Son of Rhiannon and Pwyll, in the First Branch. His name means care, anxiety, worry. He is abducted as a baby, and restored to Rhiannon and Pwyll as a young man. He inherits Dyfed, survives the Irish War, and bestows his core Dyfed estate on his friend Manawydan. He is then trapped by enchantment and freed by Manawydan. He dies in the Fourth Branch due to Gwydion the magician’s plots.
Pryderi is the result of the divine queen Rhiannon’s choice to reject her first betrothed, Gwawl in favour of Pwyll, prince of Dyfed.
Abducted as a newborn baby, Pryderi is rescued and fostered by Teyrnon and his queen in Gwent-ys-Coed, under the name Gwri Goldenhair. He grows as a hero child, far faster and stronger than normal growth. He loves horses so his foster mother ensures he is given the foal born on the night Pryderi was discovered at their door. This sustains his horse ancestry from his birth mother Rhiannon.
Teyrnon was once at the court of Dyfed as a liegeman to Pwyll. So he recognises his foster son’s resemblance to his birth father. Teyrnon and his queen resolve to return the boy to his birth parents.
Pryderi’s first words from his mother Rhiannon speak of being delivered from her anxiety, or relieved of her loss. The words make a play on ‘delivered’ and ‘anxiety/loss’ which give Pryderi his name. The custom of a mother’s first words directly to her child creating his name is also seen in the Fourth Branch when Arianrhod is tricked into naming Lleu.
Pryderi as a young man goes to war in Ireland in the Second Branch. He is one of the Seven Survivors who are caught in enchantments for years, first at Harlech then on the island of Gwales. In Harlech they are soothed by the magical Birds of Rhiannon, sent by Pryderi’s mother.
In the Third Branch Pryderi becomes the prince of Dyfed on his father’s death.
He has become great friends with Manawydan, brother of Bendigeidfran, during the war and its aftermath. Manawydan is usurped of his heritage but refuses to start another war for it.
Pryderi gifts Manawydan the land of Dyfed for his own use; and the widowed queen mother Rhiannon as his wife. Rhiannon and Manwydan find each other congenial, and become fast friends with Pryderi’s young wife Cigfa too.
There is an implication of Rhiannon bearing sovereignty, as in a matrilineal or sovereignty goddess tradition. If so the trasnmission is unclear for it is Pryderi who makes the gift, not Rhiannon.
It is often assumed that Pryderi gifts his land to Manawydan outright, but this is not so. He clearly refers to ownership remaining his in name, while Manawydan and Rhiannon are to have the enjoyment of it. This too contradicts Rhiannon as the holder of sovereignty unless she is a human queen priestess, representing a sovereignty goddess tradition. It is Pryderi who does homage as the lord of Dyfed to Caswallon, king of Britain, so he clearly holds the formal political lordship.
This formal homage protects Dyfed and Manawydan from Caswallon’s enmity. It resembles other Welsh kings who made strategic vows of homage to English kings, such as Hywel Dda whose reign was renowned for its peace.
Together with Cigfa, Pryderi’s wife, and Rhiannon, the two men invoke the power of Gorssedd Arberth by sitting there. Dyfed issuddenly devastated of all civilised life, leaving a virgin wild land.
After a period of hunting the four travel to England where Manawydan leads them in three projects to live as craftspeople. Pryderi’s answer to tensions is violent vengeance, but Manawydan’s advice prevails, so they merely move on.
Back in Dyfed Pryderi and Manawydan go hunting and follow a white boar. Pryderi is trapped when he seeks his valuable hounds inside a tower as they follow the boar. Manawydan does nothing to help his friend which brings him one of Rhiannon’s stinging rebukes/
Rhiannon follows her son but becomes trapped with him; both of them frozen dumbly to a golden bowl.
Manawydan is famous for not raping Pryderi’s wife Cigfa now he is alone with her. She represents a conservative point of view which disapproves of his subsequent attempt to live by shoemaking. Like her husband she has strong ideas on the proper actions of a nobleman.
Manawydan attempts to survive by farming wheat at Arberth. His harvest stolen, he captures a pregnant mouse who leads the thieves. He negotiates with a magician to restore Dyfed, Pryderi and Rhiannon, in return for the pregnant mouse, who is the magician’s wife. The magiciann confesses he is Gwawl’s friend and his enchantments were done out of revenge.
When freed Pryderi reports that during his time away he was subjected to a strange servitude involving hammers. This appears to relate to an old name for his story of abduction.
In the Fourth Branch Pryderi is still prince of Dyfed. He has some special enchanted pigs which were a gift from his great ally Annwfn.
But he is beguiled by Gwydion the magician of Gwynedd, into trading his magical pigs for fake horses and rich gear. It is poignant that Gwydion tempts him by horses and hounds for horses are his passion since childhood, and he also values hounds dearly as seen in the Third Branch. Fatefully Pryderi in making the deal with Gwydion broke his given word to Annwfn, the source of the pigs.
Discovering he has been cheated Pryderi must go to war with Gwynedd. In the war that follows, thousands die. Pryderi then offers single combat to end the killing.
Gwydion kills Pryderi at a river ford, using magic to do it, which evokes Pwyll’s duel with Hafgan. Pryderi is deeply mourned.
Pryderi is the only character to appear in all Four Branches. Together with the root of the title name ‘mabinogi’ i.e. ‘mab’ meaning boy, child, young man, this appears to suggest the Mabinogi might be a hero saga. By comparison with Irish hero tales, some scholars of the ‘original myth’ school, such as Hamp, and Gruffydd, concluded this was so. Pryderi is also compared to or thought to be an avatar of the young god Mabon, who like Pryderi, is an enchanted prisoner.
However the Branches seem to be much more than a single hero’s tale, and the explanation which discards a great deal of other material as mere accretions, is not tenable. The argument is especially weak in the Second and Fourth Branches where Pryderi is an almost incidental character.
(First published 28/08/2014: Shan Morgain)