The Celtic Literature Collective

Of the Appearance of Phantoms Walter Map - The Courtier's Trifles
Bodl. MS. 851


WELSHMEN tell us of another thing, not a miracle but a marvel. They say that Gwestin of Gwestiniog waited and watched near Brecknock Mere (Llangorse Lake), which is some two miles around, and saw, on three brilliant moonlight nights, bands of dancing women in his fields of oats, and that he followed these until they sank in the water of the pond; and that, on the fourth night, he detained one of the maidens. The ravisher’s version of the incident was that on each of the nights after they had sunk, he had heard them murmuring under the water and saying, ‘Had he done thus and so, he would have caught one of us’; and he said that he had thus been taught by their lips how to capture this maiden, who yielded and married him. Her first words to her husband were: ‘I shall willingly serve thee with full obedi¬ence and devotion until that day when in your eagerness to hasten to the shouting (clamores) beyond Llyfni you will strike me with your bridle-rein.’ Now Llyfni is a river near the pond. And this thing came to pass. After the birth of many children, she was struck by him with his bridle-rein and, on his return from his ride, he found her fleeing with all her offspring. Pursuing, he snatched away with great difficulty one of his sons, Triunein Nagelauc (Trinio Faglog) by name. Since this son was of lofty spirit, he passed beyond the boundaries of his own narrow possessions. He then chose the King of Deheubarth, that is, of North Wales, as his overlord. After a long stay at that court, he did not brook the boasting of his master, who, beholding from his seat at the dinner-table the size and power of his retinue and its admirable equipment of weapons, said arrogantly, ‘There is no province or kingdom under heaven from which I cannot easily carry off booty and return without a battle, for who can withstand me and my mighty following? Who, indeed, could easily escape from our sight?’ Triunein, hearing these words and weighing the worth and worthlessness of his compatriots, said:

‘My lord king, without prejudice to your Royal Majesty, our king Breauc is so pre-eminent in his own valour and in that of his men that neither you nor any other king can carry away from him by force booty on that day on which, in the early morning, the tops of the mountain are free from clouds and the rivers of the valley are misty.’ The king, at these bold words, angrily ordered him to be bound and cast into prison. Upon this, a grandson of the king, Madoc by name, who loved Triunein, said:

‘My lord, you may not indeed, without injury to your fair fame, bind or maltreat this man, even as a jest, before he is proved a liar. When he said that mists are hovering above the river and that the mountain tops are free from clouds, these are signs of clear weather; he wished to signify that, on a clear day, no one is able to carry away booty from that land. Let us test whether this boasting is true and, when a clear day comes, let us make this Triunein our leader, since he knoweth the best places for entering and leaving that country.’ The king assented, and his marauders entered the kingdom of Brechein of Brecknock and collected much booty. King Brechein was sitting in his bath and no one told him of the raid. He was feared by reason of this vice, that upon the first intelligence of evil, just as if possessed of a devil, he was wont to strike suddenly every messenger of evil report with what¬ever he had in his hand, stone, stick, or sword, and, after the first cast or beating or blow, he was wont to repent and to recall the messenger, whether hurt or unhurt, in order to hear him through. He heard loud shouts but, since a lance lay near his hand, no one dared to tell him aught although his army was mustered against the enemy. But at length a boy of the noblest family among them, leaping into the i midst of the soldiers, said, ‘I know that fear pre¬venteth every one of you from reporting this rumour to our king, but, if you will all give me your blessing, I will announce the danger to him.’ Then, having bent his head and having been blessed by all of them with both their hands and their tongues, he took his place near the king in his bath and said, ‘The men of Reynuc, that is of Brecknock, will not join battle now through dread of your anger.’ The king sprang from his bath and, in the first onset of his fury, he threw at the boy a stone that he found near, but he did not pursue him. Later he char¬acteristically recalled him and, as soon as he had heard the rumours, he snatched up his clothes and weapons and jumped upon a hobbled horse. This carried him easily, just as if it were not hobbled, from Mount Cumeraic, where he then was, as far as his own country. Here he was advised by a woman to free his horse from the hobbles, so he straightway stopped and did not go farther until he had taken them off. Then, cursing the woman, he did not check his pace until he met his own men. At the sight of him, his soldiers, full of courage and zest, rushed upon the enemy and destroyed them with savage slaughter. After the massacre of almost the entire army, the king next day ordered all the right hands of the dead foes to be brought together in one place, and into another place their privy parts, and into a third, near the way of their flight, all the right feet, and he made separate mounds over these members in memory of his victory after all their boastings. These remain until this day, and are named according to the limbs that they contain. But men say that Triunein was saved by his mother and liveth with her in that lake above mentioned. I think it all a lie, because a falsehood of this kind is so likely, to account for his body not having been found.

Likewise concerning the same Apparitions.

