It occurred to me this morning that many of you might never have heard of Peredur ap Efrawg, the Welsh version of Le Conte du Graal. Most of you that have probably don’t think too much of it, either. Scholars have rarely made too much use of the story in Arthurian studies, calling it little more than a retelling with plenty of useless stories packed in to make it sound nonsensical. To be honest, it looks a lot like a medieval version of someone well-versed in Grimm’s Fairy Tales telling a story about a popular sports hero – Le Bron James Holds back the Warriors but Dies Heroically in the End.
That doesn’t mean that the episodes aren’t interesting though. So, I propose that for the next few weeks I will explore some of the more curious segments, author’s choice unless someone asks for a particular scene or character.
The Addanc. In Peredur, the hero finds out that the creature lives in a cave. Each day it kills three nearby princes only to have them resurrected. They three brothers wake up the next day and go out to meet the Addanc only to die again. When Peredur finds out about this he asks to join them, but the brothers refuse on the grounds that if he is killed they won’t be able to bring him back to life. So, being the fool he is, Peredur sets out to meet the Addanc alone. Along the way he meets a woman (more on that in a different blog) who gives him an advantage which he uses to kill the monster. When the brothers appear at the cave they tell him he was foretold as the slayer of the Addanc.
The story as it is works as a vehicle for Peredur to meet Angharad, his helper. But the Addanc is a lot more interesting than as a means to foward the awkward plot. The Addanc is actually common in Welsh literature, where it’s known as the Afanc. In the stories, afancs are to be found in lakes or nearby caves. In short, they’re lake monsters who prey on the unwary. The addancs actually sound a lot like the Loch Ness Monster at first sight, or an alligator whose family somehow survived the last ice age.
But there are two details about the Afanc in Peredur that raise another possibility; it kills people who are then rejuvenated by women and he can only be killed by Peredur. The first point suggests some sort of a connection to the fertility cults Peredur helped to destroy. The fact that Peredur kills it in this story suggests that it might be a version of Peredur’s story in a more symbolic form; he kills the cult as represented by the Adanc.
You might think it’s a little crazy that a story within a story could be a shorter and more symbolic version of the larger tale, but keep in mind that the bards originally told these stories and had to keep them in a storytelling format. The details might have changed a lot over the decades as hundreds if not thousands of bards told and retold them. Peredur, on the other hand, was probably never told orally. It’s too long for one thing. In writing Peredur down an author might well have collected everything connected with Peredur, including the original oral version of the grail story.