Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race

Page: 162

[pg 344] mythological, mystical, and what not—but are merely intended to indicate the relation of that saga to genuine Celtic literature and to explain why we shall hear so little of it in the following accounts of Cymric myths and legends. It was a great spiritual myth which, arising from the composite source above described, overran all the Continent, as its hero was supposed to have done in armed conquest, but it cannot be regarded as a special possession of the Celtic race, nor is it at present extant, except in the form of translation or adaptation, in any Celtic tongue.

Gaelic and Cymric Legend Compared

The myths and legends of the Celtic race which have come down to us in the Welsh language are in some respects of a different character from those which we possess in Gaelic. The Welsh material is nothing like as full as the Gaelic, nor so early. The tales of the “Mabinogion” are mainly drawn from the fourteenth-century manuscript entitled “The Red Book of Hergest.” One of them, the romance of Taliesin, came from another source, a manuscript of the seventeenth century. The four oldest tales in the “Mabinogion” are supposed by scholars to have taken their present shape in the tenth or eleventh century, while several Irish tales, like the story of Etain and Midir or the Death of Conary, go back to the seventh or eighth. It will be remembered that the story of the invasion of Partholan was known to Nennius, who wrote about the year 800. As one might therefore expect, the mythological elements in the Welsh romances are usually much more confused and harder to decipher than in the earlier of the Irish tales. The mythic interest has grown less, the story interest greater; the object of the bard is less to hand down a sacred text than to [pg 345] entertain a prince's court. We must remember also that the influence of the Continental romances of chivalry is clearly perceptible in the Welsh tales; and, in fact, comes eventually to govern them completely.

Gaelic and Continental Romance

In many respects the Irish Celt anticipated the ideas of these romances. The lofty courtesy shown to each other by enemies, the fantastic pride which forbade a warrior to take advantage of a wounded adversary, the extreme punctilio with which the duties or observances proper to each man's caste or station were observed—all this tone of thought and feeling which would seem so strange to us if we met an instance of it in classical literature would seem quite familiar and natural in Continental romances of the twelfth and later centuries. Centuries earlier than that it was a marked feature in Gaelic literature. Yet in the Irish romances, whether Ultonian or Ossianic, the element which has since been considered the most essential motive in a romantic tale is almost entirely lacking. This is the element of love, or rather of woman-worship. The Continental fabulist felt that he could do nothing without this motive of action. But the “lady-love” of the English, French, or German knight, whose favour he wore, for whose grace he endured infinite hardship and peril, does not meet us in Gaelic literature. It would have seemed absurd to the Irish Celt to make the plot of a serious story hinge on the kind of passion with which the mediaeval Dulcinea inspired her faithful knight. In the two most famous and popular of Gaelic love-tales, [pg 346] the tale of Deirdre and “The Pursuit of Dermot and Grania,” the women are the wooers, and the men are most reluctant to commit what they know to be the folly of yielding to them. Now this romantic, chivalric kind of love, which idealised woman into a goddess, and made the service of his lady a sacred duty to the knight, though it never reached in Wales the height which it did in Continental and English romances, is yet clearly discernible there. We can trace it in “Kilhwch and Olwen,” which is comparatively an ancient tale. It is well developed in later stories like “Peredur” and “The Lady of the Fountain.” It is a symptom of the extent to which, in comparison with the Irish, Welsh literature had lost its pure Celtic strain and become affected—I do not, of course, say to its loss—by foreign influences.

Gaelic and Cymric Mythology: Nudd

The oldest of the Welsh tales, those called “The Four Branches of the Mabinogi,” are the richest in mythological elements, but these occur in more or less recognisable form throughout nearly all the mediaeval tales, and even, after many transmutations, in Malory. We can clearly discern certain mythological figures common to all Celtica. We meet, for instance, a personage called Nudd or Lludd, evidently a solar deity. A temple dating from Roman times, and dedicated to him under the name of Nodens, has been discovered at Lydney, by the Severn. On a bronze plaque found near the spot is a representation of the god. He is encircled by a halo and accompanied by flying spirits and by Tritons. We are reminded of the Danaan deities and their close connexion with the [pg 347] sea; and when we find that in Welsh legend an epithet is attached to Nudd, meaning “of the Silver Hand” (though no extant Welsh legend tells the meaning of the epithet), we have no difficulty in identifying this Nudd with Nuada of the Silver Hand, who led the Danaans in the battle of Moytura. Under his name Lludd he is said to have had a temple on the site of St. Paul's in London, the entrance to which, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth, was called in the British tongue Parth Lludd, which the Saxons translated Ludes Geat, our present Ludgate.

