling of Annwn, he earns the title Pwyll Pen Annwfn; "Pwyll, head of Annwn."
Some time later, Pwyll and his noblemen ascend the mound of Gorsedd Arberth and witness the arrival of Rhiannon, appearing to them as a beautiful woman dressed in gold silk brocade and riding a shining white horse. Pwyll sends his best horsemen after her, but she always remains ahead of them, though her horse never does more than amble. After three days, Pwyll, himself, rides out to meet her and when he cannot catch her, he calls out to her in desperation. Only then does Rhiannon stop. She tells him her name and that she has come seeking him because she would rather marry him than her fiance, Gwawl ap Clud. She tells him to come to her kingdom one year from that day, with his soldiers, and they will marry. A year after their meeting, Pwyll arrives as promised but accidentally and foolishly promises his beloved Rhiannon to Gwawl (her previous fiance). This occurs when Gwawl enters the court extremely distraught and sues for a favor of the king. Gwawl plays to the nobility and generosity of Pwyll, as well as his rashness and passion, and Pwyll tells Gwawl that whatever it is that he should ask him, that he (Pwyll) would give it to him. Gwawl of course asks for his fiance, Rhiannon, which Pwyll, due to his naive promise, could not refuse. It is decided that they should all come back to the kingdom in one years time for yet another wedding. (Pwyll and Rhiannon were not yet married the first time, the festivities had simply begun but no marriage ceremony had occurred.) Rhiannon devises a plan by which Pwyll might win her back from Gwawl. Pwyll enters the wedding festivities of Gwawl and Rhiannon dressed as a begger and asks Gwawl for a bag full of food. Gwawl nobly consents but is tricked when Pwyll forces Gwawl inside the bag and he and his men begin to beat him brutally. Gwawl finally gives in so long as Pwyll will spare his life. Pwyll agrees and has managed to win back Rhiannon through the deceiving and dishonoring of Gwawl.
Under the advice of his noblemen, Pwyll and Rhiannon attempt to supply an heir to the kingdom and eventually a boy is born. However, on the night of his birth, he disappears while in the care of six of Rhiannon's ladies-in-waiting. To avoid the king's wrath, the ladies smear dog's blood onto a sleeping Rhiannon, claiming that she had committed infanticide and cannibalism through eating and "destroying" her child. Rhiannon is forced to do penance for her crime.
The child is discovered outside a stable by an ex-vassal of Pwyll's, Teyrnon, the lord of Gwent Is Coed. He and his wife claim the boy as their own and name him Gwri Wallt Euryn (English: Gwri of the Golden hair), for "all the hair on his head was as yellow as gold." The child grows to adulthood at a superhuman pace and, as he matures, his likeness to Pwyll grows more obvious and, eventually, Teyrnon realises Gwri's true identity. The boy is eventually reunited with Pwyll and Rhiannon and is renamed Pryderi, meaning "loss".
The tale ends with Pwyll's death and Pryderi's ascension to the throne.
Role in Welsh Mythology and English Literature
The stories of Pwyll greatly influenced the literature and story-telling of England, Ireland and Wales. The oral tradition of the Celts along with the highly fluid nature of society (caused by nearly constant conquest from circa 50 B.C.E. to circa 1500 C.E.) aided in the promiscuous Welsh literary tradition. Shadows of Pwyll's story-lines can be seen in the early Irish tale, Fled Bricrend which in turn greatly influenced the Gawain poet. Shared themes include: "ritualized competitions between two noblemen to win the hand of a lady; ritualized missions or "errands," always involving some request; battles in which the combatants are pledged to return to the same place in exactly one year's time; elaborate tricks in which the participants make similar arrangements; repeated chains of events in which the supernatural figures prominently."
- Passing strange. Stephen N. Williams. Books & Culture. 14.3 (May–June 2008) p26. Word Count: 2335. From Literature Resource Center.
- Black, Joseph. The Broadview Anthology of British Literature: volume 1: the medieval period. 2nd edition. Toronto: Broadview Press, 2009. 246-257. Print.
- The Mabinogion. Davies, Sioned. 2005.
- Black, Joseph. The Broadview Anthology of British Literature: volume 1: the medieval period. 2nd edition. Toronto: Broadview Press, 2009. 246. Print.
- Original Middle Welsh text
- Powel, Prince of Dyfed as collected by Joseph Jacobs in More Celtic Fairy Tales
|Mythological Lord of Dyfed
Pryderi fab Pwyll