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Morfran

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Morfran (‘Great-crow’) is an extraordinarily ugly son of Tegid (Tacitus) Voel, listed also as one of Arthur’s men who survived the Battle of Camlann.

Cerridwen’s CauldronEdit

According to the Hanes Taliesin, Tegid Voel has lands in Penllyn by the side of Lake Tegid from which he takes his name. His son Morfran is so dark and ugly that he is mostly called Afaggdu (‘Utter Darkness’). Morfran’s mother Cerridwen is a sorceress who wishes to give to Morfran qualities that will make him acceptable to the nobility. Cerridwen discovers she can create a potion of herbs that will give to Morfran the power of prophesy. The herbs must be boiled in a cauldron for a year and a day. On that day, three drops of potion would leap from the cauldron and bestow the power on whoever they fall upon. The remnant of the potion would then become a poison so strong that it would shatter the cauldron.

Cerridwen sets a blind man to stir the cauldron, a boy named little Gwion to keep the fire burning and the lead the blind mind, while she herself keeps the cauldron stocked with water and herbs. When a year has past, Cerridwen stations her son Morfran by the cauldron to receive the drops when they come. Then Cerridwen drops asleep.

But when the drops come, little Gwion shoves Morfran out of the way and receives them himself, becoming full of wisdom. The cauldron shatters. Cerridwen awakes, sees what has happened, and is filled with fury. Little Gwion flees. Morfran tells Cerridwen how little Gwion had pushed him out of the way. Cerridwen takes after little Gwion, who will eventually transmogrify into her own child, and then into Taliesin. Morfran is now out of this story.

In another version cited by Bromwich (2006, p. 452), Afaggdu is another son of Tegid by Cerridwen, separate from Morfran, but Bromwich thinks this version is here in error.

In Another TriadEdit

Rachel Bromwich (2006, p. 46) lists Morfran in Triad 24 as one of the Three Slaughter Blocks(?) of the Island of Britain, they being Gilbert son of Cadgyffo, Morfran son of Tegid, and Gwgawn Red-sword.

A Survivor of CamlannEdit

In the medieval Welsh tale of Culhwch and Olwen, Morvran appears in the Arthurian court list (in Ford’s translation [p. 127]):

... and Morfran son of Tegid–no one wounded him at the battle of Camlann because of his ugliness. Everyone thought he was an attendant demon; he had hair on him like a stag.
Immediately following are two other survivors of Camlann to make up a triad: Sanddef Angel-face who was extraordinarily good looking, and Saint Cynwyl.

The early Welsh scholar Evan Evans in a copy of the 17th-century Peniarth 185 manuscript, now known as Panton MS 13, claims there were seven survivors of the Battle of Camlann: Sandde Angel’s Form, Morfran son of Tegid, St. Cynfelyn, St. Cedwyn, St. Pedrog, Derfel Gadarn, and Geneid Hir.

One of the Twenty-four Knights of Arthur’s CourtEdit

Morfran is listed in the 15th century list of the Twenty-four knights of Arthur’s court in a triad along with Sanddef Angel-face and Glewlwyd Mighty-grasp as one of the Three Irresistible Knights, Morvran’s ugliness making it repugnant to any to refuse him anything.

Comparison to the Ugly BraveEdit

In the continental Arthurian romances, the Ugly Brave is a Knight of the Round Table, mentioned fairly often. In the Post-Vulgate Merlin the Ugly Brave is said to be properly named Acanor, to be dark and ugly, and to be son of a king named Oriant who was formerly a pagan. No account names the Ugly Brave as a survivor of Arthur’s last battle, but in the list of knights in Chrétien de Troyes’ Erec et Enide, the Ugly Brave is listed immediately after the Handsome Coward which is reminiscent of the close connection of Morfan with Sanddef Angel-face in some Welsh texts.

It is possible the pairing of the ugly knight with the handsome knight in both traditions has a common origin. Or it might have arisen separately in both traditions without any relationship between them.

Some Name VariationsEdit

WELSH: Morfran, Morvran, Moruran.

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