NOT unlike this story is that of Edric Wilde [Welsh: gwyllt. --MJ], that is, the man of the woods, so called from the agility of his body and the charm of his words and works, a man of great worth and lord of the manor of North Ledbury. When he was returning late from the hunt, he wandered in doubt about the ways until midnight, accompanied only by one boy. He chanced upon a great house on the edge of a grove, such a house as the English have in each parish for drinking, and call in their language ‘guild-house’ (ghildhus). When he drew near, attracted by a light in the house, and looked in, he saw a great band of many noble women. They were most beautiful in appearance and clad most elegantly in robes of the finest linen, and they were taller and more stately than our women. The soldier noted one among them far excelling the others in face and form, more to be desired than all the darlings of kings. They moved about with an airy motion, pleasing gesture, and restrained voice, and the sound, though melodious, was heard but faintly, and their speech was beyond his ken. At the sight of her, the soldier received a wound in his heart, and he could scarcely endure the fires kindled by Cupid’s dart. He is wholly consumed by all the flames of love and winneth a mighty courage through the burning passion for this fairest of plagues, for this golden menace. He had heard of the wanderings of spirits, and the troops of demons who appear by night, and the sight of them which bringeth death, Dictinna, and bands of dryads and spectral squadrons, and he had learned of the vengeance inflicted by offended divinities upon those who came upon them suddenly. He had heard, too, how they preserve themselves undefiled and how they secretly inhabit unknown places apart from men and how they detest those who strive to explore their counsels that they may expose them and to pry into them that they may publish them, and with how great care they conceal themselves lest, once being visible, they should lose their value. He had heard of their revenge and of instances of men whom they had punished, but, because Cupid is rightly painted blind, Edric, reeking naught of all this, doth not weigh the danger of the ghostly company, his eyes are closed to any avenger and, because he hath no sight, he rashly off endeth. He went around the house, and, finding an entrance, he rushed in and seized her by whom his heart had been seized; straightway he was seized by the others, and, being clutched close in the fiercest of contests, he escaped after a while only through the greatest of efforts of himself and his boy, not altogether without injury, but bearing on his feet and shins such marks as the teeth and nails of women could inflict. He carried away with him, however, the lady of his choice, and used her for his pleasure during three days and nights, but in all that time he was unable to get a word from her, though she passively submitted to his love. Finally, on the fourth day, she spake these words:

Save thee, dearest! and safe thou shalt be and withal full of rejoicing in the happy lot of thee and thine, until thou shalt cast in my teeth either the sisters, from whom thou hast snatched me away, or that ground or grove whence thou carried me or anything else there anent these. From that day thou wilt fall from happiness, and, having lost me, thou wilt suffer from many other losses, and, because thou hast failed to regard times and seasons, thou wilt die before thy time.’ He promised with all possible assurance to be firm and faithful in his love. He called together the noblest far and near, and, in the presence of a great throng of folk, solemnly married the lady. William the Bastard, recently crowned King of England, was then reigning; and the monarch, hearing of this marvel, and wishing to test openly its truth, summoned both the man and wife to fare together to London. They brought with them many witnesses, and also the evidence of many who could not be present; and indeed the woman herself, who was of a beauty hitherto unseen and unheard of, was the chief proof of her fairy nature. Amid the wonder of all, Ethic and his wife were sent back to their home. After many years had passed, it happened that Edric, on his return from hunting about the third hour of the night, not finding her whom he sought, called and bade others call her. And when she came tardily, he looked angrily at her and said, ‘Were you detained by your sisters?’ and he spoke the rest of his reproof to the air, for she disappeared at the hearing of the word ‘sisters.’ Then the man regretted greatly his monstrous and calamitous error, and betook himself to the very spot where he had made her captive, but with no weepings nor wailings could he win her back. Day and night he cried aloud to his own undoing, for his life passed away there in never-ending sorrow.

Yet he left an heir, his son and hers, for whom he had died, Alnodus (AElfnoth), a man of great sanctity and sense who, at an advanced age, fell into a paralysis and trembling of head and limbs. When this was pronounced by all physicians incurable, he Learned from wise men that he should employ all possible means to hasten to the apostles Peter and Paul and that he would certainly recover his health, where their bodies are buried, at Rome. To this he answered that he should never go, to the detriment of St. Ethelbert, king and martyr, whose parishioner he was, before presenting himself to that saint. And he had himself carried to Hereford. Here on the very first night, at the altar of the aforesaid martyr, he was restored to health; and, as a special deed of grace, he gave for perpetual alms to God and to the blessed Virgin and to the holy king his estate at] Ledbury, in the land of Wales, together with all its appurtenances, an estate which is even now under the rule of the Bishop of Hereford, and which is reported to bring in thirty pounds a year to its lords.

We have heard of demons, incubi and succubi, and of the peril of cohabiting with them, but we have seldom or never read in old histories that their off¬spring are happy in their end, like Alnodus, who gave his whole inheritance to Christ in return for health, and passed in pilgrimages the rest of life in His service.

Of the same Apparitions.

