"Ac yna y kymeryssant wy blodeu y deri, a blodeu y banadyl, a blodeu yr erwein, ac o'r rei hynny, asswynaw yr un uorwyn deccaf a thelediwaf a welas dyn eiroet. Ac y bedydyaw o'r bedyd a wneynt yna, a dodi Blodeued arnei."
— Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi note
This page is about Welsh
Mythology. If you're looking for the MMORPG
The Welsh collection of stories called The Mabinogion
is one of the major surviving bodies of Welsh myths
. The stories in their modern forms are derived from two Older Than Print
medieval Welsh manuscripts, the White Book of Rhydderch
and the Red Book of Hergest
, along with a collection of smaller texts, but those are simply the oldest written
versions of stories that are based on older oral legends; some motifs and plots can be traced back to the early Iron Age (1st millenium BCE). They are the product of a highly developed narrative tradition, both written and oral.
The name is the plural of Mabinogi
somewhat archaic Welsh, but interestingly enough, the work should be called the "Mabinogi," since it consists of four branches of a single
Mabinogi, rather than multiple ones. The scribe made a mistake in the first branch, Pwyll Pendefig Dyfed
, when he referred to it as the Mabinogion, which he later rectified in the other branches, but the name stuck. The best translation of "Mabinogi" appears to be "tales of childhood
is the Welsh word for "son" (it's from the same root as the Gaelic mac
), and the consonant-mutation "Vabinogi
" occurs in "Llyma Vabinogi Iesu Grist
", a medieval manuscript (Peniarth MS 14) describing the childhood of Jesus
The work is divided into four Branches
, five Native tales
, and three Romances
The Four Branches create an Arc
that follows the mythological heros of Welsh pre-Christian mythology. The branches are connected by the struggles of the children of Llŷr and the life of Pryderi. They are, in order:
- Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed, detailing the journey of Pwyll into the kingdom of Annwn, the Celtic Otherworld. After returning to his own kingdom, he meets and wins his wife, the enchanted Rhiannon, from her unwanted suitor Gwawl. Pryderi is born, an event that initially brings more suffering than joy to his parents when he disappears mysteriously.
- Branwen, Daughter of Llŷr, is about the marriage of Branwen, sister of the king Bendigeidfran (Brân the Blessed), to the king or Ireland in a failed attempt to bring peace. The wrathful temper of her brother Efnysien starts a chain of events that ultimately destroys both kingdoms. Only seven Welsh soldiers survive the war, including Pryderi. The events of this branch lead directly into the next.
- Manawyddan, Son of Llŷr, in which Branwen's brother Manawyddan marries the now widowed Rhiannon. Together with Pryderi and his wife Cigfa, they struggle against a series of disasters and curses perpetrated by Llwyd ap Cil Coed, friend of Gwawl from the first branch.
- Math, Son of Mathonwy, is about the magician-king of Gwynedd. His nephew Gwydion engineers a phony war - the war in which Pryderi is slain - to lure Math away from his castle so that Gilfaethwy, Gwydion's brother, can sneak into Math's stronghold and rape his foot-holder maiden, Goewin. In punishment, Math transforms the brothers into a different animal every year, one male and one female, until they bear three offspring together.
Two of the Native tales and the three Romances are in the most part older versions of Arthurian legend
that differ slightly in the actual contents.
The native tales are:
- The Dream of Macsen Wledig
- Lludd and Llefelys
- The Dream of Rhonabwy
- How Culhwch Won Olwen
- The Tale of Taliesin
These last three are the ones that seem to be related to the Arthurian legends. "The Dream of Rhoabwy" is a late work, in which the main character dreams of King Arthur's time, and may have been written has deliberate fiction. "Culhwch and Olwen", however, is perhaps the oldest Arthurian tale surviving. Taliesin figures in some Arthurian stories as King Arthur's bard, but his tale is thought not to be part of the original Mabinogien.
The Romances are:
- Owain, or the Lady of the Fountain
- Peredur, son of Efrawg
- Geraint and Enid
Apart from the doubtful "Tale of Taliesin", these three were the last parts of the Mabinogien to be composed, probably around the same time as most of the other medieval Arthurian stories, but draw on older roots Peredur is part of the Grail cycle.
Tropes found in the Mabinogion
- Achilles in His Tent: In Culhwch and Olwen, Cai leaves the band in a sulk after Arthur sings a satirical verse at him.
