Gwyn ap Nudd, Meurig ap Careian and Elaeth the Poet

Another warrior whose death Gwyn ap Nudd states his presence at in ‘The Conversation of Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir’ is Meurig ap Careian:

‘I was there when Meurig was slain,
Careian’s son, honoured in praise,
When ravens croaked on flesh.’

To the best of my knowledge, Meurig ap Careian does not appear in any other literature by that name. The patronymic ‘Careian’ may be the result of a scribal error. In Early Welsh Saga Poetry, Jenny Rowlands puts forward a theory about his identity.

Rowlands mentions that in the margin of ‘A Song on Gwallawg ap Lleenawg’ (which precedes ‘The Conversation of Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir’ in The Black Book of Carmarthen) there are two verses which associate Gwallawg with ‘a certain Meurig who is probably to be identified as Meurig m. Idno, his son-in-law.’ Both men are ‘clearly vilified’.

‘No one who would have been famous
went in the plight that Gwallawg did
to the accursed one, to the thorn bushes.

No one who would have been admired
Went in the plight that Meurig did
On the back of his wife bent-in-three.’

Rowland says ‘These stanzas perhaps allude to a scurrilous story in which both men fled ignominiously from battle, and the englyn about Gwallawg could reflect a variant, more shameful, tale about how he lost one eye.’* Gwallawg and Meurig are ‘held up as patterns to avoid.’

Rowland also mentions that Meurig ap Idno may be referred to by Llywarch Hen in ‘Gwahodd Llywarch i Lanfawr’ as Meurgawg marchgawg ‘horseman like Meurig’. This places Meurig alongside Gwallawg and Brân ap Ymellryn as Llywarch Hen’s enemies. Considering that Gwyn states his presence at the deaths of Gwallawg and Brân, these associations could well be correct.

In Early Welsh Genealogical Tracts, Meurig ap Idno’s mother is Gwallawg’s sister, Onnengreg, strengthening the case for a connection. It seems possible Careian was an obscure epithet for Meurig’s father, Idno, which got confused with a patronymic.

Many of the Men of the North have epithets such as ‘Mwynfawr’ ‘the wealthy’ and ‘Freichras’ ‘strong arm’. Might Careian derive from cariad, which is Welsh for ‘lover’? There is a tradition of triads celebrating lovers and lover’s horses. The marginal lines about Meurig ‘On the back of his wife bent-in-three’ might parody his epithet.

It is notable that Idno is the son of Meirchion Gul son of Gwrwrst Ledlwm son of Ceneu son of Coel Hen. Gwrwrst Ledlwm was one of the northern men who allied with Gwythyr ap Greidol, Gwyn’s rival for the love of Creiddylad, in Culhwch and Olwen. Gwythyr, Gwrwst and a collection of mythic and historical warriors assaulted Gwyn and were consequently imprisoned by him then rescued by Arthur. Gwyn has a long history of interactions with this family.

Meurig ap Idno also had a brother called Mabon (‘Divine Son’). His naming after the Brythonic god of youth also demonstrates a continuation of pagan influence on Idno’s family. However, this ended with Meurig and Onnengreg’s son, Elaeth, who became St Elaeth Frenin of Anglesey. Frenin derives from brenin King and suggests he succeeded his father, Meurig, as king of a region in the Old North. Where he reigned is debatable.

If we look at the traditional locations of other Coelings: Gwallog was associated with Leeds, Urien Rheged with Carlisle and/or the Solway Firth, Dunod with Dent, it seems possible he was located somewhere in modern-day Cumbria, Yorkshire, or Lancashire. August Hunt’s theory is the town of Moresby in Cumbria derives from ‘Gwas Meurig’ ‘Abode of Meurig’. Guasmoric is mentioned in Historia Brittonum and may be identified with the Gabrosentum fort near Moresby.

