Posts for : March 2010

standard

Was King Arthur real?

Whether or not King Arthur was a real person is an either/or query.  He either was or he wasn’t.  Many scholars, researchers, and Arthurophile’s have strong opinions on this topic, both for and against.  Because of the paucity of written records (most notably, Gildas fails to mention him), much of the academic work has come down on the side of ‘wasn’t’–or at least if Arthur was a real person, his name was not ‘Arthur’ and he possible wasn’t even a king.  In another blog (here), I list the original sources that posit the existence of King Arthur.

Wikipedia has a remarkably thorough analysis of the subject:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Arthur

For now, I’d like to point to two aspects of the ‘wasn’t’ camp that I find particularly interesting, as they have to do with the development of Welsh myth and the transformation of Wales from a pagan culture to a Christian one.

One theory about King Arthur was that his stories were originally not about him at all, but about Gwydion, one of the sons of Don and a chief character in the Four Branches of the Mabinogi.  In these tales, Gwydion, while evident through much of the Mabinogi, is completely absent from the stories that include Arthur, implying that the ancient poet did a global ‘find and replace’. This theory was originally posited by Sir John Rhys, writing at the end of the 19th century.

The second curious aspect of the development of Arthur, which parallels the Gwydion relationship, is the way in which the character adopted not only the characteristics of Gwydion, but of Cadwaladr ap Cadwallon, the last ‘King’ of Wales (died 682 AD).  Included in the books of Taliesin are not only poems about Arthur, but also about Cadwaladr.  It is Cadwaladr whom the Welsh tales describe as sleeping in a cave on Mount Snowdon, and whose return the Welsh await (see my post on The Great Prophecy of Britain from last week).

I would love for Arthur to have been a ‘real’ person, but I find the discovery of the way in which myth becomes ‘real’, as well as the ‘real’ becomes myth fascinating.  It is almost a parallel process:  many scholars of celtic myth believe that the stories of the Don or Tuatha de Dannan (in Ireland) were once ‘real’ to the people who told them, but with the coming of Christianity, their tales were either adopted and transformed into Christian parable, or faded into the realm of fable.  Similarly, Gwydion (a mythic character) or Cadwaladr (a ‘real’ one) might have had their stories blended into the tale of King Arthur–for Gywdion, the stories were sanitized and made palatable for Christian audiences, and for Cadwaladr, his story was submerged into the tale of an already more famous and reknowned hero and thus made more ‘mythic’.

standard

Man’s Inhumanity to Man 0

Man was made to mourn: A Dirge, by Robert Burns

Many and sharp the num’rous ills
Inwoven with our frame!
More pointed still we make ourselves
Regret, remorse, and shame!
And Man, whose heav’n-erected face
The smiles of love adorn, -
Man’s inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!

The following article from March 14, details the attacks in Lagos, Nigeria, which is one of the most war torn countries in Africa.  It begins:

“Nigerians woke last Sunday, to the news that more than 400 people of Dogo Nahawa community in Jos south area of Plateau state had been sent to their early graves by rampaging invaders.

News of the attack spread like wildfire creating panic in parts of Jos North, which had earlier in January, witness another round of the orgy of violence that has now become and existential reality in the state.

The panic-stricken Jos north saw traders and shop owners locking up their stall in wait for what follows next. But as measures were being forcefully taken to ensure that the attack does not spread to other parts of the state, residents of the Dogo Nahawa, were either crying their eyes out or still picking up their dead.

For them, it was an attack that had broken the peace of the community and left wounds that will take decades to heal.”    http://allafrica.com/stories/201003150005.html

I cut and pasted the first 3 paragraphs of the article and then just changed a few words . . . imagine such an article, if newspapers existed 1000 years ago:

“The Cymry (the Welsh) woke last Sunday, to the news that more than 400 people of Bangor community in Gwynedd had been sent to their early graves by rampaging Viking invaders.

News of the attack spread like wildfire creating panic in parts of Gwynedd, which had earlier in January, witness another round of the orgy of violence that has now become and existential reality in the cantref.

The panic-stricken Welsh saw traders and shop owners locking up their stall in wait for what follows next. But as measures were being forcefully taken to ensure that the attack does not spread to other parts of the state, residents of Bangor, were either crying their eyes out or still picking up their dead.

For them, it was an attack that had broken the peace of the community and left wounds that will take decades to heal.” 

Man’s inhumanity to man seems to defy the passage of time . . .

standard

Senana, Mother of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd

Senana, by all appearances, had to have been quite a woman.  She was the daughter of Caradog ap Thomas ap Rhodri ap Owain Gwynedd, the great king of Gwynedd during the twelfth century.  Her husband was the illegitimate son of Llywelyn Fawr, the great Prince of Wales.

Llywelyn Fawr ruled Wales with a strong hand, and as his death approached, he made a fateful choice:  that Dafydd, his legitimate son through his wife, Joanna, herself an illegitimate daughter of the King John of England,  would rule after him.  In so choosing, he put Wales on a course for inevitable conflict.

Llywelyn Fawr died in 1240 and Gruffydd immediately began agitating for his own power.  By 1241, Dafydd had imprisoned him in Criccieth Castle, along with his eldest son, Owain.  Senana pleaded first with Dafydd to free her husband and son, and when Dafydd refused to bend, went herself to Shrewsbury where King Henry of England was holding court, to ask him to intercede with Dafydd.  King Henry agreed.  What’s more, she got him to write up a charter dividing Gwynedd into two equal portions, one for Dafydd and one for Gruffydd, and thus indicating his proper patrimony.

Senana then gathered her family together (all except Llywelyn who was free and at sixteen, an adult) and went with them to England.

Unfortunately for her, King Henry immediately threw Gruffydd and Owain into the Tower of London.  On March 1, 1244, Gruffydd made a rope out of sheets and attempted to lower himself down from a high window. The sheets broke and Gruffydd fell to his death.

Senana, then, was left alone in England with Owain and her two younger sons, Dafydd and Rhodri.  At that point, she did not return to Wales, but stayed under the protection of the King of England, who still held Owain captive, although less confined then his father.  In so doing, she left Llywelyn alone in Wales beside Prince Dafydd, such that when he died unexpectedly and without an heir in 1246, Llywelyn alone was there to take the reins.  That is not to say she wasn’t proud of him for doing so.   He had carved some lands for himself out of what could have been his father’s.  The history books do not record her thoughts–it is only later, when Llywelyn refused to share power and lands with his brothers, that Senana fought for their rights against him.

Purportedly, Owain, was allowed to hotfoot it to Wales as soon as the news hit that his uncle was dead.  It served the English crown’s purposes to foster dissension among the Welsh royal brothers, but he’d lost six years–years in which Llywelyn had wooed supporters and proven himself a war leader.

And then, in 1252, when Dafydd was fourteen and now a man by the standards of Wales, Senana returned to Wales to try to help him establish his own lands.  At first Dafydd was under the tutelage of Llywelyn, but then Owain gifted him a small portion of land, which Llywelyn had not, thus uniting the two brothers against him.  This is the last mention of their mother in the historical records.

(Llywelyn ap Gruffydd.  J. Beverly Smith.  Cardiff:  University of Wales Press)