Story Archaeology

Uncovering the layers of Irish Mythology through a regular podcast and related articles.

The Mabinogion and the story of Rhiannon

Cover of The Mabinogion by Charlotte GuestOur podcast Macha – revisited refered to similarities between the tale of Rhiannon and Macha.  . You can read the full story of  Pwyll, son of Dyved and the story of Rhiannon  in a translation by Will Parker,  on his ecxcellent site

A brief  background  to these medieval Welsh texts

The stories, now known as the  Mabinogion were a collection of oral tales that were gathered together in textual form during  the 12th to 13th centuries.

The first full binlingual version was translated and compliled  by Charlotte Guest in 1849.  This  version  brought them to the notice of an english speaking readership although an English only edition was not published until 1879.

The main collection of stories are divided into four ‘branches’.

  • 1. Pwyll Prince of Dyfed. This includes the tale of Pwyll, his journey to Annwfn and his meeting and marriage with Rhiannon.It also  tells of the birth of Pryderi , his loss and recovery.
  • 2. Branwen, daughter of Llŷr. This second branch largely concerns Branwen’s  marriage to the King of Ireland.  there is a Bricriu like character, Efnisien, who manages a lot of unpleasant mischief.  Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this branch is the character of Bran, himself.  The journey of his oracular head, carried for many years before its eventual burial on the ‘White Hill’ of London is curious.
  •  3. Manawydan, son of Llŷr In this tale Manawydan, one of theseven survivorswho carried home the head of Bran, has lost Dyffed.Hehas joined up with Rhiannon, her son Prideri and his wife Cigfa. They travel together earning their living as saddle makers. This is a great tale involving ashape changing mouse andacurse dating nack to Rhiannon’s marriage to Pwyll.
  • 4Math, son of Mathonwy. This tale introduces Gwydion and Arianrhod and involves the birth, naming and arming of   Lleu Llaw Gyffes.

Other tales and romances in the Lady Charlotte Guests collection include,

  • The Dream of Macsen Weldig
  • Lludd and Llefelys
  • Culhwch and Olwen
  • The Dream of Rhonabwy
  • Hanes Taliesin (The Tale of Taliesin)
  • Owain, and the lady of the Fountain
  • Peredur, son of Efrawg
  •  Geraint and Enid

The richly interwoven tapestry of the Mabinogion tales are essential reading for their own sake. There are also undoubted   ressonances between the Welsh and the Irish stories. We frequently find ourselves referencing them,with great enthusiasm,  in the podcast episodes.

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