Cavall (Middle Welsh: cauall RBH & WBR; modernized: Cafall;[1] pronounced [kaˈvaɬ]; Latin: Cabal, var. Caball (ms.K))[2] was King Arthur's dog, used in the hunt for the great boar, Twrch Trwyth (Latin: Troynt, Troit).

Cavall was Arthur's "favourite dog", and during a stag hunt, he was customarily the last dog to be let loose to chase after the game (Gereint Son of Erbin).[3]

Historia Brittonum

Legend in antiquity has it that Cabal left his permanent footprint in the rock while pursuing the boar Troynt. The lore is preserved in the Wonders of Britain (De Mirabilibus Britanniae or Mirabilia in shorthand) appended to Historia Brittonum (9th century). The wondrous nature of this cairn of stones was that even if someone removed that footprinted stone to another spot, it would be back at its original heap the next day.

The Latin account has the mark of age, since it refers to Arthur merely as warrior and not king. The full quote in translation is given in the Twrch Trwyth (or wikisource), but Lady Guest's notes might best be consulted, since it provides both the Latin text and translation, as well as commentary on the Carn Cavall as well (Schreiber 1849, pp. 358–360).[4]

Culhwch ac Olwen

Unlike the simple primitive lore, the late Welsh romance Culhwch and Olwen weaves a much more intricate tale, naming many dogs besides Cavall in the hunting party, and the quarry is no longer just the boar Twrch Trwyth itself, its seven offspring (with names), and yet another boar named Yskithyrwyn besides.

Ysgithyrwyn Chief-Boar

Yskithyrwyn Penbaedd (or Ysgithyrwyn Chief Boar) was yet another boar to be hunted by Arthur's band; its tusk, which needed to be extracted while still alive, being another of the "impossible tasks" (anoeth; pl. anoethiau) prescribed by Ysbaddaden Chief-Giant. This tusk was the tool necessary for shaving the giant to groom him up, him being the father of the bride Olwen.

In Culhwch and Olwen, Arthur's dog Cavall is specifically credited with the slaying of Yskithyrwin (or at least with cornering the beast to its doom). Caw of Prydain who rides Arthur's mare Llamrei cleaves Yskithyrwyn's head with a hatchet.

Afterwards, "Bedwyr leading Cavall, Arthur's own dog",[5] joins the other hunters and dogs to pursue the great boar Twrch Trwyth and its piglings. But the specific role played by Cavall is not told.

List of dogs

The other hounds, which either belonged to Arthur's retinue or were recruited elsewhere, include:

  • The two (wolf?) cubs of Gast Rhymhi [6] (two whelps of the bitch Rhymhi),[7] named Gwyddrud and Gwyddneu Astrus[8]
  • Aned and Aethelm[9][10]
  • Glas, Glessic, and Gleisad[11] ( ", Glesig, Gleisad),[12] belonging to the three sons of Cleddyf Kyfwlch, named Bwlch, Kyfwlch, and Sefwlch.
  • Drudwyn,[13][14] the cub of Greid the son of Eri.
  • two dogs of Glythmyr Ledewic[15] ( " of Glythfyr Ledewig).[16]

Cavall the horse

It should be pointed out, in reference to the above list of dogs, that Glas, Glesig, and Gleisad are referred to as dogs, and Call, Cuall, and Cafall as horses, and so on down the line, in the list of belongings of sons of Cleddyf, or, at least they are nowadays in modern translations (such as Gwyn & Thomas Jones', 1949 and Jeffrey Gantz's, 1976). However, in the first English translation by Lady Guest, Glas, etc. were construed as sword names and Call, Cuall, Cavall as dogs, respectively.


Ifor Williams has made a study of occurrences of Cafall in old Welsh poetry.[17]

Many scholars seem to hit upon the similarity of the dog's name to the Latin word for "horse". In an article from 1936, R. J. Thomas said "that the name Cabal is from Latin caballus 'horse', which he considers a quite natural metaphor since the dog was strong and swift, and he compares the horse of Conall Cernach which had a dog's head".[18]

Bromwich further remarks, "Since carn means both 'hoof' and 'cairn' it seems more probable that Cabal/Cafall originally designated Arthur horse.. rather than his hound." [19]

See also


  1. Jones & Jones 1993, 107, 110, 199
  2. Mommsen 1898, p.217, textual variants note to line 23. The codices used for this portion of the work are CDGHKLQ.
  3. Schreiber 1849,p.87
  4. Guest's notes also provides a sketch of the footprint (shown right) as well as facsimile of the Latin text from Harley 3859.
  5. Schreiber 1849,p311 / a bedwyr a chauall ki arthur ynyl w ynteu. p.239
  6. Schreiber 1849,p.266, p 301 / gast rymi p.210, gast rymhi 235
  7. Jones & Jones, p.88,105
  8. It is somewhat unclear whether these are the proper names of the dogs, but Bromwich & Evans 1992, Culhwch, p.100, 146n make this identification. The family of wolves reverts back into human form by grace of God, but it is rather a mystery how Culhwch's bridal quest was helped by this.
  9. Schreiber 1849,p 290, 316 / "anet ac aethlem", p.227, 246
  10. Jones & Jones, p.100,112
  11. Schreiber 1849,p 267,p.291/ "Glas. Gleissic. Clerssac" p.211,p.227
  12. Jones & Jones, p.89,100
  13. Schreiber 1849, p 286, 303,306 / drutywyn, p.225, 236, 237
  14. Jones & Jones, p.98,106,110
  15. Schreiber 1849, p.306, 311 / deu gi glythmyr lewic, glythuyr ledewic, letewic, p.238,242,
  16. Jones & Jones, p.89,100
  17. Bromwhich & Evans 1992, p.153, notes that Ifor Williams has studied "..instances of cafall < Lat. the Hengerdd(old poetry) CA 1203; CLlH vii, 22a; PT 38n. on caffon.(Ifor Williams, CA=Canu Aneirin, 1938; CLlH=Canu Llywarch Hen, 1935; PT=Poems of Taliesin)
  18. Ford, Patrick K. (1982), "On the Significance of some Arthurian Names in Welsh" (snippet), Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies, 30: 268, summarizing from R. J. Thomas, "Cysylltiad Arthur a Gogledd Cymru", BBCS viii (1936), 124-5)
  19. Bromwich & Evans 1992, p.153


(Geraint ab Erbin (W).. p. 4 (E)..p. 67; Kilhwch ac Olwen (W).. p. 195 (E)..p. 249)

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