Welsh Journals

Search over 450 titles and 1.2 million pages

THE DATE OF THE "DREAM OF RHONABWY"* By MARY GIFFIN, M.A., Ph.D. ALTHOUGH the "Dream of Rhonabwy" is elaborately contrived and allusive, its setting is precise in time and place. A Powys knight of the twelfth century, in a black old hall realistically described, falls asleep on a yellow ox-skin and dreams of Arthur and his knights. Within the dream Arthur plays a game of gwyddbwyll with Owein son of Urien, while a battle or tournament parallels the game. The storyteller is apparently a native of Powys, who shows Arthur as commenting on Powysmen of the twelfth century in the words "How sad I feel that men as mean as these keep this Island after men as fine as those who kept it of yore"2. A large part of the dream consists of elaborate descriptions of the men of yore: Iddawg the Embroiler of Britain, Rhwawn Bebyr son of Deorthach Wledig, Addaon son of Taliesin, and others. In the manuscript, the Red Book of Hergest, the story ends with what appears to be a scribal comment: And here is the reason why no one, neither bard nor storyteller, knows the Dream without a book-by reason of the number of colours that were on the horses, and all that variety of rare colours both on the arms and their trappings, and on the precious mantles, and the magic stones.3 From the comment, as well as from the descriptions themselves, readers have accepted the horses, arms, and trappings as fantastic and elaborately contrived by the writer. The opening sentence of the story places the action precisely on the map of Wales and in the pages of history Madawg son of Maredudd held Powys from end to end, that is, from Porffordd unto Gwafan in the uplands of Arwystli.4 We know from historical documents that Madawg ap Maredudd was the prince of Powys who became an ally of Henry II against the neighbouring princes of Gwynedd, and that he died in 1160.5 On the basis of this historical Madawg ap Maredudd some readers have dated the tale shortly after 1160.6 But Melville Richards, editor of the most recently published Welsh text, places it about 1 This paper was read at the fifth International Arthurian Congress at Bangor, August 1957. 2 Gwyn Jones and Thomas Jones, The Mabinogion (Everyman ed., 1949), p. 141. 8 Ibid., p. 152. 4 Ibid., p. 137. Sir John Edward Lloyd, A History of Wales (3rd ed., London, 1939), pp. 494-508. See also Pipe Rolls, Henry II (1156-7), p. 89. 8 T. Gwynn Jones, "Some Arthurian Material in Keltic," Aberystwyth Studies, VIII (1926), pp. 78-9.