All of the problems of the other two Romances, and many more besides, are writ large in the tangled word-forest that is the Historia Peredur ab Efrawg. Like Owain and Geraint this text seems to represent the picaresque adventures of a hot-headed prodigy whose combination of strength, untamed sex-drive and social inexperience create the circumstances for a compelling series of encounters. But such is the apparent structural incohesion of the work there can be little agreement on what (if any) thematic unity can be identified in these tales beyond this. This question is made no easier by the wild variation between the four manuscript recensions involved – to the point where it is quite unclear even what constitutes the authoritative text. That it has some relationship with Chrétien’s Conte du Graal is evident, but the correspondence is looser and less clear than is the case with the other two Welsh Romances. But it is nonetheless suggestive of the same situation implied by the latter, i.e. a complex pattern of mutual influence between French and Welsh traditions across the twelfth- and thirteenth- centuriesi.
Peredur, like the other Welsh Romances, is the product of a distinctive Arthurian narrative system, the nodes and inflexions of which were evidently well-established at the time of composition. We have mentioned the stock of formulaic phrases – shared to some extent with the narrative system of the Four Branches. By now we can see that the rhamantau also share a common cast of characters, each of whom exhibits a habitual pattern of behaviour – Gwalchmai is patient and diplomatic, a foil to Cai’s bullying hostility; the aging Arthur is a paternalistic figure, indulgent towards young and up-and-coming young knights but muted and eclipsed in the presence of his own household champions. His (apparently) younger wife Gwenhwyfar radiates a potent aura of benign regal power with a hint of sexual ability. The world beyond the Arthurian domain is consistently populated by predatory wandering knights; sedentary grey-haired earls; widowed countesses; one-eyed giants and other prodigies. Around these archetypal figures, the narrative tends to weave itself in reasonably predictable ways. The story usually begins with Arthur at his court on Caerllion. Cai will be uniformly rude to young knights and squires who arrive at the court, whereas Gwalchmai or Owain will tend to be diplomatic and supportive. The knight-errant hero, often after a tongue-lashing from Cai, will launch himself into the “uninhabited regions of the world” for no reason other than the search for adventure. Supernatural figures (monstrous giants, dwarf-knights or beautiful fairy women) dispense advice from the top of burial mounds, or give directions at the fork of a road. Strange castles are discovered, outside of which auburn-haired youths are seen practicing archery or sword-fighting. Fair- or grey-haired castellans tend to be hospitable and supportive, while swarthy one-eyed giants will often (but not always) turn out to be duplicitous and malevolent. Widowed countesses are invariably harried by neighbouring earls – greedy for their lands, or their hand in marriage, or a combination of the two. A mysterious sadness often hangs over the courts visited by the hero. Sometimes this is due to the bereavement of the resident earl, though the particulars of the malaise may vary from one case to another – the only common denominator being that it will, invariably, be resolved by the hero. Arthur, the sentimental old king, will tend to mourn the hero’s absence from his court, and send out search parties if he is away from court for too long. These search parties will encounter the hero in strange armour, and/or in a deranged state of mind. Unrecognised by the Arthurian knights, the hero will be challenged in single combat – first by Cai (whom he invariably overthrows), and latterly by Gwalchmai or Owain, whom he eventually recognises. At some point in the tale, the hero will marry a powerful heiress, but more often than not the tale ends with him back where he started, at the court of Arthur – ready for his next adventure.
The rudiments of this narrative system – the outlines of which can still be traced in the much later works of Malory and Spenser – can be dated back at least as far as the early twelfth century, and might be said to be evident in an embryonic form in Culhwch ac Olwen ‘the oldest Arthurian tale’ (c.1100). By the time of the rhamantau, however, the genre appears to have reached a formal stability – so much so that we might compare it with other stereotypical narrative systems, such as that which produced the Russian skazy, as demarcated with such clarity by Vladimir Propp. As with the ‘functions’ identified by Propp, there is an element of modularity and interchangeablity at work in these tales. Other than having the generic characteristics of the Romance hero (naivity, hot-headedness, martial invincibility) the main protagonist is an essentially faceless character. Abstracted from his traditional background, what is accomplished by Peredur might just as easily have been accomplished by Geraint or Owain. Likewise, the particular adventures accomplished represent semi-autonomous, transferrable units. While in Owain (and to a lesser extent Geraint) we have an overarching narrative architecture which plays a part in governing the sequence and the significance of these adventures, this is less apparent in Peredur: where an impression of almost random adventuring-by-numbers is sometimes created. Peredur may or may not have been a traditional figure in his own right (there is some suggestion that he may have emerged from the same northern, sub-Roman background as the more well-defined Owain), but here he is best understood simply as a generic Arthurian hero, a focal point for an agglomeration of themes and motifs characteristic of this narrative system.
On reading Peredur, one is initially struck by the impression that it appears to consist of at least three, if not four, semi-autonomous tales. The only common denominator is that all feature the same hero, and take place within the stereotypical milieu of the Welsh Arthurian Romance. But, as has been shown by the careful analysis of Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan ii, this apparent narrative disunity is overlaid with an involved interlace of structure, theme and content. This distinctively medieval literary device – which we find in the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, as well as in the great prose romances of thirteenth century France – finds a formal echo in contemporary manuscript illumination or even in sprawling gothic architecture of the period. Such complexity, Lloyd-Morgan plausibly suggests, can only really arise out of a consciously-crafted authorial project. And while it may have oral, or quasi-oral characteristics,Peredur as we have it today is best understod as a literary composition in its own right (as opposed to being a transcription of an oral recital – as we could reasonably suppose is the case with Culhwch ac Olwen). However, the alarming variance between the manuscripts also suggests that even after ‘composition’, significant variations and accretions continued to appear. This offers a fascinating insight into habits of redaction in medieval Wales – which was evidently a far more creative process than is often acknowledged. Texts could be ‘fluid’ as well as ‘fixed’. We might see Peredur (like the Branches of the Mabinogi) as a continuously evolving work, to which new episodes may have been added by subsequent redactors, but not without some attempt harmonisation with the existing content by means of structural or thematic interlace. The end result is a gloriously overblown work of gothic proportions – the composite meta-tale that we find in the manuscripts extant.
The early part of Peredur has attracted considerable attention due to its evident similarity to Chrétien’s unfinished tale of Perceval, otherwise known as Li Conte del Graal. This famous Old French romance attracted numerous imitations and continuations in a variety of medieval vernaculars, and might be said to occupy a special place in the European imagination. The precise relationship between the Welsh and French versions of this tale is unclear, and in many respects the two are perhaps best regarded as completely different tales. However, as we have seen with the other two Romances, there are signs that each drew to some degree on a common (Brythonic) source-tradition, and certain light can be shed on the content and significance of the Welsh tale with reference to its influential French relation.
The structure of this first section of the tale might be said to be defined by the ‘Great Fool’ topos, a specific variant of which (the Bel Inconnu scenario) begins with the entry of a naïve young rustic into the sophisticated milieu of Arthur’s court domain. The uncomplicated boldness of this young stranger shows up the pretensions of the jaded courtiers, provoking both delight and resentment. This would become an enduring theme – a recent example being Patrice LeConte’s cinematic masterpiece Ridicule (1996), in which a well-meaning but unsophisticated provincial squire arrives at the court of pre-Revolutionary Versailles in an attempt to raise funds for a local marsh-drainage project. A more conscious reworking (or parody) of the Bel Inconnu theme is to be found in Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee at the court of King Arthur (1889), while we find a distinct echo of the Great Fool topos in Voltaire’s bitter-sweet picaresque Candide, ou l’Optimisme (1759).
One of the main roots of this fruitful theme seems to lie in the Early Medieval Celtic world, and it is to such a background that a number of key Arthurian scenarios can be most clearly related. Precursors to the emergent Bel Inconnu are to be found in youthful arrivistes such as Cú Chulainn, Lugh Lamfada and Culhwch ap Cilydd. Likewise, much of the dramatic (and comic) force of the First Branch hinges on the trusting naivety of its hero, the ironically named Pwyll (= ‘wisdom’), a kind of Welsh proto-Candide. But it required the development of a fully-fledged, hierarchical feudal court society before the Bel Inconnu theme could find its characteristic resonance. Once again, we are reminded of the keen eye for social observation so often evidenced in early Arthurian Romance. The poignancy of the Bel Inconnu scene hinges on the recognition of the fact that awkward social divisions existed within the military caste of the feudal aristocracy – a court community which was by no means the monolithic, unified or definitive entity as it might at first appear across the intervening centuries. Tensions existed between the metropolitan centre and rustic periphery; between the baronial prince on one hand and the penniless knight-errant on the other. Yet each of these strata might have found common cause in a shared suspicion of rising urban/mercantile class, and it was this common yearning for an uncomplicated bucolic past that seems to have found an outlet the chivalric fantasy of Arthurian Romance. As demonstrated by Jacques Le Goff, Georges Duby and Stephen Knight among others,iii it was out of these tensions that Arthurian Romance seems to have been conceived and sustained as narrative force. It was the definitive court literature, which held up a mirror to the complexities of the feudal aristocratic community. While providing space for the acknowledgement of certain prevailing tensions within this society, it also offered the reassuring vision of an ideological unity across the diverse strata of the High Medieval warrior class.
Both Peredur and Perceval begin with a description of the infancy of their hero, reared in rustic isolation by his widowed mother who was determined to ensure that he would never follow his other short-lived male relatives into a life of reckless soldiering. He is brought up among ‘meek, mild men who could not or would not fight or wage war. In the boy’s hearing no one dared mention horses or weapons in case he set his heart upon them’. iv However, the boy’s innate martial instincts cannot be repressed – and when he sees two knights riding past his forest home he is immediately smitten. The boy’s mother finally acknowledges that he is destined to follow his father and his brothers into the ranks of chivalry, and packs him off to Arthur’s court with some comically inappropriate words of advice – about which we will say more in due course.
The thwarted attempts by the mother to deny the son a role as a fully-fledged member of the warrior aristocracy has parallels with the repressive tynghedau issued by Aranrhod in the Fourth Branch, or the hero’s stepmother in Culhwch ac Olwen. However, it also serves to set the scene for opening episode of the Great Fool scenario, in which the hero emerges from his rustic isolation. Typical of these sequences is a detailed description of the hero’s appearance as he makes his way to court, in which his outlandishness is emphasised by his idiosyncratic attire. In Peredur it is merely said that he “imitated with twisted branches all the horse trappings he had seen on the horses [of the knights he had seen earlier in the forest]” and “set off with a fistful of sharp-pointed darts in his hand” v . In Chrétien’s account, a fuller description is offered in which a significant element of ethnic stereotyping is also apparent:
He was equipped in the Welsh manner and fashion: he wore a pair of shoes made of untanned hide upon upon his feet; and wherever he went he was in the habit of carrying three javelins. He wanted to take his javelins with him, but his mother had two of them taken away, because he would have looked too much like a Welshman… vi
Earlier on in the same text, we are also told that his mother had kitted him out in ‘a course canvas shirt, and breeches made in the style of the Welsh, who, it seems have the leggings joined to the breeches.’ vii This ‘Welshness’ is clearly being used to bring additional colour and comic value to the noble savage archetype which is so instrumental to the theme of the Great Fool. The manner in which this colonialist ethnic trope is subtly inverted in the Welsh version is the subject of an interesting discussion by Kristen Lee Over. viii However, for all the post-colonial dynamics of ‘imitation and menace’ which may or may not be present in the Welsh tale, the pedigree of this sequence – as we have already suggested – is decidedly Celtic. An earlier version of which is to be found in the exuberant description of the young hero on his way to court in the pre-Galfredian tale of Culhwch ac Olwen:
Off went the boy on a steed with light-grey head, four-winters old, with well-knit fork, shell-hoofed, and a golden tubular bridle-bit in its mouth. And under him a precious gold saddle, and in his hand two whetted spears of silver. A battle-axe in his hand, the forearm’s length of a full-grown man from ridge to edge. It would draw blood from the wind; it would be swifter than the swiftest dew-drop from the stalk to the ground, when the dew would be heaviest in the month of June. A gold-hilted sword on his thigh, and the blade of it gold, and a gold-chased buckler upon him, with the hue of heaven’s lightning therein, and an ivory boss therein. And two greyhounds, whitebreasted, brindled, in front of him, with a collar of red gold about the neck of either, from shoulder-swell to ear. The one that was on the left side would be on the right, and the one that was one the right side would be on the left, like two sea-swallows sporting around him. Four clods the four hoofs of his steed would cut, like four swallows in the air over his head, now before him, now behind him. A four-cornered mantle of purple upon him, and an apple of red-gold in each of its corners; a hundred kine was the worth of each apple. The worth of three hundred kine in precious gold was there in his foot gear and stirrups, from the top of his thigh to the tip of his toe. Never a hair-tip stirred upon him, so exceedingly light his steed’s canter under him on his way to the gate of Arthur’s court. ix
The subsequent arrival at court of the odd-looking but assertive Peredur also has antecedents in Celtic tradition – comparisons might be drawn again with Culhwch’s aggressive door-stepping, which in turn might be seen as an echo of the polymathic boasting of Lugh Lamfada on his arrival at court of the Tuatha dé Danaan. Later on, we will consider in more detail the poignant and revealing scene which signals the hero’s initial arrival at court. But first we need to consider a no less noteworthy incident that occurs en route to Arthur’s domain – namely Peredur’s encounter with the mistress of the ‘Proud One of the Clearing’.
As Peredur was leaving his forest home, he had received the following parting words from his grief-stricken mother:
“Go to Arthur’s court,” she said “where you will find the best men and most generous and most brave. Wherever you see a church, chant the Our Father to it. If you see food and drink, if you are in need of it and no-one has the courtesy or goodness to offer it to you, help yourself. If you hear a scream, go towards it, and a woman’s scream above any scream in the world. If you see a fair jewel, take it and give it to someone, and because of that you will be praised. If our see a beautiful lady, make love to her even though she does not want you – it will make you a better and braver man than before.” x
This rather dubious maternal advice is taken literally by the naive hero, and acted out with comedic consequences when he came across an elegant pavilion in a clearing in a forest on his way to Arthur’s court. Having said his Our Father (in his rustic innocence he believes the pavilion to be a church), he proceeds to help himself to the food and jewellery, and to plant a kiss on the hand of the bewildered lady he finds therein. In Perceval, this encounter is vividly described almost in terms of a forceful act of robbery and rape by the savage Welshman:
The young man had strong arms; and he gave her a very gauche embrace, not knowing how else to do it. He stretched her out full length beneath him; and she put up a strong defence, doing her best to wriggle free. But her defence was to no avail, for, whether she liked it or not, the lad gave her seven kisses in a row (as the story tells) until he spotted on her finger a ring set with a brilliant emerald…The youth seizes her by the fist, forces her finger straight and, having removed the ring from it, put it on his own finger. xi
It is hard not to detect a note of prurient fascination in this description of the rough manhandling of the unprotected female. Not for the first time in Romance literature, we have a sense that the stage has been set with the overriding aim of visualising transgressive scenarios of this kind, and thereby offering a kind of vicarious indulgence of the primative elements of the medieval consciousness: instinctual urges which, for most of the contemporary audience, would have been severely circumscribed by the oaths and bonds of feudal Christianity. Undoubtedly, as has been suggested before, there is a degree of cultural chauvinism involved: particularly in the case of the Franco-Norman treatment of the crudeness of the rustic British protagonist. But the young Welsh savage is more than simply an ethnic caricature. He is perhaps better understood as a registering apparatus, or (in plainer terms) an excuse for the audience to temporarily loosen their mental bonds and enjoy the fantasy of unfettered instinctuality enacted by this savage ingénue.
