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Culhwch and Olwen
Culhwch and Olwen

Culhwch is a cousin of King Arthur; his mother has died and his father remarried. His new stepmother is jealous of him, so she decides to send him off on a long and fruitless quest from which he is unlikely to return. She tells him that he is destined never to marry unless he can win the hand of Olwen. As soon as he hears this, Culhwch falls in love with Olwen whom he has never seen, and sets out for King Arthur's court to learn where he can find her. It turns out that Arthur has never heard of Olwen or her family. He promises to find her, but after a year admits he cannot locate her. Culhwch is upset and starts to leave Arthur's court to search on his own, but Arthur, ashamed at his failure, instructs Kay and Bedivere to accompany Culhwch in his quest to find the woman. Three other knights join them and the six of them set out. Eventually they reach a foreign castle, surrounded by a flock of sheep whose shepherd, Custennin, has a dog as big as a horse. Custennin is extremely short tempered, but he likes the look of Culhwch and his party and takes them home with him. It turns out that he is the uncle of Olwen, and his wife is Culhwch's aunt, the sister of Culhwch's dead mother. She is delighted to see him, but upset to learn about his quest, since he is not the first to seek Olwen as his wife; none of the others had survived. Custennin explains that his brother, Olwen's father, envies Custennin's share of their father's fortune and has killed all but one of Custennin's sons. So he and his wife are on Culhwch's side in his quest. The next day Olwen visits the shepherd's house as she does every week. She is very beautiful and Culhwch falls even more deeply in love with her now that he has seen her. Luckily for Culhwch, Olwen falls as deeply in love with him, but she explains that he must ask her father's permission to marry her. Culhwch agrees to get permission for the marriage, so he and his companions call at her castle the next day. Olwen's father tries to put Culhwch off the marriage with various excuses. At last, Olwen's father agrees to tell Culhwch how to win his daughter's hand. He must accomplish forty tasks, each of them more difficult than the one before (makes Hercules' ten tasks seem like a vacation!). Culhwch seems unfazed, and keeps saying, to every new task, that it is easy enough and he will achieve it and marry Olwen. The companions set off to complete the challenge. On the way, they happen to meet up with Gwrnach the Giant. Kay pretends to be a sword polisher, and so tricks the giant out of his sword. One task completed, thirty-nine to go! When they reach Arthur's court, he promises to help them in the remaining tasks. They all set out again, and the full story relates how they complete the remaining thirty-nine tasks, with Arthur's help, by a combination of skill, wiliness and magic. Finally, they manage to obtain the blood of Orddu, the black witch, who lives on the edge of hell (the last task). Arthur cuts her in two by throwing his knife at her, and one of the others catches her blood in a vessel. At last they have succeeded, and they set out for the castle of Olwen's father. He concedes defeat, only to have Custennin's only remaining son cut off his head in vengeance. At last Olwen and Culhwch are married, and live happily ever after.
 

 
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