Elaeth was driven from his northern lands (whether by Anglo-Saxons or other Britons remains open to question), went to live in a monastery run by St Seiriol at Penmon on Anglesey, and founded St Eleth’s church at Amlwch. He was also associated with a healing well: Fynnon Elaeth. Intriguingly this was used for divination by means of the ‘motions and actions’ of an eel who was kept in it. Inquirers often waited for days for the eel to appear. Elaeth’s feast day is November the 10th.

free-eel-clipart-clipart-kid

Elaeth was also a poet and is believed to have composed two of the poems in The Black Book of Carmarthen: ‘The Cynhogion of Elaeth’ and ‘Not To Call Upon God’. This seems significant because The Black Book of Carmarthen was once a much longer prose saga, which may once have contained the details of Meurig’s death and the reasons for Elaeth’s flight.

Most of the men whose souls Gwyn gathers appear in other works in The Black Book of Carmarthen. Some poems document the battles and eulogise the deaths of warriors associated with the Old North. Others, such as those attributed to Myrddin and Llywarch, provide accounts of the devastating effects of war and reflections on the joys and hardships of eking out an existence in the natural world after losing one’s place within civilisation.

Unlike The Book of Taliesin, which provides all-out praise of the ‘heroic’ ethos, The Black Book of Carmarthen documents the after-effects of war, provides a critique of the age in which the Old North was lost and offers solace in nature and religion as a way to recovery.

***

*‘A Song on Gwallawg ap Lleenawg’ refers to the loss of his eye:

‘Accursed be the tree
Which pulled out his eye in his presence,
Gwallawg ab Lleenawg, the ruler.’

With thanks to Greg at The Way of the Awenydd for information on the pages from Jenny Rowland’s Early Welsh Saga Poetry from The National Library of Wales.

SOURCES

Anna, ‘St Elaeth the Poet
August Hunt, The Arthur of History, (August Hunt, 2012)
Heron (transl) ‘Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir
Jenny Rowland, Early Welsh Saga Poetry, (Cambridge, 1990)
Peter Bartrum, A Welsh Classical Dictionary, (National Library of Wales, 1993)
Sioned Davies (transl.), The Mabinogion, (Oxford University Press, 2007)
William F. Skene (transl), The Four Ancient Books of Wales, (Forgotten Books 2007)

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5 thoughts on “Gwyn ap Nudd, Meurig ap Careian and Elaeth the Poet

  1. Fascinating to hear about an instance of divination by the motions and actions of an eel. Eelomancy? Elaeomancy? And that Elaeth’s feast day is 10th November (the day before (?) Martinmass/Old Samhain, if I’m not mistaken). A quick trawl shows the European eel to be a fascinating, and critical endangered, nocturnal creature -capable of living to 85 years old in the wild! The timing of the feast day may relate to the lives of eels in two ways -eels bury themselves in mud to hibernate through the coldest months, and when the eventuall reach sexual maturity adults set off (under a dark autumn moon) on their remarkable oceanic migration -5,000 km- to the Sargasso sea, only discovered about 100 yrs ago. Either way, they would dissapear from local rivers for the winter.

    At http://www.medievalhistories.com/eels-in-the-fenlands/ I found this:
    “it is well-known that later Irish folklore witness to the widespread conflation of eels, worms, serpents and water-monsters [3]; and also, that it is an archaeological fact that Iron-Age British people in the first millennium BC seemingly did not eat fish nor eels, even though they ate frogs and salamanders. Might we speculate that the early Celtic church jumped appropriated on to the back of ancient Celtic stories in order to naturalise an old pagan mythical complex?”

    Couldn’t help investigating! 🙂

  2. It’s interesting that you speculate on Careian stemming from ‘Cariad’. This is likely to be the source of the name ‘Caradog’ (‘loved one’). The stem of Careian seems to be ‘careiaf / careio’ (‘cut into thongs, laces or strips’ and by analogy ‘to plough’).

    1. Ah, ok, ‘cariad’ seemed to make sense in relation to the marginal lines, maybe the wrong guess? Thanks for letting me know the correct stem. ‘Careiaf / careio’ is also very interesting. Do you think it’s possible that Careian could be an epithet rather than a patronymic?

      1. It’s certainly possible – Meurig son of Stripling? But it really is largely guesswork with these tenuous references.

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