Such devices were of course instrumental to the compulsive power of the ‘magical plot’, a narrative mechanism we have already explored in the context of Owain and Geraint. At the heart of this mechanism, as we have seen, is the atavistic sovereignty complex, a theme which the magical plot obsessively circumnavigates. This involves the deposition of a king or father-figure by a younger male rival – an echo of what Freud calls the ‘primal horde’ scenario. At stake is the privilege of the alpha male – control of the nutritive resources of the tribe, and a sexual monopoly over its females. Here, in his pillaging of the food and wealth of ‘the Proud One of the Clearing’, to say nothing of his behaviour towards the Proud One’s mistress, the hero is essentially acting out this atavistic scenario. All that is missing is the act of regicidal violence itself – an omission that is more than adequately compensated by the hero’s subsequent encounters with father-figures both hostile and benign.
The presence of the same underlying fantasy structure is also to be felt in the following episode, in which Peredur makes his debut at the court of Arthur. Just as he reaches the court, another knight arrives who barges into the hall, snatches a cup from the chamberlain, and spills its contents over Gwenhwyfar’s face and breast. ‘The Red Knight’, as he is described in the Conte du Graal, then challenges the assembled court to avenge this potent insult. At that, as the author of Peredur describes “everyone hung his head…they assumed that no-one would commit such a crime unless he possessed strength and power or magic and enchantment”. xii
A number of critics have been drawn to the symbolism of the Red Knight’s outrageous gesture. According to Helen Adolf, the seizure and spilling of the wine is synonymous with an act of rape against the queen. She suggests that in the ‘original’ version of the story, the Red Knight would have carried off the queen, much as the unearthly Glastonbury prince Melwas does in Caradog of Llanfarfan’s Life of Gildas. Glenys Goetinck identifies the wine itself with the ‘red ale’ of sovereignty, as depicted in the Irish tradition, and suggests that the Red Knight’s action is symbolically equivalent to the seizure of the kingdom.xiii
Whether or not these signifiers would have been recognised as such by the contemporary audience of Peredur or the Conte du Graal, xiv there can be little doubt that this event would have been understood as an overt challenge to the legitimacy of the king. An atmosphere of misrule surrounds this event, and the manner of its occurrence suggests that it may have been as much a symptom as a cause of a weakened royal presence. Once again, Chrétien is rather more explicit on this point. He describes the ambiance in court just before the arrival of the Red Knight:
King Arthur was sitting deep in thought at the head of the table; and all the knights were laughing and joking together apart from him, as he brooded in silence.
This observation is absent from Peredur, but something similar is implied by the lack of willingness on the part of the household knights to avenge the insult to the queen, and their jeering relish in the distraction offered by arrival of the bumpkin Peredur. As the latter rides in on his horse (again, recalling Culhwch) the retinue start ‘to make fun of him and thrown sticks at him, and they are glad someone like him has arrived so that the other incident can be forgotten.’
Peredur, undaunted by these jibes, goes on to demand knighthood from the king. Predictably enough, he is rebuffed by Cai. Rather more unexpectedly, he is saluted by a mysterious dwarf couple who hail him as ‘chief of warriors’ and ‘flower of knights’ xv. These dwarfs, who have been residing silently at Arthur’s court up until this moment, are then given a beating by Cai, an abusive act provides the circumstance for what Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan describes as ‘the first vengeance theme’ of the tale of Peredur, about which we will have more to say below. However, what provides the most immediate narrative propulsion is Cai’s sarcastic challenge to Peredur to pursue the Red Knight and avenge the queen. This Peredur does, and overthrowing the Red Knight he wins his spurs and begins his career as an itinerant knight errant.
Wilson and other critics have drawn attention to the fact that the hero takes on the armour of the defeated knight in both Peredur and Le Conte du Graal. This is merely one of the more obvious ways in signalling that the identities of Peredur and the Red Knight are becoming mysteriously conflated. Such elisions are highly characteristic of the magical tale in general and the rhamantau in particular. We might recall how Geraint ‘became’ the Sparrowhawk Knight following his defeat of the latter, just as Owain ‘became’ the Black Knight of the Fountain. In each of these cases, the hero’s identity merges with that of the stranger knight who is closely associated with the instinctual paganism of the sovereignty complex. In each case, the hero takes on this figure as an enemy and overthrows him. But in all three cases, the text makes it quite clear that the resemblance between the hero and his defeated adversary goes deeper than the armour they come to share. The hero is as guilty as his enemy of the regicidal covetousness at the heart of the sovereignty complex. The task of the magical plot is to excise the hero of this guilt, while offering vicarious gratification to the instinctual aspects of the unconscious mind along the way. This is achieved, as we have seen, by externalising the hero’s guilt, resulting in magical adversaries such as the Red Knight.
Peredur’s susceptibility to the rutting instincts of the sovereignty complex is established by his behaviour at the pavilion of the Proud One of the Clearing, as we have seen. His doubling with the Red Knight signalled by their simultaneous arrival at Arthur’s court, and their exchange of armour, further emphasises the hero’s uncomfortable proximity to these transgressive aspirations. While the emphasis so far has been on the acquisitive aspects of this primitive instinctuality (e.g. Peredur’s violent embrace of the lady in the pavilion, followed by his devouring of the available foodstuffs), the other key element of the fantasy, i.e. the violent deposition of the old king, has not yet been emphasised. However, as we can see particularly clearly in the French version of this tale, the stage is set for a regicidal situation. The king is portrayed as a marginalised figure: the court is dominated by the queen and an aggressive clique of household knights. As is the case to a greater or lesser degree in all of the courts described in these tales, a sense of social and moral discord prevails.
The spectre of regicide haunts the first section of the tale and, as we will consider below, constitutes one of its core themes. However, this is offset by a number of other topical concerns, which might be described as constituting the surface-texture of the work. Important among these is the theme of revenge. After Peredur has defeated the Red Knight, he is invited by Owain to return to the hall and be knighted by Arthur. This invitation is robustly refused by the hero. Peredur instead hands the snatched goblet to Owain and instructs that it be returned to the Queen, while vowing never to return to the court until the ‘tall man’ (i.e. Cai) is confronted and avenged for his treatment of the two dwarfs.
After this Peredur embarks on a series of adventures, which begins with an encounter with a hostile wandering knight who is Arthur’s enemy. Peredur defeats this knight and sends him packing to Arthur’s court, where he is to pledge loyalty to the king and pass on the message that Peredur will not be returning until Cai has been confronted. Sixteen further encounters of this kind take place, with the vanquished enemies each being dispatched to Arthur’s court bearing the same message. Unsurprisingly, this leads to Cai being reprimanded by Arthur and the retinue and being left in fear at the prospect on an encounter with this powerful avenger. The humiliation of Cai – the archetypal court bully – is once again gratifyingly wrought. Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan sees this as one of the key terminal points of the ‘first vengeance theme’, which foreshadows the more substantial challenge which Peredur will eventually face: that of avenging the death of his father and brothers. However, in the meantime we return to what Lloyd-Morgan has identified as the other main thematic thread in the biography of Peredur, that is the education of the hero: his transition from untrained rustic oaf into ‘the flower of knights’ that he is supposedly destined to become.
After the series of itinerant victories described above, Peredur comes across a castle by a lake, home of a grey-haired castellan who later turns out to be the hero’s mother’s brother. Here he is tutored in swordsmanship, and further initiated into the manners of knighthood. He is given the following advice, which his uncle tells him should replace the advice given earlier by his mother:
“From now on this is what you must do: if you see something strange, do not ask about it unless someone is courteous enough to explain it. It will not be your fault, but mine, since I am your teacher.” xvi
After this, Peredur continues with his journey. Next he arrives at a second castle, also owned by a man who turns out to be his uncle, brother of his previous host. He is received warmly, and after they have eaten Peredur’s training continues. He is shown an iron column, which he is instructed to attempt to split with a sword. He succeeds in doing this twice, each time the column returning to its original state when Peredur reassembles the pieces. He succeeds in splitting the column a third time, but this time the sword itself breaks and he is unable to reassemble the pieces. All this is watched by his uncle, who observes that the hero “has gained two-thirds of [his] strength, and the third is still to come.”
After this, Peredur witnesses the strange parade involving a bleeding lance and a severed head – which seems to trigger widespread mourning throughout the hall, but which his uncle pointedly ignores. Following the advice of his other uncle, Peredur refrains from asking any questions. This incident, of course, is related to the notorious Grail Castle episode in Chrétien’s Perceval.
So instrumental was the grail-complex to become in later medieval European thought that we must be wary of according its debut in this scene in Peredur with retrospective significance beyond that which its author intended. Undoubtedly, in a work as multifarious as the medieval texts of Peredur or the even Le Conte du Graal itself (with its various continuations) there are a number of themes and sub-themes, ‘sprouting branches’ from the main narrative trunk – not all of which can be neatly tied up in a unified structure, or resolved in a moment of climatic denouement (as one might expect in more modern novelistic works). However, there is something fundamental about this sequence which is significant not only in terms of the core of the text itself, but also the origin of the genre as a whole. Here at last we can find a definitive clue as to the development of Arthurian Romance from a specifically Welsh context, and how and under what circumstances it came to be associated so closely with the workings of the magical plot. However, this lies beyond the immediate problem of the narrative logic of Peredur itself, and so has been considered in a separate article on this site.
In the context of itself, the ‘Grail Castle’ episode (as we may refer to it for convenience xvii) belongs to a cluster of incidents which allude to the violent deaths of various members of Peredur’s family – and as such propels the ‘Vengeance theme’ which Lloyd-Morgan regards as one of the key threads in this otherwise rather disorganised biography. One of these incidents, which occurs immediately after the hero leaves the Grail Castle, reinforces the strange sense of moral disorientation found in the previous episode:
Early the next day Peredur got up, and with his uncle’s permission he set off. From there he came to a forest, and deep inside the forest he could hear crying. He went to where the crying was coming from. When he arrived he saw a beautiful auburn-haired woman and a saddled horse beside her, a man’s corpse between the woman’s hands. And as she tried to place the corpse in the saddle, the corpse would fall to the ground, and then she would give a cry.
‘Tell me, sister,’ he said, ‘why are you crying?’
‘Alas, accursed Peredur,’ said she, ‘little relief have you ever brought me from my misery.’
‘Why should I be accursed?’ he said.
‘Because you are the cause of your mother’s death, for when you set off against her will, a shooting pain leapt up within her, and she died from it. And you are accursed because you are the cause of her death. And the dwarf and she-dwarf you saw in Arthur’s court, that was the dwarf of your father and mother. And I am a foster-sister of yours, and this is my husband, killed by the knight who is in the forest. And do not go near him in case you are killed too.’
‘You are wrong, sister,’ he said ‘to blame me. And because I have stayed with you as long as I have, I will scarcely defeat the knight; and were I to stay longer I would never overcome him. And as for you, stop your crying now, for help is closer than before. And I will bury the man, and go with you to where the knight is, and if I can get revenge I will do so.’
Peredur then finds and defeats the knight, dispatching him back to Arthur’s court with the same message to Cai as had been delivered before. Thus, two main strands of the Vengeance themes are dovetailed into a single episode.
After this, Peredur arrives at a strange ivy-covered castle inhabited by a community of identical red-haired youths presided over by a pale, dark-haired lady and her four attendant maidens. It emerges that the lady’s father has been killed by a neighbouring earl, who has designs on her land and her hand in marriage (an entirely typical Arthurian scenario, as we have seen). The red-haired youths are her foster-brothers, but they are growing increasingly reluctant to protect her against this dangerous neighbour. So, following the normal narrative grain of the rhamantau, Peredur steps in and single-handedly defeats the neighbouring earl and his retinue who are then forced to pay homage to the lady and recognise her as their overlord. Crucial to this scenario and its operation in magical terms is the understanding that Peredur himself was then in a position to marry the lady and take on the sovereignty of both of their domains. This would of course represent a fulfilment of the primitive fantasy of violence followed by power and material/sexual gratification. However, following the prescribed behaviour of the Romance hero he declines these opportunities and continues on his way. In this way, the magical plot once again fulfils its purpose: circumnavigating the sovereignty complex and neutralising the associated feelings of guilt. We will find that this obsessive preoccupation with the guilt or innocence of the hero – so characteristic of the psychology of the magical plot – echoes like a refrain throughout this otherwise rather segmented text.
After this Peredur has an ambiguous encounter with the Nine Witches of Caer Lloyw (Gloucester) – an episode that seems to derive from a more archaic stratum of Celtic narrative lore. We find reference to the nine witches in the early Arthurian poem Pa Gur, where their defeat is listed among the achievements of Cai. xviii These nine might be compared with the nine supernatural maidens, whose breath kindled the mysterious ‘Cauldron of the Chief of Annwfn’ in another early poem, Preiddeu Annwn. Perhaps the closest resemblance is to the nine witches in the Early Medieval Latin-Breton Life of St Sampson. xix One of these ‘sorceresses’ – evidently senior functionaries of a pagan cult located at southern end of the Welsh borders – is described as old and shaggy-haired, wielding a bloody trident. She describes herself as living in a forest with eight of her sisters, together with their mother – similar to the ‘witches court’ described in Peredur. After Peredur defeats one of these witches, he then (rather surprisingly perhaps) stays at their court for a period of three weeks. During this time he receives instructions from them on how to ride his horse and handle his weapons, thus continuing the ‘education of the hero’ topos – one of the primary thematic strands identified by Lloyd-Morgan. A notable parallel here is evident with the training of the Irish hero Cú Chulainn in the house of the fearsome hag-like Scáthach (‘Shadow’). We will have more to say about the parallels between Peredur fab Efrawg and this prodigious Irish warrior later on below.
After leaving the Witches’ Court, Peredur again finds himself preoccupied by the dark-haired lady from the ivy-covered court. He spends the following night in a hermit’s cell, emerging in a state of love-lorn abstraction:
Early the next morning he got up, and when he came outside a fall of snow had come down the night before. And a wild hawk had killed a duck near the cell. And what with the noise of the horse, the hawk rose and a raven descended on the bird’s flesh. Peredur stood and compared the blackness of the raven and the whiteness of the snow, and the redness of the blood to the hair of the woman he loved the best which was a black as jet, and her skin to the whiteness of the snow and the redness of the blood in the white snow to the two cheeks of the woman he loved best.xx
As has been long recognised, this passage has a close correspondence with a sequence in the ninth-century Irish tale, Longas Mac nUislenn ‘The exile of the Sons of Uisnech’. We are thus reminded of the Insular Celtic pedigree of so much of the narrative material of Arthurian Romance. The analysis of R. S. Loomis - which characterised the genre as Irish fantasy enlivening Welsh saga history, which in turn was adapted for the tastes of a Franco-Norman courtly audience - remains as good as any.
However, the significance of Peredur’s amorous distraction within the narrative itself is that it provides the circumstances for what seems to be a keynote episode in all the Welsh Arthurian Romances: the psychic disorientation of the hero which precedes his re-assimilation into the court community. We find a similar moment in Owain, in which the hero loses his mind following an encounter with the messenger from the Fountain Domain. In Geraint, the derangement is more prolonged and takes a more specific form, i.e. the hero’s boorish treatment of his wife during his aimless peregrinations in the middle section of the tale. When examined in terms of the deep-structure of the magical plot, it can be seen that these moment of derangement are all precipitated by an irreconcilable tension between the urgings of the instinctual self and the demands of the feudal-Christian superego. This episode of Peredur is no exception. We might recall that the hero has just walked away from what could have been a fulfilment of the sovereignty fantasy, as experienced by Owain in fountain domain. He is found in this state of mental dislocation by the household knights of the court of Arthur, who had dispatched a search party to track down his young protégée. Again, this development is wholly characteristic of the genre, and a similar encounter takes place in each of the rhamantau.
The psycho-social alienation of the hero is compounded by his face-obscuring armour, which prevents his true identity being revealed when he is encountered by Arthur’s knights. Mistaken for a hostile stranger, the hero finds himself in conflict first with Cai (to whom, once again, Peredur gives a hearty thrashing) and then, rather more poignantly, with his erstwhile friend or kinsman Gwalchmai. Eventually, after a prolonged bout of combat, the two antagonists become aware of each other’s identity and are reconciled. This signals the beginning of the reintegration of the hero back into the Arthurian court community. In the case of Peredur, the return to Caerllion signals the end of the first sub-tale, concluding as it does the ‘lesser revenge theme’ and (more importantly perhaps) returning the hero to his original status as a landless knight-errant at the court of Arthur, ready for his next adventure.
