June 02, 2023

#08-315: When Rhiannon Met Pwyll

Rhiannon as Pwyll first saw her (Wikipedia)

Note: The Welsh myths found in The Mabinogion contain many wonderful stories. This is one of my favorites.

Get Ready: If a friend asks you for a favor, would you say "yes" without knowing what the favor was? What would you do for a stranger?

This is the story of how Pwyll, prince of Dyfed in Wales, met and married the otherworldly woman Rhiannon.

One day Pwyll is feasting at his at chief palace at Narberth when during a break he climbs up a hill behind the palace. His men tell him that anyone who sits down there must either receive wounds or see a wonder. Although he is not afraid to be wounded, he finds the wonder more interesting. So he sits down and waits.

Soon an elegantly-dressed woman rides past on a large, pure white horse. He sends one of his men down to hail her, but despite her stately pace he can't catch up to her on foot or on horseback. The same thing happens the next day, and on the third day Pwyll himself rides after her. At last he calls out, "O maiden, will you not stay for the one who loves you best?" And she replies, "I will stay gladly, and your horse wouldn't be so tired if you had asked long ago!"

It turns out this woman, Rhiannon, is engaged to a man she does not love; Pwyll is the one she wants to wed. So he must come to her father's court in one year and they will be married.

But on the day of the marriage there's a glitch: a man strolls into the wedding feast and asks for a boon. Pwyll says, "Anything you want!" and Rhiannon says, "Ah, why did you give that answer?" Because this is Gwawl, the man to whom she was engaged, and naturally he asks for... HER! Pwyll is honor-bound to hand her over, which he will do another year later.

But before he rides away, Rhiannon gives Pwyll a small bag and some instructions...

One year later, a beggar shows up at the wedding feast of Rhiannon and Gwawl. He asks a boon, and Gwawl--apparently smarter than Pwyll--asks the stranger what he wants before saying yes. "Just fill this small bag with food, if you please," the beggar--whom we now know is Pwyll--says.

But the bag will not be filled. It is bottomless. Gwawl asks what he can do, and Pwyll suggests that he, a noble person, step inside and stomp down the food. Gwawl does so, and Pwyll quickly ties a knot in the bag, as Rhiannon had instructed him the year before. Pwyll's men come in and one-by-one kick the bag with Gwawl in it, until he begs them to stop.

Pwyll tells Gwawl that, if he turns over the items of the feast (to be given as gifts to the courtiers and minstrels), and promises that he will never seek revenge for what was done to him, he will release him. Gwawl agrees, and leaves to heal his wounds.

And Pwyll and Rhiannon are married without further incident--that is, until three years later. But that's another story.


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. boon
  2. bottomless
  3. feast
  4. glitch
  5. hail
  6. honor-bound
  7. otherworldly
  8. stately
  9. stomp
  10. strolls

  1. required in order to keep the respect of others
  2. a large meal or party
  3. step heavily
  4. call out to
  5. a favor; a blessing
  6. a problem
  7. dignified
  8. walks casually
  9. unable to be filled
  10. supernatural

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for June 2, 2023

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. e; 2. i; 3. b; 4. f; 5. d; 6. a; 7. j; 8. g; 9. c; 10. h