is a figure in Welsh mythology
who plays her most important role in the Fourth Branch
of the Mabinogi
. She is the daughter of Dôn
and the sister of Gwydion
; the Welsh Triads
give her father as Beli Mawr
. In the Mabinogi
her uncle Math ap Mathonwy
is the King of Gwynedd
, and during the course of the story she gives birth to two sons, Dylan Eil Ton
and Lleu Llaw Gyffes
, through magical means.
According to the Fourth Branch, Arianrhod's uncle Math fab Mathonwy
would die if he did not keep his feet in the lap of a virgin when he was not at war. Gilfaethwy falls in love with his original footholder, Goewin
, and he and his brother Gwydion engineer a war with King Pryderi
, forcing Math to leave his court. In his absence Gilfaethwy rapes Goewin, but is punished severely when Math returns (Math turns him and Gwydion into a series of mated pairs of animals). Math marries Goewin to alleviate her shame, but must find a new virgin to hold his feet.
Gwydion suggests his sister, Arianrhod. To test her virginity, Math tells her to step over his magician's rod. On doing this, however, she immediately gives birth to a young boy, Dylan Eil Don, and an entity which becomes Lleu Llaw Gyffes. Dylan is a sea spirit, who flees to the ocean immediately after he is baptized; Gwydion grabs the entity before anyone else sees it and places it in a chest. Before long it becomes a boy who grows at twice the normal rate; when he is four he is as big as an eight-year-old. Gwydion takes him to see his mother at her home, Caer Arianrhod.
However, Arianrhod is still angry about her humiliation at Math's court. She places a tynged (a geis or curse) on the boy that he will never have a name unless she gives it to him. Gwydion disguises the boy as a shoemaker and returns to Caer Arianrhod; while Arianrhod is being fitted, she sees the boy killing a wren with a single stone and remarks that the fair-haired one ("lleu") has a skillful hand ("llaw gyffes"). Gwydion reveals the disguise, and says she has just given her son a name – Lleu Llaw Gyffes. Arianrhod then places a second tynged on Lleu, that he would never take arms unless she armed him. A few years later Gwydion and Lleu return to Caer Arianrhod, this time disguised as bards. Gwydion is an accomplished storyteller and entertains her court. That night, while everyone sleeps, he conjures a fleet of warships. Arianrhod gives them weapons and armor to help her fight, thereby dispelling her second curse. When Gwydion reveals the trickery, Arianrhod places a final tynged on Lleu: he would never have a wife from any race that is on this earth now. Gwydion and Math eventually break this curse by creating a woman out of oak blossom, broom, and meadowsweet; she is named Blodeuwedd ("flower face"). With her curses, Arianrhod denied Lleu the three aspects of masculinity: a name, arms, and a wife.
In other sources
One of the Welsh Triads, 35 by Rachel Bromwich
's numbering, establishes a different family connection for Arianrhod. Her father is named as Beli Mawr
, and her brother is Caswallawn
(the historical Cassivellaunus). She has two sons by Lliaws son of Nwyfre, Gwenwynwyn and Gwanar, who both accompany Caswallawn in his pursuit of Julius Caesar
, who has been chased from Britain. This triad is the only source connecting Arianrhod to Beli Mawr and the Caswallawn saga, but it is not incompatible with the tradition recorded in the Mabinogion
. The stories of Welsh mythology changed over time, and the Mabinogion
does not contain the only version of them. Welsh scholar William John Gruffydd
noted that 15th- and 16th-century poets apparently knew an alternate tradition in which Arianrhod actually became Math's footholder. Additionally, some scholars have suggested that in an earlier form of the Fourth Branch, Gwydion was the father of Arianrhod's sons.
Arianrhod's palace, Caer Arianrhod, is connected with a rock formation visible off the coast of northern Gwynedd at low tide. This formation is one of several landmarks that attest to the localization of the events in the Fourth Branch in this area. The name "Caer Arianrhod" is also used in Welsh for the constellation Corona Borealis.
The name "Arianrhod" (from the Welsh arian
, "silver," and rhod
, "wheel") may be cognate with Proto-Celtic
, meaning "silver wheel." Alternately, the earliest form of the name may have been Aranrot
, in which case the first part of the name would be related to "Aran."
- Bromwich, Rachel (2006). Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Triads of the Island of Britain. University Of Wales Press. ISBN 0-7083-1386-8.
- Ford, Patrick K. (1977). The Mabinogi and Other Medieval Welsh Tales. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-03414-7.
- Gantz, Jeffrey (translator) (1987). The Mabinogion. New York: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-044322-3.
- Ellis, Peter Berresford (1994). Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. (Oxford Paperback Reference) Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-508961-8
- MacKillop, James (1998). Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-280120-1.
- Wood, Juliette (2002). The Celts: Life, Myth, and Art. Thorsons Publishers. ISBN 0-00-764059-5.