The end of this episode marks the point at which the text ceases to correspond with Chrétien’s Perceval. The episodes that follow bear no resemblance to any French tale, which has led some critics to believe that they represent a more purely ‘Celtic’ tradition (the reality is probably rather more complex, as we will consider below). The similarity with Chrétien’s tale has led to the general assumption that the first section of the text represents the original root tradition, onto which originally independent material involving the hero Peredur were subsequently grafted. Certainly, as we suggested, Historia Peredur ab Efrawg has the initial appearance of consisting of three if not four free-standing tales, connected only by incidental thematic repetitions and the common identity of the central hero involved. However, when observed through the lens of the magical plot, a more cohesive textual purpose becomes apparent. From this perspective, the strange duplications and circumnavigations, the abrupt starts and finishes which punctuate the tale, take on the appearance of deliberate gradations in a complex ritual drama. The reiterations found throughout the tale are, within this context, better regarded as deliberate thematic refrains rather than the result of a lazy medieval agglomeration of collateral recensions. We will return to this question of a unifying deep structure to the tale later on in due course. For the time being we must consider the details that present themselves at the surface level.
This section of the story begins with Peredur at the court of Arthur, where he meets and immediately falls in love with the evocatively-named heroine Angharad Llaw Eurog.xxi This discovery of a new love-interest – achieved with what some might regard as indecent haste – is perhaps one of the key reasons why critics have tended to regard Peredur as poorly synthesised, somehow lacking the integrity of the classical Romance as exemplified by the works of Chrétien and his school. Certainly, Peredur rapid recovery from his obsession with the raven-haired countess of the Ivy Castle seems to undermine conventional notions of amor courteoise, which in turn would seem to suggest a lack of emotional depth in the hero – thereby trivialising the psychological core of the tale. However, once again, this is to misunderstand the true nature of the magical plot – in which there is really only one point of view, which is that of the hero. In a solipsistic drama of this kind, the duplication of certain key figures – as objects of desire, fear or vindication – are perhaps only to be expected, as is the tendency to reconfigure and replay certain key situations. The primary concern is one of subjective vindication, and to this core aim all other elements are subordinate in a magical plot of this kind.
Returning to the surface-current of the plot itself, we initially find Angharad rejecting the hero’s love, causing him to make the pledge that he ‘will never utter a word to any Christian’ until she confesses that she loves him the best. This begins a strange adventure in which Peredur descends into the Circular Valley – a pagan domain which bears something of a topographical resemblance to Dante’s inferno. On the way down he fights with a lion chained to a rock near a pit, and then passes some crudely-built houses. At the bottom of the valley he finds a court inhabited by an ogreish couple and their gargantuan children. His hosts plot to kill him but this plot is foiled, thanks in part to the intervention one of the daughters of the house, who warns him in advance and brings him his armour and his horse. Peredur overcomes the chief giant and forces him to go to the court of Arthur to pledge his allegiance and become baptized into the Christian religion – thus re-initiating a pattern that was established earlier on in the tale when Peredur’s vanquished opponents were serially dispatched to the Arthurian court as tokens of the hero’s prowess and good faith.
After leaving the Circular Valley, Peredur has a brief adventure in which he kills a poisonous serpent and seizes the golden ring around which it had been coiled (the influence of Germanic myth is evident here). Soon after this, the hero meets some of Arthur’s knights riding out on an errand. Being bound not to speak to any Christian, he is unable to answer when Cai demands to know his business. Cai, true to form, takes offence at his silence and strikes him roughly. Peredur, for his part, ‘lest he be forced to speak and break his word’ simply rides by without returning the blow. Gwalchmai chastises Cai for this aggressive treatment, and persuades Gwyhwyfar to arrange medical treatment for the silent squire. We find an echo here of the situation at the end of the previous sub-tale, when Peredur is found by the knights in a state of love-struck distraction – and again refuses to answer their questions. (Peredur’s success in bridling his aggressive instincts on this second occasion may be significant from a magical point of view, as we will consider below).
Not long after this, a strange knight arrives at the edges of the Arthurian domain, challenging and defeating a succession of the king’s men. Arthur demands to take on the challenger himself, and sends for his horse and armour. The king’s brave but ill-advised venture is wisely prevented by Peredur, who intercepts the delivery of this equipment. Wearing the armour of the king he defeats the interloper. He is feted at the court for his bravery, but continues to speak to nobody and thus becomes known as the Mute Knight. Eventually, Angharad herself professes her love for him, and he is released from his vow. He renews his friendship with Owain and Gwalchmai, and his initial place within the Arthurian court community is restored.
The Circular Valley episode may, on the surface at least, appear inconsequential and unrelated to the rest of the tale. However, during the course of it we find at least three key elements which would immediately be recognised as significant by the student of the magical plot. The first of these is the characteristic Oedipal triangle tension involving the hero and an ogrish father-king figure and the wife/daughter of the latter – a scenario that was already well-worn by the time of the eleventh-century Culhwch ac Olwen. Key to the dynamics of the magical plot is the fact that once the hero defeats his giant adversary, he is left with the possibility of taking over the kingdom and marrying the daughter-wife – an opportunity which is declined, deferred or eventually rejected. In this way, the energy associated with the primal horde fantasy is stimulated while not being entirely or immediately fulfilled. Instead, the initial aim of the narrative seems to be a removal of a particular form of regicidal guilt which seems to have clung so persistently to any thoughts of aspiration or self-gratification within the medieval mind.
Another significant element of this episode is the need for the hero’s silence – the self-imposed oath to utter no word ‘to any Christian’ until the object of his devotion, the evocatively-named Angharad Llaw Eurog confesses her love to him. This is, of course, not the first time in this tale that the hero has been required to keep silent. We may recall the key scene in the previous section, in which Peredur is obliged to refrain from asking questions as the severed head and bloody spear are paraded through the hall. This was, we may remember, the result of a promise made to his uncle, while the scene itself takes place in the castle of another kinsman. Looking carefully at the context of this earlier episode, it would appear that feelings of guilt and denial associated with an act of regicide and internecine violence are being represented.
Here the silence is self-imposed and does not (in contrast to the previous section) seem to relate to problems of guilt or collective denial. While the mutism of the hero in the second episode is less concerned with internecine violence, the fact it leads onto a situation in which the possibility of regicide is so clearly represented (as we will see below) is undoubtedly significant. More generally, viewed in terms of the magical plot, the hero’s otherwise rather irrational decision to exile himself from the society of Christendom may be seen as a continuation of the deeper theme of regicidal guilt.
This is confirmed when the hero’s silence leads him into a situation in which his identity is mysteriously conflated with that of a hostile unknown knight – the standard representation of the externalised shadow-figure in High Medieval Arthurian Romance. This begins with a development that seems to echo the circumstances of the previous episode: a conflict-through-misidentification with the knights of Arthur. That the hero refuses to retaliate on this second occasion, might be seen as further evidence that this deliberate act of silence forms part of the complex tapestry of ritualistic repetition and irrational but symbolically-charged actions (often of a penitential or self-denying nature) which typifies this stage of the trajectory of the magical drama.
The appearance immediately after this misidentification of an unknown, unnamed knight challenging the authorities of Arthur’s court carries with it the strong suggestion that the identity of the hero, himself in a state of suspicious incognito, is being conflated with that of this hostile usurper. We have seen how, as with various Black Knights or rapacious earls in Geraint and Owain, such figures serve as useful externalised projections of the hero’s own sense of regicidal/acquisitive guilt. This impression is merely confirmed by the hero’s subsequent stratagem of stealing the king’s armour and equipment, and thus impersonating the royal presence and appropriating his sovereign power. What makes this magical manoeuvre so characteristic of the hidden purpose of the genre is that, through a complex and rather unfeasible set of circumstances, a situation is created in which a transgressive action is envisioned with no accompanying sense of wrong-doing. In this way, the hero’s guilt is removed prior to his reasimilation into the court community, and prior to his (now) legitimised acceptance of Angharad Llaw Ereint.
Immediately after this we have the start of the third subsection of the tale of Peredur: sometimes known as the Empress of Constantinople sequence. This opening section is worth quoting in full as it has a number of resonances both within and beyond the text as a whole:
Arthur was in Caerllion ar Wsyg, and he went to hunt, and Peredur with him. And Peredur let his dogs loose on a stag, and the dog killed the stag in a deserted place. Some distance away he could see the signs of a dwelling, and he approached the swelling. He could see a door, and at the door of the hall he could see three swarthy, bald young men playing gwyddbwyll. And when he entered he could see three maidens sitting on the couch, dressed in garments of gold as befits noblewomen. And he went to sit with them on the couch. One of the maidens looked at Peredur intently, and wept. Peredur asked her why she was weeping.
‘Because it pains me so much to see such a handsome young man as you killed.
‘Who would kill me?’
‘If it were not dangerous for you to stay here, I would tell you.’
‘The man who owns this court is our father. And he kills everyone who comes to this court without permission.’
There are a number of observations arising from this. First, the opening clause ‘Arthur was in Caerllion…’ is a characteristic opening for a Medieval Welsh chwedl, giving rise to the impression that we are looking at the start of a previously independent tale. After this we recognise the familiar motif of the Chase of the White Stag, reminding us of the Mabinogi of Pwyll, as well as a number of even older Gaelic dynastic legends. This has led some critics to believe that this section of the tale is drawn from older, more purely ‘Celtic’ sources.xxiii However, regardless of its ultimate provenance (Celtic or otherwise) there are good reasons for regarding this section as an integral part of a wider magical plot which is a feature of the medieval text in its final form as much as any of its constituent source traditions. A closer comparison might be with the individual Branches of the Mabinogi, elements of which may have once existed as independent traditions but which also, clearly and demonstrably, functioned as working parts of a systemic whole in their final, extant versions.
From the opening lines quoted above it can be seen that this section sets up a situation that closely parallels that found in the Circular Valley episode: the hero has arrived at the household of a murderous tyrant, and is being warned/assisted by a sympathetic daughter. The events play themselves out in a similar way, with the hero eventually fighting with and defeating this villainous ‘Black Oppressor’. The circumstances leading up to this are worth quoting in full (here the Gwyn and Gwyn translation captures the picaresque spirit):
And then he could hear a great clatter, and after the clatter he could see a big black one-eyed man coming in. And the maidens arose to meet him, and they drew off his garb from about him. And he went to sit down. After he had recovered himself and was at his ease, he looked upon Peredur and asked, ‘Who is this knight?’ ‘Lord,’ she replied ‘the fairest and noblest young man thou hast ever seen, and for God’s sake, and for the sake of thine own pride, deal gently with him.’ ‘For thy sake I will deal gently with him, and grant him his life for to-night.’
And then Peredur came to them near the fire, and took meat and drink, and conversed with the maidens. And then Peredur, having grown tipsy, said to the black man, ‘I marvel how exceedingly mighty thou reckonest thou art. Who put out thine eye?’ ‘It has been one of my peculiarities that whoever should ask me what thou dost ask should not have his life at my hand, neither for gift nor for fee.’xxiv
Beneath from the vivid characterisation at work in this passage, it is apparent that there is a kind of parallel-in-reverse of the Grail Castle episode, where the hero maintained a polite silence when confronted with evidence of past crimes of violence. This parallel leads us to understand that the Black Oppressor, like his namesake in Owain, appears to be an inverted mirror image of the avuncular helper-figure encountered by the hero at an earlier stage. Both of these parallels – with the Grail Episode and with the Black Oppressor of Owain – may not be accidental, as we will be considering in due course.
The inevitable conflict which arises between Peredur and this ogrish villain leads to the equally inevitable victory by our hero. The Black Oppressor is forced, at the point of Peredur’s sword, to give an account of the loss of his eye. In the process he sets out a verbal road map of the various stages of Peredur’s next adventure:
“There is a mound called the Mound of Mourning, and in the mound there is a cairn, and in the cairn there is a serpent, and in the serpent’s tail there is a stone. And these are the attributes of the stone: whoever holds it in his hand will have as much gold as he wishes in the other hand. And I lost my eye fighting that serpent….”
“Well,” said Peredur, “how far from here is the mound you mentioned?”
“I shall list the stages of your journey there, and tell you how far it is. The day you set off from here, you will come to the court of the Sons of the King of Suffering…when you leave there you will come to the court of the Countess of Feats…the night you set off from there you will get to the Mound of Mourning, and there, surrounding the mound, you will find the owners of thrre hundred pavilions, guarding the serpent.” xxv
Thus the hero’s journey enters its final phase, which takes place in a semi-allegorical landscape characterised by otherworldly visions of burning trees and colour-changing sheep, which we will shortly be considering in more detail. But it is worth making the point at this point that these dream-like vistas are in many respects quite alien to the highly specific narrative geography found in traditional Celtic tribal-histories such as the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, or the great Tain Bó Cuailnge – which are rooted firmly in the topography of the audience’s own homelands. Perhaps the closest comparison within the Insular Celtic tradition is with the Irish immrama – the Otherworld voyages of Bran, Conlai, Mael Duin and St. Brendan. But a further, entirely non-Celtic influence is also apparent – that of the schoolroom, of Macrobius and the Psychomachia, the allegorical imagination of Late Antiquity. It is perhaps from habits of mind developed within this context that the Romancers came to crystallise representations such as the ‘Mound of Mourning’ or ‘Sons of the Kings of Suffering’ out of emotional or psychological abstractions. Allegorical emblemata of this kind, as we have suggested, are foreign to the Celtic tradition – but their admixture here is what gives the Romance its distinctive flavour. The ingredients of tribal history, heroic saga, hagiography, otherworld adventure and allegorical introspection all contribute to the rich and faintly hetereodox materia used by the Romancers to give body and atmosphere to their magical plots. If nothing else, this tends to mitigate against the view that these later sections of the tale are of specifically ‘Celtic’ provenance. They are perhaps better regarded simply as medieval wonder-tales with a Welsh-Arthurian backdrop.
After receiving these instructions from the Black Oppressor, Peredur unceremoniously dispatches his vanquished opponent (“since you have been an oppressor for so long, I shall make sure that you will never be again”). Significantly, he is then offered the riches of the Black Oppressor and ‘the many lovely maidens’ of the court. Once again, the bounty of the Primal Horde is offered to the hero, and ritually declined. All of this, in terms of the magical plot, serves to remove feelings of guilt and illegitimacy in preparation for the final acquisition.
Soon after this he arrives at the so-called “Court of the Sons of the King of Suffering”. The meaning of this appellation, which has already been partly revealed by the Black Oppressor, becomes clearer when Peredur arrives at the court:
When he came to the court, he could see only women. The women got up and welcomed him. As they started to talk, he could see a horse approaching with a saddle on it, and a corpse in the saddle. One of the women got up and took the corpse from the saddle, and bathed it in a tub of warm water that was by the door, and applied precious ointment to it. The man got up, alive, and went up to Peredur, and greeted him and made him welcome. Two other corpses entered on their saddles, and the maiden gave these two the same treatment as the previous one. And Peredur asked why they were like that. They replied that there was a monster in a cave that killed them every day. And that night they left it at that. xxvi
The next day Peredur is warned not to seek out the monster, and is told that if he was killed, there would be no-one who could bring him back to life again (implying, perhaps, that the strange resurrection described above can only be effected by a lover). Nevertheless, Peredur sets out to find the monster and en route comes across a beautiful woman sitting on a mound, who gives him advice and supernatural assistance (in the form of a magical stone) which will help him overcome the monster. In return, he promises to love her ‘more than any other woman’, and come and find her once he has overcome the monster. Later in the tale, we find out that this woman was none other than the Empress of Constantinople – whom Peredur marries at the end of this section.
