1.2 Remaking Myth in Welsh Storytelling
The story of Owain ab Urien travelled far in medieval Europe, mainly through Chretian de Troyes Old French classic Yvain (12th century), which although popular seems to have been stripped of its older, more mythic elements. Yet on the story’s return to Wales in the 13th century, the Welsh storytellers appear to have reinvested the text with these mythic elements, renovating and remaking the story as they claimed it back.
Chrétien De Troyes, trans. William W. Kibler, ‘Yvain’, Arthurian Romances (Penguin 1991):
‘A peasant who resembled a Moor, ugly and hideous in the extreme – such an ugly creature that he cannot be described in words – was seated on a stump, with a great club in his hand. I approached the peasant and saw that his head was larger than a nag’s or other beast’s. His hair was unkempt and his bare forehead was more than two spans wide; his ears were as hairy and as huge as an elephant’s; his eyebrows heavy and his face flat. He had the eyes of an owl and the nose of a cat, jowls split like a wolf’s, with the sharp reddish teeth of a boar; he had a russet beard, tangled moustache, a chin down to his breast and a long, twisted spine with a hump. He was leaning on his club and wore a most unusual cloak, made neither of wool nor linen; instead, at his neck he had attached two pelts freshly skinned from two bulls or two oxen.
“Come now, tell me if you are a good creature or not?” ‘And he answered: “I am a man.” ‘“What sort of man are you?” I asked. ‘ “Just as you see; and I’m never anything else.” ‘ “What are you doing here?” ‘ “I stand here and watch over the beasts of these woods.” ‘ “Watch over them? By Saint Peter in Rome, they’ve never been tamed! I don’t believe anyone can watch over wild beasts on the plain or in the woods, nor anywhere else, in any way, unless they are tied up and fenced in.” “I watch over these and herd them so they’ll never leave this clearing.” ‘ “How do you do it? Tell me truly.” ‘ “There’s not a one of them that dares move when it sees me coming. For whenever I catch hold of one, I grab it by its two horns with my tough and strong hands so that the others tremble in fear and gather around me as if crying out for mercy. No one except me could have confidence among them, for he would be killed at once. Thus I am lord over my beasts.
Jeffrey Gantz (trans.), ‘The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel’, Early Irish Myths and Sagas (Penguin 1981):
- Conare was still making for Ath Cliath when there overtook him a man with short, black hair and one eye and one hand and one foot.
- “Take the road to the end of the clearing,” he said, “and climb up the hill over there until you come to the top. And from there you will see a broad river valley, like a wide vale, and in the middle of the valley you will see a great tree, its branches greener than the greenest fir trees. And under that tree there is a well, and near the well there is a marble slab, and on the slab there is a silver bowl fastened to a silver chain so they cannot be separated.
The Mabinogion (Oxford World’s Classics) . OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.