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Brân the Blessed (Welsh: Bendigeidfrân, literally "Blessed Crow", also Brân Fendigaidd) is a giant and king of Britain in Welsh mythology. He appears in several of the Welsh Triads, but his most significant role is in the Second Branch of the Mabinogion, Brânwen, daughter of Llŷr. He is a son of Llŷr and Penarddun, and the brother of Brânwen, Manawydan, Nisien and Efnysien. The name "Brân" translates from Welsh as "Crow", often translated in the context of this tale as "Raven"; both are members of the genus Corvus and the family Corvidae.

Contents

Role in the Mabinogion

Matholwch, King of Ireland, visits Brân to ask for the hand of his sister Branwen in marriage. Bendigeidfran agrees to this, but during a feast to celebrate the betrothal, Efnisien, a half-brother of Branwen and Bendigeidfran, arrives and asks what was going on. When told, he is furious that Branwen has been given in marriage without his permission, and retaliates by mutilating Matholwch's horses. Matholwch is deeply angered until Bendigeidfran gives him a magic cauldron which restores the dead to life.

Once in Ireland, Branwen is treated cruelly by her husband, Matholwch, and is forced to work in the kitchen. She tames a starling and sends it across the Irish Sea with a message to her brother Bendigeidfran, who sails from Wales to Ireland to rescue her with his brother, Manawydan. When Matholwch sees the giant, he asks for peace, and as a show of good faith, builds a house big enough for Brân to enter. Matholwch agrees to let Bendigeidfran live with them and to give his kingdom to Gwern, his son by Branwen. The Irish lords do not like the idea, so they hide themselves in flour bags to attack the Welsh. Efnisien guesses what is happening and kills them in their bags, then throws Gwern into the fire.

In the ensuing war, the Irish at first have the advantage because of the magic cauldron. When the Irish dead are placed in it, they came to life and were able to fight as well as ever, though they cannot speak. Efnisien lies down among the dead and is placed in the cauldron, then breaks it, bursting his heart and dying in the process. The Welsh eventually win the war, but only seven men survived. Bendigeidfran himself is dying from a mortal wound in the foot, and orders that his head should be cut off and buried in London. When the survivors return to Britain, Branwen dies of grief from believing that she was the cause of the war; she is buried beside the River Alaw in Anglesey.

For seven years the seven survivors, amongst them Manawydan and Pryderi, stay in Harlech, where they are entertained by Bendigeidfran's head, which continues to speak. They later move on to Gwales (often identified with Grassholm Island off Dyfed) where they live for eighty years without perceiving the passing of time. Eventually, one of the men opens the door of the hall facing Cornwall and the sorrow of what had befallen them returns. As instructed they take the now silent head to the Gwynfryn, the "White Hill" (thought to be the location where the Tower of London now stands), where they bury it facing France so as to ward off invasion. The imagery of the talking head is widely considered to derive from the ancient Celtic "cult of the head"; the head was considered the home of the soul.

Other associations

According to the Welsh Triads, Brân's head was buried in London where the White Tower now stands. As long as it remained there, Britain would be safe from invasion. However, King Arthur dug up the head, declaring the country would be protected only by his great strength.[1] There have been attempts in modern times to link the still-current practice of keeping ravens at the Tower of London under the care of Yeomen Warder Ravenmaster with this story of Brân, whose name means Raven.

Several scholars have noted similarities between Brân the Blessed and the Arthurian character the Fisher King, the keeper of the Holy Grail. The Fisher King first appears in Chrétien de Troyes's 12th century French romance Perceval, the Story of the Grail; he has been dealt a mortal wound in the leg (Brân's wound was in his foot) but stays alive in his mystical castle due to the effects of the Grail, waiting to be healed by Percival. A later author who took up the story, Robert de Boron, describes the history of the Grail in ancient times, and says the first Fisher King was a man called "Bron". Additionally, the Welsh story Peredur son of Efrawg, a version of the Percival story with several striking deviations, featurs the hero visiting a mysterious castle, but he does not find the Grail there, but rather a severed human head. Additionally, some works attribute to the Grail the power to restore the fallen, making it somewhat similar to Brân's cauldron.

Name

All the Welsh mythological texts of the Mabinogion were recorded between the 14th and 15th centuries in Middle Welsh. As a result there are discrepancies regarding the spelling of names, because English translations maintain Middle Welsh orthography whereas Modern Welsh versions use Modern Welsh orthography. In Middle Welsh, there was some variation on the name Brân; other forms include Vran and Uran.

In the Mabinogion, the character is referred to virtually exclusively as "Bendigeituran"; that is, with the epithet "Bendigeit" (blessed or praiseworthy) attached. The only exceptions are in the patronymic of his son Caradog ap Brân and a single reference to his gathering in Ireland as Gwledd Brân, "The feast of Brân (or 'Crow')". This usage is followed in the Welsh Triads. Bendigeituran becomes "Bendigeidfrân" or "Brân Fendigeid" in Modern Welsh; Bendigeidfran is the form used in many Modern Welsh adaptations of the Mabinogion.[2] However, earlier references generally do not include the epithet, instead calling the character Brân fab Llŷr or simply Brân.[3] Ifor Williams thought Bendigeit was a late addition, perhaps a replacement for a word that had become obsolete by the time the Mabinogi was recorded.[3] "Vran" appears in an old poem in the Book of Taliesin,[4] while Cynddelw Brydydd Mawr and Prydydd y Moch mention Brân fab Llŷr several times in their poetry, under different spellings. However, Bleddyn Fardd refers to "Benigeitran" in his elegy for Llywelyn the Last, demonstrating that the epithet "Bendigeit" had been attached to Brân since the late 13th century.[3]

Notes

  1. ^ Triad 37. Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein, pp. 94–102.
  2. ^ For instance, Dafydd & Rhiannon Ifans' Y Mabinogi.
  3. ^ a b c Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein, pp. 290–292.
  4. ^ Book of Taliesin XIV, "Kerd Veib am Llyr". From Llyfr Taliesin at maryjones.us. Retrieved February 7, 2007.

References

  • Bromwich, Rachel (2006). Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Triads of the Island of Britain. University Of Wales Press. ISBN 0-7083-1386-8.
  • Gantz, Jeffrey (translator) (1987). The Mabinogion. New York: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-044322-3.
  • Ifans, Dafydd & Rhiannon, Y Mabinogion (Gomer 1980) ISBN 1 85902 260 X
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