Breuddwyd Rhonabwy

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[W, Dream of Rhonabwy].

Welsh title for the 12th- or 13th-century Welsh Arthurian narrative usually known in English as The Dream of Rhonabwy or Rhonabwy's Dream. Although its date is uncertain, Rhonabwy is the last wholly native narrative in Middle Welsh tradition, and the most consciously literary of all those included with the Mabinogi/Mabinogion. Internal evidence suggests it was never a part of the repertoire of traditional storytellers. The single surviving text is in the Red Book of Hergest (1375–1425), but the purported setting is the reign of Madog ap Meredudd, prince of Powys (d. 1159).

Prince Madog sends Rhonabwy and other warriors to seek the prince's rebellious brother, Iowerth, who has gone raiding in Lloegyr [England]. While the prince's historicity is supported by many documents, the brother's is not. Rhonabwy, with two companions, spends a night at the squalid lodgings of Heilyn Goch [the red], whose floors are covered with cow dung and urine. There, sleeping on a yellow ox-hide, he is granted a vision of Arthurian Britain; in it the Arthurian figures are portrayed as giants while Rhonabwy and his contemporaries are contrasted as puny. Rhonabwy dreams that he is approaching a ford of the Severn when he is overtaken by two horsemen, each richly arrayed. The first gives his name as Iddawg, called the ‘Embroiler’, because he has helped provoke the Battle of Camlan by distorting peaceful messages Arthur had sent Medrawd [Mordred]. Accompanied by Iddawg, Rhonabwy finds Arthur and Bedwin the Bishop seated on an island in the river. Arthur asks Iddawg where he has found these ‘little fellows’ and speaks of his regret that these are the kind of men who now prevail in Britain. Rhonabwy then notices the stone in Arthur's ring which, he learns, will allow him to remember what he has seen.

The different heroes and companions that compose Arthur's army are minutely described. Although Arthur is to ride to do battle with his enemies from Llychlyn [Norway] and Denmark, he is more concerned with the chess-like game of gwyddbwyll he is playing with Owain son of Urien. During the progress of the game reports arrive of Arthur's knights harrying and disturbing the ravens of Owain, but Arthur responds only, ‘Play the game’. Owain tells his men to raise his banner, whereupon the ravens begin to slaughter Arthur's men; this time it is Owain's turn to insist that the board-game continue. At last Arthur begs Owain to call off his ravens. Owain does so, and there was peace. Many men bring tribute to King Arthur. At this point Rhonabwy awakes, realizing that he has slept for three nights. Cited also in the story is Cador, Arthur's nephew, the Duke of Cornwall, who later appears in the chronicles of Geoffrey of Monmouth (12th cent.), Wace (11th cent.), and Layamon (11th cent).

G. Melville Richards edited the Welsh text (Cardiff, 1948, 1972). English translations are included with many editions of the Mabinogi/Mabinogion.

See the study of the narrative by J. A. Carson, Philological Quarterly, 53 (1974), 289–303.Mary Giffin treated the problem of dating the narrative, Transactions … Society Cymmrodorion (1958), 33–40.


Subjects: Religion.

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