As he continues on his journey to the monster’s cave, the fantastical aspect of Peredur’s experiences – which have been steadily increasing in tempo as the story has progressed – reach a kind of phantasmagorical crescendo:
He continued along to a river valley, and the edges of the valley were wooded and on each side of the river there were flat meadows. On one side of the river he could see a flock of white sheep, and on the other he could see a flock of black: when one of the white sheep bleated, one of the black sheep would come across and turn white, and when one of the black sheep bleated, one of the white sheep would come across and turn black. He could see a tall tree on the riverbank, and one half of it was burning from its roots to its tip, but the other half had fresh leaves on it. xxvii
This extraordinary vision strongly hints at the allegorical, but its significance is never explored or disclosed. As with so much in the dreamscape of Romance, it is presented but not explained. Rather than being a token or a parable, the burning tree is a monstrum – a sign or a prodigy – that suggests that the protective boundary between the internal and the external worlds is in temporary abeyance. Such wonders serve to emphasise the apprehension that the final phase or end-game of the magical plot is close at hand.
Alongside the burning tree, Peredur encounters a royal-looking squire on top of a mound, who points out three paths: one narrow, two broad. Peredur takes the narrow path, which leads to the monster’s cave. The monster is summarily dispatched by Peredur, following the advice given by the maiden on the mound previously encountered. On his way out of the cave, he finds some young men from the Court of the Sons of the King of Suffering who would have met their deaths at the hands of the monster. In their gratitude they offer him “his choice of their three sisters, together with half of the kingdom”. Once again, this sexual and economic bounty is declined, and Peredur proceeds to his next destination, the Mound of Mourning.
On the way, a second squire is encountered, Edlym Gleddyf Goch (‘E. Red Sword’), who briefly becomes Peredur’s retainer (during this time Peredur is known as Peredur Baladr Hir ‘P. Long spear’). The two arrive at the Court of the Countess of Feats. The custom at this court, in contradistinction to contemporary Welsh social practice, was for the countess to sit among the retinue, and incoming guests to be seated in the less honourable places below, from where they would be obliged to listen to lengthy accounts of the bravery of the household warriors. It is tempting to see an element of parody in the representation of the boorish self-regard of this particular court community – a dig at the parochial arrogance of native Welsh warrior society, perhaps? Whether or not this was case, the implicit challenge of the Court of the Countess of Feats seems to have triggered predictable results – with Peredur takes on and defeating the entire retinue of three hundred. After this, once again, Peredur is offered the opportunity to claim the countess as his own. Once again, however, this fulfilment of the sovereignty complex fantasy is deferred by the hero. The Countess of Feats is instead rather conveniently married off to Edlym Gleddyf Goch, Peredur’s newly acquired vassal.
After this, Peredur and Edlym arrive at the Mound of Mourning itself, where a ‘the owners of three hundred pavillions’ are encamped. These are the guardians of the mound, waiting for the serpent to die, after which time they will fight amongst themselves for ownership of the wealth-bestowing stone. Peredur overthrows these three hundred pavilion-dwelling knights and defeats and kills the serpent single-handedly. The magical stone is given to Edlym, who then leaves the tale as rapidly as he entered it.
After this Peredur once more ‘went on his way’ (the standard formula for conjoining one adventure to another). Here he enters a beautiful river valley, which is thronging with pavilions (a visual echo of the previous scene). However, Peredur is ‘more surprised’ to see an abundance of watermills and windmills in the valley. After meeting the head miller, he takes lodgings with this individual and his family and discovers that the pavilions all belong to knights who have come to joust for the hand of the Empress of Constantinople who ‘wants only the bravest man since she has no need of wealth.’ xxviii The mills are there to supply the material needs of these would-be suitors.
Peredur catches a glimpse of the Empress herself (who turns out to be identical to the vision of the maiden that he saw on the mound just before defeating the monster at the Court of the Sons of Suffering). He spends three days returning to the tournament to gaze at her all day long, all the time lodging with the miller and his family and borrowing money from the miller’s wife. On the third day, a clout from the miller between the shoulder blades rouses Peredur from his lovelorn trance and he at last enters the fray at the tournament where (predictably enough) he overthrows all comers. His defeated foes are sent to the Empress’s dungeon, while their armour and equipment is sent to the miller’s wife in order to pay off his debt.
His bravery and martial power awaken the curiosity of the Empress herself, who sends a series of messengers to ask him to come and see her. Each of these is rejected in turn. She sends a hundred knights to bring him to her, by force if necessary. The Knight of the Mill (as Peredur becomes known in this episode) overthrows this delegation, tying each one up ‘as a roebuck’ and throwing them into the mill ditch. At last, a wise man is sent who is politely received by the hero, who then agrees to visit the Empress. He arrives at her pavilion (accompanied by the miller) and meets the Empress face to face. He returns the next day and talks with her again, but this time their tête à tête is interrupted by the arrival of a black-haired man with a goblet full of wine. The black-haired man gives the goblet to the Empress, telling her to give it to whichever man would dare to meet him in combat. Peredur accepts this challenge, and the Empress hands him the goblet – which he drains and hands to the miller’s wife. At that moment, a second black-haired man arrives with a goblet made from a wild animal’s claw. This too is presented to the Empress, under the same conditions. He is shortly followed by a red-haired man bearing a crystal cup, which is also given to the Empress. Both of these cups are passed to Peredur, who thus finds himself due to meet all three men in combat the next day. This section of the tale (and in some versions, the text as a whole) concludes in the following way:
The next day he armed himself and his horse, and came to the meadow. Peredur killed three men and then went to the pavilion. The empress said to him, ‘Fair Peredur, remember the promise you made me when I gave you the stone, when you killed the monster.’
‘Lady, what you say is true, and I remember it too.’ And Peredur ruled with the empress for fourteen years, according to the story. xxix
And with those words, the text ends in at least one version (that found in the Peniarth 7 manuscript), and may conceivably represent the conclusion of the original tale. The section that follows might be regarded as a functional coda or ruhepunkt to the main body of the tale – a structural feature which is not untypical of the genre. Whether or not this is the right way of regarding the final section of the longer White Book version of the text, it is clear that there is some kind of episodic ending here at the very least. For this reason, it might be worth a considered analysis of this juncture as the climax or ‘main’ ending of the tale.
The significance of the Empress of Constantinople section as a whole (from the Black Oppressor episode onwards) is underscored by incremental re-emergence or reduplication of earlier themes. This ‘tying up of lose ends’ is a similar process to that which we find in the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, and may reflect an initial attempt by a Welsh redactor to bring some coherence to the multiplicity of material pertaining to the hero Peredur. Whether or not this was the case, the effect of this regathering of previous themes gives this final section a kind of escalating intensity – the significance of which we will consider in due course.
Before we consider what this central thematic concern might be, and how the text succeeds in defining its own particular emphasis upon it, we might want to begin by identifying some of these interlaced echoes which occur in this final section. A number of these are to be found even as early as the Black Oppressor episode at the beginning of the section. Most obviously, as we have seen, this episode reiterates in general terms the narrative circumstances of the Circular Valley adventure: the arrival of the hero into an outlandish, primitive community, dominated by an ogrish tyrant; the threat from this tyranny to the hero, a threat which is mitigated by the intervention of one of the daughters of the house, leading to the killing of the tyrant by the hero in a situation which recreates (once again) the essentials of the ‘primal horde’ fantasy. This is obviously a significant thematic element of the text as a whole, and coheres with the general treatment of the sovereignty complex as dealt with by the magical plot which might be said to lie at the heart of Peredur.
However, there are other parallels which point back to an even earlier point in the tale – the Grail Castle episode which, as we have seen, appears to have been another key element in the formation of the psychodramatic impetus of the tale. This parallel might be better described as an inversion of a type strikingly similar to that found in the Black Oppressor episode at the end of Owain. Just as the Black Oppressor in the latter tale appears to be the malign anti-type of the Yellow-Haired Man in the latter tale, we can see a similar kind of parallel between the Black Oppressor in Peredur with the benign but compromised uncle in the Grail Castle episode. In both situations, we might observe, there is a taboo on the hero alluded to a significant past crime or injury, despite prominent visual cues inviting just such an allusion. In the case of the Grail Castle, the visual cues take the form of to the parade of the bleeding spear and the severed head. In the house of the Black Oppressor, evidence of these past injuries is evident in the missing eye of the host himself. At the Grail Castle, the callow hero follows the advice of his other uncle: to ask no questions even when faced with the outlandish and inexplicable. At the House of the Oppressor, Peredur shows no such reticence, and (having drunk his host’s wine and flirted with his daughters) starts to needle the Du Traws about his missing eye.
At the very least, a comparison of these two episodes give lie to the notion that Peredur is ‘about’ anything as straightforward as the hero’s transition from rustic boor to mannered courtier. On the surface at least, there is little here to suggest that Peredur has ‘learnt’ or progressed on a moral-social plane since the Grail Castle episode. However, in terms of the magical plot, we might instead venture that the hero has won the right to speak in this way to the Black Oppressor – as a result of his endurance of various ritual acts of self-denial. We might recall he spent the large parts of the Circular Valley sequence in a state of self-imposed silence, passively enduring Cai’s blows and rebukes as a consequence. It is perhaps as a result of these otherwise rather inscrutable manoeuvres that Peredur acquires the moral/magical right to throw his weight around with figures such as the Black Oppressor, or at least neutralises the sense of guilt he might have otherwise incurred in doing so.
There is no doubt that, as established by the analysis of Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan xxx, such thematic interlacing does indeed seem to interpenetrate this otherwise apparently disorganised text. We find another thematic ‘echo’ in the depiction of the resuscitation of victims of the lake monster by their lovers in the Sons of the King of Suffering episode. We see something like this strange resurrection being attempted (unsuccessfully) by Peredur’s foster sister immediately after the Grail Castle episode, a scene which is accompanied by the emergence of another recurring theme – a vaguely defined sense of guilt and responsibility for various deaths among the hero’s kindred. The significance of this restorative corpse-washing ritual at the hands of a bereaved lover remains far from clear. But the fact that such a ritual can now be enacted successfully is at least suggestive of some kind of change in the magical and perhaps the moral status of the hero, or (more particularly) the reality that surrounds him at this particular stage of the tale. The possibility of resuscitation at the hands of a lover is presented to Peredur, but he is told that ‘if you are killed, no one could bring you back to life again.’ However, straight after this, Peredur is granted a supernatural vision of his future lover (the Empress herself) who offers him a magical stone which will effectively guarantee his life against the ravages of the addanc or lake monster.
The encounter with the lake monster itself points back in one direction to the ring-guarding serpent killed by Peredur in the wake of the Circular Valley episode, but more specifically it anticipates the third monster in the Mound of Mourning – which itself points forward to the jousting contest for the hand of the Empress in the Valley of the Mills episode. Likewise, the Court of the Countess of Feats episode on one hand recreates a situation represented by the ivy-clad court with the raven-haired lady (Peredur’s first romantic attachment), but at the same time points forward to the position of the Empress herself, with the knights contending for her hand. We might take note of the changes in the status and attitude of this succession of chatelaines within their all-male households. The first, the raven-haired lady, is threadbare and only supported half-heartedly by her household. The second, the Countess of Feats, sits in the midst of her retinue, apparently inspiring (or at least endorsing) their vainglorious self-aggrandizement. In the case of the Empress, she is in an elevated position in relation to the warriors, who are in active contention for her love and her domain. The ‘higher’ sovereignty concept – about which we will have more to say below – is thus crystallised. Following the logic of the magical plot, we should see this incremental focus as reflective of significant shifts in the state of the mind of hero – the hero, in a technical sense, not simply being the active protoganonist of the tale but also the subjective state of the audience-reader, with whom it is vitally linked.
The section of the tale which begins with the Black Oppressor episode and ends with the marriage of Peredur to the Empress is characterised by an increasing accumulation of thematic recursions, against the backdrop of an increasingly intense and hallucinatory otherworld setting. The overall effect is that of an atmospheric gear-change as we witness the increasingly overt disclosure of the central concerns of the narrative as a magical plot. It is as if, in these final episodes of the tale, we are moving through ever decreasing circles of thought as we zero in on the thematic end-game.
So what then is the final destination? If these dreamlike recursions prove that there is an overall purpose or structural logic to the text of the Historia as a whole, in what direction, or towards what object does this spiralling ‘deep-narrative’ seem to be pointing? The nature of the recursions themselves – the tyranicidal ogre-killings; the arrival of the hero (under various circumstances) into a position of intimacy with a landed chatelaine; the acquisition of extraordinary riches following an act of violence; the persistent sense of unspecified guilt (a theme that remerges with a vengeance in the final coda, as we shall see) – all point clearly towards the familiar obsessions of the magical plot, the characteristically medieval response to the moral ambiguities of the primal horde fantasy or the sovereignty complex. However, this final rhamant offers a new twist and original departure on this familiar theme.
We might begin by considering the succession of goblets presented to Peredur by the Empress towards the end of the sequence – each of which are drunk from by the hero before being passed on to the miller’s wife. The significance of this last manoeuvre will become clear in due course, but first we must consider the various precursors to these symbolic objects. The first and most obvious of these is the goblet initially snatched from Arthur’s queen by the Red Knight at the beginning of the tale. The Red Knight, it might be noted, does more or less the precise opposite of what Peredur does at the end of the tale. The goblet is seized without permission, then the wine over the face and breast of the queen, before this outlandish interloper walks off bearing the cup, rudely defying the court to pursue him and avenge the insult to the queen. The aggressively sexual connotations of this act have already been discussed, as has the fact that wine and the cup (together) may be taken represent the female embodiment of the sovereignty principle. We have also considered the fact that the identity of the hero at the beginning of the tale was elided with that of the Red Knight in various ways – their simultaneous arrival at the court, Peredur’s assumption of the latter’s armour. The court scene follows on, we might be recall, from the young hero’s intemperate fumblings with the mistress of the Proud One of the Clearing and the theft of his food supplies. All in all, we might be justified in regarding the Red Knight and his behaviour as representative of the hero’s psychological starting point. The hero’s conduct in the final episode of the Empress of Constantinople sequence, on the other hand, represents his arrival at a higher evolutionary arc. In this respect, Lloyd-Morgan’s view of Peredur as a tale of the hero’s self development may be considered to be broadly correct.
The key process here is the differentiation of the higher and lower elements of the sovereignty principle, which might be represented by the wine and its goblet-container respectively. This is made clear when we look carefully at the relationship of these gifts with other symbolic objects in the text. They should be compared first with another precious gift proffered by the Empress – the magic stone which allows the hero to defeat the addanc at the Court of the Sons of Suffering. Through this we have the link to another precious stone – that which is found in the dragon’s tail in the Mound of Mourning, the magical talisman in pursuit of which the Black Oppresor originally suffered the loss of his eye. We might remember that the salient property of this coveted object was that “whoever holds it in one hand will have as much gold as he wishes in the other hand”. It is significant that once Peredur obtains this gift-bestowing treasure, he immediately passes it on to his retainer, Edlym Gleddyf Goch, who is also betrothed to the Countess of Feats. The Empress, the wine of the goblets and the aspirations of hero himself are defined by contrast with these various ‘consolation prizes’. The field of associations involved becomes clearer as we put these objects and events into their narrative context.
The Mound of Mourning episode depicts a field of pavilions, an encampment of knights waiting for the monster to die, after which time they will contend for the magical stone. The rather unheroic aspect of this strategy is no doubt significant, as is the pecuniary attractions of the coveted object involved. Significantly, this scene is echoed almost immediately in the following episode, where a field of pavilions is once again encountered – this time the coveted object being the hand of the Empress herself. An interesting detail is the presence of the mills, which have sprung up around the encampment as a way of providing for the material needs of the contestants. The hero is represented as lodging with the miller, who lends him money as well as providing him with food and shelter.
The agrarian base is rarely acknowledged in the Romances, which tend to focus instead on the bucolic aristocratic world of the court: the jousting green and the hunting ground. As has been plausibly suggested by George Duby and Jacques Le Goff and others, this pastoral focus had social and ideological overtones – the Romance being the literature primarily of the warrior aristocracy. Its purpose was to paint over the social and economic realities of High Medieval era – in particularly the emergence of the urban economy and the growing power of the mercantile class. In this respect the presence of the windmills (a relatively new innovation in thirteenth century Europe) might be seen as the trace of the repressed ‘third function’ – the proto-industrial aspects of the agrarian economy and its control by prosperous, mercantile commoners.