- All There in the Manual: The Mabinogion is just one part of a much larger collection of epic prose and poetry spanning several centuries of Welsh culture. Events that seem out of nowhere, like the Giant Claw, are explained in other tales, many of which are sadly lost. For some light background reading, check out traditional Welsh Law and the Trioedd Ynys Prydein ("Triads of the Island of Britain").
- Artificial Human: Blodeuedd, see the page quote.
- Badass: A number of Arthur's knights, most notably Owain and Gwalchmai. Bedwyr earns special mention; he is one of the greatest warriors in Britain despite the obvious disadvantage of only having one hand. Within the four branches, Gwydion the magician, Bendigeidfran the warrior king, and Efnisien the psychopath are perhaps the best examples.
- Badass Crew: Culhwch and his companions in Culhwch and Olwen
- Bag of Holding: Rhiannon gives a small bag to Pwyll in order to trick her unwanted suitor, Gwawl. It holds an entire feast's worth of food and, when he puts both feet into it, a grown man, with enough space to tie the bag closed over his head.
- It actually mentions that even if all the food and drink of seven cantrefs note were put into the bag, it would still not be full. One feast, no matter how grand, could not even come close to filling it.
- Bed Trick: Inverted in that whilst he spends a year perfectly disguised as Arawn, the king of the underworld, Pwyll never once slept with Arawn's wife. Some retellings however indicate that Arawn did not show Pwyll the same consideration.
- That would have been difficult for Arawn to do, since Pwyll did not have a wife at this time. Rhiannon came into the story later.
- BFS: Osla Big Knife carries one. He appears twice in the Mabinogion but is more famous for being in Arthurian tales.
- Came Back Wrong: The Cauldron from the Second Branch that brings people back from the dead. As the afterlife must be a secret they can no longer speak.
- Celibate Hero: Pwyll with Arawn's wife again. Seeing as she did not know about the switch she must have been worried about the marriage.
- Color Motif: White, like the Cŵn Annwn ("hounds of Annwn") in the First Branch, had supernatural associations in early Celtic culture. The name of Arawn's enemy, Hafgan, means "summer white."
- Cool and Unusual Punishment: See Karmic Transformation below.
- Cunning Linguist: Gwrhyr in Culhwch and Olwen.
- Death by Despair: Branwen dies of a broken heart.
- Deadpan Snarker: Rhiannon.
- Demoted to Extra: Pryderi, in the Second and Fourth Branches.
- Engagement Challenge: In How Culhwch Won Olwen, Culhwch is cursed by his Wicked Stepmother that he can marry no-one but the daughter of Ysbaddaden the Giant, who claims that he cannot prepare for the ceremony until Culhwch hunts the giant boar Twrch Trwyth and retreives a comb, scissors and razor from his hair. But he can only be tracked by a certain hound, and the leash can only be made by a certain hero but held by another... until the job involves over forty different tasks and no less than King Arthur and his warband.
- Expy: Children's author Lloyd Alexander trawled The Mabinogion to create the characters, setting, and history of The Chronicles of Prydain.
- Fate Worse Than Death: Blodeuwedd is forced to live for all eternity as an owl.
- Fertile Feet: White trefoils spring up in Olwen's footsteps.
- Jerkass: Cai is the epitome of this trope. By the end of Geraint and Enid, Geraint has also slid into this category.
- Full Boar Action: Twrch Trwyth is definitely one of the more badass pigs in world literature.
- Gender Bender: Gwydion and Gilfaethwy.
- Good Is Dumb: Poor Pwyll. Honest, spiritual, decent, and kind—and people remember him more for all the Idiot Balls he's caught.
- Handicapped Badass: Bedwyr, the one-armed knight.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Efnisien.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: Cai and Bedwyr could qualify.
- Idiot Ball / Too Dumb to Live: Lleu can only be killed in a highly specific set of circumstances involving multiple elements, including a goat and a washtub. When his unfaithful wife just happens to arrange the necessary effects and asks him to stand in the very specific pose, he does so without question - and, unsurprisingly, gets stabbed.
- Important Haircut: King Arthur cuts Culhwch's hair in the presence of his court at the beginning of How Culhwch Won Olwen. In Medieval Britain, this was an important gesture of fidelity between family and clan members. Arthur is symbolically accepting his younger cousin into his retinue, which then allows Culhwch to ask for his assistance in gaining Olwen.
