One of the legendary monsters spoken about in The Mabinogion is the legendary monster boar known as Twrch Trwyth (literally meaning “The Boar Trwyth” in Welsh). While it is most known for appearing in The Mabinogion, the creature was first mentioned in the ninth century tale of British history named Historia Brittonum.
The tale of Twrch Trywth, who was a Prince and son of the King who was turned into a wild board, is an interesting one. Twrch Trywth is where King Arthur makes his first appearance, and takes on some inspiration from the Greek tale of Heracles.
Prince Culhwch must complete 30 tasks in order to win the hand of Olwen (daughter of the giant Ysbaddaden). One of these is to obtain three items stuck in the hair of a monster boar, named Twrch Trwyth. He must collect a pair of scissors, a comb, and a razor from the boar, and return them to Ysbaddaden.
Culhwch must obtain these items to be able to kil Ysbaddaden at his wedding, so entrust the help of King Arthur and his knights in order to try and kill the boar, and steal his wares.
In a land of ancient legends, the tale of Twrch, the cursed son of Prince Tared, unfolded. Twrch was no ordinary creature; he was plagued by a sinister curse, which had transformed him into a wild beast with venomous bristles that covered his body. Strangely, Twrch carried a pair of scissors, a comb, and a razor between his ears on his head, as if fate had bound him to these peculiar tools.
French romances, including those by Chrétien de Troyes, spoke of Ares, the father of a noble knight named Tor. It was believed by some scholars that Tor, the son of Ares, was none other than the Twrch, son of Tared, of the Culhwch and Olwen legend, and that the true name of Twrch’s father was likely Ares.
The great hero Culhwch found himself embroiled in the intricate web of this ancient story when he set out to win the hand of Olwen, the daughter of the giant Ysbaddaden. The giant imposed a seemingly impossible task upon Culhwch – to obtain the comb, scissors, and a hidden razor from Twrch’s head. These peculiar implements were essential for a ceremonial hair-cutting that Ysbaddaden required to be performed.
To make matters even more challenging, Ysbaddaden revealed that the only hound capable of hunting down Twrch was Drudwyn, the fierce whelp of Greid. Ysbaddaden then listed the specific requirements for the leash that would hold Drudwyn, and only a man of incredible strength could manage it. Desperate to fulfill this daunting mission, Ysbaddaden instructed Culhwch to seek the aid of Arthur, his cousin, to help hunt down the elusive Twrch.
Before embarking on the hunt, Menw, son of Teirgwaedd, took on the form of a bird and ventured to Twrch’s lair. There, he encountered the boar with seven piglets and attempted to snatch one of the peculiar implements from Twrch’s scalp. In a daring swoop, Menw managed to seize a single silver bristle, but his actions agitated Twrch, who violently shook himself, releasing venom that severely wounded Menw.
The hunt for Twrch spanned across the latter part of the epic tale of Culhwch and Olwen. The narrative meticulously detailed the geographical route of the pursuit and the valiant individuals who played significant roles in this grand endeavor. While Culhwch had initiated the quest, it was Arthur and his brave companions who took the lead, responding to Culhwch’s plea for assistance.
As the chase unfolded, Twrch proved to be a formidable adversary, causing the death of several of Arthur’s valiant knights. However, Twrch was eventually forced to surrender his ill-fated tools – the razor, scissors, and comb – under duress. He was then driven into the sea off the coast of Cornwall, where he met his demise in the cold, unforgiving waters.
But the story did not end there, for another boar named Ysgithyrwyn, or “White-Tusk, Chief of Boars,” had to be captured. His tusk was required to complete the grand grooming ceremony of Ysbaddaden, the giant. The quest for this tusk added yet another layer of adventure and intrigue to this enduring tale of bravery and legend.
The Twrch Trwyth is similar to the Erymanthian boar of Greek Mythology, which was killed by Heracles in the “Fourth Labour of Heracles”, as declared by King Eurystheus, who Heracles was forced to work for over the next ten years, to atone for murdering his wife and son.
While their origin can be dated back from the 14th-century, it is likely that the story is a mix of multiple different Welsh legends, going back even further. This is due to the oral tradition of storytelling throughout Welsh history, due to a majority of the population being illiterate for most of the country’s history.