Cup-bearer at the court
of Gwyddno Garanhir
she proffered the mead of prophecy,
Fore-telling the overwelling
of pride, predicting the flood
but not pre-empting the flow
From the poisoned cup of plenty
held by the plaintive stranger,
her presence inviolate.
But respect for her expected
honour waned and without it
she was unprotected.
So was the land. The waters
washed over the fetlocks of horses,
their grazing a gathering place
For dolphins, and she now diving
with them under the waves
that lap at the liminal marshland endlessly
The office of cup bearer had its origins in an older custom and was therefore seen as both integral to the court but also an echo of something other, so its holder could be regarded as equally an insider and an outsider as an officer of the court.
Although the principal role of male cup-bearers was as poison tasters, female cup-bearers in Germanic and Celtic tribes were identified with provision and also with prophecy. The office may have had its origins in the goddess Rosmerta, the element ‘smert’ in her name means ‘provider’ , her emblems being the bucket, ladle, cup and the patera – symbols of life-giving food and drink.
The flooding of the lands of Gwyddno Garanhir are recorded in the legend of Cantre’r Gwaelod. The older of the extant legends blames Mererid (‘Pearl’) – variously identified as a cup-bearer, a well maiden, the lover of one of Gwyddno’s men who had been killed in battle – as the responsible agent of the flood. The story is confused.
Mererid is portrayed as riding through the flood on a horse.
Gwyddno Garanhir’s horse was said to have been poisoned by the waters rushing down through his lands from the spilling of Ceridwen’s cauldron.
Cup bearers are discussed by M J Enright in Lady With a Mead Cup (Four Courts Press, 1995)
Mererid’s story is contained in a poem in the Welsh medieval manuscript of
The Black Book of Carmarthen