Efnysien - Character Analysis

Character Analysis

Described variously by modern scholars as "warped","perverted","malicious", and "psychopathic", Efnysien is often considered to be one of the most vivid and interesting characters to appear in the four branches. Referring to Efnysien's atrocities throughout the tale, Will Parker writes:

"The rage here is calculated, as is the horrific orgy of violence that follows. His actions are deliberately staged to inflict the most profound damage to the weak points of the social fabric around him - in this case relations with the men of Ireland. While he is in some ways an embodiment of the forces of anti-social disruption the author is targeting throughout the Mabinogi - there is also the hint complex inner life, which finds a poignant expression in his final demise.".

Jeffrey Gantz describes him as:

"...the controlling force of Branwen,...a story all by himself: progressively insecure and envious, cruel and sadistic, clever and resourceful, repentant and self-sacrificing."

The character has been compared to other trickster figures, such as the Irish hero Bricriu Nemthenga and the Norse god Loki. Nikolai Tolstoy describes Efnisien as "the gallant if peevish Briton who selflessly sacrifices himself for his comrades", while he is characterised by Proinsias Mac Cana as a force of "irrational malice and hate".

Mika Virpiranta interprets Gwern's sacrifice as symbolic, i.e. that Efnisien threw Gwern over the fire, not into it, and therefore the sacrifice actually was a dedication of Gwern to a Sun cult, as Celts worshipped Sun by leaping over fires and driving cattle between bonfires during Beltain. According to Virpiranta, the reason why this retriggered an onslaught was that Irish did not approve when their prince was kidnapped for the Sun cult. Thus Virpiranta sees Efnisien as a Sun god and therefore the Welsh equivalent to Esus.

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