The Mabinogion: The Dream of Macsen
Macsen Wledig was emperor of Rome, and he was a comelier man, and a
better and a wiser than any emperor that had been before him. And one day he held a
council of kings, and he said to his friends, "I desire to go to-morrow to
hunt." And the next day in the morning he set forth with his retinue, and came to the
valley of the river that flowed towards Rome. And he hunted through the valley until
mid-day. And with him also were two-and-thirty crowned kings, that were his vassals; not
for the delight of hunting went the emperor with them, but to put himself on equal terms
with those kings.
And the sun was high in the sky over their heads, and the heat was great. And sleep
came upon Macsen Wledig. And his attendants stood and set up their shields around him upon
the shafts of their spears to protect him from the sun, and they placed a gold enamelled
shield under his head; and so Macsen slept.
And he saw a dream. And this is the dream that he saw. He was journeying along the
valley of the river towards its source; and he came to the highest mountain in the world.
And he thought that the mountain was as high as the sky; and when he came over the
mountain, it seemed to him that he went through the fairest and most level regions that
man ever yet beheld, on the other side of the mountain. And he saw large and mighty rivers
descending from the mountain to the sea, and towards the mouths of the rivers he
proceeded. And as he journeyed thus, he came to the mouth of the largest river ever seen.
And he beheld a great city at the entrance of the river, and a vast castle in the city,
and he saw many high towers of various colours in the castle. And he saw a fleet at the
mouth of the river, the largest ever seen. And he saw one ship among the fleet; larger was
it by far, and fairer than all the others. Of such part of the ship as he could see above
the water, one plank was gilded and the other silvered over. He saw a bridge of the bone
of the whale from the ship to the land, and. he thought that he went along the bridge, and
came into the ship. And a sail was hoisted on the ship, and along the sea and the ocean
was it borne. Then it seemed that he came to the fairest island in the whole world, and he
traversed the island from sea to sea, even to the furthest shore of the island. Valleys he
saw, and steeps and rocks of wondrous height, and rugged precipices. Never yet saw he the
like. And thence he beheld an island in the sea, facing this rugged land. And between him
and this island was a country of which the plain was as large as the sea, the mountain as
vast as the wood. And from the mountain he saw a river that flowed through the land and
fell into the sea. And at the mouth of the river he beheld a castle, the fairest that man
ever saw, and the gate of the castle was open, and he went into the castle. And in the
castle he saw a fair hall, of which the roof seemed to be all gold, the walls of the hall
seemed to be entirely of glittering precious gems, the doors all seemed to be of gold.
Golden seats he saw in the hall, and silver tables. And on a seat opposite to him, he
beheld two auburn-haired youths playing at chess. He saw a silver board for the chess, and
golden pieces thereon. The garments of the youths were of jet black satin, and chaplets of
ruddy gold bound their hair, whereon were sparkling jewels of great price, rubies, and
gems, alternately with imperial stones. Buskins of new cordovan leather on their feet,
fastened by slides of red gold.
And beside a pillar in the hall, he saw a hoary-headed man, in a chair of ivory, with
the figures of two eagles of ruddy gold thereon. Bracelets of gold were upon his arms, and
many rings were on his hands, and a golden torque about his neck; and his hair was bound
with a golden diadem. He was of powerful aspect. A chess-board of gold was before him, and
a rod of gold, and a steel file in his hand. And he was carving out chess-men.
And he saw a maiden sitting before him in a chair of ruddy gold. Not more easy than to
gaze upon the sun when brightest, was it to look upon her by reason of her beauty. A vest
of white silk was upon the maiden, with clasps of red gold at the breast; and a surcoat of
gold tissue upon her, and a frontlet of red gold upon her head, and rubies and gems were
in the frontlet, alternating with pearls and imperial stones. And a girdle of ruddy gold
was around her. She was the fairest sight that man ever beheld.
The maiden arose from her chair before him, and he threw his arms about the neck of the
maiden, and they two sat down together in the chair of gold: and the chair was not less
roomy for them both, than for the maiden alone. And as he had his arms about the maiden's
neck, and his cheek by her cheek, behold, through the chafing of the dogs at their
leashing, and the clashing of the shields as they struck against each other, and the
beating together of the shafts of the spears, and the neighing of the horses and their
prancing, the emperor awoke.
And when he awoke, nor spirit nor existence was left him, because of the maiden whom he
had seen in his sleep, for the love of the maiden pervaded his whole frame. Then his
household spake unto him. "Lord," said they, "is it not past the time for
thee to take thy food?" Thereupon the emperor mounted his palfrey, the saddest man
that mortal ever saw, and went forth towards Rome.