PHANTOM is derived from ‘phantasy,’ that is, a passing apparition, for those forms which demons sometimes assume before men by their own power, having first received God’s permission, pass either harmfully or harmlessly according to the will of the Lord, for He who permitteth the appearance of phantoms either preserveth men or deserteth them, and alloweth them to be tempted. But what can we say of those ghostly appearances which abide and are perpetuated through worthy descendants like the instance of Alnodus (AElfnoth), or like that already cited example among the Britons, which is the theme of the following story: A certain knight buried his wife, who was dead beyond a doubt, and got her again by snatching her from a band of dancers; and he was afterwards presented by her with children and grandchildren. Their posterity surviveth until this day, and those who thus derive their origin have become a vast number, all of whom are called ‘Sons of the dead woman.’ We must attend with all patience to the works of God and to the rein that He giveth to evil, and we must praise Him in all things because in such measure as He Himself passeth our understanding, so His works transcend our searchings and are beyond our dis¬putes; and whatever we can conceive in regard to His purity or know, if we can know aught—that clearly He must possess, since He is the very essence of true purity and pure truth.

Of the same Apparitions.

A CERTAIN knight found that his first-born of a wife who was very dear to him, and a worthy and well-born woman, had its throat cut in its cradle on the first morning after its birth, and so with a second child a year later, and with a third in a third year, despite all the watchings of himself and his friends which proved lamentably futile. He and his wife therefore anticipated the fourth childbirth with many fasts and alms and prayers and tears; and when a boy was born to them, they environed the whole neighbourhood with fires and lights, and all kept their eyes upon the child. Just then arrived a stranger, weary as from a long journey, who, seeking hospitality in God’s name, was most devoutly welcomed. He sat watching with them, and lo, after midnight, when all the others were plunged in sleep, he, who alone was very wakeful, suddenly saw a reverend matron bending over the cradle and seizing the child to cut its throat. He then sprang up all alert, and held her fast in his grasp, until, when all were aroused and gathered around, she was recognized by many of them, and indeed soon by all, everybody protesting that she was the noblest of all the matrons of that city in birth, manners, wealth, and all honour. But to her name and to various questions she deigned no reply. And because the father himself and many others attributed this silence to her shame at detection, they pleaded for her release; but the stranger, without yielding, declared that she was a demon and held her tight, and with one of the keys to the nearest church he branded her face as a sign of her evil. Then her captor instructed them to bring thither with all speed the lady for whom she had been mistaken. And while he was still holding his captive, the lady was led forward and resembled her double in every way, even to the mark of branding. Then the stranger said to the others, who stood foolishly agape with wonder, ‘I opine that she who hath now come is very virtuous and very dear to God, and that she hath provoked by her good deeds the envy of demons against her, whence it cometh to pass that this base messenger of theirs, this baleful instrument of their wrath, hath been moulded, as far as possible, in the likeness of this good woman, that she may shed upon this noble soul the disgrace of her wicked deeds. But that you may have faith, see what she will do after her release.’ Then the creature flew away through the window with great weeping and wailing.

Of the same Apparitions.

WHAT more can be said of these beings and their behaviour? Paul and Antony, who were properly called ‘hermits,’ because as roving dwellers in a vast desert they sought God in solitude without knowledge of each other, were admonished in spirit, Antony to be an arriving guest, Paul a receiving host, the one awaited, the other awaiting. But the guest coming, and in doubt about the way, was met by a galloping centaur who crossed his path—a creature double in shape, man from the waist up, horse below. This being replied to his questions with neighs instead of words and pointed out the way with his hand. After this creature, yet another appeared of its own free will with the feet of a kid, a hairy belly, and on its breast a dappled fawn skin, moreover, with a glowing face, a bearded chin, and horns upright. The ancients picture Pan as of this sort, for pan is interpreted all, whence he is said to have in himself the form of all the world. With careful words he showed the way, and when asked who he was, replied that he was one of those angels who were cast out with Lucifer and who have been scattered through the world, each one’s punishment proportioned to the pitch of his pride.

Also of the same Apparitions.

IS not this too a phantom? At Louvain, on the border of Lorraine and Flanders, in the place named Lata Quercus (‘Big Oak’), many thousands of knights had come together, as even now is their wont, to contend in arms in knightly wise—in the game which they call tournament, but which may more fitly be called torment. Before the meeting in the lists, there was seen sitting on a mighty charger a knight, beautiful of person, of more than average height, and fitly accoutred in goodly armour. Leaning upon his lance, he sighed so heavily that many bystanders remarked it and asked him the reason. But he answered them with a deep breath, ‘Good God! How great a task it is for me to overcome all who have come hither.’ As this answer passed from mouth to mouth, the stranger was pointed out by every one in turn with whispers of envy and indignation. But he, taking the offensive, rushed with his lance upon his opponents, and, the whole day long, he fought so valiantly, and was so shining a mark in many triumphant encounters, gloriously prevailing against all corners, that no envy could hurtfully stifle his praise, and the malice of hatred was turned through admiration of him to love. But praise is chanted rightly only when the end is achieved, and the day is praised only when evening hath come. He seemed a ‘child of fortune,’ but, at the very end, when all were departing, he was pierced to the heart and suddenly slain by an unworthy knight of little reputation. Both divisions of fighters were recalled, and when each and all had viewed him without his armour, no one knew him; and until this day no one hath ever learned his name.

Map, Walter. Master Walter Map's book, De nugis curialium (Courtier's trifles). trans. Frederick Tupper and Marbury Bladen Ogle. London: Chatto & Windus, 1924.

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