Culhwch and Olwen: Cafall and the Hunt of Twrch Trwyth
In this most ancient of surviving Arthurian stories (ca.1050, notwithstanding the accounts in Nennius [below] and Gildas, dating ca.800 and ca.540, respectively), both dogs and boar figure as prominently as men. Dogs and horses are treated with a warrior's respect; the nobility of Cafall, Arthur's dog, reflects on the kingliness of Arthur. The Dog is the ultimate symbol of loyalty and skill combined, the self-sacrifice that behooves a warrior, but is rarely seen. The Boar is often its antithesis, who in the pursuit of "self" is isolated, exiled, and ultimately evil and twisted. The Boar is not always a symbol of evil however. As Marcelle Thiebaux pointed out, Tristan's emblem is that of a black boar, and Geoffrey of Monmouth (ca.1136) referred to Arthur as "Aper Cornubiae," while Robert of Glouchester wrote this of Arthur: "[th]e bor of cornwaile ssal helpe [th]is londe."
The hunting of Twrch Trwyth is not so much a strictly "hunt" narrative, as it is an eulogistic listing of combat casualties. The hunt figures almost allegorically as a battle between nations, or between man and pestilence. Twrch himself is a man transformed. More than the general sinner, he is a king in exile, exiled inside the body of a Boar. This is as ancient a motif as King Nebuchandnezzer in the Book of Daniel (IV), who, while his reason failed him and he rejected God, turned wild, eating grass and letting his hair and nails grow long and hideous. In Culhwch and Olwen itself, this is also the case for the "Bitch of Rhymhi" and her two sons, whom Arthur and his knights seek. This is a story where the boundaries between good and evil, man and animal, are vague and ill-defined. Where one figure begins and another ends is uncertain. From the Mabinogion tale of Culhwch and Olwen, the oldest surviving tale of Arthur, comes the story of how Cafall killed Ysgithyrwyn Chief Boar, and how Twrch Trwyth was driven into the sea off the coast of Cornwall.
Readers will also notice the inclusion of the mention of one Gwyn ap Nudd, who imprisoned some of Arthur's nobleman. The significance of this is that Gwyn ap Nudd is also the Lord of Annwfn, the Arthurian Underworld, as well as a prominent figure in the "Wild Hunt," a.k.a. the Chasse Artu. The "Wild Hunt" is an ancient reference to the ride of fallen warriors across the night sky; Gwyn is the chief Welsh hunter, and his dogs are distinct by their white bodies and blood-red ears. In some legends the "Wild Hunt" is led by Arthur himself. It is perhaps of no little significance that in Culhwch and Olwen, Arthur summons Gwyn from his stronghold (the Underworld), demands the lives of his nobles, and releases them himself: the ultimate parallel to Christ's decent into hell, hunting for the souls he claims as his own prize.
Nennius' Historia Britonum (Harleian MSS. 3859, British Museum), compiled ca. 800, is the first to mention Arthur by name, along with the exploits of his favorite hunting dog Cabal. Here he relates the rather miraculous episode when, during the hunt of Twrch Trwyth, Cabal stepped on a stone and left behind an indelible footprint called "Carn Cabal."
Husdent of Tristan, a.k.a. Utant or Hiudan
The story of Tristan, who appears to be a master of nearly everything, including the art of Hunting, would not be complete without the presence of his faithful hound Husdent. It is this hound, who, in alternate displays of childish joy and dogged faithfulness reveals both the humanity and baseness of even this paragon of knights, his master Tristan. The texts excerpted here provide three variations on the same episode: Tristan and Isolde, often with Governal the squire/tutor, have escaped from the gallows/stake of King Mark and into the Forest. Husdent, tied up at home, loudly pines for his master until he is noticed by the court and eventually let loose from his misery. It is then that Husdent embarks on the "Hunt of Tristan," by which, like the "Hunt of Gawain" by the Green Knight, he reveals a few of the flaws in Tristan's character, although unlike the Green Knight, Husdent does this unintentionally and out of an unqualified love and loyalty for his master. From Gottfried von Strassburg(ca.1210), the training of Hiudan, in Tristan and Isolde.
From Beroul (ca.1191), one of the oldest of the Tristan MSS and certainly the most sarcastic, the training of the faithful hound Husdent, as well as the death of one of the Three Barons, is excerpted from The Romance of Tristan.
From Eilhart von Oberge's (ca.1180) Tristrant, comes the story of Utant, who "eagerly hunted down game that was not wild: a man and a woman."
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