Within this context, we should not be surprised to find the hero handing over the proffered (and drained) goblets to the miller or his wife. While paying his debt to these representatives of the material sphere, the hero is also signalling the nature of his own aspirations which, as we will see the text overtly insisting in the next section, are ‘on higher things’. So, how then are these ‘higher things’ defined? Chiefly, as we have seen, they are defined in the negative: by what the hero rejects in pursuit of this ultimate goal. Most obviously, we have seen the hero decline repeated offers of marriage from the daughters or lovers of his ogreish or rapacious adversaries. Often, these offers of marriage are accompanied by substantial dowries – in the form of the land and territory previously held by the adversary. Thus, as we have suggested, the magical plot removes the sense of guilt associated with sovereignty complex by having the hero repeatedly prove himself worth of, and then renounce, the sexual-cum-economic riches due to the alpha male. This process of victory followed by renunciation clearly paves the way towards his acceptance of the ultimate prize: the Empress of Constantinople, and joint rulership of her global domain.
So what then is the significance of this particular embodiment of the sovereignty complex? What makes the Empress different from the other potential love-interests refused by the hero? Or indeed, those accepted by him at various earlier points in the narrative?
About the Empress herself, we have little direct information. Her exotic provenance (described at one point in the text as lying ‘the the direction of India’) make her reminiscent of the Eastern beauties courted by Anglo-Norman heroes – Bevis of Hampton’s Josiane or Guillaume d’Orange’s Orabel. As Empress of Constantinople she would seem to embody the sovereignty principle of what is probably the largest trans-national polity known to the Early Medieval world (the Eastern Roman or Byzantine empire). In short, she is a standard medieval fantasy figure – a trope, among other things, for the summit of sexual and political attainment.
However, as we have seen, the text also defines her against various other female figures. The closest contrast is with the Countess of Feats, who sits among her retinue as they recite self-aggrandising tales of their own heroic accomplishments. Of her it is said that “whoever overthrew her retinue of three hundred men would be allowed to eat next to her, and she would love him more than any other man”. In this respect, there are both similarities and differences with the Empress. Rather than sitting among her retinue of three hundred, the Empress sits apart in her own pavilion while her would-be lovers compete for her hand in a ritualised tournament. We are told “she wants only the bravest of men since she has no need of wealth”. It is this purity of intent, untainted by pecuniary motivation, which distinguishes the Empress. She might be compared to the neo-platonic Aphrodite Urania, with the Countess of Feats standing in for her more earthly counterpart Aphrodite Pandemos.
This is of course consistent with the presentation of the hero himself. As well as rejecting a succession of tyrants’ daughters and vainglorious hostesses, he also significantly hands over money-generating gem to his side-kick/henchman, Edlym Gleddyf Goch, who is also betrothed to the Countess of Feats. In his final challenge, he is offered the cup of sovereignty – drinking deep from its essential content, while passing the outward receptacle to the materially rich but socially-inferior chief miller. Thus the Historia of Peredur attempts to present us with a consummate sublimation of the sovereignty complex – in which both the violent and acquisitive desires of this potent fantasy are repeatedly gratified, yet in a way that ensures its disassociation from any imputation of ‘base’ motivation. This, as we have already seen, was so often the fundamental goal of the magical plot.
Seen in this light, the Empress of Constantinople sequence – from the Black Oppressor episode to the marriage and the fourteen year reign – would appear to have a well-defined and unified thematic purpose, as well as bearing significantly on the rest of the text as a whole. Yet something in medieval prose – and Welsh medieval prose in particular – seems to resist such conclusive unity. Peredur, as we have seen, is no exception to this rule. As we will consider again at the end of this study, there is a sense of an incomplete synthesis, a persistent itch that drives the limitless expansion of the narrative superstructure. A similar process is apparent in (what would appear to have been) the prolonged literary project that resulted in The Four Branches.
The atmosphere of fragmentation and disunity within the text of Peredur, the quality that caused even the dedicated Celtophile Jean Marx to describe the work as mal composée, is an impression that is amply reinforced by the quality of the final section of the text in its longer edition found in the White Book, Red Book Jesus College and Peniarth 14 recensions. However, below the surface, there is plenty of evidence that the familiar obsessions of the sovereignty complex are once again reopened, but can barely be described as being satisfactorily resolved, even in this extended coda.
Another noteworthy aspect of the final episode is it is at this point that the text of Peredur momentarily falls back into step with its French equivilant Perceval, Le Conte Du Graal. We will consider the implications of this correspondence in due course, but for the time being it will be sufficient to say that what is known as the ‘Loathly Lady’ episode is closely followed in both tales, and both include an extended episode following the adventures of Sir Gawain (Gwalchmai in the Welsh text). Both represent the main hero (Peredur/Perceval) in a penitential encounter with hermit-priest, but thereafter the two versions diverge. The French version returns to the adventures of Gawain, before trailing off mid-sentence on line 9234. In the French text, the entrance of the Loathly Lady takes place immediately after the Grail Castle episode, the hero’s amorous distraction and subsequent altercation (and reconciliation) with the knights of Arthur’s court. This represents, at first glance at least, a tighter and more rational narrative economy, leading to the strong suspicion that the Circular Valley and the Empress of Constantinople episodes are subsequent interpolations or embellishments in the Welsh text. The significance of this possible textual history, again, is a question to which we will return in due course.
The section begins, as so many of them do, at the court of Arthur at Caerllion on Usk. Sitting before Arthur are Peredur, Owain, Gwalchmai and the Breton hero Hywel son of Emyr Llydaw, when an unexpected visitor suddenly makes her entrance:
Suddenly they saw a black, curly-haired maiden come in on a yellow mule, with rough reigns in her hand urging the mule forward, and a rough, unfriendly look about her. Blacker were her face and hands than the blackest iron daubed with pitch; and the colour was not the ugliest thing about her, but her shape – high cheeks and a sagging, baggy face, and a snub nose with flaring nostrils, and one eye mottled-green and piercing, and the other black, like jet, sunk deep in her head. Long yellow teeth, yellower than the flowers of the broom, and her belly rising from her breastbone higher than her chin. Her backbone was shaped like a crutch; herhips were broad and bony, but everything from there down was scrawny, except her feet and knees, which were stout. She greeted Arthur and all his retinue except Peredur; for him she had angry, insolent words:
“Peredur, I will greet you not, for you are not worthy of it. Fate was blind when it gave you talent and fame. When you came to the court of the lame king and when you saw there the young man carryng the sharpened spear, and from the spear a drop of blood streaming down to the young man’s fist, and you saw other wonders there too – you did not question their meaning or their cause. And, had you done so, the king would have recovered his health and held his kingdom in peace. But now there is conflict and combat, knights lost and wives left widowed and young girls unprovided for, and all that because of you.” xxxi
This ‘loathly lady’ is a familiar figure in Arthurian literature, and her Celtic roots are well known. An early prototype is often identified in the form of the hag encountered by Níall Noigiallach and his brothers in the eleventh-century Irish tale The Adventures of the Sons of Eochaid Mugmedon. Here, the brothers are looking for water while out hunting when each separately encounters a monstrous hag by a well – who demands a kiss in return for filling their pails. Only Níall fully obliges the hag, and while in his embrace the loathly lady transforms into a beautiful maiden who reveals herself to be the personification of the Sovereignty of Ireland. As a result of this encounter, Níall and his descendents rule Ireland for the next thousand. The descendants of Fíachre, who managed a glancing peck on the cheek of the hag, are granted a correspondingly fleeting relationship with the sovereignty of Ireland – with but two of the twenty-six successive kings of Ireland being drawn from this progeny. The descendents of the other three brothers – all of whom rejected the embrace of the loathly lady outright – are entirely excluded from future dynastic succession.
The Adventures of the Sons of Eochaid Mugmedon is an important text, providing as it does an unambiguous attestation of the form of goddess-centred sovereignty myth beloved by modern critics of medieval Celtic sources during the 1960s and 1970s. More recently, a more revisionist generation of scholars have made a virtue of rejecting this paradigm, or at least downplaying its significance within Welsh literature. While there was undoubtedly a case for trimming back the obsession with sovereignty goddesses (where just about any female character was liable to be shoe-horned into the role of this divinity); the counter-reaction has naturally enough propagated its own forms of distortion. To state that there was no concept of the female embodiment of sovereignty in Medieval Wales (in her guise as the loathly lady or otherwise) is quite simply nonsense. The concept of the 'Loathly Lady' of sovereignty was a familiar one in Medieval England, and was commonly associated with the character of Gawain – as the late medieval legends found in Chaucer’s Wife of Bath and the sixteenth-century Wedding of Gawain and Dame Ragnell clearly show. While less clearly demarcated in extant Welsh sources, as we have seen, it would be difficult to see how such a concept could have taken root at a popular level in medieval England without having also being known in Wales. There is a persuasive case, given the association with the Arthurian hero Gawain, for regarding the Welsh Arthurian tradition as a key conduit through which this mythological complex might have spread into English popular culture, where it become known to the likes of Chaucer’s Wife of Bath. Such a possibility would lend some support to the suggestion made by Glenys Goetinck and others that the Black Maiden represents an embodiment of the sovereignty principle,xxxii and that a personified Sovereignty goddess was a key organising principle of the ‘original’ form of the tale.
As we have seen, sovereignty (and the rights thereto) is clearly a central concern of the text of Peredur, as it is in the other two rhamantau. Often, this desired ‘sovereignty’ is represented by a female figure (the Empress of Constantinople, or the Countess of the Fountain realm in Owain being two characteristic examples), and there are reasons (not least the prominent presence of Gawain/Gwalchmai in this textual family) for supposing that the presence of the Black Maiden at this stage in the narrative may have originated from the extrusion of such underlying mythical material. However, it is important to note that her entrance into the court and her challenge/denunciation of its heroes is also something of a Celtic set-piece in its own right. Here, she not playing the part of the loathly lady, so much as the sinister Green Knight in the tale of Gawain; or the otherworldly vision that briefly materialises in the court of the king at the start of the eighth century Irish verse-narrative Immram Brain. The closest parallel, of course, would be the strange lady on the bay horse with a curly mane, who appears at Arthur’s court half way through the tale of Owain, to denounce the hero shortly before the latter’s descent into madness. More on this parallel, and its implications for the present narrative, will be considered below.
The Black Maiden may or may not embody sovereignty in its chthonic aspect, but it is clear that her key purpose at this juncture is to challenge the hero, and thus spur the adventure on to its next stage. However, the barbed nature of her words to the hero remind us of the central psychological problem at the heart of so many of these medieval narratives. Peredur may have been about sovereignty, as Glenys Goetinck suggested, but if it was it was sovereignty as viewed through the refracting lens of Feudal Christianity – in which all thoughts pertaining to this powerfully-desired concept were hedged about with an ineradicable association with treason, patricide and guilt. We are a long way from the simple world of Níall Noigelach and his brothers.
However, what Peredur is being accused of here is not so much patricidal treachery as complicity-through-silence. By refusing to enquire into the meaning of the dripping spear and the severed, the hero is effectively looking the other way. And, as the Black Maiden implies, by burying his head in the sand in this way, Peredur has perpetuated the malaise of his uncle and the political instability of his kingdom: “now there is conflict and combat, knights lost and wives left widowed and young girls unprovided for, and all that because of you.”
The peculiar emphasis on the hero’s silence, and its connection to the problems with the health both of the king himself and the wider body-politic, makes sense if we accept the hypothetical origin of the ‘Grail Castle’ sequence proposed elsewhere. A brief recollection of this theory might be useful at this point. The starting point is the killing of the tyrant Gruffydd ap Llywelyn in 1063, an act in which we can see the complicity – if not active involvement – of a number of senior members of the Welsh warrior aristocracy. The fact that nearly every significant ruler in early twelfth-century Wales was descended by someone who was either directly involved in the killing or was one of its immediate beneficiaries, may well be significant. It has been suggested that both the Grail Castle sequence in this tale and the ‘Feast of the Wonderous Head’ sequence in the Second Branch, both owe their origin to an allusive reference to this crime. The so-called ‘Greater Vengeance’ theme of Peredur seems to revolve around some kind of terrible crime committed against the hero’s close family, possibly by members of his wider kindred. The precise nature of this crime is concealed from the hero, yet paradoxically he is accused of being in some way responsible for it. One can imagine how this would have resonated with the younger generation of the Welsh royal tribe – those who came of age in the second quarter of the eleventh century (the time we have proposed the Grail Castle story would have first been taking shape) – at a time when the older generation would have been torn between a desire for a cathartic process of ‘truth and reconciliation’ and the need to maintain the family omerta, and with it the political status quo. Out of such situations of communal guilt, Freud suggested, early cult myths and institutions are evolved: including the totem feast, in which the original crime is symbolically recreated. We might see the ‘ur-Grail legend’ as both a medieval literary reflex to the same impetus that creates the Totem myth in more primitive societies, and also the starting point of the entire generic mode of the magical narrative, which was to become a keynote of Arthurian Romance from the twelfth century onwards.
The theme of regicidal guilt permeates the rest of the sequence, even if it is never fully disclosed as such. The Black Maiden goes on to describe a distant castle, in which a noble maiden resides. As is usually the case in these Arthurian tales, the castle is under seige, and the resident chatelaine is in need of a heroic rescuer: ‘whoever could set her free would receive the highest praise in the world’. Rather surprisingly, it is Gawain rather than Peredur who takes up the challenge. Peredur, for his part, is set on uncovering the truth about the dripping lance alluded to by the Black Maiden.
Thus the two heroes set out together on their respective journeys. Gawain (or Gwalchmai as he known in Welsh sources) is challenged by strange knight in ‘blue azure’ armour, who accuses him of killing his leige-lord – a charge that Gwalchmai refutes (“I am neither a deceiver or a traitor”). Once again, the familiar staple of regicidal guilt is invoked. The tale resumes the standard function of the magical narrative, that is to establish the innocence of the hero, to ritually absolve the sense of personal guilt, and (implicitly at least) to clear the way for a legitimate assumption of the economic and sexual privileges of sovereignty.
The narrative then follows Gawain in his quest to rescue the besieged damsel and to refute the allegations of the Azure Knight. On the way he stays at a castle, where he is greeted by a resident maiden, with whom he converses pleasantly until an older male figure arrives and he is once again accused of a murderous act – the killing of the girl’s father. The young earl then returns, and Gawain is forced to barricade the door into the hall with a gwyddbwyll board. The earl eventually parleys with his guest, and once again levels the accusation of murder, but agrees to let him go as to do otherwise would be a breach of the laws of hospitality. Gawain spends the night at the castle, and thereafter sets off. At that point the narrative relating to Gawain breaks off abruptly. ‘The story says no more about Gwalchmai on that matter’ is all the text says, before we return to the adventures of Peredur himself.
The interpolation of Gawain’s incomplete adventure is puzzling but significant – not least because a similar (though rather more detailed) interpolation is found in Chrétien’s Conte du Graal. The broad outline of events is more or less the same in each version – once again suggesting a fairly close relationship between the texts at this juncture. However, Chrétien is characteristically rather more expansive, and his account of this adventure includes a subplot involving a complex and bitter sibling rivalry between two sisters, and includes various other episodes and locations (including a visit to a town and a jousting match) not found in Peredur. Nonetheless, certain other quite specific details, such as the heraldic stripe of the Azure knight, and the defensive role of the gwyddbwyll board (described as a chess board in Perceval) appear in both texts. Significantly, both the Welsh and Old French accounts break off at the same point, and return to the progress of the main hero.
In both versions, Peredur/Perceval is seen roaming the land in search of greater understanding of the mysteries seen at the Grail Castle (the Welsh text simply says that he ‘wandered the island seeking news of the Black Maiden’ xxxiii). In both versions, his quest is met with little success and after a time he sinks into a state of radical disorientation, similar perhaps to the feral wanderings of Owain/Ywain. He is eventually met by a man ‘with the mark of a priest’, who chastises him for bearing arms on Good Friday (in his disorientation, Peredur has lost all track of time). Peredur ends up staying with the priest for the duration of the Easter period, during which time he asks the holy man for help in his quest to understand the riddle presented by the Grail Castle and the accusations of the Black Maiden.
