Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Degsastan and the Origin of the mil uathmar/fer uathmar, the Prototype for Uther Pendragon

Map of the Dawston Burn, Scottish Borders

Long ago I proposed that the mil uathmar or "terrible warrior", also called fer uathmar or "terrible man" in the Irish story of the Conception of Mongan, a probable source for Geoffrey of Monmouth's own tale on Arthur's birth, may ultimately lie behind the name/title Uther Pendragon.

At the time, I did not bother to ask myself the next logical question: who was the mil uathmar?

We are told he is brought with the English as a champion of sorts to fight against Aedan of Dalriada (who had a son named Arthur).  The location of this battle is the famous Degsastan, a place still best identified with Dawston in Liddesdale.  The following entry from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and an attending note are from English Historical Documents, 500-1042, edited by Dorothy Whitelock:

The reader will note that a fairly common corruption of the battle-site name was Egesan stan.  Suppose it was this spelling that the author of the Conception of Mongan possessed?  Might we not, then, assume that he might have linked Egesan- with these English words (from the Bosworth and Toller Anglo-Saxon Dictionary):

egsa, ægsa, an; m. [ege fear] Fear, horror, dread; tĭmor, horror, terror, formīdo Him gásta weardes egesa on breóstum wunode fear of the guardian of spirits dwelt in his breast, Cd. 138; Th. 173, 24; Gen. 2866: Beo. Th. 1572; B. 784: Andr. Kmbl. 789; An. 445: Rood Kmbl. 170; Kr. 86: Judth. 12; Thw. 25, 10; Jud. 252. Bútan Godes egsan [MS. B. egesan] without fear of God, Bd. 4, 12; S. 581, 1: Cd. 178; Th. 223, 23; Dan. 124:

æge, eige, es; m. Fear, terror, dread, AWE; tĭmor, terror, formīdo Eorþcynincgum se ege standeþ terribĭli ăpŭd rēges terræ, Ps. Th. 75, 9. On ðǽm dagum wæs mycel ege fram ðǽm wífmannan in those days there was a great dread of these women, Ors. 1, 10; Bos. 33, 26: Bt. Met. Fox 1, 143; Met. 1. 72. Ege Drihtnes tĭmor Domĭni, Ps. Spl. 18, 10.

If so, then the Conception of Mongan, with its terrible warrior/man, is indirectly informing us that this champion had been wrongly taken as a eponym for 'Egesan'-stan.  In other words, that the battle was, indeed, that of Degsastan/Dawston.

The corollary to the begetting of Mongan by the transformed Manannan son of Llyr is his later slaying by an Arthur son of Bicoir the Briton.

Pen/Ben and chend/chind in the 'Conception of Mongan'

I'm now more convinced than ever that Uther Pendragon is a fiction - if not of Geoffrey of Monmouth, then of his source.  In the 'Conception of Mongan', the word "chend" occurs in the sentence about the fer uathmar.  Here is the relevant text from Kuno Meyer's edition:

Chend is Irish cenn, a word cognate with Welsh Pen (Ben).  It can mean 'head' or 'chief.'  But in the Irish, it could have other meanings as well.  In this particular sentence it means something like the terrible man is brought forward against Aedan.  Such usage of cenn is set forward in the entry for that word in the eDIL:

39 fo ch.¤ towards, against, for (see 21, 45): teacht fam cheann `(to) attack me', Content. xviii 1 . éirghid fo cend mo c[h]reiche they go for my booty, ZCP viii 226.22 . Note also: gabh fád cheann mo chonmharccsa `take upon thee my quarrel(?)', Studies 1924, 243 § 12 

45 i c.¤ in contexts implying motion (us. with prec. vb.) to, in the direction of, towards, against (see 21, 39): na torcair nemh inna ccent `on them', Blathm. 68 . lotir remib hi cend in Brogo, LU 10575 . co torracht C. i c.¤ in droichit cucu, CCath. 1283 . dorat . . . / Conall i cend Chonculaind matched C. against C., Met. Dinds. iii 446.96 . ro cuired cach i ceann araili dona Romanchaib, CCath. 3159 . an uair chuirid i n-a chionn when they oppose him, DDána 96.33 . connsuine . . . do rachadh na cheann, mur atá so: slat ┐ dearg, slaitearg sin which would be assimilated to it, IGT Introd. 10.2 . do tuit an torc a cend a choss fell forward , BCC 324.30 .

53 Various: i mbun na gabla ro boí hi ciund tened over against, LU 9194 ( FB 92 ). a cheann i cind tened, ZCP i 464.33 . gach aon a gceann a dhíre ┐ a dhúthchasa féin in possession of, ML 102.14 . mac S. a cind arrad at the head of nobles, Ériu v 244.194 . in cís d'ícc a cind chruid, LB 133b56 `in respect of', Todd Lect. vi 40.6 .

It would have been quite easy for chend to have been read wrongly by a Welshman, and for the word to have become attached to the terrible man/terrible warrior.  Uathmar = Uthr, warrior = dragon, chend/chind = Pen.  

Alternately, as the mil uathmar/fer uathmar is the champion brought forward against Aedan by the English, this would be sufficient to account for the Pen of Pen-dragon/warrior.  In other words, he was seen as the 'chief warrior' of the English. 

I feel quite confident that there is no longer any need to seek a historical identification for Uther Pendragon.  Simply put, he is an invented character and was not the father of the famous Arthur. 

NOTE: Many years ago I proposed that Bicoir, son of a British Arthur, was not, in fact, the Beccurus found on a memorial stone in Gwynedd, but was instead a simple error for Petuir, one of the spellings of Petr, the father of Arthur of Dyfed.  In medieval MSS., B often substitutes for P, and c and t can be easily mistaken for each other. As Dyfed had a Pembroke or Pen-brog, "End of the Land", the Kintyre of Dalriada, which had exactly the same meaning, , may be a relocation of Mongan's death-place.  In other words, Mongan may have been raiding Pembroke and was killed there by the Dyfed king, Arthur son of Petr.  Conversely, it is not impossible (although less likely) that Arthur son of Petr was raiding Dalriada and killed Mongan there (the Isle of Islay is cited in the Irish source as the actual point of Mongan's death).   

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.