The Mabinogion Characters

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The Mabinogion Summary & Study Guide Description

The Mabinogion Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on The Mabinogion by Anonymity.

Arthur

King Arthur is mostly portrayed in all the tales as an ideal ruler who presides over a perfect kingdom, surrounded by the best warriors. He is a ruler and a warrior of great renown who, on the whole, demonstrates all of the virtues that are desirable in a king.

It is unclear exactly how old Arthur is, but his behaviour and wisdom seem to indicate an older man. His wife is Gwenhwyfar, and they have an ideal marriage (these tales contain no trace of the idea that Gwenhwyfar is an adulteress and Arthur is a cuckold). He seems to have an extensive family, and many of the warriors of his court. He owns a hunting dog named Cafall who is capable of bringing down both boars and stags.

The earliest portrayal of Arthur in "Culhwch and Olwen" is that of a vigorous warrior who is one petty king among many, albeit one of high renown. In this early tale Arthur takes an active part in all the adventures, and is shown to be wise and generous. He is a brave ruler and fighter, rushing in to defend his men against the Black Witch in spite of the discouragement of his men. This way of portraying Arthur is continued, more or less, in "Gereint Son of Erbin", where Arthur plays the leading role in the hunt of the white stag, and demonstrates the kingly virtues of justice and mercy, as well as generosity.

In "Peredur Son of Efrawg" and "The Lady of the Fountain", Arthur is a weaker, more passive character who takes no active role in the adventures and his only action seems to be that of welcoming warriors into his court. He remains a warm, kindly and generous king who shows great concern for his men. However, in "The Lady of the Fountain", he has a touch of the comic about him, slightly worried that his queen and his men will laugh at him when he takes a nap. By this stage, Arthur is no longer a petty king, but is more of a High King.

In the later "Dream of Rhonabwy", the character of Arthur has changed completely. Here, he appears as a remote and cold ruler who is described as an emperor who receives tribute from lands as far away as Greece. This version of Arthur is quite unsympathetic, demonstrating a complete lack of concern and more than a trace of bad temper.

Cei

Cei is one of the most significant members of Arthur's court and frequently acts as Arthur's right-hand man who is the first to interact with newcomers to the court.

Cei is consistently described as being a tall man, and in the earliest tale, he is described as being able to alter his height supernaturally at will. He is also a handsome character who is sometime called "Fair Cei."

When he first appears, Cei is a warrior whose prowess is second to none, except maybe Arthur. This early version of Cei also demonstrates great wisdom and cunning, and acts with great courtesy. Cei also has a number of supernatural powers alongside the ability to change his height, such as being able to stay dry in the rain, stay underwater for nine days and to give off heat. A wound from Cei's sword was incurable. Cei also has some skill as a craftsman, particularly as a furbisher of swords.

The later presentations of Cei are totally different. Cei consistently appears in the later romances as a surly and rude boor who sneers at and mocks newcomers to Arthur's court. He does not appear to be much of a fighter in spite of his hot temper, and a stock situation seems to involve Cei failing to recognise the hero of a tale, attacking him rudely and ending up seriously wounded as a result of the hero's counter-attack (this is always followed by Gwalchmei going and speaking courteously to the hero and presenting him to Arthur). This presentation of Cei borders on the comic.

Cei appears at his worst in "Peredur Son of Efrawg", where his discourtesy to Peredur is extreme, as is his abuse of the two court dwarfs; it is this rudeness that creates some of the plot tension and a motive for Peredur's wandering elsewhere to find training and a mentor.

Owein

Owein is another of Arthur's chief warriors and is also known as "The Knight of the Lion" after he wins the companionship and protection of a white lion.

Owein is the son of Urien. He becomes ruler over a territory by marrying the Lady of the Fountain, which gives him the responsibility of guarding the magical rain-making fountain in the woods nearby. After winning his position, he habitually wears black armour and rides a black horse, which seems to be the livery of the Fountain's guardian.

Owein is shown to be chivalrous and courteous. He never fails to act in the defence of the weak and oppressed he encounters, and it is he who is the first member of Arthur's court to go to greet Peredur.

Owein has a warband known as the Flight of Ravens. These Ravens appear as actual birds in "The Dream of Rhonabwy", and Owein treats them with great consideration and shows a lot of concern for them.

Owein is possibly a personification of the Sun or the Waning Year, with his adventures symbolising the cycle of the seasons.

Peredur, appears in Peredur Son of Efrawg

Peredur begins life as a naive, sheltered boy who has the ambition to become a knight. His naiveté and enthusiasm both help and hinder him. In many ways, he is the Perfect Fool. As he matures, he loses some of his innate curiosity and naiveté, and fits into the standard mold (or cliche) of a gallant knight of courtly romance who is brave, courteous, daring, chivalrous and devoted to the service of his true love. However, he seems more promiscuous than other knights and has several lady-loves throughout his adventures.