Here, significantly, the Welsh and the French texts diverge once again. In Chrétien’s version, the hero confesses his sin and ignorance to the priest, who then recognises him as a kinsman (the priest, it turns out, is yet another uncle of the hero). The priest gives the following explanation of the peculiar trajectory of the hero’s fortunes as well as the mysteries of the Grail Castle itself:
“…a sin of which you know nothing has done you great harm: that was the grief your mother felt when you left her. For she fell in a swoon to the ground at the end of the bridge in front of the gate; and of that grief she died. It was through having incurred that sin that you came to ask nothing about the lance or the grail, as a result of which you have suffered many misfortunes. And you may be sure that you wouldn’t have survived as long as this had she not commended you to the Lord God. But so potent was her plea that for her sake God has watched over you and kept you from death and captivity. Sin stopped your tongue when you saw before you the lance-head which has never ceased to bleed and didn’t ask the reason for it. And when you failed to find out who is served by the grail, that was pure foolishness. The person served from it is my brother: your mother was my sister and his. And the Rich Fisherman, believe me, is the son of that king who has himself served from the grail. But don’t imagine he has pike, lamprey or salmon: he’s served with a single consecrated wafer brought to him in that grail – that supports his life in full vigour, so holy a thing is that grail. And he, whose life is so spiritual that all it needs is the host that comes in the grail, has been for twelve years like that, without leaving the room which you saw the grail enter.” xxxiv
Thus the Grail complex is brought into explicit association with the Christian mystery of the Host. The origins of this association are not known – and it may well be that through the pen of Chrétien that the connection is initially forged. Once the Grail had been ‘Christianised’ in this way, its place in the Medieval European imagination was assured. A back-story for the Grail was soon after provided by the thirteenth century clerk, Robert de Boron, who connected the sacred vessel with cup of Last Supper – drawing on (or perhaps iniating?) a rich body of hagiographic legend linking Joseph of Arimethea with ‘Vale of Avalon’ near Glastonbury – a potent cocktail of Christian apocrypha with the mysteries of the Celtic otherworld.
The well-researched history of the Holy Grail complex lies beyond the scope of this study. For us, the salient point is that there are no overt Christian associations whatsoever in the Welsh version of the narrative found in Peredur. Indeed, as we have seen, even the grail itself is absent from the Welsh account – its place being taken (significantly) by a severed head. We must regard the Christianisation of this episode as, at the very least, superfluous to the literary purpose of the Welsh account. It is reasonable to assume that these Christian glosses were altogether absent from the hypothetical native source materials drawn upon by the author of Peredur, and most probably also by that used by Chrétien himself.
We will consider in due course what all this implies about the vexed mabinogionfrage in due course, that is the precise relationship of the French text to the Welsh one and possibility of a common ur-texte. All that remains to be said at this stage is that the trace of the original impulse, as we have understood it, is clearly apparent even amidst this Christian exegesis. The priest’s opening words – a sin of which you know nothing has done you great harm – might be said to express, part for the whole, the central apprehension that propels this curious account of guilt and innocence, opaque secrecy versus revelatory disclosure.
In the Welsh account, instead of disclosing a Christian meaning for the mysteries witnessed at the Grail Castle, the priest merely directs the hero to another destination: the so-called Castle of Wonders. This signals the beginning of a further series of adventures which bring the longer versions of the Historia Peredur to an end. It must be said at the outset that in general terms critical opinion regarding this latter section has not been favourable. The incidents it relays are generally felt to be perfunctory and poorly synthesised. However, as we will see, this inconclusiveness itself may be significant, revealing as it does a certain amount about the overall provenance and constitution of the tale, and through this the origins of the so-called rhamantau genre itself.
The series begins with the journey to the Castle of Wonders, during which Peredur stays at a castle. Here, once again, he finds himself the focus of the amorous attentions of the daughter of the house. On the advice of a ‘short, yellow haired squire’, the resident earl has him thrown in jail. While thus imprisoned, Peredur is visited by the daughter who offers him various comforts, including access to her bed. At the same time, the castle finds itself under attack from a neighboring earl, possessor of two earldoms and “as strong as a king”.xxxv Peredur persuades the daughter to allow him to go out and help defend against the earl incognito, which he does with great success, before returning to his prison cell at the end of each day’s fighting. In this way, he wins great praise as the anonymous knight ‘with the pure red cloak and yellow shield’. When this knight finally defeats the earl himself in combat, it is finally revealed that he is Peredur. The girl’s father immediately releases the hero, offers to pay him for services rendered and offers him the hand of his daughter, half his kingdom and the defeated earl’s territory. This offer is declined, with Peredur insisting “I did not come here to look for a wife”, and explains the true purpose of his journey. At this, the maiden observes significantly: “the lord’s mind is on higher things than we expected.” xxxvi
So, once again, we are taken through the characteristic sequence of the magical plot: the chief purpose of which is to gratify the wish-fulfillment of the sovereignty complex while affirming and establishing the hero’s moral purity, or at least enacting some kind of ritual scenario through which his sense of sin is cleansed or symbolically atoned for. In this case, we witness the arousal of sovereignty complex through the flirtation with the daughter of the house, followed by the consequences of guilt (represented by the imprisonment). The selfless, anonymous heroism represents the hero’s ritual atonement – leading to the potential realisation of the key elements of sovereignty complex (the killing of the earl as a proxy patricide, proprietary rights over wealth and resources acquired through acts of violence, marriage to the totemic female). Following a dynamic we have seen elsewhere in this Romance, these rightfully-won privileges are ritually declined – further affirming the purity of the hero. At this stage, it would seem, the magical narrative appears to require stocks of moral vindication rather more urgently than the instinctual glow of gratified desire.
Soon after this Peredur arrives at the Castle of Wonders itself. Here, once again, the dreamlike and fantastical takes centre stage:
And Peredur came to the gate of the fortress, and the gate of the fortress was open. And when he came to the hall, the door was open. As he entered, he could see gwyddbywll in the hall, and each of the two sides was playing against the other. And as the side he was supporting lost the game, the other side shouted, just as if they were men. He got angry, and took the pieces in his lap and threw the board into the lake. As he was doing so, behold, the black-haired maiden entered. xxxvii
The black-haired maiden then chastises Peredur for his treatment of the gwyddbwyll board, which turns out to belong to ‘the Empress’, and which she ‘would not wish to lose for her empire’. In order to atone for this act of intemperate mistreatment of the Empress’s treasure, Peredur is then required to carry out a series of other tasks, which are achieved with varying degrees of success.
Before we consider these penitential tasks there are a number of key questions raised by this first scene at the Castle of Wonders. Who is ‘the Empress’, what is the significance of her gwyddbwyll? How, if at all, does Peredur’s fit of pique relate to his earlier misdemeanors? First of all, the magical gwyddbwyll set is not unknown elsewhere in the medieval Welsh tradition: the legendry northern king Gwenddolau possessed such a board on which ‘if the pieces were set, they would play by themselves.’xxxviii In more general terms, board gaming seems to have been a recognised courtly pastime (alongside hunting and feasting). A variant of gwyddbwyll known as tallfwrd is described in the Laws of Hywel Dda as the gift of a king ‘which cannot be given away’. Like so much else in these early medieval tractates, there is a ritual aspect to such stipulations, opening up the possibility that the gwyddbwyll or tallfwrd board might have formed part of the regalia of sovereignty – similar in significance to the cup, the crown, the orb or the sceptre. It is perhaps for this reason that the board is so important to the Empress, and somehow equivalent to her sovereignty of the empire itself, as suggested by the Black Haired Maiden.
Now what of the Empress herself? It is far from clear whether this refers to the same Empress that Peredur married at the climax of the previous episode, or whether some Otherworld doublet is involved. The term ‘Empress’ (amherodres) is fairly unusual in Middle Welsh, and might be thought to be a fairly specific term, denoting a particular sphere of political authority (unlike, perhaps, the rather more generic unbenes). If we are to assume that the owner of the magical board is indeed Peredur’s wife, the Empress of Constantinople – then this section of the story appears in quite a different light. Peredur would be struggling, effectively, to retrieve the symbol of his wife’s (and therefore his own) temporal power. More interesting still, we would have a kind of narrative unity starting to emerge – a link between the Empress of Constantinople sequence and earlier themes of vengence and the mysteries witnessed in the Grail Castle. However unsatisfactory its implementation, this would represent at least some kind of attempt to tie up a number of lose ends.
However, even here we are on uncertain ground. Such is the structural and ontological incoherence of the work, it would be unwise to make any assumptions about the identity of the owner of the gwyddbwyll board, or the relationship of this episode to earlier events in the narrative. We are safer simply accepting this as further material to feed the central problem of the work, i.e. a barely acknowledged desire for sovereignty, and the intense guilt associated with this desire. The throwing away of a treasured object belonging to another, the accompanying feeling of remorse – this sequence has the quality of an anxiety-dream, an obsessive circumnavigation around this well-worn theme. Such a predicament leads on – as it tends to do in magical narratives of this kind – to a number of tasks the hero has to fulfill in order to atone for his misdemeanor:
“Is there any way to get the board back?”
“Go to the Fortress of Ysbidinongyl. There is a black-haired man there, destroying much of the empress’s land; kill him and you would get the board. But if you go there, you will not come back alive.” xxxix
Following this Peredur locates ‘the black-haired man’, defeats him in combat but spares his life on the understanding that the board is to be returned to the Empress. Immediately after this the Black Haired Maiden reappears, and chastises him for not finishing off “the oppressor who is destroying the empress’s land”. She tells him that the board has not been restored, and he will need to go back and kill the Black Haired Man. This he does, before returning to the Black Haired Maiden, and asking to see the Empress. The Black Haired Maiden gives the following response:
“Between me and God, you will not see her again unless you kill an oppressor that is in the forest over there.”
“What sort of oppressor is that?”
“A stag, as swift as the swiftest bird, and there is one horn in his forehead, as long as a spear-shaft, and as sharp as the sharpest thing. And he eats the tops of the trees and what grass there is in the forest. And he kills every animal he finds in the trees, and those he does not kill die of starvation. Worse than that every day he comes and drinks the fishpond dry, and leaves the fish exposed, and most of them die before it fills up again with water.”
“Maiden,” said Peredur, “will you come and show me this creature?”
“No, I will not. No man has dared enter the forest for a year. There is the lady’s lapdog – it will raise the stag and bring him to you. And the stag will attack you.”
This sequence resembles nothing so much as the list of anoethau or ‘difficult things’, the tasks required of Arthur and his men in the pre-Norman Culhwch ac Olwen. Many of these tasks are at least as ridiculous and surreal as felling a fishpond-drinking unicorn in a forest (one thinks of the comb and razor tied to the forehead of the boar Twrch Trwyth). The perfunctory treatment of their accomplishment, as well as the manner in which one task leads into another, is also highly characteristic of the traditional ‘folk’ background of the native Arthurian tale. The significance of the retreat into these traditional modes at this point in the tale is not insignificant, as we shall see.
If the series of tasks outlined above bears an interesting resemblance to the anoethau of Culhwch, it is the Mabinogi of Pwyll that seems to be recalled by what happens following the death of the unicorn:
As he was looking at the stag’s [severed] head, he could see a lady on horseback coming towards him and picking up the lapdog in the sleeve of her cape and placing the stag’s head between herself and the saddle-bow, together with the collar of red-gold that was round its neck.
“Lord,” she said, “you did a discourteous thing, killing the most beautiful jewel in my land.’
“I was told to do that. And is there any way I can win your friendship?”xli
The approach of ‘the lady on horseback’ (marchoges) bears more than a slight resemblance to the initial encounter with Rhiannon in the second episode of the First Branch. But the key similarity is with opening episode, in which Pwyll offends the otherworld king Annwfn during a hunting incident, and embarks on further adventures as a means of winning the latter’s friendship.
Peredur is then instructed by the lady to locate a particular slab of rock next to a bush, where he will challenge yet another ‘black-haired man’xlii in combat. As he does this, the man vanishes along with his and Peredur’s horse – forcing the hero to continue on foot. Soon after this, he finds a hall and in the hall he sees his horse tethered next to that of Gwalchmai (Gawain). Here, in a rather bathetic finale, the truth about the Grail Castle and the fate of his family is at last revealed:
With that a yellow-haired lad went down on his knee before Peredur and asked him for his friendship.
“Lord,” said the lad, “I came in the guise of the black-haired maiden to Arthur’s court, and when you threw away the gwyddbwyll, and when you killed the Black Haired Man from Ysbidinogyl, and when you killed the stag, and when you fought against the black-haired man on the slab. And I bought the head on the slaver, all covered in blood, and the spear with the blood streaming along it from its tip to its hilt. And the head was your cousin’s, and it was the witches of Caerloyw who killed him, and they made your uncle lame. I am your cousin, too, and it is foretold that you will avenge that.”xliii
And so it is. The paragraph that follows consists of a perfunctory account of the assault by Arthur on his retinue on the witches of Caer Lloyw – probably alluding to a piece of traditional Arthurian lore (we find some reference to what may be the same episode in the pre-Norman verse dialogue Pa Gur).xliv During this assault, Peredur watches as one witch kills three of Arthur’s retinue, one after the other. He is finally goaded into action (his initial unwillingness perhaps being explained by the fact that the witches had provided him with his martial training earlier on in the tale), and after he has cleaved the witch in two, Arthur and his men kill the remaining witches. And with that, the extended version of the Historia Peredur ab Efrawg comes to an abrupt end.
This ending raises at least as many questions as it answers. Critics have been divided in their responses to these problems. Some, like Cerdiwen Lloyd-Morgan, have sought to place this ending and its ambiguities within the context of an overall theme:
The whole romance can be seen in terms of Peredur gradually discovering his own family history, having to work this out alone, with only a few hints from relatives to help him. This idea comes out very strongly at the end when, despite having reached the final castle after proving himself in many difficult tasks, he still has little knowledge of what is going on, and has to have everything explained to him by relatives who are waiting for him. The events of the romance as they are experienced by Peredur and then explained to him provide a graphic example of the principle enunciated by Satre in La Nausée, that all events happen quite arbitrarily and that it is only with hindsight that man is able to impose upon them any particular shape or pattern and to trace links between events. We follow Peredur’s progress through the adventures knowing no more than he does, as a rule; like him we remain puzzled and need to have the meaning and shape of events explained to us at the end. The use of the arbitary may, then, have been partly deliberate, intended to create this particular impression.xlv
Ian Lovecy, however, is less convinced:
It is hard to avoid the impression that this last section of Peredur is very poorly written. Apart from the unexplained presence of the Gwalchmai story, with its less-than-satisfactory ending…and the introduction of Good Friday without any specific purpose, how can any sense be made of the events following the hero’s arrival at the Fortress of Marvels? He throws a gwyddbwyll board through a window, is set a task which he does not quite fulfill, goes back and completes it, is set another task which offends another lady who sets a further task. In this last he is cheated, but walks to what is obviously his rightful place, receives an ‘explanation’ of the strange procession, and with Arthur’s help avenges his first cousin by killing the Witches of Gloucester.…What is difficult to accept, however, is that this muddle was in any sense necessary to ‘explain’ or complete anything in the first part of Peredur.xlvi
Lovecy goes on to point out the numerous inconsistencies between the final ‘explanation’ and earlier elements in the tale: no reference is made to the charge leveled by the Loathly Lady relating to the failure of the hero to ask the ‘healing question’ of his lame uncle; the case for Peredur being the instrument of vengenance for his cousin’s death is unconvincing given the availability of closer family members; two youths not one carried the spear, and two maidens rather than one the severed head. While some of these objections could be dismissed as technicalities, one can sympathise with Lovecy when he admits that he is ‘not convinced by the cousin’s claimed ability to appear as a woman’, and believes that the cousin’s final disclosure may well be ‘an afterthought…influenced by the [French] Grail legends’. While (as I will suggest below) there are grounds for thinking elements of this ending may have been more integral than Lovecy has suggested, he may well be correct that there are, at the very least, clear signs of influence (direct or otherwise) of Chrétien’s work on this later Welsh redaction. We will return to the thorny problem of the Mabinogionfrage in due course, but first let us consider what evidence this final section offers for the provenance of Peredur in particular.
