“Math, Son of Mathonwy” is another compelling tale from “The Mabinogion,” the collection of Welsh medieval legends. The story revolves around Math, a wise and powerful king of Gwynedd, and the magical trials faced by his nephews Gwydion and Gilfaethwy. Here’s an abridged version of the story:
Math, the son of Mathonwy, was a great king known for his wisdom and magical powers. To maintain his strength and ability to rule, Math needed to keep his feet in the lap of a virgin at all times. However, due to a curse, he was unable to leave his kingdom for a long period.
Math had two nephews, Gwydion and Gilfaethwy, who were skilled in magic and warcraft. One day, while Math was away, the brothers were left unattended with his virgin foot-holder, Goewin. Gilfaethwy, overcome by desire, plotted to have his way with Goewin.
Gwydion, who loved his brother, tried to dissuade him but eventually agreed to help fulfill Gilfaethwy’s desires. The two brothers devised a cunning plan to deceive Math and arrange for Gilfaethwy to spend a night with Goewin.
Once Math returned, he discovered the deceit and, in his anger, transformed the brothers into a pair of breeding deer. As deer, they roamed the wild for a year, experiencing the hardships of the animal world.
After the year had passed, Gwydion and Gilfaethwy returned to Math and asked for forgiveness. Math, understanding their remorse, decided to grant them pardon but required them to perform a task as restitution.
Their task was to obtain the permission of Pryderi, the king of the neighboring kingdom of Dyfed, to marry his beautiful and precious swine herd. Pryderi, being a wise and just ruler, granted them the herd willingly.
However, Gwydion’s greed got the better of him. He used his magic to multiply the swine herd, causing a dispute between the two kingdoms. In the ensuing battle, Gwydion killed Pryderi, the rightful ruler of Dyfed.
The aftermath of this battle resulted in further tragic consequences. Gwydion’s sister, Arianrhod, rejected her newborn son, Lleu Llaw Gyffes, and placed a curse upon him that he could never bear a weapon. Gwydion used his magic to raise Lleu and find a way to break the curse.
In a series of magical adventures, Gwydion succeeded in finding a wife for Lleu and restoring his honor. With his cleverness and magical prowess, Gwydion played a crucial role in the fate of his family and kingdom.
The tale of “Math, Son of Mathonwy” delves into themes of family, betrayal, redemption, and the consequences of one’s actions. It showcases the power of magic, the complexities of human desires, and the challenges faced by those who seek to break curses and fulfill prophecies.