Wednesday, August 28, 2013



   Gawain, or Gwalchmai (Hawk of May) was chief among Arthur's nephews and eldest of the "Orkney Clan". Gawain is usually said to be the son of Arthur's half-sister Morgause (or Anna). When Uther became king, he marries Morgause off to Lot of Orkney and Gawain was their eldest offspring. Tradition has it that Gawain was educated at Rome in the papal household and later became a leading member of the Round Table. Reminiscent of the ancient Celtic sun-heroes, his strength used to increase till noon and decline afterwards. As with Kay, later legend condemned him as a womanizer and cheater, but he was full of courage and, at his best, a model of chivalry.
   Of all of Arthur's warriors, Gawain has been the greatest. He appears in more of the stories than any of the other companions. In most, he provides a counter to the main hero, the human side of chivalry. Gwalchmai ap Gwyar becomes in the French Romances Gawain, having first been Latinized into Walwanus and Walweyn. In the Triads, he is mentioned in the following manner:-
   "There were three golden-tongued Knights in the Court of Arthur: Gwalchmai the son of Gwyar; Drudwas the son of Tryffin, and Eliwlod the son of Madog ap Uthur. For there was neither King, nor Earl, nor Lord, to whom these came, but would listen to them before all others; and whatever request they made, it would be granted them, whether willingly or unwillingly; and thence were they called the Golden Tongued."
   A similar case for his persuasive capabilities is also provided when he convinces Peredur to return with him to Arthur's camp after Peredur unseats several knights including Sir Kay.
   In one Triad, we find Gwalchmai extolled as one of the three most courteous men towards guests and strangers; and from another we learn that he added scientific attainments to his other remarkable qualities.
   The three learned ones of the island of Britain, Gwalchmai ab Gwyar, and Llecheu ab Arthur, and Rhiwallon with the broom-bush hair; and there was nothing of which they did not know the elements and the material essence."
   Perhaps the most enduring of the Arthur's legends is Gawain and the Green Knight. When the gigantic Green Knight challenged any of Arthur's company to strike a blow at him on condition that the blow should he returned a year hence, it was Gawain who took up the challenge for the honor of Camelot. He severed the Green Knight's head, excusably supposing that the return blow would never be struck, but the challenger picked it up and rode away. Gawain kept the tryst and was spared because of his correct conduct when a married lady tried to seduce him. The story has a parallel in Irish Red Branch stories of Cuchulain and the beheading game of Cu Roi, King of Munster.
   His most destructive failing in Malory was vengefulness. He pursued a ruinous vendetta against Lancelot, who had accidentally killed two of Gawain's brothers when rescuing Guinevere from the stake. When his madness is cooled and he realizes too late his error, he helps to reconcile Arthur and dies at the landing site when Arthur returns to Britain to confront Mordred. He later appears as a ghost to confront Arthur before the final battle.
   William of Malmsbury says, that during the reign of William the Conqueror the tomb of Gwalchmai, or Walwen, as he calls him, was discovered on the sea-shore, in a certain province of Wales called Rhos, which is understood to be that still known by the same name, in the county of Pembroke, where there is a district called in Welsh Castell Gwalchmai, and in English Walwyn's Castle.
   In the Stanzas of the Graves a similar locality is indicated

"The grave of Gwalchmai is in Pyton,
Where the ninth wave flows."
Gawain Poems and Stories
   "Golagros and Gawane" is a late alliterative poem, probably of Scottish origins. It's found in numerous collections but perhaps most conveniently in A. J. Amours' *Scottish Alliterative Poems in Riming Stanzas*. "Sir Gawan and Sir Galeron" is an alternate title for the "Awntyrs of Arthure". This title has fallen into disuse since the 19th century.
   As a proof of the high estimation in which Gwalchmai's powers of persuasion were held, Lady Guest provided the following translation from the Myvyrian Archaiology (I. 178):

Between Trystan the son of Tallwch, and Gwalchmai the son of Gwyar, after Trystan had been absent three years from Arthur's Court, in displeasure, and Arthur had sent eight-and-twenty warriors to seize him, and bring him to Arthur, and Trystan smote them all down, one after another, and came not for any one, but for Gwalchmai with the Golden Tongue.
   Tumultuous is the nature of the wave,
When the sea is at its height.-
Who art thou, mysterious warrior?
   Tumultuous are the waves and the thunder.
In their bursting forth let them be tumultuous.
In the day of conflict I am Trystan.
   Trystan of the faultless speech,
Who, in the day of battle, would not retreat,
A companion of thine was Gwalchmai.
   I would do for Gwalchmai in that day,
In the which the work of slaughter is let loose,
That which one brother would not do for another.
   Trystan, endowed with brilliant qualities,
Whose spear has oft been shivered in the toil of war,
I am Gwalchmai the nephew of Arthur.
   Gwalchmai, there swifter than Mydrin,
Shouldst thou be in danger,
I would cause blood to flow till it reached the knees.
   Trystan, for thy sake would I strive
Until my wrist should fail me;
Also for thee I would do my utmost.
   I ask it in defiance,
I ask it not through fear,-
Who are the warriors before me?
Trystan, of distinguished qualities,
Are they not known to thee?
It is the household of Arthur that comes.
   Arthur will I not shun,
To nine hundred combats will I dare him, -
If I am slain, I will also slay.
   Trystan, the friend of damsels,
Before commencing the work of strife,
The best of all things is peace.
   Let me but have my sword upon my thigh,
And my right hand to defend me,
And I myself will be more formidable than they all.
   Trystan of brilliant qualities,
Before exciting the tumult of conflict,
Reject not Arthur as a friend.
   Gwalchmai, for thy sake will I deliberate,
And with my mouth I utter it.-
As I am loved, so will I love.
   Trystan, of aspiring mind,
The shower wets a hundred oaks.
Come to an interview with thy kinsman.
   Gwalchmai, of persuasive answers,
The shower wets a hundred furrows.
I will go where'er thou wilt.
Then came Trystan with Gwalchmai to Arthur.
   Arthur, of courteous replies,
The shower wets a hundred heads.
Here is Trystan, be thou joyful.
   Gwalchmai, of faultless answers,
The shower wets a hundred dwellings.
A welcome to Trystan, my nephew.
Worthy Trystan, chief of the host,
Love thy race, remember the past;
Am I not the Chief of the Tribe?
Trystan, leader of onsets,
Take equal with the best,
But leave the sovereignty to me.
Trystan, wise and mighty chieftain,
Love thy kindred, none shall harm thee,
Let there be no coldness between friend and friend.
   Arthur, to thee will I attend,
To thy command will I submit,
And that thou wishest will I do.

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