[pg 350]

Gods of the House of Dōn

                Manogan                   Māthonwy
                   |                           |
                   |                           |
                   |                 +---------+------+
                   |                 |                 |
                  Beli-------+------Dōn               Māth
                 (Death,     | (Mother-goddess,    (wealth,
               Irish Bilé)   |   Irish Dana)       increase)
     |                |         |        |       |        |        |      |
     |                |         |        |       |        |        |      |
  Gwydion-----+----Arianrod     |     Amaethon   |       Nudd      |  Nynniaw
(Science and  |   ("Silver-     |  (agriculture) |     or Ludd     | and Peibaw
light; slayer | circle," Dawn-  |                |     (Sky-god)   |     
of Pryderi)   |    goddess)     |                |         |       |     
              |                 |                |         |       |     
              |             Gilvaethwy       Govannan      |  Penardun   
              |                            (smith-craft,   |  (_m_. Llyr)  
              |                             Irish Goban)   |             
     +--------+---+---------+                              |           
     |            |         |                            Gwyn         
  Nwyvre        Llew      Dylan                       (Warder of      
(atmosphere,    Llaw    (Sea-god)                    Hades, called
   space)      Gyffes                                 "Avalon" in
              (Sun-god,                                Somerset)            
              the Irish                                
[pg 351]

Gods of the House Of Llyr

         Iweriad     --+-- Llyr --+-- Penardun --+-- Euroswydd
   (=Ireland--_i.e.,_  | (Irish   |  (dau. of    |
       western land    |  Lir)    |    Dōn)      |
        of Hades)      |          |              |
                       |          |              |
   +---------+---------+          |              +--------+----------+
   |         |                    |                       |          |
   |         |                    |                       |          |
   |         |                    |                       |          |
   |      Branwen--+--Matholwch   |                   Nissyen     Evnissyen
   |      (Love-   |   (King of   |
   |      goddess) |    Ireland)  |
   |               |              |
  Bran             |           Manawyddan---Rhiannon
(giant god         |          (Irish Mana-
 of Hades          |           nan, god of             Pwyll--+--Rhiannon
a minstrel;        |            the Sea,             (Head of |
afterwards         |           enchanter)              Hades) |
  Urien)           |                                          |
                 Gwern                                    Pryderi---Kicva
                                                         (Lord of
[pg 352]

Arthur and his Kin

    |                    |                                       |
Yspaddaden           Custennin                    Kilwydd -+- Goleuddydd
    |                    |                                 |
  Olwen        +---------+-----------+                  Kilhwch --- Olwen
               |         |           |
             Goreu     Erbin      Igerna -+- Uther Ben
                         |                |  (= Bran)
                      Geraint             |
                                  |                               |
                                Arthur           Lot -----+---- Gwyar
                              (=Gwydion)       (=Llud)    |    (Gore, a
                                                          |    war-goddess)
                 |                          |                     |
             Gwalchmai                   Medrawt              Gwalchaved
           (Falcon of May,              (=Dylan,           (Falcon of Summer,
             = LLew Llaw                 later Sir         later Sir Galahad;
            Gyffes, later                Mordred)           orig. identical
             Sir Gawain)                                     with Gwalchmai)

Llyr and Manawyddan

Again, when we find a mythological personage named Llyr, with a son named Manawyddan, playing a prominent part in Welsh legend, we may safely connect them with the Irish Lir and his son Mananan, gods of the sea. Llyr-cester, now Leicester, was a centre of the worship of Llyr.

Llew Llaw Gyffes