Sunday, November 19, 2017


In the last couple of blog posts I made my case for Uther Pendragon being a title for Sawyl Benisel.  Left unfinished in those posts was a final treatment of the emended Line 7 of the "Death-Song of Uther Pen[dragon]".  In addition, I had not yet settled on my final proposed translation for the very troublesome Line 6.

Here I wish to remedy both deficiencies.  

The lines in question run as follows in the Welsh text:

a’m rithwy am dwy pen kawell.
. . . . .

Neu vi eil kawyl yn ardu:
It’s I who’s a second Sawyl in the gloom:

Once again, here are Marged Haycock's notes on these two lines:

6 a’m rithwy am dwy pen kawell G emends am dwy > an Dwy(w) ‘our Lord’,
understood as the subject of 3sg. subjunct. rithwy ‘transform’ etc., but yn adwy
‘in the breach’ or yn ardwy ‘as a defence’ would give a more regular three
syllables in the central section. Kawell ‘basket, pannier; cradle; fish-trap; creel,
cage; quiver; belly, breast’ (GPC) seems unlikely, as do cowyll ‘maidenhood-fee;
clothing, covering’ (with G s.v. coŵyll), sawell ‘chimney, kiln’ (see on §4.246),
or nawell ‘nine times better’. Cannwyll is sometimes a rhyme partner for tywyll
(e.g. AP line 88 cannwyll yn tywyll; CC 18.13; R1056.15), and would yield full
rhyme. ‘May our Lord, the guiding/chief light, transform me’ is a possibility; or
(with yn adwy) ‘May the guiding/chief light (i.e. God) transform me in the
breach’. Or is pen kawell a basket to collect up the heads he cuts off (line 18)? If
Uthr is the speaker, is vb rithaw to be connected with his transformation through
disguise (see introduction)? Obscure.

7 eil kawyl yn ardu G emends kawyl > Sawyl, the personal name (from Samuelis
via *Safwyl). Sawyl Ben Uchel is named with Pasgen and Rhun as one of the
Three Arrogant Men, Triad 23, as a combative tyrant in Vita Cadoci (VSB 58);
and in CO 344-5. Samuil Pennissel in genealogies, EWGT 12 (later Benuchel),
Irish sources, and in Geoffrey of Monmouth. Other Sawyls include a son of
Llywarch, and the saint commemorated in Llansawel: see further TYP3 496,
WCD 581 and CO 104. Ardu ‘darkness, gloom; dark, dreadful (GPC), sometimes
collocated with afyrdwl ‘sad; sadness’ (see G, GPC).

Sawyl for kawyl in Line 7 is an emendation ( ‘Kawyl T 71.11 = efallai Sawyl’, "perhaps/possibly Sawyl") by John Lloyd-Jones in his authoritative Geirfa Barddoniaeth Gynnar Gymraeg.   Sawyl is the Welsh form of the Biblical name Samuel.

The entire first portion of the poem, if we follow Haycock, would look like this:

Neu vi luossawc yn trydar:
It is I who commands hosts in battle:

ny pheidwn rwg deu lu heb wyar.
I’d not give up between two forces without bloodshed.

Neu vi a elwir gorlassar:
It’s I who’s styled ‘Armed in Blue’:

vy gwrys bu enuys y’m hescar.
my ferocity snared my enemy.

Neu vi tywyssawc yn tywyll:
It is I who’s a leader in darkness:

a’m rithwy am dwy pen kawell.
May the chief luminary transform me in the breach.
[adwy, 'breach', makes the most sense here, as lines 2 and 8 mention Uther being between two forces, i.e. in the breach or gap; GPC has 'gap, breach, fissure, crack, gateway, opening; (mountain) pass or gap, gorge' for adwy]

Neu vi eil Sawyl yn ardu:
It’s I who’s a second Sawyl in the gloom:

ny pheidwn heb wyar rwg deu lu.
I’d not give up without bloodshed [the fight] between two forces.

According to Dr. Simon Rodway, "kawell for kan(n)wyll seems possible. Perhaps the copyist missed an n-stroke over the a. We find n for nn quite often in medieval MSS, and l for ll occasionally." Furthermore, 'in the breach' not only fits the rhyme scheme, as Haycock notes, but also the martial context of Lines 2, 4 and 8.  The structure of the poem thus demands similar martial activity be found in Line 6.

Sawyl/Samuel 'in the gloom' may recall an important Bible episode.  This concerns Samuel in the Shiloh temple at night:

The LORD Calls Samuel (New International Version)

1 The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions. 2 One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. 3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the LORD, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the LORD called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.” 5 And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down. 6 Again the LORD called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” “My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. 8 A third time the LORD called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. 9 So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10 The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” 11 And the LORD said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle. 12 At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family—from beginning to end. 13 For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons blasphemed God, and he failed to restrain them. 14 Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’ ” 15 Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the LORD. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, 16 but Eli called him and said, “Samuel, my son.” Samuel answered, “Here I am.” 17 “What was it he said to you?” Eli asked. “Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, “He is the LORD; let him do what is good in his eyes.” 19 The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the LORD. 21 The LORD continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.

Thus was Uther transformed in the darkness into a second Samuel!  NOT, as it happens, into Gorlois (the gorlassar or 'very blue' descriptor Uther uses of himself - in my opinion, a reference to him being covered in woad). 

Now, admittedly, as Haycock makes clear in her introductory comments on the 'Marwnat Vthyr Pen', it is difficult to tell when the subject of the poem is speaking and when the poet (ostensibly Taliesin) is speaking.  Taliesin was certainly credited with prophetic abilities, as well as transformative ones.  However, a person with the name Sawyl/Samuel would quite naturally have been subjected to this kind of metaphorical comparison.  After all, in a very real sense everyone who is named Samuel is, at least indirectly, named after the Biblical prophet.

In Geoffrey of Monmouth, the transformed Uther comes to Tintagel in the twilight (= ardu) and is let through the gates.  According to the GPC, adwy has several meanings, including gateway.

There is an interesting corollary to Uther's transformation in this poem.  A Sawyl in southern Wales, with whom Sawyl of the North was confused or conflated, appears in the Life of St. Cadog:

This particular Sawyl was "transformed" after being in God's monastery by having his hair and half of his beard shaven off!  The southern Sawyl appears to be identical with the saint of that name at Llansawel near Llancadog in Carmarthenshire.

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