Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race
Page: 165The two personages called Nynniaw and Peibaw who figure in the genealogical table play a very slight part in Cymric mythology, but one story in which they appear is interesting in itself and has an excellent moral. They are represented as two brothers, Kings of Britain, who were walking together one starlight night. “See what a fine far-spreading field I have,” said Nynniaw. “Where is it?” asked Peibaw. “There aloft and as far as you can see,” said Nynniaw, pointing to the sky. “But look at all my cattle grazing in your field,” said Peibaw. [pg 356] “Where are they?” said Nynniaw. “All the golden stars,” said Peibaw, “with the moon for their shepherd.” “They shall not graze on my field,” cried Nynniaw. “I say they shall,” returned Peibaw. “They shall not.” “They shall.” And so they went on: first they quarrelled with each other, and then went to war, and armies were destroyed and lands laid waste, till at last the two brothers were turned into oxen as a punishment for their stupidity and quarrelsomeness.
We now come to the work in which the chief treasures of Cymric myth and legend were collected by Lady Charlotte Guest sixty years ago, and given to the world in a translation which is one of the masterpieces of English literature. The title of this work, the “Mabinogion,” is the plural form of the word Mabinogi, which means a story belonging to the equipment of an apprentice-bard, such a story as every bard had necessarily to learn as part of his training, whatever more he might afterwards add to his répertoire. Strictly speaking, the Mabinogi in the volume are only the four tales given first in Mr. Alfred Nutt's edition, which were entitled the “Four Branches of the Mabinogi,” and which form a connected whole. They are among the oldest relics of Welsh mythological saga.
Pwyll, Head of Hades
The first of them is the story of Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed, and relates how that prince got his title of Pen Annwn, or “Head of Hades”—Annwn being the term under which we identify in Welsh literature the Celtic Land of the Dead, or Fairyland. It is a story with a mythological basis, but breathing the purest spirit of chivalric honour and nobility.[pg 357]
Pwyll, it is said, was hunting one day in the woods of Glyn Cuch when he saw a pack of hounds, not his own, running down a stag. These hounds were snow-white in colour, with red ears. If Pwyll had had any experience in these matters he would have known at once what kind of hunt was up, for these are the colours of Faëry—the red-haired man, the red-eared hound are always associated with magic. Pwyll, however, drove off the strange hounds, and was setting his own on the quarry when a horseman of noble appearance came up and reproached him for his discourtesy. Pwyll offered to make amends, and the story now develops into the familiar theme of the Rescue of Fairyland. The stranger's name is Arawn, a king in Annwn. He is being harried and dispossessed by a rival, Havgan, and he seeks the aid of Pwyll, whom he begs to meet Havgan in single combat a year hence. Meanwhile he will put his own shape on Pwyll, who is to rule in his kingdom till the eventful day, while Arawn will go in Pwyll's shape to govern Dyfed. He instructs Pwyll how to deal with the foe. Havgan must be laid low with a single stroke—if another is given to him he immediately revives again as strong as ever.