- Karma Houdini: King Caswallawn.
- Karmic Transformation: As punishment for the rape of Goewin, King Math transforms the brothers Gilfaethwy and Gwydion in different animals each year, one a male and one a female, until they bear three offspring together.
- King Arthur: His first appearance in prose, in Culhwch and Olwen and the three romances.
- Knight Templar Big Brother: Efnysien to the max. A lot of men would be angry if they came back home to find their sister married to a person they absolutely despise—it's just that rather than getting drunk and fighting till he can't stand like a normal person, Efnysien chooses to mutilate Matholwych's horses. This is the first sign that the story won't end happily.
- Bendigeidfran is another obvious example.
- Long List: In How Culhwch Won Olwen.
- Magic Knight: Gwydion from the Fourth Branch and Menw from Culhwch ac Olwen.
- Meaningful Name: The names of Bendigeidfran's brothers, the loving Nysien and the wrathful Efnysien, mean respectively "friendly one" and "hostile/enemy one". To highlight their differences, "Efnysien" also means "not Nysien". 'Nysien' literally means 'Peace', making their names 'Peace' and 'Not-Peace'.
- Mr. Seahorse: Gwydion and Gilfaethwy (two men), are successively turned into a stag and a hind, a boar and a sow, and a pair of wolves. They are in these forms long enough to bear a son from each transformation. After the brothers are turned back into redeemed humans, their animal offspring are then turned into humans and baptized.
- Name's the Same: Bran the Blessed = BRIAN BLESSED.
- Nigh-Invulnerability: Lleu.
- No Man of Woman Born: Lleu Llaw Gyffes from the fourth branch's entire life, more or less. His mother, Arianrhod, curses him so that he can't be named or receive arms, until she does it, and that he can't have a wife of any race that walks the earth. At this point, his uncle Gwydion tricks her into naming and arming him, and creates a wife out of flowers for him. His death can only occur while he is neither inside nor outside a house, neither on foot nor on a horse, neither clothed nor naked, neither by day nor by night and with no weapon lawfully made. He ends up being impaled in a failed attempt on his life by his wife's lover Gronw Pebl while standing clothed in a net, with one foot in a bath and another on a goat, in a thatched, wall-less bathhouse at dusk. The spear used was forged every Sunday for a year. He eventually gets his revenge on Gronw. This seems such an extreme, exagerated version of the trope that you wander if this is a very early version of parody.
- Our Giants Are Bigger: Bran.
- Parental Substitute: Gwydion to Lleu, in the fourth branch
- Polar Opposite Twins: Branwen's half brothers Nysien and Efnisien. Nysien is a gentle, peaceful man. Efnysien is a sorta heroic sociopath who dies destroying the artifact that was letting the Irish win the war he started in the first place.
- Redemption Equals Death: Efnisien, the catalyst for the entire war sacrifices himself to clinch victory for the British.
- Rule of Three: Triads, a narrative device in Welsh lore that linked stories together. For example, Branwen is "yn tryded prif riei", one of the Three Main Parents, the other two being Rhiannon and Aranrhod.
- Smart Guy: Manawydan.
- Sociopathic Hero: Efnisien is psychotic, warped, and cruel, but he does ultimately save the Welsh.
- One adaptation does this so that Efnisien has a My God, What Have I Done? moment right after Nissyen dies, and claims “that was the first time... [he] accepted responsibility for anything that went amiss.” Apparently Nissyen was the embodiment of his conscience and compassion.
- The Ugly Guy's Hot Daughter: Ysbaddaden, the brutal giant chief is, to be honest, not much of a looker. His daughter, Olwen, on the other hand...
- Stepford Smiler: Blodeuwedd. A beautiful woman who never talks back, is always happy, and never says anything out of line... and she attempts to murder her first husband because she wants to marry someone else.
- Might be justified — that's the risk you take of marrying a woman who was made of flowers, not born or baptized.
- Villain Protagonist: The first act of the fourth branch, arguably. Gwydion, the story's hero, is a monster. He starts a horrific war with the south (which leads to the deaths of hundreds of warriors, including King Pryderi of Dyfed) as a way of distracting his uncle so he doesn't notice Gwydion's brother raping a young woman. He is punished epically for his crimes.
And thus ends here this Branch of the Mabinogion.note