And thus he was during the space of a week. When they of
the household went to drink wine and mead out of golden vessels, he went not with any of
them. When they went to listen to songs and tales, he went not with them there; neither
could he be persuaded to do any thing but sleep. And as often as he slept, he
in his dreams the maiden he loved best; but except when he slept he saw nothing of her,
for he knew not where in the world she was.
One day the page of the chamber spake unto him; now, although he was page of the
chamber, he was king of the Romans. "Lord," said he, "all the people revile
thee." "Wherefore do they revile me?" asked the emperor. "Because they
can get neither message nor answer from thee as men should have from their lord. This is
the cause why thou art spoken evil of." "Youth," said the emperor, "do
thou bring unto me the wise men of Rome, and I will tell them wherefore I am
Then the wise men of Rome were brought to the emperor, and he spake to them.
"Sages of Rome," said he, "I have seen a dream. And in the dream I beheld a
maiden, and because of the maiden is there neither life, nor spirit, nor existence within
me." "Lord," they answered, "since thou judgest us worthy to counsel
thee, we will give thee counsel. And this is our counsel; that thou send messengers for
three years to the three parts of the world, to seek for thy dream. And as thou knowest
not what day or what night good news may come to thee, the hope thereof will support
So the messengers journeyed for the space of a year, wandering about the world, and
seeking tidings concerning his dream. But when they came back at the end of the year, they
knew not one word more than they did the day they set forth. And then was the emperor
exceeding sorrowful, for he thought that he should never have tidings of her whom best he
Then spoke the king of the Romans unto the emperor.
"Lord," said he, "go forth to hunt by the way thou didst seem to go,
whether it were to the east, or to the west." So the emperor went forth to the hunt,
and he came to the bank of the river. "Behold," said he, "this is where I
was when I saw the dream, and I went towards the source of the river westward."
And thereupon thirteen messengers of the emperor's set forth, and before them they saw
a high mountain, which seemed to them to touch the sky. Now this was the guise in which
the messengers journeyed; one sleeve was on the cap of each of them in front, as a sign
that they were messengers, in order that through what hostile land soever they might pass
no harm might be done them. And when they were come over this mountain, they beheld vast
plains, and large rivers flowing there through. "Behold," said they, "the
land which our master saw."
And they went along the mouths of the rivers, until they
came to the mighty river which they saw flowing to the sea, and the vast city, and the
many-coloured high towers in the castle. They saw the largest fleet in the world, in the
harbour of the river, and one ship that was larger than any of the others. "Behold
again," said they, "the dream that our master saw." And in the great ship
they crossed the sea, and came to the Island of Britain. And they traversed the island
until they came to Snowdon. "Behold," said they, "the rugged land that our
master saw." And they went forward until they saw Anglesey before them, and until
they saw Arvon likewise. "Behold," said they, "the land our master saw in
his sleep." And they saw Aber Sain, and a castle at the mouth of the river. The
portal of the castle saw they open, and into the castle they went, and they saw a hall in
the castle. Then said they, "Behold, the hall which he saw in his sleep." They
went into the hall, and they beheld two youths playing at chess on the golden bench. And
they beheld the hoary-headed man beside the pillar, in the ivory chair, carving chessmen.
And they beheld the maiden sitting on a chair of ruddy gold.
The messengers bent down upon their knees. "Empress of Rome, all hail! Ha,
gentles," said the maiden, "ye bear the seeming of honourable men, and the badge
of envoys, what mockery is this ye do to me?" "We mock thee not, lady; but the
Emperor of Rome hath seen thee in his sleep, and he has neither life nor spirit left
because of thee. Thou shalt have of us therefore the choice, lady, whether thou
wilt go with us and be made empress of Rome, or that the emperor come hither and take thee
for his wife?" "Ha, lords," said the maiden, "I will not deny what ye
say, neither will I believe it too well. If the emperor love me, let him come here to seek
And by day and night the messengers hied them back. And when their horses failed, they
bought other fresh ones. And when they came to Rome, they saluted the Emperor, and asked
their boon, which was given to them according as they named it. "We will be thy
guides, lord," said they, "over sea and over land., to the place where is the
woman whom best thou lovest, for we know her name, and her kindred, and her race.
And immediately the emperor set forth with his army. And
these men were his guides. Towards the Island of Britain they went over the sea and the
deep. And he conquered the Island from Beli the son of Manogan, and his sons, and drove
them to the sea, and went forward even unto Arvon. And the emperor knew the land when he
saw it. And when he beheld the castle of Aber Sain, "Look yonder," said he,
"there is the castle wherein I saw the damsel whom I best love." And he went
forward into the castle and into the hall, and there he saw Kynan the son of Eudav, and
Adeon the son of Eudav, playing at chess. And he saw Eudav the son of Caradawc, sitting on
a chair of ivory carving chessmen. And the maiden whom he had beheld in his sleep, he saw
sitting on a chair of gold. "Empress of Rome," said he, "all hail!"
