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Bears in Britain

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Sidney View Drop Down
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  Quote Sidney Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: Bears in Britain
    Posted: 30-Mar-2013 at 17:08
Originally posted by Sidney

Geoffrey of Monmouth’s ‘History of the Kings of Britain’, written in 1136, tells a story that King Arthur dreamt of a dragon fighting and defeating a bear. Arthur’s advisers tell him that the dragon is him, and the bear is some giant that he will destroy. So, at least in the Norman period when Geoffrey was writing, a bear could be a giant. Arthur himself was not happy about the dream as he identified the bear with himself (Arthur = ‘bear’ in Welsh).

After this dream Arthur does indeed fight and defeat a giant, on Mont St.Michael in Britanny. This encounter was so fierce that it caused Arthur to remember an earlier giant he had slain.

This earlier fight was with the giant Retho, on Mount Snowdon in Wales. This Retho had a cloak made of beards, which beards were obtained from the many kings he had defeated. Arthur slew him and took the cloak for himself. Perhaps this cloak of beards was actual fur, and Retho was a mighty Welsh bear that Arthur slew and skinned?


I have only found (up to now) one explicit encounter between a bear and a figure in Welsh mythology/legend. This is in a Welsh triad poem that reads;

"The three vigorous ones of the Isle of Britain
Gwrnerth the Sharp Shot, who killed the greatest bear that was ever seen with a straw arrow;
Gwgawn with the Mighty Hand, who rolled the stone of Maenarch from the valley to the mountain summit, and which required sixty oxen to draw it;
and Eidiol the Mighty, who, in the Plot of Stonehenge, killed six hundred and sixty Saxons with a billet of the service tree, between sun-set and dusk."


Unfortunately this triad only seems to appear in the 18th Century collection of Iolo Morganwg, who is strongly suspected of having forged some of his 'ancient' poems. But whether the story of Gwrnerth shooting a bear with a straw arrow is of ancient source or is an 18th Century creation, its the only reference I have found to anybody in Welsh legend being said to have encountered a bear in person.

Edited by Sidney - 30-Mar-2013 at 17:24
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  Quote Sidney Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01-Apr-2013 at 15:11
Another possible echo of bears in Welsh myth is in the C14th Mabinogion tales. King Math son of Mathonwy, whose names mean 'bear' and 'bearlike', could only live if his feet were in the lap of a virgin. But his current virgin was raped by his nephews. Math married her to preserve her honour, and as a replacement chose his niece, Arianrhod. To test her virginity she had to leap over his staff, but in so doing she gave birth to a son Dylan, and a lump of flesh. Arianrhod fled the court, and while Dylan was brought up at court, the lump of flesh was wrapped in a cloth and placed in a chest. Sometime later cries were heard coming from the chest, and on investigation, a baby boy was found, later called Lleu Llaw Gyffes (the skill handed fair-one).

This connects to bears because in old folklore a bear gave birth to lumps of flesh, which she licked into the shape of bear cubs. Thus LLeu, nephew of a bear, was born as a lump of flesh that only later became a child.
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  Quote opuslola Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-Jan-2014 at 21:16
Sidney, what a great service you have done above!

Bravo, Ron
http://www.quotationspage.com/subjects/history/
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