Custennin son of Mnwyedig (also called Custennin the Shepherd [custenin heussaỽr]) in the story of Culhwch and Olwen is a shepherd, seemingly of gigantic size. His wife is a daughter of Amlawdd Guletic and so she is sister to both Arthur’s mother Eigyr and Culhwch’s mother Goleuddyd. By her, Custennin is the father of twenty-four sons, all but the youngest of whom has been slain by Ysbaddaden Chief Giant. This youngest was preserved mainly by being hidden in a chest.
Custennin identifies himself as the shepherd of an enormous flock of sheep owned by Ysbaddaden Chief Giant. Custennin first appears in Culhwch and Olwen on a plain near to Ysbaddaden’s fortress watching over his enormous flock of sheep. He is standing on a mound, clad in a jerkin of skins, accompanied by a dog larger than a stallion. The dog had never lost a lamb, much less a grown sheep, and would not allow any company to go past him without doing it harm or slaying those belonging to it. The dog’s breath would burn up any dead tree of bush on the plain.
When Culhwch gives to Custennin a gold ring, it is too small to fit on his finger and he places it instead within a finger of one of the gloves that he is wearing.
Custennin’s wife is not named but is said to be a daughter of Amlawdd Guletic, who is the father of Eigyr, Arthur’s mother, the father of Goleuddyd, Culhwch’s mother, and the father of many other daughters and sons.
It is because of Custennin’s wife that Ysbaddaden is hostile to Custennin, but no full explanation is given. Custennin jests that “There is no affliction to do me harm save my wife”, which may be understood to refer to the hostility of Ybaddaden against him because of his wife.
Custennin’s wife is a somewhat grotesque figure of immense strength. She is overjoyed to hear that her nephew Culhwch is coming to her and when she hears the arrival of Culhwch and his party, she rushes to greet Culhwch and embrace him. Kay thrusts a log between her arms and she squeezed it with such force that it then appeared as a twisted twig.
Custennin is the father of twenty-four sons by his wife, all but one of whom was slain by Ysbaddaden Chief Giant. This youngest son was preserved mainly by being hidden in a chest all day. Gwrhyr, one of Arthur’s men who has accompanied Culhwch, says that it is a pity that such a promising youth must be so hidden without it being any fault of his own. Custennin’s wife claims that she has no hope of preserving this youngest son in the long run. Thereupon Kay promises that if this son keeps company with him, the son will not be slain unless Cei also is slain.
The son is later named Goreu (meaning ‘Best’), becomes one of Arthur’s men, and is the one who eventually beheads Ysbaddaden Chief Giant and takes possession of Ysbaddaden’s fortress in vengeance for the slaying of his elder brothers.
Custennin and OlwenEdit
Olwen the daughter of Ysbaddaden Chief Giant, seemingly out of pity for Custennin and his wife, comes near to their dwelling every Saturday, ostensibly to wash her head. But each time she leaves all her rings behind in the bowl and never comes herself or sends a messenger to ask for them back. Presumably Custennin and his wife in part support themselves by selling these rings.
Some Name VariationsEdit
WELSH: Custennin (Custenin, Kustenin, Custennhin). This name is the Welsh form of the Latin name Constantinus, rendered in English as Constantine.