Pwyll pendeuc Dyfed/Pwyll pen Annwfn
POO-ihl
Welsh: pwyll: "sense, judgement"

Father of Pryderi and husband of Rhiannon

The Mabinogi
Pwyll, lord of Dyfed in Pedeir Ceinc y Mabinogi. He gained the name "pen Annwfn" (Head of the Otherworld) by switching places with Arawn, the lord of Annwfn, for a year and a day, and then fighting Hafgan, Arawn's enemy.

As the "Head of Annwfn," Pwyll was possessor of magic swine and, possibly indicated in the "Preiddu Annwn" of Taliesin, of a magic cauldron.

Though his name means "sensible," he is quick to action and speech, but not long on thinking about the consequences. He nearly loses both his life and his wife Rhiannon due to his inability to keep his mouth shut.

There is some question as to whether he would really have originally been Pryderi's father; it is just as likely that Terynon Twrf Lliant, whose name means "Divine Lord of the Raging Sea" (possibly a by-name for Manawydan, who would later be Pryderi's stepfather), would have been the father, with Rhiannon "Divine Queen" being the mother. Pwyll would be the typical mortal father stand-in for the demigod he's to raise; it would parallel the conception story of Mongan.

Culhwch ac Olwen
Pwyll is mentioned among Arthur's retinue (as is apparently everyone else in Welsh--and even Irish--mythology) as "Pwyll Half-man", probably a reference to his hybrid nature as lord of Annwfn and lord of Dyfed.

Llyfr Taliesin
Pwyll is mentioned in "Preiddu Annwn": "ebostol pwyll a phryderi"--the epistle of Pwyll and Pryderi. As this is a poem about the raid on the Other/Underworld, the reference to Pwyll is not surprising, but what the phrase means is obscure to me.

Origin in Conn?
In Ireland and the Grail, John Carey argues that Pwyll has his origin in the mythical Irish king Conn Cťadcathach. While other figures in the Mabinogi have names which signify divinity or have cognates in Irish literature or Gaulish deities, "Sense" and his son "Care" have names which are more like the invented names found in "Culhwch ac Olwen" than anythink like the rest of the Mabinogi. However, pwyll has an Irish cognate ciall, "sense", which in turn is often paired with the word cenn or conn, both of which mean "head". Ergo, ciall cenn (or ciall conn) becomes, in Welsh, pwyll pen--Pwyll Pen Annwfn.

But beyond this, Carey notes the similarities of the first branch of the Mabinogi with the stories surrounding Conn and his progeny. In Baile in Scail, Conn blunders into the Otherworld, is initially attacked, then finds himself and his companions at the house of Lugh, who offers friendship and his descendents the kingship of Ireland. Conn is also offered a mead cup by Sovereignty. In Echtrae Connlai, Conn's son Connlae climbs on the Hill of Uisnech, and is lured to the Otherworld by a fairy woman and disappears. Carey compares these stories with the first and third branches of the Mabinogi, and finds a close comparison between them: Pwyll, like Conn, blunders into the Otherworld, is initially attacked, then becomes a friend of Arawn, like Conn with Lugh. Pryderi, like Connlae, disappears, causing chaos for his father. Also, the story of Connlae seeing the fairy woman from the Hill of Uisnech parallels Pwyll seeing Rhiannon from the hill Gorsedd Arberth.

Origin of Pelles?
It has been argued for quite some time that King Pelles--sometimes the Maimed King, sometimes the Fisher King, sometimes a separate figure altogether--derrives from Pwyll. John Carey, in Ireland and the Grail, shows that Pwyll's name gained an "s" in some later genealogies, so that Pwyll -> Plwis -> Pelles is a reasonable progression. Also, in the earliest text mentioning Pelles--the non-cyclic Prose Lancelot, which builds on Chretien and de Boron's texts--names him as the father of Perceval, whom Carey identifies with Pryderi. Among details, Pelles is attributed a burning castle in the text Perlesvaus--the burning but unconsumed castle being connected with Pwyll's status as lord of the Other/Underworld, here intepreted as Hell (an association also found in Cath Maige Mucrama).


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Mary Jones © 2004