The lack of coherence in this final episode; the inconsequential intrusion of the adventures of Gwalchmai; and sudden re-emergence of native narrative patterns at the end of this section are all suggestive of a late Welsh redactor working under the influence (direct or otherwise) of the French text. This is most clearly evidenced by the fact that Le Conte du Graal has its own peculiarities which can be seen to have left their stamp on this longer Welsh version. The unfinished state of Chrétien’s Romance (which prompted the famous thirteenth century Continuations) obviously caused problems for the Welsh redactor – and it can be seen that the distinctively ‘Welsh’ narrative style emerges precisely at the point at which the French tale leaves off. Chrétien (or perhaps one of his early unattributed continuators) seems to have grafted the Gawain material onto the end of Le Conte du Graal for reasons that are still unclear – it may have been that his source material itself was unfinished (a point to which we will return in due course) and a (now lost) Gawain romance offered a related and therefore suitable conclusion. Some but not all of this Gawain material was used the late Welsh redactor. It was included in the Welsh version in an abbreviated form, but only up to the point where the action switches back to Pereceval/Peredur in the Good Friday/Hermit episode. From hereon the Welsh redactor departs from the French text by keeping the narrative focus on his main hero, rather than concluding the adventures of Gawain/Gwalchmai. His attempts to bring the text as a whole to a satisfactory ending, as Lovecy suggests, cannot be described as wholly successful. But these attempts themselves do offer significant positive evidence of Continental influence, and shed some interesting light on the mechanisms of redaction at work in Middle Welsh texts of this kind.
Despite this evidence of French influence on the later Welsh redactions, it would be entirely wrong to regard the Perceval/Peredur tradition as a primarily Continental creation. Celtic influence is deeply embedded, and there is sufficient evidence to conclude that Chrétien was reliant on a some kind of Brythonic source, and that this prototypical ur-Romance was most probably composed in Wales in early-twelfth century. As we have suggested, there is at least some evidence that it reflect concerns specific to that time and place.
Starting with the more obvious evidence of a ‘Celtic’ tradition, we might consider the genealogy of the Bel Inconnu theme, which as we have seen had clear precursors in the early lives of native heroes such Cú Chulainn, Lugh Lamfada and Culhwch ap Cilydd. The theme was clearly used and developed with considerable skill by the Continental romancers, but the early part of Peredur’s biography was essentially Celtic in inspiration, and was almost certainly adapted by Chrétien from some kind of Welsh chwedl from the same narrative culture that produced Culhwch ac Olwen and (a generation or two later) the Four Branches of the Mabinogi. Another motif of clear Celtic provenance was the vision of the raven and the blood on the snow – which is almost directly paralleled in the ninth-century Irish tale, Longas Mac nUislenn. There are various ways in which this sequence could have found its way into Chrétien Old French romance, but by far the most likely of these is through our proposed Welsh prototype.xlvii Just as we find traces of Irish influence in the eleventh century Book of Taliesin and (more pertinently) in the tale of Culhwch ac Olwen, it is reasonably to assume that the chwedl used by Chrétien was derived from a similar background of native Welsh antiquarian learning, with its strong links to Gaelic historiography and narrative culture.xlviii We might point to other examples of ‘native’ motifs which seem to have permeated the tale of Peredur/Perceval at some stage in its development, including the self-playing gwyddbwyll set (a chess set in the French version); as well as the ‘loathly lady’ figure whose parallels with the hag in the Adventures of the Sons of Eochaid Mugmedon drew certain scholars (notably Gladys Goetinck) to propose an underlying sovereignty myth as a unifying superstructure of the otherwise fragmented narrative of Peredur. We will return to this theory shortly in due course.
The loathly lady may or may not have been connected in the original Brythonic source with the ‘witches of Caer Loyw’, about whom there also seems to have been an established tradition in pre-Norman Arthurian lore. Peredur’s relationship with the witches is a complex one; and despite killing one of their number he is nonetheless welcomed at their court, and trained by them in horsemanship and feats of arms. We have already noted the parallels with the Irish hero Cú Chulainn who received martial instruction from the witch-like Scáthach, who is even described as his foster-mother at one stage in the text. xlix We might wonder if something similar featured in the biography of the proto-Perceval. As we have seen, it would appear that the original ‘witches of Gloucester’ reflected the memory of some kind of pagan cult based near the borders of south-east Wales – and it is in this form that they appear in the seventh century Vita of St Sampson, as we have seen. We might recall that the other rhamantau and their French equivalents also appear to have buried references to pagan cults of this kind – notably Edern mab Nudd (the patronymic clearly relating to the Romano-British Nodens, whose cult centre was in the Lydney area of the Forest of Dean) and Mabonagrain (> Apollo Maponus or Mabon of the Welsh tradition). We might conject that a tension between this kind of residual paganism and the Christianity represented by Arthur’s court constituted a key theme in the pre-Norman tradition. There are traces of this tension in all three of the rhamantau – with the case of Owain and his sorjourn in the Fountain Domain being one of the clearer examples. Within this context, it is quite plausible that an earlier version of the Peredur/Perceval story involved a tension between the pagan world of the witches’ court on one hand and the Christian community of Arthur’s court on the other.
Such a scenario, if we include the motif of fostering as suggested by the Scáthach parallel, would look surprisingly similar to the plot of Peredur as it appears in its extant form. The back-story, whether revealed at the beginning or the end of the tale, would have involved the hero’s father (or cousin, or uncle, or all three) being killed by the Witches of Gloucester, with the hero himself adopted by the witches in an attempt to thwart the prophesied destiny that he will one day take his revenge (a not uncommon mythological device). The female-dominated community in which Peredur/Perceval finds himself at the beginning of the tale would (according to this reading) be the Witches’ Court itself. Attempts to shield him from any Christian/chivalric influences come to naught: he is drawn to Arthur’s court where it is predicted once again (by the dwarf couple) that he will become a great knight and avenge his father or kinsman. The remainder of his career sees him engaging with a variety of otherworld or pagan figures, with the promise of sovereignty offered (but refused) on repeated occasions (parallels with Owain’s final rejection of the sovereignty of Fountain Realm might be noted). Along the way, he receives instruction both from the Christian world of his blood relatives (such as the various uncles, the hermit, the priest etc.) but also his adopted or maternal kindred (represented most obviously by the Witches’ Court). However, he eventually sides with the former and fulfils his destiny by helping Arthur and his men in their final show-down with the Witches of Caer Loyw. Within such a context, Goetinck is perhaps broadly correct to see some kind of underlying unity between the various monstrous and female figures who repeatedly appear in the narrative to berate, challenge and goad the hero. The ultimate mythic subtext might be seen as a transfer of the occult powers of sovereignty from the feminine, pagan centre of the Witches Court to the masculine, Christian locus of the court of Arthur - a theme that has echoes with the tribal-historic subtext of the Fourth Branch, as we have seen.
Here of course we enter the realms of speculation. One of the chief objections to Goetinck’s theory was that it attempted to reconstruct a purely hypothetical ur-text, rather than grappling with the extant material found in the manuscripts themselves. The work of Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan, on the other hand, looked exhaustively at the latter, and traced a number of examples of thematic reduplications (also known as thematic interlace) – some of which have been discussed above. Ian Lovecy has tended to see these reduplications as unintentional doublets, brought about by the inclusion of variant traditions of the same episode. Thus the serpent on the ring and the addanc may be regarded as two different re-tellings of the same story, brought together by a rather unselective redactor who is merely attempting to bring together all the material he can find relating to the hero Peredur ab Efrawg l. Lloyd-Morgan, on the other hand, sees these reiterations as intentional devices, consistent with the generic norms of this kind of medieval prose literature, the aim of which was to amplify and underscore meaning. She identifies various meta-themes: of vengeance; of the education of the hero; themes which these iterations serve to emphasise. The overall theme, she has suggested, is one of the disclosure of buried family secrets: ‘the whole romance can be seen in terms of Peredur gradually discovering his own family and family history, having to work this out alone, with only a few relatives to help him.’ Such a reading of the text is consistent with my own impression that a sense of omerta and collective guilt seems to occlude the background of the hero. Along with Lloyd-Morgan, I would see many of the ambiguities in the text as instrumental to this impression – we the readers follow Peredur’s progress ‘knowing no more than he does’, but the continual sense is that that information is either being hidden or half-disclosed in the most allusive terms. Such an atmosphere makes perfect sense in the context of the dynastic politics of Native Wales in the early 1100s – a period of exceptional violence and internecine breakdown.
The Continental romancers on occasion refer to a certain Magister Bleheris, or Breri, whom they identify as a key native authority on the Arthurian tradition. This Bleheris has been plausibly identified as Bleddri ap Kadifor, a latimer (i.e. translator, interpreter) and native nobleman of some prominence in the Carmarthen area in the early twelfth century. Whether or not it was Bleddri himself who first facilitated the transmission of Welsh lore into the French-speaking milieu of Chrétien and his continuators, we can be assume it would have been somebody very like him – a bi-lingual native Welshman sympathetic to Norman interests.li This figure may well have been identical with ‘Bledri the well-known storyteller’ mentioned by Gerald of Waleslii. Or the sake of argument, we will assume that the composer of the ‘proto-Perceval’ which informed Chrétien’s work was indeed this Bleddri ap Kadifor, the son of a prominant Carmarthenshire chieftain whose family had supported Ango-Norman interests since late eleventh century.
We will assume that Bleddri was familiar with a native Arthuran tale similar to that outlined above, i.e. a legend involving the fostering of an infant boy at the ‘court of witches’ in or near the Gloucester area, following the death of his father (a knight at Arthur’s court) at their hands. The tale would have involved the gradual discovery by the boy of his complex family history, and an eventual (but at first rather awkward) assimilation into the Arthurian court community. One can see that such a scenario, though based on entirely traditional narrative premises (The Prophesied Death, Infant Exile and Return), would contain considerable potential for the kind of ‘edgy’ ambiguity that characterises both Peredur and Le Conte du Graal in their extant form, and Bleddri seems to have exploited this potential to the full. His masterstroke was the Grail Castle scene which, as I have suggested, teases both the hero and the reader with the tension between the concealment and disclosure of the skeletons in the family closet. Such a scene would have resonated with contemporary concerns while simultaneously remaining true to the basic structure of the original Arthurian legend.
It has often been asked whether Peredur or any of the other so-called rhamantau can truly be described as ‘romances’. Critics have pointed to various features of the classical romance genre that are missing or less well pronounced in the Welsh tales – notably the exegetical longeurs, and the tightly-stuctured conjointure. It has been concluded on this basis that the rhamantau, and Peredur in particular, cannot be considered to be Romances in a genuine sense. However, when one considers some of the Romance offered by Frederic Jameson, the resemblance to Peredur is startling precise:
the hero’s dominant trait is naivité or inexperience, and his characteristic posture is bewilderment… [he is] something closer to an observer, a mortal spectator surprised by supernatural conflict, who then himself is gradually drawn in to reap the rewards of victory, without ever quite being aware of what was at stake in the first place. liv
By this definition, Peredur (or, more precisely Bleddri’s ‘proto-Perceval’) might be seen not only as an exemplary specimen of the literary Romance, but (if we can accept the circumstance of its composition outlined above) the is plausible case for identifying it as the original Romance, i.e. the point at which the generic ‘mutation’ occurred which produced this particular literary style.
In summary, what we find in the both the French and the Welsh versions of Perceval legend is the basic structure of the Infant Exile and Return Myth, with certain features (the Prophesied Death and the Bel Inconnu, or the Youth at the Gate motif) which are strongly suggestive of a Celtic background. This primitive Arthurian tale seems to have been developed at some stage in a more sophisticated work, through a skillful exploitation of the tension between concealment and revelation inherent within the Exile and Return/Prophesied Death scenario. Out of this emerged a very particular atmosphere of ‘edgy ambiguity’, which is summed up by Frederic Jameson’s characterization of the Romance genre quoted above. The key point is that the particular nature and use of this narrative mode, along with the pointed references to dynastic bloodshed (or more particularly, the omerta and collective guilt surrounding these events) have a particular resonance in Wales in the early twelfth century. We might therefore suggest that the very particular atmosphere of ‘edgy ambiguity’ – which is so essential to Romance in general and the story of Peredur/Perceval in particular – was an essentially Welsh innovation, and would have been already present in the Brythonic source used by Chrétien.
So we have established that the Brythonic sources used by Chrétien, at least in the case of Le Conte du Graal, would have been fairly complex narrative works in their own right. We can rule out – with some certainty – the prevailing theory that the French romancer largely fabricated these tales himself out of scraps of Welsh or Breton lore. But what did Chrétien add to the Romances? And to what extent were these Continental innovations re-incorporated into the thirteenth century Welsh redactions? These are the remaining questions we need to resolve in order to complete our answer to the time-worn mabinogionfrage. It is beyond the scope of this study to give anything more than a brief and provisional answer to these questions, and what is presented here is more or less a reiteration or expansion of various points already made in the proceeding commentaries on the three rhamantau.
It has often been noted that certain features in Chrétien’s tales are lacking in their Welsh equivalents. The latter are often defined by what they lack in comparison to the French works: fewer authorial asides, less description of psychological motivation, as well as the loser narrative structure are typical negative definitions of the Welsh Romance. Crucially, such analysis tends to be predicted on the assumption that the so-called rhamantau are the result of a process of translatio, the wholesale relocation of Chrétien’s works into Welsh vernacular literary context. However, given the obvious Celtic (and indeed specifically Welsh) background of the narrative material itself, it would perhaps be more appropriate to turn the question around, and ask instead how Chrétien set about adapting these essentially Welsh tales into a courtly Franco-Norman milieu. The same differences emerge – albeit seen from a different perspective.
Thus we can define Chrétien’s process of translatio as a structural tightening, a more explicit conjointure between sens and matière, combined with frequent authorial asides and explanations. These longeurs typically discuss the motivation and general psychological situation of the protagonists, often (as the name would imply) at considerable length. For example, we find this sequence towards the end of Yvain, while the hero is fighting with his former companion Gawain:
So do they not love each now? My reply to you is “yes and no”, and I shall find arguments to prove one way and the other. Certainly my lord Gawain loves Yvain and declares him to be his companion, and Yvain reciprocates, wherever he is. Even here, if he recognised him, he would make much of him; each would give his head for the other sooner than do him harm. Is this not true and total love? Yes indeed. – Their hatred, then: is that also not quite evident? Yes, because it is a certain fact that each would doubtless be glad to have broken the other’s head or to have inflicted on him such disgrace that he would be the worse for it. Upon my word, to have found love and mortal hatred in the one receptacle is an absolute miracle!
God! How can two so contrary things dwell together in one single lodging? It seems to me they cannot be together in one house; for one could not stay together with the other without there being discord and quarrelling once each knew of the other’s presence. But in one dwelling there are a number of apartments: a gallery and separate rooms. The situation might well be like this: perhaps Love has shut himself away in some hidden room, and Hate gone to the gallery overlooking the street, wanting to be in full view. Now Hate is quite ready for action, for he spurs, pricks and gallops against Love, and Love makes no moves at all. Ah, Love, where are you hidden? Come out, and you will see what an ally your friends’ enemies have brought and set against you! lv
And so it continues for another eighty lines. This tedious interlude exemplifies a number of key characteristics of Chrétien’s own input, as distinct from what was inherited from the source tradition. Most obviously, exegetical authorial commentary of any kind is almost entirely absent from Medieval Welsh prose. Related to this, overt commentary on the psychology of the protagonists is equally foreign to the Welsh narrative system. Character and motivation were suggested, for sure, but only rarely directly described. Likewise, allegorical equations were also unusual (though not unheard of) in native Welsh writing. There is a strong sense that overt disclosure of meaning was somehow alien to the grain of the Welsh narrative art. One might recall Gerald of Wales’ elegant summary of Welsh aesthetics: ‘the essence of art is to conceal’. It is tempting to link this laconic style with the observations of Diodorus on the Gallo-Brittonic Celts: “they use few words and speak in riddles, for the most part hinting at things and leaving a great deal to be understood”lvi . Chrétien’s audiences, it would seem, were less keen on such gnomic ambiguities. Not only was a clear disclosure of the significance of the events required, a knowing (and at times rather condescending) view into the psychology of the protagonists was also required. Such a perspective was enabled by Chrétien’s extensive authorial asides such as the one quoted above, which has the potential to try the patience of even the most sympathetic modern reader.
