Medieval Arthurian Legend

Old Welsh tales and Old Welsh poetry

7th–14th century Old Welsh poetry and prose in 13th–15th century MSS, National Library of Wales, Cardiff, Bodleian Library, Oxford.

King Arthur told his men that Twrch Trwyth had once been a king, but had been turned into a wild boar for his sins.

'The earliest written records of King Arthur are in Old Welsh poetry,' said Quintin. 'One or two of these poems date to as far back as the eighth century AD, although they only survive in manuscripts dating to the fourteenth. He was never a king at all. These poems are definitely set in a mythological landscape, not a historical one, and they make brief allusions to tales that must have been well-known to everybody already, perhaps as a long-standing tradition. They have Arthur invading an Otherworld to steal a magic cauldron and protecting Britain against the ravages of supernatural beasts and monsters, like a giant wild boar called Twrch Trwyth. Arthur's hunting of this boar may already have been an ancient folk story when it was briefly referred to in a ninth century poem. Ancient Irish myths speak of similar things. There are features of the landscape attributed to Arthur in Wales and northern Britain, just like there are to Fionn mac Cumhail in Ireland. And Fionn was once a god.'

'Places like Arthur's Seat, that great volcanic hill that looks down over Edinburgh?' asked Miranda.

'Yes, I'm sure. The story of the hunting of Twrch Trwyth occurs in a Medieval tale from the Welsh Mabinogion as well as in that ninth century poem,' explained Quintin. 'An adventure called How Culhwch won Olwen. Culhwch receives King Arthur's support in accomplishing a long list of seemingly impossible tasks so that he can win the hand in marriage of Olwen, a giant's beautiful daughter. One of these tasks is to capture the supernatural boar Twrch Trwyth. He needs to get two horned oxen... And these are Nynniaw and Peibaw, whom God turned into oxen on account of their sins. And when Arthur has captured these oxen he has to go find a woman called Rhymhi at Tringad's house ...and he inquired of [Tringad] whether he had heard of her there. "In what form may she be?" "She is in the form of a she-wolf," said he. And later in the story, King Arthur sends a man to check that Twrch Trwyth has what they need before they risk fighting the beast and this man turns himself into a bird; and on being asked about Twrch Trwyth, King Arthur explains that he was once a king, and that God had transformed him into a swine for his sins.

'One of the earliest references to Arthur, in an Old Welsh text,' enthused Quintin, 'concerns the battle of Camlann, reputedly King Arthur's last battle, and this battle occurs in a ninth-century (or a little earlier) catalogue of topographic folklore..., that is, it is a mythological battle. And in this same Old Welsh text, we get the very clearly non-historical concept of Arthur as someone who has never been, and can never be, killed. '

Arguments concerning the originally mythological nature of Arthur in: Green, Thomas, 2007. Concepts of Arthur. Tempus Publishing, Stroud, Gloucestershire.

Mabinogion tale of Culhwch and Olwen and the hunting of the boar Twrch Trwyth in: Gantz, Jeffrey, 1976. The Mabinogion. Translated from Middle Welsh with an introduction. Penguin Books Limited. How Culhwch Won Olwen, p 134–76.

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references

Book of Taliesin – Wikipedia

Red Book of Hergest – Wikipedia

The Mabinogion – English translation by Lady Charlotte Guest

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