Gwenhwyfach

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Gwenhwyfach (Middle Welsh: Gwenhwyvach; sometimes anglicized to Guinevak) was a sister of Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere) in medieval Welsh Arthurian legend. The tradition surrounding her is preserved in fragmentary form in two Welsh Triads and the Mabinogi tale of Culhwch and Olwen.

This obscure figure is first mentioned in Culhwch, where her name (spelled Gwenhwyach) is among those 200 men, women, dogs, and horses invoked by the hero Culhwch to punctuate his request that King Arthur help him find his love Olwen.

Both of the Triads that mention Gwenhwyfach refer to the enmity between her and her sister that led to the Battle of Camlann. Triad 53 lists as one of the "Three Harmful Blows of the Island of Britain" the slap Gwenhwyvach that gave her sister that caused the Strife of Camlann. Identifying Camlann as one of Britain's "Three Futile Battles", Triad 84 mentions it was started because of a dispute between the sisters. Some have suggested that "Gwenhwyfach" in Triad 53 is a mistake for "Medrawd" (Mordred), since Triad 54 describes Medrawd raiding Arthur's court and throwing Gwenhwyfar to the ground and beating her; this interpretation does not explain Triad 84, however.

As noted by Welsh scholars Melville Richards and Rachel Bromwich, her name can be understood as Gwenhwy-fach, or "Gwenhwy the Lesser", a back-formation based on a false etymology of her sister's name as Gwenhwy-fawr, meaning "Gwenhwy the Great".[1][2][3]

The Lancelot-Grail cycle includes a possibly related character known as "the False Guinevere" or "Guinevere the False", a half-sister of the real Guinevere whose claim to be the real Guinevere is for a time accepted by Arthur. It is possible that Gwenhwyfach was once thought of as a darker aspect of Gwenhwyfar.[4] Some modern writers associate Gwenhwyfach with Mordred, presumably due to her association with Camlann; she appears as the traitor's wife in Thomas Love Peacock's novel The Misfortunes of Elphin (1829), for example.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Richards, Melville, "Arthurian Onomastics", in: Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, vol. 2, 1969, p. 257.
  2. ^ Bromwich, Rachel (1963), Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Triads of the Island of Britain, University of Wales Press. ISBN 0-7083-1386-8. Triads: 53 and 84
  3. ^ Collins, Morris. "The Arthurian Court List in Culhwch and Olwen". The Camelot Project at the University of Rochester. Retrieved 3 January 2013.
  4. ^ Ziegler, Michelle (1999). "Brigantia, Cartimandua and Gwenhwyfar". The Heroic Age (1). ISSN 1526-1867. Retrieved 8 December 2012. According to Patrick Sims-Williams, in Welsh the "termination of -ach evokes unpleasantness" (Sims-Williams 1991:42). Therefore, Gwenhwyfar's sister Gwenhwyfach, found in the Welsh triads (Bromwich 1978) and Culhwch and Olwen (Ford 1977:131), may represent an unpleasant or evil form of Gwenhwyfar herself. 

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