Gelert is the name of a legendary dog associated with the village of Beddgelert
Beddgelert, or in older English spelling often Bedgellert, is a village and community in the Snowdonia area of Gwynedd, Wales. It is reputed to be named after the legendary hound Gelert. Population 617.- History:...
(whose name means "Gelert's Grave") in Gwynedd
Gwynedd is a county in north-west Wales, named after the old Kingdom of Gwynedd. Although the second biggest in terms of geographical area, it is also one of the most sparsely populated...
, northwest Wales
Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and the island of Great Britain, bordered by England to its east and the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea to its west. It has a population of three million, and a total area of 20,779 km²...
. The story of Gelert is a variation on the well-worn "Faithful Hound" folk-tale motif
The Brahmin and the Mongoose
The Brahmin and the Mongoose is a folktale from India, and "one of the world's most travelled tales". It describes the rash killing of a loyal animal, and thus warns against hasty action. The story underlies certain legends in the West, such as that of Llewellyn and his dog Gelert in Wales, or...
, which lives on as an urban legend
An urban legend, urban myth, urban tale, or contemporary legend, is a form of modern folklore consisting of stories that may or may not have been believed by their tellers to be true...
. It is classified as Aarne-Thompson type 178A.
Here, the dog is alleged to have belonged to Llywelyn the Great
Llywelyn the Great
Llywelyn the Great , full name Llywelyn ab Iorwerth, was a Prince of Gwynedd in north Wales and eventually de facto ruler over most of Wales...
, Prince of Gwynedd
Kingdom of Gwynedd
Gwynedd was one petty kingdom of several Welsh successor states which emerged in 5th-century post-Roman Britain in the Early Middle Ages, and later evolved into a principality during the High Middle Ages. It was based on the former Brythonic tribal lands of the Ordovices, Gangani, and the...
, and to have been a gift from King John of England
John of England
John , also known as John Lackland , was King of England from 6 April 1199 until his death...
. In this legend, Llywelyn returns from hunting to find his baby's cradle overturned, the baby missing and the dog with blood around its mouth. Imagining that it has savaged the child, Llywelyn draws his sword and kills the dog, which lets out a final dying yelp. He then hears the cries of the baby and finds it unharmed under the cradle, along with a dead wolf which had attacked the child and been killed by Gelert. Llywelyn is then overcome with remorse and he buries the dog with great ceremony, yet can still hear the dying yelp. After that day Llywelyn never smiles again.
Poems and other variationsThis story formed the basis for several English poems, among which are "Beth Gêlert; or, the Grave of the Greyhound" by William Robert Spencer
William Robert Spencer
William Robert Spencer , English poet and wit, was the younger son of Lord Charles Spencer and his wife Mary Beauclerk. He was the grandson of Charles Spencer, 3rd Duke of Marlborough on his father's side and Vere Beauclerk, 1st Baron Vere on his mother's...
written around 1800; "Beth Gelert" by Richard Henry Horne
Richard Henry Horne
Richard Hengist Horne was and English poet and critic most famous for his poem Orion.-Early life:...
; "Gelert" by Francis Orray Ticknor and the dramatic poem "Llewellyn" by Walter Richard Cassels
Walter Richard Cassels
Walter Richard Cassels is the speculated author of the anonymous work Supernatural Religion.-Biography:...
. The tale is also alluded to by John Critchley Prince in lines 24 to 29 of his poem "North Wales:" "Thou hast not trod with pilgrim foot the ground / Where sleeps the canine martyr of distrust, / Poor Gelert, famed in song, as brave a hound / As ever guarded homestead, hut, or hall, / Or leapt exulting at the hunter’s call; / As ever grateful man consigned to dust." Despite this, and despite the presence of a raised mound in the village called Gelert's Grave, historians do not believe that Gelert ever existed.
It is recorded in Wild Wales
Wild Wales: Its People, Language and Scenery is a travel book by the English Victorian gentleman writer George Borrow, , first published in 1862....
by George Borrow
George Henry Borrow was an English author who wrote novels and travelogues based on his own experiences around Europe. Over the course of his wanderings, he developed a close affinity with the Romani people of Europe. They figure prominently in his work...
