A WELL TRAVELLED TALE.

I remember well a tale told to me many times in school about Prince Llywelyn & how he mistakenly killed his faithful dog for a crime that he did not commit. It was told to me as a true story. So believed is it, that in the town of Beddgelert in Gwynedd, Wales there is a grave & two memorial slates, in English & Welsh, dedicated to the poor wrongly executed dog.

GELERT’S GRAVE
The English memorial reads as follows:     

IN
THE 13TH CENTURY, LLYWELYN, PRINCE OF NORTH WALES, HAD A PALACE AT
BEDDGELERT. ONE DAY HE WENT HUNTING WITHOUT GELERT "THE FAITHFUL HOUND"
WHO WAS UNACCOUNTABLY ABSENT. ON LLYWELYN’S RETURN, THE TRUANT STAINED
AND SMEARED WITH BLOOD, JOYFULLY SPRANG TO MEET HIS MASTER. THE PRINCE
ALARMED HASTENED TO FIND HIS SON, AND SAW THE INFANT’S COT EMPTY, THE
BEDCLOTHES AND FLOOR COVERED WITH BLOOD. THE FRANTIC FATHER PLUNGED THE
SWORD INTO THE HOUND’S SIDE THINKING IT HAD KILLED HIS HEIR. THE DOG’S
DYING YELL WAS ANSWERED BY A CHILD’S CRY. LLYWELYN SEARCHED AND
DISCOVERED HIS BOY UNHARMED BUT NEAR BY LAY THE BODY OF A MIGHTY WOLF
WHICH GELERT HAD SLAIN, THE PRINCE FILLED WITH REMORSE IS SAID NEVER TO
HAVE SMILED AGAIN. HE BURIED GELERT HERE. THE SPOT IS CALLED BEDDGELERT

The moral is obviously that we should not to make hasty decisions based on flimsy evidence, especially if those decisions are irreversable. Put more simply ‘Don’t jump to conclusions.’

Maybe the moral should be ‘you can’t keep a good story down.’

It turns out that this tale, or versions of it, have travelled a long way, right around the world in fact !
Certain facts change here & there but it is always the same basic story. In France it is even responsible for creating a saint, a dog saint called Guinefort. At the end of the story,
on realizing the mistake the family dropped the dog down a well, covered
it with stones and planted trees around it, setting up a shrine
for
Guinefort. Guinefort became recognised by locals as a saint for the
protection of infants. It was alleged by contemporary commentators that
locals left their babies at the site to be healed by the dog, and
sometimes the babies would be harmed or killed by the rituals involved.

The oldest version was found in India & involved a mongoose. Here is what is probably the original version from the Panchatantra in Sanskrit, translation from Ryder 1925, goes as follows:

The Loyal
Mongoose

There was once a Brahman named Godly in a certain town. His wife mothered a single son and a mongoose. And
as she loved little ones, she cared for the mongoose also like a son,
giving him milk from her breast, and salves, and baths, and so on. But
she did not trust him, for she thought: “A mongoose is a nasty kind of
creature. He might hurt my boy.”

One day she tucked her son
in bed, took a waterjar, and said to her husband: “Now, Professor, I am
going for water. You must protect the boy from the mongoose.” But when
she was gone, the Brahman went off somewhere himself to beg food,
leaving the house empty.

While he was gone, a black snake issued
from his hole and, as fate would have it, crawled toward the baby’s
cradle. But the mongoose, feeling him to be a natural enemy, and fearing
for the life of his baby brother, fell upon the vicious serpent
halfway, joined battle with him, tore him to bits, and tossed the pieces
far and wide. Then, delighted with his own heroism, he ran, blood
trickling from his mouth, to meet the mother; for he wished to show what
he had done.

But when the mother saw him coming, saw his bloody
mouth and his excitement, she feared that the villain must have eaten
her baby boy, and without thinking twice, she angrily dropped the
water-jar upon him, which killed him the moment that it struck. There
she left him without a second thought, and hurried home, where she found
the baby safe and sound, and near the cradle a great black snake, torn
to bits. Then, overwhelmed with sorrow because she had thoughtlessly
killed her benefactor, her son, she beat her head and breast.

At
this moment the Brahman came home with a dish of rice gruel which he had
got from someone in his begging tour, and saw his wife bitterly
lamenting her son, the mongoose. “Greedy! Greedy!” she cried. “Because
you did not do as I told you, you must now taste the bitterness of a
son’s death, the fruit of the tree of your own wickedness. Yes, this is
what happens to those blinded by greed….”

In
ancient India, the mongoose was considered to be a natural enemy of the
snake, and a useful pet for this reason; while the dog was considered to
be an impure animal.

In Western variants of the story, other animals take the place of the
mongoose, most often a dog. It is also found in other versions as a
weasel, a cat in Persia, a bear, or a lion, and the snake is sometimes
replaced with a wolf as in the Welsh version. The essence of the story, however,
remains the same. Similarly, variants of the story sometimes have the
man, instead of his wife, killing the loyal animal.
The
story is sometimes placed within a frame story, where a saviour stands
mistakenly accused and narrates this story, thereby preventing his own
death.

It just goes to show, don’t believe everything you’re told !

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About An Elephant's Child

Like the elephant's child I am filled with insatiable curiousity. I REALLY AM THE PERSON YOUR MOTHER WARNED YOU ABOUT.
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