1.1 The Lord of Animals


In the 13th century story of Owain we find one of the most ancient mythic figures to be found in European literature, the many-faced Lord of Animals.



Sioned Davies, ‘Owain’, The Mabinogion (Oxford World’s Classics):

  • And in the middle of the chamber sat the emperor Arthur on a pile of fresh rushes, and a mantle of yellow-red brocaded silk beneath him, and a cushion with its cover of red brocaded silk under his elbow. Then Arthur said, ‘Men, as long as you do not make fun of me,’ he said, ‘I would like to sleep while I wait for my food; and you can tell each other stories, and Cai will bring you a jugful of mead and some chops.’ And the emperor slept. And Cynon son of Clydno asked Cai for what Arthur had promised them.

  • ‘I was my mother and father’s one and only son, and I was high-spirited, and extremely arrogant. And I didn’t think there was anyone in the world who could perform brave deeds better than I. And when I had overcome every challenge in my own country, I got ready and travelled to the remote and uninhabited regions of the world. . . . I came to a great plain, and at the far end of the plain I could see a great, shining castle and an ocean close to the castle. I approached the castle, and behold, two lads with curly yellow hair, and a band of gold on their foreheads, and each wearing a tunic of yellow brocaded silk, and boots of new Cordovan leather on their feet with golden buckles fastening them around the ankle. And each had a bow of elephant ivory in his hand, with strings of deer sinew, and arrows with shafts of walrus ivory, peacock-feathered, and golden tips on the shafts; . . .’

  • ‘And travel along that until you come to a large clearing of level ground, with a mound in the middle of the clearing, and you will see on top of the mound an enormous blackhaired man no smaller than two men of this world. And he has one foot, and he has one eye in the middle of his forehead; and he has an iron club which I assure you would take two men of this world to lift. He is not a violent man, but he is ugly. And he is keeper of that forest.* You will see a thousand wild animals grazing around him.’

  • ‘And when I got there, the wild animals I saw were three times as remarkable as the man had described. And the black-haired man was there, sitting on top of the mound. The man had told me he was big, but he was far bigger than that. And the iron club which the man had said would take two men to lift, I was sure, Cai, that it would take four warriors. Yet he held it in one hand!’

  • ‘And I greeted the black-haired man, but he replied discourteously. I asked him what power he had over those animals. “I will show you, little man,” he said. And he took the club in his hand, and with it he struck a deer a great blow so that it gave a great bellow. And at his bellow wild animals came up until they were as numerous as the stars in the sky, so that there was scarcely room for me to stand in the clearing with them, what with all the serpents and lions and vipers and other kinds of animals. He looked at them, and ordered them to go and graze. And they bowed their heads and did homage to him as obedient men would do to their lord. And he said to me, “Do you see now, little man, the power I have over these animals?”