The high point of “Dream of Rhonabwy”
occurs when Arthur and Owein play a board game - essentially a Celtic form
of chess. Some scholars believe that the Owein mentioned is Owein ap Urien,
King of Rheged/ Cumbria, and a much celebrated warrior in early Welsh
poetry for his many victories over the Anglo-Saxons of northern England in
the late Sixth Century. But another possibility is that Owein is Owein
Ddantgwn, Maelgwn Gwynedd's uncle and of Cunedda's line.
While Owein and Arthur
play their game, their warbands fight each other, for no apparent reason.
At first, Arthur’s warband is winning, and Arthur ignores Owein’s
requests that he stop the fighting. Then the situation is reversed, and
Owein ignores Arthur’s requests. (Owein’s warband, by the way, are
referred to as “ravens” - probably after their flag emblem.) The two
leaders finally agree to halt the fighting, but by then both warbands are
so depleted that they have to call off the Battle of Badon Hill.
Phillips and Keatman in
King Arthur: The True Story
(1992) have seen the “Dream of Rhonabwy” as a criticism of Welsh
civil wars, but they read too much into it. They speculate that the Owein of
the story is not Owein of Rheged (as stated in the story), but really
Owein Ddantgwn who ruled Viroconium (modern Wroxeter) in Arthur’s time.
They also claim that the symbolism of the story is to show Arthur fighting
against himself, and therefore that Arthur is really Owein of Viroconium.
Their evidence in support of this is the fact that Viroconium did undergo major new construction
on the middle of the fifth century. However, the town and its “construction
boom” are better connected to Vortigern, who in legend ruled much of Britannia
before Arthur’s time and who is elsewhere strongly associated with the
region (Civitas Cornoviorum) for which Viroconium served as political
Will go into more of their line of