Twrch Trwyth

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Twrch Trwyth
Twrch Trwyth sculpture, Tony Woodman's sculpture of three wild boars
Twrch Trwyth sculpture by Tony Woodman
  • Grugyn Gwrych Ereint (~Silver-bristle)
  • Llwydawg Govynnyad (~the Hewer)
  • Twrch Lllawin
  • Gwys
  • Banw
  • Bennwig
  • one unnamed boar
ParentTaredd Wledig

Twrch Trwyth (Welsh pronunciation: [tuːɾχ tɾʊɨθ]; also Trwyd, Troynt (MSS.HK); Troit (MSS.C1 D G Q); or Terit (MSS. C2 L)[1]) is an enchanted wild boar in the Matter of Britain great story cycle that King Arthur or his men pursued with the aid of Arthur's dog Cavall (Welsh: Cafall, Latin: Cabal).

Pronunciation of Twrch trwyth

The names of the hound and boar are glimpsed in a piece of geographical onomasticon composed in Latin in the ninth century, the Historia Brittonum. However, a richly elaborate account of the great hunt appears in the Welsh prose romance Culhwch and Olwen, probably written around 1100. A passing reference to Twrch Trwyth also occurs in the elegy Gwarchan Cynfelyn preserved in the Book of Aneirin.[2][3]

The name in Welsh can be construed to mean "the boar Trwyth", and may have its analogue in the boar Triath of Irish mythology (see #Etymology and Irish cognate below).

Historia Brittonum[edit]

The earliest reference to the boar Trwyth occurs in the tract De Mirabilibus Britanniae (or Mirabilia in shorthand), variously titled in English as "Wonders of Britain". The Mirabilia is believed to be near-contemporaneous to Nennius' ninth-century Historia Brittonum[4][5] and is found appended to it in many extant manuscripts. It gives a list of marvels around Britain, one of them being the footprint left in rock by Arthur's dog Cavall (here Latinized as Cabal), made while chasing the great boar (here called Troynt):

There is another wonder in the region called Buelt. There is a heap of stones, and one stone laid on the heap having upon it the footmark of a dog. When he hunted the swine Troynt(→Troit[6]), Cabal, which was a dog of the warrior Arthur, impressed the stone with the print of his foot, and Arthur afterwards collected a heap of stones beneath the stone in which was the print of his dog's foot, and it is called Carn Cabal. And people come and take away the stone in their hands for the space of a day and a night, and on the next day it is found on its heap.

— Lady Guest tr., notes to Kilhwch and Olwen, Mabinogion.[7]

Culhwch and Olwen[edit]

Twrch is named as the son of Prince Tared (or Taredd Wledig[8]), cursed into the form of a wild creature; he has poisonous bristles, and carries a pair of scissors, a comb and a razor on his head between his ears. In French romances such as by Chrétien de Troyes, Ares is the father of a knight called Tor. Some scholars consider that Tor son of Ares is the Twrch son of Tared of Culhwch and Olwen and that the authentic name is probably Ares.[9]

Culhwch is given the task by Ysbaddaden, the giant whose daughter Olwen Culhwch seeks, of obtaining the comb and scissors from Twrch's head. Later in the story it transpires there is also a razor secreted there. These implements are then to be used to cut and treat Ysbaddaden's hair (most of the tasks on the giant's long list are ultimately to do with this ceremony of hair-cutting). Further, Ysbaddaden states that the only hound who can hunt Twrch is Drudwyn, the whelp of Greid, and then goes on to list the requirements of the leash to hold Drudwyn, the only man strong enough to hold the leash. Ultimately Ysbaddaden calls on Culhwch to seek out Arthur, Culhwch's cousin, to help him hunt Twrch.

Prior to the hunt, Menw son of Teirgwaedd is sent to verify that the comb and scissors are between Twrch's ears. He takes the form of a bird and flies to Twrch's lair, encountering the boar with seven piglets. Menw then tries to swoop down and snatch one of the implements from Twrch's scalp, but only manages to take one silver bristle; Twrch is agitated and shakes himself, scattering venom onto Menw, wounding him.

The hunt for Twrch takes up the greater portion of the latter half of Culhwch and Olwen, and it is described in great detail: the geographical route of the pursuit, and those who take active part in it. Although it is Culhwch who is given the task, it is Arthur and his men who take the most prominent role in the chase, Culhwch having successfully enlisted his aid.

After causing the death of several of Arthur's troop, the boar surrenders the razor, scissors, and later the comb by force, and he is driven into the sea off Cornwall and drowned.

Yet another boar, Ysgithyrwyn or "White-Tusk, Chief of Boars", had to be captured for its tusk to complete the grooming of Ysbadadden.

Etymology and Irish cognate[edit]

As previously noted, the Welsh word twrch means "wild boar, hog, mole", so Twrch Trwyth means "the boar Trwyth". Its Irish cognate may be Triath, King of the Swine (Old Irish: Triath ri torcraide) or the Torc Triath mentioned in Lebor Gabála Érenn,[10] also recorded as Old Irish Orc tréith "Triath's boar" in Sanas Cormaic.[11] Rachel Bromwich regards the form Trwyth as a late corruption. In the early text Historia Brittonum, the boar is called Troynt or Troit, a Latinisation likely from the Welsh Trwyd. Further evidence that Trwyd was the correct form appears in a reference in a later poem.[citation needed]

Popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]

  • Henwen, a sow from Cornwall that made a run from the south end to the north tip of Wales, and bore Cath Palug
  • Ysgithyrwyn Chief Boar (Ysgithrwyn Pen Beidd, Yskithyrwynn Pennbeidd, "White-tusk chief of Boars")


  1. ^ Mommsen 1898 p.217, note to line 18
  2. ^ Rhys 1901, p. 537 hints that Trwyth is mentioned in an obscure poem in the Book of Aneirin
  3. ^ The Lay of Cynfelyn, at the Celtic Literature Collective of the Mary Jones website
  4. ^ Stevenson 1838, p.56, note 3 "De mirabilibus Britanniæ. Although this apparently forms no part of the original work of Nennius..."
  5. ^ Geoffrey Ashe, under entry "Nennius", in: Lacy, Norris J., ed., The Arthurian Encyclopedia, Peter Bedrick Books, 1986
  6. ^ Robert Huntington Fletcher, The Arthurian material in the chronicles, p.320, "Two names in the Mirabilia should be replaced by better variant readings, Troynt by Troit, and Anir by Amr". preview
  7. ^ Schreiber 1877 edition (Lady Guest's Mabinogion), notes to Kilhwch and Olwen, p.289, translated from Stevenson 1838, §73
  8. ^ Jones & Jones 1993, p.98
  9. ^ Goulven Peron, Un géant nommé Spézet, pages 48 à 52, Cahier du Poher, n°26, octobre 2009, in french
  10. ^ Macalister ed., tr., LGE 1st Red. ¶ 317, LGE 2nd Red. ¶344, 3rd Red. ¶369)
  11. ^ Rhys 1901, pp. 520–2
  12. ^ Folk Wales Retrieved October 2012


(Texts of Culhwch)
  • (ed.,tr.) Schreiber, Lady Charlotte (Lady Guest) (1849), The Mabinogion: From the Llyfr Coch o Hergest (google), vol. 2, London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans

(Geraint ab Erbin (W).. p. 4 (E)..p. 67; Kilhwch ac Olwen (W).. p. 195 (E)..p. 249)

(Texts of the Mirabilia of Historia Brittonum)
(Critical studies)

External links[edit]