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362 Study Questions: "Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed" from The Mabinogion

Vocabulary: branch, descent into the underworld, etiological narrative, liminal space, Mabinogion, rash boon

Identifications: Pwyll, Arawn, Hafgan, Arawn's wife, Gwawl son of Cludd, Pryderi (aka Gwri Golden-hair), Teyrnon Twryf Liant

Lecture Notes: We read in the opening line that the kingdom of Dyfed consists of seven cantrefs. What is a cantref? (Hint: Modern Welsh often spells this as "cantrev" if you are looking the term up in a dictionary.) The contest between Arawn (or Pwyll in Arawn's place) and Hafgan remind anthropologists of what mythological motif in Celtic culture? What is the connection or similarity between Gorssedd Arbeth and Cader Idris in Welsh legend? What details in the narrative appear to pre-date or post-date Christianity? What mystical race were burial mounds associated with in Welsh legend generally? Give one example of an etiological narrative that appears in this tale. How does Rhiannon's equine punishment connect with the Welsh goddess Epona? Why is May-eve (Beltain) significant in Celtic culture?

Introduction Questions: none

Reading Questions:


  • What activity or entertainment is Prince Pwyll engaged in the opening section of The Mabinogion?
  • What sound does Pwyll hear through the woods as he musters the hunt?
  • What rude act of Pwyll's insults Arawn?
  • Given who Arawn is in Celtic mythology, why is angering him a profoundly bad idea?
  • What task does Arawn give Pwyll to do as a form of penance or as a way to "make it up" to him?
  • What enemy does Arawn have in Annwn? What magical ability does this enemy have if he is struck twice?
  • What magical spell does Arawn use on Pwyll so he can stay in Annwn unnoticed?
  • How does Pwyll treat Arawn's wife during the day? At night? Why?
  • How does the conflict between Arawn and Hafgan come to a conclusion, and what does Pwyll gain for Arawn?
  • When Pwyll returns to his own kingdom and questions his servants about the last year, what do they reveal to him about Arawn's governing in Pwyll's absence? In what ways is this a good thing? In what ways should it be a sobering wake-up call for Pwyll as king?
  • How does Pwyll's nickname change after this adventure?
  • What is the local legend about Gorsedd Arberth regarding those who sit on it?
  • When Pwyll sits on the mound, what does he see or witness?
  • What magical problem does Pwyll and his messengers discover when they attempt to ride up to the elf-maid to question her? Why won't faster horses or spurs make a difference?
  • How does Pwyll eventually catch up with the elf-maid?
  • Who is the elf-maid? Why has she come?
  • At the feast in the court of Hefydd the Old, what "rash boon" does Pwyll make? What is the awkward request his guest makes in response to Pwyll's offer?
  • What magical item does Rhiannon offer as a way out of this rash boon? What trick (using this magical item) does she plan to get Gwawl to give up his claim to her?
  • Once Pwyll has Gwawl trapped and at his mercy, what do his men do to Gwawl?
  • According to the narrator, what popular medieval game developed out of this incident?


  • After two years of Pwyll and Rhiannon's marriage, what complaint do the common people have regarding their marriage?
  • What sound does Pwyll hear through the woods as he musters the hunt?
  • After Rhiannon gives birth, what supernatural event happens to the child?
  • What do the six maidservants do in order to throw suspicion on Rhiannon and "frame" her?
  • Pwyll refuses to divorce his wife, but he agrees that she should face punishment for this "crime." What punishment do the wise men of the land decree?
  • What problem has Teyrnon Twryf Liant been having when his mare foals each May-eve? When Teyrnon hides in the stables, what does he find is responsible for the missing foals, and how does he solve the problem?
  • What does the clawed arm drop when Teyrnon slices it off?
  • Teyrnon notices that Gwri Golden-Hair resembles what great Welsh chieftain?
  • How is Rhiannon freed from her punishment of carrying men on her back?


A: And he could see a clearing in the wood, and as his pack reached the edge of the clearing, he could see a stag in front of the other pack. . . And of all the hounds he had seen in the world, he had seen no dogs the same colour as these. The colour that was on them was a brilliant shining white, and their ears red; and as the exceeding whiteness of the dogs glittered, so glittered the exceeding redness of their ears. And . . . [he] drove away the pack that had killed the stag, and baited his own pack upon the stag.

B: "I will make with thee a strong bond of friendship. This is how I will do it: I will set thee in Annwn in my stead, and my form and semblance upon thee . . . till the end of a year from tonight, there is a tryst between him and me, at th eford. And be thou there in my likeness, and one blow only thou art to giv ehim; that he will not survive. And though he ask thee to give him another, give it not, however he entreat thee."

C: And he began to inquire of the gentles of the land how his rule had been over them during the past year, compared with what it had been before that. "Lord," said they, "never was they discernment so marked; never wast thou so lovable a man thyself; never wast thou so free in spending they goods; never was thy rule better than during this year."

D: "Lord," said one of the court, "it is the peculiarity of the mound that whatever high-born man sits upon it will not go thence without onc of two things: wounds or blows, or else his seeing a wonder." "I do not fear to receive wounds or blows amidst a host such as this, but as to the wonder, I should be glad to see that."

E: "Let one of you go and meet her," said he, ""to find out who she is." One arose, but when he came on to the road to meet her, she had gone past. He followed her as fast as he could on foot, but the greater was his speed, all the further was she from him.

F: "Maiden," said he, "for his sake whom thou lovest best, stay with me." "I will gladly," said she, "and it had been better for the horse hadst thou asked this long since."

G: And as each one of his host came inside, every man struck a blow upon the bag, and asked, "What is here?" "A badger," they replied. After this fashion they played: each one of them struck a blow upon the bag, either with his foot or with a staff, and thus they played with the bag. And then was Badger in the Bag first played.

H. "Alas," said one of the women, "The boy is lost!" "Aye," said another, "it would be but small vengeance to burn us or put us to death because of the boy." "I know good counsel," said she. "What is that?" they asked. "There is here . . . a stag-hound bitch, with pups. Let us kill some of the pups and smear the blood on Rhiannan's face and hands, and let us throw the bones before her, and swear of her that she herself destroyed her son."

I: "The penance imposed on her was to remain at that court at Arberth till the end of seven years, and to sit every day near a horse-block that was outside the gate, and to relate the whole story to every one who should come there whom she might suppose not to know it, and to those who would permither to carry them, to offer guest and stranger to carry him on her back to the court."



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