If brevity and allusiveness is one quality that might endear the Welsh Romance to the modern reader, the same cannot be said for its apparent structural incohesion of the rhamantau. Chrétien’s audiences evidently felt the same. Like modern readers, the courtly audiences of High Medieval France had a low tolerance for the irrelevant or the inconsequential. Part of his editorial process, then, was to identify a unifying theme or meaning (sens), and to remove any detail (matière) that was not obviously pertinent to this thematic superstructure. His source traditions would have abounded with irrelevant details and unresolved episodes (we find the same in the tendencies in the extant rhamantau: the burning tree and black-and-white sheep episode, the circular valley adventure). Chrétien would have pruned this extraneous material, creating a much tighter narrative structure, closer to the Aristotelian norms of our contemporary literary ideals. It is for this reason that a number of critics have been moved to describe Peredur (where extraneous material has been allowed to flourish) as a failure in comparison to Chrétien’s Conte du Graal.
One distinctive structural feature deployed by Chrétien has been described as the doppelweg ‘a binary sin-and-redemption structure’. This can be seen most clearly in Yvain and Le Conte du Graal, where an apparent happy ending half way through the narrative is interrupted by some kind of disruptive event or visitation – often bearing on ‘unfinished business’ from an earlier stage of the plot or the hero’s backstory. We find the same feature present to some extent in the Welsh rhamantau, though in the case of Peredur the narrative stops and starts on more than one occasion. Whether or not such a structure was inherited from the Brythonic sources is difficult to say. As Ito-Morino has pointed out, the Welsh narrative system of the Mabinogi seems to imply permanent sense of open-endedness, of one tale emerging out of the other so that it ‘overturns the harmony that the previous narration has painstakingly achieved.’lvii Perhaps Chrétien’s innovation was to rationalise this ‘monstrous body’ into a more consistent and manageable bi-partite structure, which was subsequently copied by the subsequent Continental romancerslviii. As such, it would represent a highly characteristic piece of ‘tidying up’ performed by the French redactor on the raw material of the Brythonic tradition.
At this point we need to give a final consideration to the problem of the magical plot – a narratological paradigm of which we made extensive use throughout this study of the so-called Three Romances. As indicated in the previous article, the originator of this theory, Dr. Anne Wilson, was frustratingly vague about not only the historical origins but even the morphological characteristics of the magical plot.lix Nonetheless, it has proved an invaluable model which seems to offer a convincing solution to many of the problems presented by the High Medieval Arthurian Romance, in both the French and Welsh contexts.
Wilson herself has tended towards the view that the form is better represented by Chrétien’s Romances than by their Welsh equivalents. At one point she suggests ‘the magical plot in Peredur is a very different plot from that of Chrétien: the powerful conflicts of Chrétien’s plot do not reappear here, and the comparative light-heartedness of the re-creation must be one of the many reasons for the differences apparent in this version.’lx The implication here is that the Welsh redaction is a less ‘successful’ application of this narrative paradigm, which is arguably the case – depending on exactly how one defines the archetypal template involved.lxi As suggested in the previous article, on the same basis we could regard Owain as closer to the ‘pure’ magical plot structure than Yvain.
Despite its usefulness as an approach to the more ‘irrational’ genres of medieval literature, the concept of the magical plot remains beset by a crippling vagueness. Until a working definition can be agreed on what does and does not constitute a magical plot, it will remain difficult to define its geo-historic boundaries, let alone the issue of its origin and diffusion. Wilson hints that it may be specific to European literatures, lxii and especially characteristic of medieval romance. Her own special study of Chrétien and his redactors has perhaps created something of an observation bias, but taking the French Arthurian Romances as the platonic ideal of the magical plot – from which the form seems to have spread into other European literatures and folk-narrative cultures – we might be entitled to wonder whether, like so much else about the Arthurian Romance, the origins of the magical plot can be traced back to Wales.
In this context, we might look with interest at the putative Brythonic sources of Chrétien’s Arthurian Romances (and their Welsh equivilants) as described here. In each case, the sovereignty fantasy seems to be tied up with various magical figures of evident pagan derivation: Mabonagrain, Edern fab Nudd, the unnamed Countess of the Fountain Realm, the hag-like Loathly Lady. A tension, which is particularly clearly in the Welsh rhamantau, seems to exist between the fantasy of sovereignty in a pagan/otherworld setting, and the reality of life as a Christian knight in service at the court of King Arthur. The case of Owain in particular suggests that the origin of this paradigm is a straightforward sovereignty myth of the primitive Celtic type being integrated (awakwardly) within a Christian context. The putative roots of Le Conte du Graal – the ‘proto-Perceval’ discussed above – offers an alternative, or perhaps supplementary explanation. If, as seems to be the case from this tale, the pre-Norman Arthur was represented as subduing, neutralising and integrating Dark Age pagan communities into his Christian imperium; we might trace the roots of this tension between pagan sovereignty and Christian feudal service back to this stratum. In this sense, Early Arthurian narrative might have almost represented a process of cultural and religious conversion – which was perhaps its original function.
This seems to have been the raw narrative material used by Bleddri and his peers – the early twelfth-century storytellers and cultural interpreters seem to have first introduced the Franco-Norman world to the plot-lines of the Arthurian Romance. However, this generation seem to have added a strangely introspective spin to this material – bringing out the ‘edgy ambiguity’ which seems to have become such a defining feature of the genre. Perhaps, similar to the Four Branches of the Mabinogi in their extant form, these traditional narratives were being used to comment obliquely about the medieval present – which in the case of the early twelfth century was an intensely violent and unstable period in Welsh dynastic history. If this was the case, these contemporary references were quickly forgotten once the tales had been transmitted across the channel. But the atmosphere of ‘edgy ambiguity’ remained. And out of these curious legends of Arthurian antiquity, with their strangely oblique references to adulterous patricide and pagan sovereignty came the classical Arthurian Romance.
The final finish was provided by Chrétien, and it was really only when the legends were reworked in the definitively High Medieval context of mid-twelfth century France that the classical Arthurian Romance (and the magical plot) really comes into its own as a genre. We have noted on various occasions how the magical plot draws its power from the very particular socio-psychological condition of feudal Christianity. It was the power of the feudal oath, set against the seductive attraction of the pagan sovereignty complex, that gave the magical plot its dynamic tension. As we have seen, the hierarchical stratification of High Medieval society, along with its specific conditions for land-holding and marriage, would have leant such fantasies an unusual potency, particularly for the lower ranks of the warrior aristocracy – the knights. It was for this class in particular for whom Chrétien would have written his Romances.
A full analysis of Chrétien’s work and its social context lies beyond the scope of this study. It is sufficient to say that his own contribution to the genre of Romance is such that he is rightly celebrated as The Master – the title he was given by his Continental successors. However, I see no reason not to take at face value the debt acknowledged by the thirteenth-century romancers to an earlier master – a Welshman named Bleddri – who lived in the generation prior to Chrétien, and to whom should probably be accorded at least as significant role in the evolution of the matière de Bretagne into what we now think of as Arthurian Romance.
This brings us on to our final problem, that is the degree to which the extant rhamantau were themselves directly influenced by the works of Chrétien, and to what extent they simply evolved independently from a ‘common source’, that is the proto-Romances written by Bleddri and others of his ilk in the early twelfth century. The probable existence of a well-developed (early twelfth century) Welsh source for each of the three French Romances considered in this study certainly opens at least the possibility each of the thirteenth century rhamantau would have independently drawn on this native authority, at least to some degree. However, in all three cases (including Peredur) we have seen some evidence of what would appear to be some degree of influence from the French Romances themselves. Traces of this influence can be found not simply in the plot structures, the phraseology and the nomenclature of the rhamantau, where the influence of Chrétien’s tales is often clearly demonstrable. It can also be found in a growing fondness for description – which was relatively sparce in earlier, more ‘purely’ native tales. A sensual delight in the lavish accoutrements of High Chivalry – emblazoned shields, the brocaded silk and damask – animates the rhamantau. However, as I hope to have demonstrated, the tales are none the worse for this stimulus, and certainly none the less ‘Welsh’. What they do document, among other things, is a growing self-confidence in the native vernacular – but also that this self-confidence had an outward-facing aspect. The writers of the Welsh rhamantau were not translating or transposing the Arthurian Romances, so much as reclaiming them as their own.
A number of the themes discussed in this study of Peredur are discussed at greater length in my Four Branches of the Mabinogi (2005). Elsewhere on this site, the theory summarising the relationship between the killing of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn and the development of the Grail Romance has been discussed more fully.
iPre-Chrétien, it seems most of the influence flowed from the Brythonic world to French-speaking world, often via Anglo-Norman intermediaries such as Geoffrey of Monmouth or Marie de France. Post-Chrétien, and certainly as we enter the thirteenth-century, the direction of this influence to some extent reverses: with many Arthurian traditions apparently being ‘re-imported’ into Wales during the Age of the Llywelyns.
ii‘Narrative Structure in Peredur’ Zeitschrift fur Celtische-Philologie 38 (1981) p.187-231
iiiJacques Le Goff The Medieval Imagination (Chicago, 1988) pp. 107-176; Georges Duby ‘Au XIIe si#232;cle: les ‘jeunes’ dans la société aristocratique’ Annales ESC (1964) pp.835-896; Stephen Knight Arthurian Literature and Society (London, 1983) pp.68-102
ivMabinogion (2007) trans. Davies p.65
vitrans. DDR Owen (London: 1987) p.382
viii‘Transcultural change: romance to rhamant’ in Medieval Celtic Literature and Society ed. Helen Fulton (Dublin: 2005)
xMabinogion (2007) trans. Davies p.66
xitrans. DDR Owen (London: 1987) p.383
xiiMabinogion (2007) trans. Davies p.68
xiiiCited in Wilson (1988) infra cit. p.115
xivGoetinck’s theory of an underlying sovereignty myth as the formative principle of Peredur has fallen out of fashion in recent decades, and it has even been questioned to what extent the female sovereignty principle was a conscious presence in Medieval Welsh literature. While, as we have seen, the ‘sovereignty complex’ does appear to play a latent role in Welsh Arthurian Romance, it unclear to what extent this has any connection with the Irish concept of the tutelary goddess. We will return to this question at the end of the study.
xvMabinogion (2007) trans Davies p.68
xviiHowever, it should be remembered that it is not referred to in this way in the text of Peredur itself.
xviiiArthur of the Welsh ed. Bromwich, Jarman and Roberts (Cardiff: 1991) pp.44-45.
xix Sampson, like Peredur, was also famed for overcoming dragons and lions. We are reminded once again of the close relationship between the earliest stratum of Arthurian tradition and British Celtic hagiography
xx Mabinogion (2007) trans Davies p.79
xxiThe epithet of this heroine, Llaw Eurog (‘Golden Hand’) brings her into relation with a group of mythological figures including Llud Llaw Eureint and the Irish Nuadu Argatalam (‘N. Silver Arm’). This could, as suggested by Sionedd Davis, be merely a reference to her generosity, or it could signal her mythological origins. Any number of intermediate interpretations are also possible.
xxiiMabinogion (2007) trans Davies p.94
xxiiiThis view, along with a number of other readings of Peredur have been discussed by Lovecy on pp. 171-180 of Arthur of the Welsh (ed. Bromwich, Jarman and Roberts, Cardiff: 1991)
xxvMabinogion (2007) trans Davies p.88
xxx‘Narrative Structure in Peredur’ Zeitschrift fur Celtische-Philologie 38 (1981) p.187-231
xxxiMabinogion (2007) trans Davies p.94
xxxiiPeredur: a study of the Welsh tradition in the Grail Legends (1975)
xxxiiiMabinogion (2007) trans Davies p.97
xxxivtrans. DDR Owen (London: 1987) p.459
xxxvMabinogion (2007) trans Davies p.98
xxxviiiibid. TYP p.242
xxxixMabinogion (2007) trans Davies p.100
xlThe term used here is gormes – which can denote a plague, afflication or any kind of invasion of human, natural or supernatural origin.
xliMabinogion (2007) trans Davies p.101
xliiDavies translates gwr du in this way – perhaps because of the very specific (and anachronous) associations a more literal translation might provoke. I would suggest ‘dark man’ as a rather more generic alternative.
xliiiMabinogion (2007) trans Davies p.102
xlivSims-Williams, Patrick ‘The Early Welsh Arthurian Poems’ in The Arthur of the Welsh ed. Bromwich, Jarman and Roberts (1991) p.44-45
xlv‘Narrative Structure in Peredur’ Zeitschrift fur Celtische-Philologie 38 (1981) p.228-229
xlvi‘Historia Peredur ab Efrawg’ in The Arthur of the Welsh ed. Bromwich, Jarman and Roberts (1991) p.179
xlviiAnother possibility would be through a Gaelic/Anglo-Norman connection arising from the invasion and partial colonisation of Ireland by the Fitzgerald family and other dynasties from the Welsh march. The invasion was later consolidated and given partial legitimacy by an expedition led by the Angevin Henry II, with whom Chrétien would have had indirect connections through the family of his patrons. This is, however, a considerably more convuluted scenario than the more commonly accepted theory of a Welsh channel of Celtic Arthurian lore.
xlviiiStrong parallels are obvious between the heroic biography of Culhwch and that of Lugh Lamfada – from his boasting at the castle gate, to his casting of the spear into the eye of the monstrous father-ogre (Balor in the Cath Maige Tuired). More obviously literary influence from the Gaelic world is evident in the presence of Damochter in the Historia Brittonum and the etymology of Caer Sidi (> O. Ir. Sidhe), to name but two examples. The material of pre-Norman scholarship in Wales suggests influences from a variety of sources, prominent among which would be the Irish tradition where the literary presentation of native historical tradition was involved.
xlixThe Taín trans. Thomas Kinsella, Oxford, OUP:1969 p.134.
lLovecy, ibid, p.180
liBromwich, Rachel ‘First Transmission to England and France’ in The Arthur of the Welsh ed. Bromwich, Jarman and Roberts (1991) p.286-288
lii‘Description of Wales’ p.252 trans. Lewis Thorpe, Harmonsworth: Penguin, 1978
liii‘Medieval Welsh Tales or Romances? Problems of Genre and Terminology’ Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies 47 (2004) pp.41-58
livFrederic Jameson ‘Magical Narratives: Romance as Genre’ New Literary Review VII pt.1 (1975) p.139
lvtrans.DDR Owen (London: 1987) p.362
lviTierney, ‘Celtic Ethnography’ Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 60 (1960) p.251
lvii‘The sense of ending in the Four Branches of the Mabinogi’ Zeitschrift für Celtische Philologie 49/50 (1997) p.347
lviiiWe might note, however, that the succession of posthumous continuations to the unfinished Conte du Graal suggests something of the never-ending ‘monstrous body’ of the Celtic narrative system had been transmitted to the Continental traditional as well.
lixWilson has gone some way towards clarifying this a more recent publication Plots and Powers: Magical Structures in Medieval Narrative (2001) Gainesville: University Press of Florida
lxThe Magical Quest (1984) p.185
lxiWilson points out that the Angharad/Circular valley episode ‘scarcely fits in to the sequence created by sections I(a) and II, in which female characters represent sovereignty and are renounced, in some way, until the hero finally achieves the empress’ (ibid p.184) – Le Conte du Graal, on the other had, has fewer such extraneous episodes and might therefore be considered a purer rendition of the magical plot.