, who notes that it is a well known legend; by Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable
Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable
Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, sometimes referred to simply as Brewer's, is a reference work containing definitions and explanations of many famous phrases, allusions and figures, whether historical or mythical.-History:...
, which details versions of the same story from other cultures; and by The Nuttall Encyclopaedia
The Nuttall Encyclopaedia
The Nuttall Encyclopædia: Being a Concise and Comprehensive Dictionary of General Knowledge is an early 20th-century encyclopedia, edited by Rev. James Wood, first published in London in 1900 by Frederick Warne & Co Ltd.-Description:...
, under the Anglicised spellings "Gellert" and "Killhart". John Fiske discusses Gelert in his Myths and Myth-makers, saying regretfully that "as the Swiss must give up his Tell
William Tell is a folk hero of Switzerland. His legend is recorded in a late 15th century Swiss chronicle....
, so must the Welshman be deprived of his brave dog Gellert, over whose cruel fate I confess to having shed more tears than I should regard as well bestowed upon the misfortunes of many a human hero of romance." He notes that "to this day the visitor to Snowdon is told the touching story, and shown the place, called Beth-Gellert, where the dog's grave is still to be seen. Nevertheless, the story occurs in the fireside lore of nearly every Aryan
The Indo-European languages are a family of several hundred related languages and dialects, including most major current languages of Europe, the Iranian plateau, and South Asia and also historically predominant in Anatolia...
The tale indeed appears in numerous cultures with minor variations. The Alpine ligurian
The Ligurian Alps are a mountain range in northwestern Italy. A small part is located in France. They form the south-western extremity of the Alps, separated from the Apennines by the Colle di Cadibona. The Col de Tende separates them from the Maritime Alps...
poem R sacrifisi dr can, written in Ligurian
Ligurian language (Romance)
Ligurian is a Gallo-Romance language spoken in Liguria in Northern Italy, parts of the Mediterranean coastal zone of France, Monaco and in the villages of Carloforte and Calasetta in Sardinia. Genoese , spoken in Genoa, the capital of Liguria, is its most important dialect...
, tells of how a shepherd shot his sheepdog, after finding it covered in sheep blood, only to later find a dead wolf in the stable.
In India, a black snake replaces the wolf and a mongoose
Mongoose are a family of 33 living species of small carnivorans from southern Eurasia and mainland Africa. Four additional species from Madagascar in the subfamily Galidiinae, which were previously classified in this family, are also referred to as "mongooses" or "mongoose-like"...
replaces the dog. In Egypt, the story goes that a cook nearly killed a Wali
Walī , is an Arabic word meaning "custodian", "protector", "sponsor", or authority as denoted by its definition "crown". "Wali" is someone who has "Walayah" over somebody else. For example, in Fiqh the father is wali of his children. In Islam, the phrase ولي الله walīyu 'llāh...
, for having smashed a pot of herbs, only to discover that the pot contained a poisonous snake.
In Malaysian folklore, a similar story involves a tame bear
The sun bear , sometimes known as the honey bear, is a bear found primarily in the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia; North-East India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Southern China, Peninsular Malaysia, and the islands of Sumatra and Borneo.-Description:The sun bear...
, kept by a Malay hunter as the guardian of his young daughter. As in the story of Gelert, the hunter returns home from an expedition, and finds his daughter gone and the bear covered in blood. Hastily thinking the bear has devoured his daughter, the hunter kills it with his spear, but later finds the body of a tiger, killed by the bear in defence of the hunter's daughter, who shortly emerges from the jungle, from where she took refuge.
The recurrent and cross cultural story is said to be a meme
A meme is "an idea, behaviour or style that spreads from person to person within a culture."A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena...
Gelert's graveIt is now accepted that the village of Beddgelert took its name from an early saint named Kilart or Celert, rather than from the dog. The "grave" mound is ascribed to David Prichard, landlord of the Goat Hotel in Beddgelert in the late eighteenth century, who connected the legend to the village in order to encourage tourism.
On the supposed grave of Gelert there are two slate memorials, one in Welsh and the other in English. The latter reads:
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.