30th Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval Studies
Fordham University, Lincoln Center, New York City: March 27-28, 2010

Lindy Brady, "Reading Hrólfs saga kraka and Pwyll Pendefig Dyfed as literary analogues"

Striking parallels between the Norse Hrólfs saga kraka and the Welsh Pwyll Pendefig Dyfed, the First Branch of the Mabinogion, as well as the known contact between medieval Scandinavian and Welsh peoples, suggest that the two do not share common folk motifs but rather than one is a literary borrowing from the other.  The difficulty, as evident in Alaric Hall’s recent comparison of the Norse text to Branwen Ferch Lŷr, the Second Branch of the Mabinogion, is in determining the direction of transmission.  In this paper, I would like to call attention to four key points of similarity emerging from a comparison of Hrólfs saga kraka and Pwyll Pendeuic Dywet—a preternatural leader is associated with hounds, a mortal warrior finds himself with the appearance of that absent leader, the warrior thus assumes the role of head of the household without incident, and he chooses not to engage in marital relations with his host’s wife when the opportunity arises.  Together, these suggest that the Celtic text is the source of this narrative since visits of mortal heroes to otherworldly courts and the association of hounds with the supernatural are well-known Celtic motifs.  Moreover, the centrality of this episode to the First Branch in contrast to its brief treatment in the Norse saga suggest that these moments find their roots more obviously in a Celtic literary tradition than they do a Scandinavian one.  An awareness of the origins of these motifs further illuminates the well-demonstrated ability of Norse texts to transform material borrowed from other literary traditions by re-envisioning it in new and interesting ways.


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