Fad Felen

Variations: Fall Felen

Fad Felen

When the Fad Felen, the “Yellow Pestilence”, “Yellow Death”, or “Yellow Plague”, came to Wales in the 540s, it took the form of a column of watery cloud, one end on the ground and the other high in the air. Any living creature caught in the pestiferous pillar died or sickened to death. It was called the Yellow Pestilence because of the livid, bloodless complexion of those stricken by it. Those physicians who tried to cure the afflicted themselves took ill and died.

Taliesin the poet prophesied the death of Maelgwn Gwynedd, King of North Wales. “A strange creature will come from the marsh of Rhianedd”, he said, “to punish the crimes of Maelgwn Gwynedd; its hair, its teeth, and its eyes are yellow, and this will destroy Maelgwn Gwynedd”. This manifestation of the Fad Felen was perhaps a hideous hag with baleful eyes, in the same way as the ague is referred to as the wrach or hen wrach (the “hag” or “old hag” respectively). Other accounts speak of it as a basilisk; the poet Rhys Tenganwy mentions a scaly monster with claws and pestiferous breath.

Maelgwn Gwynedd saw the Fad Felen through the key-hole of Rhos Church, and died as a result – presumably a poetic way of saying that he died of plague in the church.

References

Llwyd, R. (1837) The Poetical Works of Richard Llwyd. Whittaker & Co., London.

Rees, W. J. (1840) The Liber Landavensis, Llyfr Teilo. The Welsh MSS Society, Llandovery.

Rhys, J. (1884) Celtic Britain. Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London.

Rhys, J. (1892) Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion. Williams and Norgate, London.

Sikes, W. (1880) British Goblins. Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington, London.

I have been requested (by someone who I hire to request) to explain how, exactly, something like “Leviathan” could end up misread and corrupted into “Kuyūtha” or even “Rakaboûna”. And I’m sure there are some people out there (presumably countable on one hand missing several fingers) who are interested in etymology, language, and how monsters evolve based on those.

Well, fear not, for here’s where it gets technical.

Arabic is tricky to read. Why? Well, for a start there’s different ways of writing it, different types, texts, font sizes (as it were). Look at this, for instance.

Nice and legible text, modern printing of al-Wardi. Easy peasy. Then you get older copies like this version of al-Qazwini.

Slightly less legible, but still readable. But then you get to this version of al-Damiri, and, well, you need to see the whole page to get the full impact.

Your eyes aren’t deceiving you. The text in the box is al-Damiri. The text in the margins is the Wonders of Creation by al-Qazwini. That’s right, two books for the price of one, all in lovely tiny crabbed handwriting!

And then of course there’s the lovely manuscripts with the flowery text which I can barely decipher.

Let’s put those aside for now and stick to more legible things.

The next issue is the language itself. There are few vowel letters in Arabic. Most vowel sounds are represented with diacritics.

And guess what? Most times they don’t even write the diacritics! So just based on that, Kuyutha, Kiyutha, Kayutha, Kuyuthan, Kayuthan, Kiyuthan are all equally valid based on the vowels assigned. The “an” at the end can be either a letter or a diacritic – if it’s a letter it’s definitely there, if it’s a diacritic it’s debatably there.

Not only that, but based on the quality of the writing, K and L can look identical, Y and B can look identical (hence Kuyuban), T and TH and N can look identical… So combine that with the average vowel movements (haw haw) and you can piece together how Leviathan could get garbled into Kuyūtha.

name 2

“But what about Rakaboûna?” I hear you say. “You even describe it as “hilarious but understandable” in your entry!”

Well, yes. Yes it is. This misreading is unique to Perron, and he attributes his translation to al-Damiri, which you may remember as being teeny-tiny-textual. I’ll admit I couldn’t figure out how he got “Rakaboûna” out of “Kuyūtha”, until I saw it in context and it all made sense. Here’s the actual part:

I’ve highlighted “and the name of the bull [is] Kuyūtha”. See how cramped the text is? Turns out Perron glued the last letter of “bull” (thawr), which is an R, to the name of the bull. Then he proceeded to read the Y as B and the TH as N, giving “Rakaboûna”. Here’s how the magic happened:

name 3

And there you have it. The poor cosmic bull got saddled with increasingly bizarre monikers, when in reality it should have just been called Behemoth, poor bovine.

I want to thank you all for your kind, wonderful words. Yes. I’ve read every single one even if I haven’t the heart to respond. I’m not having the best few months (and the existence of a certain virus at large isn’t helping), but I may yet be able to return to ABC.