Pryderi

Pryderi is the son of Pwyll and Rhiannon, and his early life was notable in that he was stolen from his mother in infancy and raised in ignorance of his true heritage. He is later restored to his position and becomes the ruler of Dyfed. After the death of his father, he arranges for his friend and mentor to become his stepfather, and is mentored by this older man. In spite of his father's experiences with the Otherworld, Pryderi is occasionally caught unawares by magical traps and can be duped by illusions. He is given the gift of a herd of pigs by Arawn, king of Annun, his father's Otherworldly ally. These pigs bring about his death, as they are taken by Gwydion, who later defeats Pryderi in single combat by using magic.

Pryderi is described as having golden hair, and he was first called Gwri Golden-hair.

Gwydion, appears in Math Son of Mathonwy

Gwydion is a magician of considerable powers and great cunning. He is responsible for arranging for his king's handmaiden Goewin to be raped, and also uses illusion to steal Pryderi's pigs, and is punished for his crimes by being transformed into various animal shapes.

After this, Gwydion seems to reform and becomes the mentor for Llew Llaw Gyffes, helping the young man win the tokens of manhood from Aranrhod by using his cunning and his magic powers.

Gereint, appears in Gereint son of Erbin

Gereint is a knight who becomes the ruler of Cornwall and who has to learn to balance the demands of love and duty. He is a member of Arthur's court.

His father's name is Erbin, who surrenders the kingdom to a younger man, and Gereint is married to Enid. Gereint is described as having red hair and being well-dressed. He is also a heavy sleeper.

Gereint is a silent man who is irritated both by his wife's inability to hold her tongue and by his suspicions of her infidelity. His marriage to Enid begins as a marriage of convienience enabling him to fight for the honour of one of Gwenwhyfar's handmaidens, but this relationship changes and matures into a balanced and loving marriage, albeit one that faces difficulties.

Gereint is no courtly lover, and his treatment of his wife seems less than chivalrous. However, he is very fond of Enid to the point of losing his honor by preferring to make love to her instead of performing in tournaments and other knightly pursuits.

Gereint proves to be a wise and fair ruler over Cornwall, and his prudence is commented on and commended by Gwenhwyfar.

Enid, appears in Gereint Son of Erbin

Enid is the beautiful and long-suffering wife of Gereint. When she first meets her husband, she is the hard-working daughter of an impoverished earl, a background that provides her with the resilience to cope with her later adventures with her husband.

Enid is completely loyal to her husband and is faithful to him in spite of being tempted to betray him by two earls. However, she doubts her husband's prowess, and acts impulsively in a superfluous concern for him. She has to learn to trust him fully.

Culhwch, appears in Culhwch and Olwen

Culhwch is Arthur's cousin and the son of a king. His stepmother puts him under a geas to take no wife except Olwen, the daughter of Ysbaddaden Chief Giant.

Culhwch is a confident young man who demonstrates courage and skill in his confrontations with the giant, and he benefits from a strong kinsman and his many family ties.

Ysbaddaden Chief Giant, appears in Culhwch and Olwen

Ysbaddaden is the bad-tempered and powerful ruler of the giants who puts all young men who come to ask for his daughter's hand in marriage to severe tests.

Ysbaddaden is evil-tempered and slaughters even the children of some of his own followers, and he treacherously attacks Culhwch and his party when they first arrive. He then has the ill grace to curse the warriors for wounding him with the poisoned spears he first threw at them.

However, Ysbaddaden tamely allows himself to be killed once the quest is acheived, and he is obviously highly protective of his daughter, who does not appear to be as harshly treated as his retainers. He also demonstrates a few gleams of humour.

Efnisien, appears in Branwen Daughter of Llyr

Efnisien loves battle and strife, and his mutilation of the the Irish horses causes the war between Bran and Mathowlch. He is an enigmatic character, sometimes acting helpfully and sometimes causing needless, random harm and violence. He seems to personify the forces of death and chaos, and it is appropriate that he is the one who shatters the Cauldron of Rebirth.

Elen of the Hosts, appears in The Dream of Macsen Wledig

Elen becomes the wife of Macsen, emperor of Rome. She is a woman of great power and common sense, who negotiates a wide territory for her father in exchange for her hand in marriage, and who establishes the road network in Britain for easy movement of troops.

Rhiannon

Rhiannon is the mother of Prydreri. At first, she is the wife of Pwyll, but is later married to Manawydan.

Rhiannon seems to come from the Otherworld and is associated with horses. She also owns a flock of magical birds, but is never seen with them.

She is an attentive mother to Pryderi even after he is a grown man, possibly because of the way that she was falsely accused after his mysterious disappearance. She accepts her penance patiently.

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