Gelert is the name of a legendary dog associated with the village of Beddgelert (whose name means "Gelert's Grave") in Gwynedd, northwest Wales. The story of Gelert is a variation on the well-worn "Faithful Hound" folk-tale motif, which lives on as an urban legend.
Here, the dog is alleged to have belonged to Llywelyn the Great, Prince of Gwynedd, and to have been a gift from King John of England. In this legend, Llywelyn returns from hunting to find his baby's cradle overturned, the baby missing and the dog with blood around its mouth. Imagining that it has savaged the child, Llywelyn draws his sword and kills the dog, which lets out a final dying yelp. He then hears the cries of the baby and finds it unharmed under the cradle, along with a dead wolf which had attacked the child and been killed by Gelert. Llywelyn is then overcome with remorse and he buries the dog with great ceremony, yet can still hear the dying yelp. After that day Llywelyn never smiles again.
Poem and other variations
This story formed the basis for a poem by William Robert Spencer written around 1800. It is also recorded in Wild Wales by George Borrow, who notes that it is a well known legend; by Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, which details versions of the same story from other cultures; and by The Nuttall Encyclopaedia, under the Anglicised spellings "Gellert" and "Killhart". Despite this, and despite the presence of a raised mound in the village called Gelert's Grave, historians do not believe that Gelert ever existed.
The story appears in numerous cultures with minor variations. The Alpine ligurian poem R sacrifisi dr can, written in Ligurian, tells of how a shepherd shot his sheepdog, after finding it covered in sheep blood, only to later find a dead wolf in the stable.
In India, a black snake replaces the wolf and a mongoose replaces the dog. In Egypt, the story goes that a cook nearly killed a Wali, for having smashed a pot of herbs, only to discover that the pot contained a poisonous snake.
In Malaysian folklore, a similar story involves a tame bear, kept by a Malay hunter as the guardian of his young daughter. As in the story of Gelert, the hunter returns home from an expedition, and finds his daughter gone and the bear covered in blood. Hastily thinking the bear has devoured his daughter, the hunter kills it with his spear, but later finds the body of a tiger, killed by the bear in defence of the hunter's daughter, who shortly emerges from the jungle, from where she took refuge.
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