And the emperor threw his arms about her neck; and that night she became his bride.
And the next day in the morning, the damsel asked her maiden portion. And he told her
to name what she would. And she asked to have the Island of Britain for her father, from
the Channel to the Irish Sea, together with the three adjacent Islands, to hold under the
empress of Rome; and to have three chief castles made for her, in whatever places she
might choose in the Island of Britain. And she chose to have the highest castle made at
Arvon. And they brought thither earth from Rome that it might be more healthful for the
emperor to sleep, and sit, and walk upon. After that the two other castles were made for
her, which were Caer Leon and Caermarthen.
And one day the emperor went to hunt at Caermarthen, and he came so far as the top of
Brevi Vawr, and there the emperor pitched his tent. And that encamping place is called
Cadeir Macsen, even to this day. And because that he built the castle with a myriad of
men, he called it Caervyrddin. Then Helen bethought her to make high roads from one castle
to another throughout the Island of Britain. And the roads were made. And for this cause
are they called the roads of Helen Luyddawc, that she was sprung from a native of this
island, and the men of the Island of Britain would not have made these great roads for any
save for her.
Seven years did the emperor tarry in this Island. Now, at
that time, the men of Rome had a custom, that whatsoever emperor should remain in other
lands more than seven years, should remain to his own overthrow, and should never return
to Rome again.
So they made a new emperor. And this one wrote a letter of threat to Macsen. There was
nought in the letter but only this. "If thou comest, and if thou ever comest to
Rome." And even unto Caer Leon came this letter to Macsen, and these tidings. Then
sent he a letter to the man who styled himself emperor in Rome. There was nought in that
letter also but only this. "If I come to Rome, and if I come."
And thereupon Macsen set forth towards Rome with his army, and vanquished France and
Burgundy, and every land on the way, and sat down before the city of Rome.
A year was the emperor before the city, and he was no nearer taking it than the first
day. And after him there came the brothers of Helen Luyddawc from the Island of Britain,
and a small host with them, and better warriors were in that small host than twice as many
Romans. And the emperor was told that a host was seen, halting close to his army and
encamping, and no man ever saw a fairer or better appointed host for its size, nor more
And Helen went to see the hosts, and she knew the standards of her brothers. Then came
Kynan the son of Eudav, and Adeon the son of Eudav, to meet the emperor. And the emperor
was glad because of them, and embraced them.
Then they looked at the Romans as they attacked the city. Said Kynan to his brother,
"We will try to attack the city more expertly than this." So they measured by
night the height of the wall, and they sent their carpenters to the wood, and a ladder was
made for every four men of their number. Now when these were ready, every day at mid-day
the emperors went to meat, and they ceased to fight on both sides till all had finished
eating. And in the morning the men of Britain took their food, and they drank until they
were invigorated. And while the two emperors were at meat, the Britons came to the city,
and placed their ladders against it, and forthwith they came in through the city.
The new emperor had no time to arm himself when they fell upon him, and slew him, and
many others with him. And three nights and three days were they subduing the men that were
in the city and taking the castle. And others of them kept the city, lest any of the host
of Macsen should come therein, until they had subjected all to their will.
Then spake Macsen to Helen Luyddawc. "I marvel, lady," said he, "that
thy brothers have not conquered this city for me." "Lord, emperor," she
answered, "the wisest youths in the world are my brothers. Go thou thither and ask
the city of them, and if it be in their possession thou shalt have it gladly." So the
emperor and Helen went and demanded the city. And they told the emperor that none had
taken the city, and that none could give it him, but the men of the Island of Britain.
Then the gates of the city of Rome were opened, and the emperor sat on the throne, and all
the men of Rome submitted themselves unto him. The emperor then said unto Kynan and
"Lords," said he, "I have now had possession of the whole of my empire.
This host give I unto you to vanquish whatever region ye may desire in the world."
So they set forth and conquered lands, and castles, and
cities. And they slew all the men, but the women they kept alive. And thus they continued
until the young men that had come with them were grown grey-beaded, from the length of
time they were upon this conquest.
Then spoke Kynan unto Adeon his brother, "Whether wilt thou rather," said he,
"tarry in this land, or go back into the land whence thou didst come forth?" Now
he chose to go back to his own land, and many with him. But Kynan tarried there with the
other part and dwelt there.
And they took counsel and cut out the tongues of the women, lest they should corrupt
their speech. And because of the silence of the women from their own speech, the men of
Armorica are called Britons. From that time there came frequently, and still comes, that
language from the Island of Britain.
And this dream is called the Dream of Macsen Wledig, emperor of Rome. And here it ends.
Introduction to Nennius
THE MABINOGION STORIES:
5. Macsen Wledig
8. Kilhwch & Olwen
11. Peredur ab Evrac