Friday, September 29, 2017

UDD DRAGONAWL: The Head of Urien, 'Dragon-like Lord'

Celtic Stone Head, St. Michael's Church, Burgh By Sands

In some MSS. of the CANU LLYWARCH HEN (see note on page 122 of Sir Ifor Williams' edition), the following strophe is found in the 'Pen Urien' section of 'Marwnad Urien Reged':

Pen a borthav o du pawl,
Pen Urien, udd dragonawl;
A chyd dêl dydd brawd, ni'm tawr.

Translated by Dr. Simon Rodway, this reads:

‘I bear a head beside a stake/ the head of Urien, a dragon-like lord/ and although Doomsday come, it is not important to me [beside the death of Urien]’.

Professor Jenny Rowlands wrote to me with details on this strophe:

"Information on this can be found in Early Welsh Saga Poetry, 557.  Since it's not readily available I'll summarize. The verse comes from NLW 4973, an early modern ms. of John Davies, Mallwyd. It includes two copies of the englynion. One is a copy of the Red Book of Hergest, the other an independent copy of part of the englynion which was not noticed before I checked it. This is closer to the White Book copies, but has independent readings. Corrections and marginalia were added to the RB copy from this earlier copy, and that is probably the source for the Myvyrian verse. Since Ifor Williams did not have a reliable source it was put in the notes. O du means 'from around, beside', so probably not on a stake."

Dragonol can be translated as Dr. Rodway renders it, although more metaphorical meanings are offered by the GPC:

a. a hefyd fel eg.
Ffyrnig, dewr, gwrol; rhyfelwr, ymladdwr dewr:
ferocious, brave, valiant; warrior, brave fighter. 

And udd in the GPC:

[< *iudd (cf. e. prs. H. Gym. Iudhail (> Ithel), Gripiud (> Gruffudd), e. prs. H. Grn. Iudprost, Bleidiud, e. prs. H. Lyd. Iudcant) ?< *i̯oudh-, ?cf. Llad. iubeō ‘gorchmynnaf’]
eg. ll. (prin) uddydd, a hefyd gyda grym ansoddeiriol.
Arglwydd, pennaeth, brenin, hefyd am Dduw ac yn ffig.:
lord, chief, king, also of God and fig. 

What we have in 'udd dragonawl', then, is an honorific very much like Pendragon.  The strophe in question is also interesting in that the head of a dragon-like lord on a pole is eerily reminiscent of the dragon-head carried by Uther in Geoffrey of Monmouth's HISTORIA REGUM BRITANNIAE.

I've not been able to find Welsh uthr or aruthr being applied to Urien.  However, there is the epithet 'oruchel wledig' for Urien (see  The GPC has aruchel as meaning "(very) high, tall, lofty, elevated; exalted, supreme, splendid, majestic; lofty (of language, style, feeling, &c.), sublime, noble."  According to John Koch, "uthr means ‘awful’ or ‘awesome’, originally something ‘high, lofty’; cf. Old Irish úachtar ‘height’ < Celtic *ouctro-, Modern Irish meanings include ‘cream’ (note also uachtarán ‘president’)."  With uchel being Welsh for 'high, tall', etc., it may be that Uthr as a name should be seen as a rough equivalent of aruchel.

In fact, the root for uchel and uthr are the same:

higher *ouxtero-, SEMANTIC CLASS: measure, Early Irish óchtar, úachtar ‘higher part’, Welsh uthr ‘fearful, dreadful, awful, terrible, tremendous, mighty, overbearing, cruel; wonderful, wondrous, astonishing, excellent’, Cornish euth (??) (Pok.: not cogn.) ‘dread, horror, terror’, Breton euz (Middle Breton), euzh ‘abomination, atrocity, horror’

high *ouxselo-, SEMANTIC CLASS: measure, British Uxel(l)a ‘high place’, Gaulish Uxello- ‘high’, Early Irish úasal ‘high, noble’, Scottish Gaelic uasal ‘noble, proud’, Welsh uchel ‘high, tall; high(-ranking), exalted, important, solemn, sublime, splendid, excellent, noble, stately, respectable, commendable’, Cornish huhel- (Old Cornish), ughel ‘high’, Breton uchel, uhel (Old Breton), uhel ‘high’

over *ouxs(V) (?), SEMANTIC CLASS: measure, Early Irish ós, úas ‘over’, Scottish Gaelic os ‘above’, Welsh uwch ‘above, on top of, over, on, beyond, also fig., ?after, in front of; above, more than; higher, farther up, taller, higher(-ranking), better, greater’, Cornish a-ugh ‘over’, Breton a-uc’h ‘above’

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