Sunday, January 28, 2018


Readers of my past blogs will remember the excitement I felt when I appeared to have finally found Uther Pendragon - in the person of the famous soldier/saint Illtud.  I dispensed with this identification because I was unable to account for the name Arthur as a son of Illtud, and because a lot of literary evidence appeared to point instead to Ceredig son of Cunedda as Arthur.

Turns out, I'd neglected something that might be of a critical nature in this argument. 

Here is a selection from a previous post:

... Marged Haycock's translation of the MARWNAT VTHYR PEN, the 'Death-Song of Uther Pen[dragon].'  This is what she has in her notes to Line 7 of this elegy:

 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).

Initially, I refused to get too excited about Uther calling himself a 'second Samuel' (the first, presumably, being the Biblical prophet of that name).  I mean, this was, after all, an emendation.  However, I asked Welsh language expert Dr. Simon Rodway of The University of Wales about the authority who made this emendation - one that was accepted by Haycock herself.  Our discussion on this matter ran as follows:

"Geirfa Barddoniaeth Gynnar Gymraeg, by John Lloyd-Jones

Cited several times by Marged Haycock in her edition of the Uther poem, and  she adopts many of his emendations.

A trustworthy, well-respected source, in your opinion?  Or is his work somewhat outdated or even obsolete?"

"It’s a very good piece of work, which I often use. It’s much more comprehensive than GPC [Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, 'Dictionary of the Welsh Language']."

Such an unqualified, professional academic opinion of Lloyd-Jones changed everything!

As for how the error could have occurred, Dr. Rodway suggested the following scenario:

"It can’t be a case of miscopying a letter, but it could be eye-skip - when a copyist’s eye skips inadvertently to another nearby word resulting in an error.  In this case, he would have eye-skipped to the preceding line's 'kawell' to get the /k-/ fronting what should have been 'sawyl'.  Was not an uncommon error, so quite plausible.  Also, kawell and kawyl are unlikely to be the same word.  The poets avoided repeating words in consecutive lines. In cases where this does occur (v rare) it could be scribal error."

I had tried to use this information to connect Uther Pendragon with Sawyl Benisel (later Ben Uchel) of the North.  Such an attempt ultimately proved nonviable.

But just recently I reread the ever-unreliable Geoffrey of Monmouth, whose work cast a long shadow - even upon what had been preexisting Welsh tradition concerning Arthur.  And I was astonished to encounter this episode:

This Eldad(us) of Gloucester is Illtud of Glywysing (Glywys being the eponym of Caer Gloyw or Gloucester).  He is here likening himself to the Biblical Samuel, Sawyl in Welsh.

Combined with everything else I've come up with that seems to show Uther = Illtud, this apparent correspondence of the Elegy's 'eil Sawyl' or "second Samuel" with Illtud appearing symbolically as a 'second Samuel' is truly remarkable. 

It may be that what we are dealing with, after all, is an Arthur son of Illtud who was the chief opponent of Cerdic/Ceredig of Wessex.  Or who was at least put forward as such in heroic legend.  I suspect some confusion over the two originally separate figures may have occurred.  They may even have been conflated to some extant - which is a considerable irony. 

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