"Many Monsters to Destroy"
Trwyth from the Welsh tale Culhwch and Olwen
The boar, Twrch Trwyth, and his seven sons, "the young pigs," were men before being
transformed into pigs for unknown sins. The retrieval of the
grooming implements Twrch Trwyth carries between his ears--comb,scissors, and razor--becomes a
particularly important part of the story's symbolism. This is one of the tasks
Culhwch must perform in order to win his bride. In this story, the boar seems to symbolize the
uncivilized and savage condition of the realm outside Arthur's courtly enclave.
Culhwch, whose name means "pigsty," is King Arthur's nephew. And, with help from the cultured and
well-groomed knights of Arthur's court, Culhwch must do more than complete the tasks the giant Ysbaddaden
has set for him. He must also succeed at fully integrating himself into his uncle's civilized world.
Savageness, however, is not easily tamed. This is illustrated by the fact that, even though the grooming
implements are eventually captured, Twrch Trwyth himself escapes from the knights. But Culhwch's
own, successful, transformation is later signaled by the use to which the captured razor is put. It
slays the giant Ysbaddaden, whose
whose huge,uncouth presence is more truly inhuman and bestial than even
Trwyth Twrch. For the savage boar has a kind of stubborn nobility the giant lacks. It is Ysbaddaden,
rather than the boar, who most fully represents the uncivilized surroundings Arthur's court must struggle
Twrch Trwyth is well covered in the following sites:
The Questing Beast
The Questing Beast, whose more physically descriptive French name is
the "Beste Glatissant" or "the barking beast," has a leapard body, a
serpent head, a lion's hindquarters, and rabbit's feet. A noise like the
barking of a hound pack issues from its stomach. Usually pursued by
Pellinore,the Questing Beast's collection of unlikely body parts links it
to chaos and incest. Indeed, the beast is said to be the result of a
woman's desire for her brother. When the the brother rejected his
sister's incestuous advances, the she made a bargain with the devil, who
then murdered the brother and fathered the Questing Beast on her. (Note
that, in this story, incestuous desire is felt solely by the woman.)
Significantly, Arthur catches a glimpse of this beast shortly after his
own incestuous encounter with his half-sister Morgause. And,
similarly, many versions of the story maintain that Arthur was unaware
Morgause was his sister, and responsibility for their sin is solely
Morgause's. In this episode, the beast functions as a symbolic reminder
that the unrest and disorder it represents will be a consequence of
Arthur's incestuous lust.
However, in a few stories, the symbolic meaning of the Questing
Beast is much more benign. For example, in T.H. White's The Once and
Future King, the Questing Beast is actually a misunderstood creature.
There is, in fact, no good reason for Pellinore to be hunting him, and the
Pellinore's long search for the beast epitomizes all the meaningless
knightly pursuits encouraged by a chivalry ungrounded in the "might makes
Return to the
to The Quest.