Owein Mab Macsen

Owein mab Macsen Wledig

A Cymric Hero, also known as Ewein, Eugenius, Oug(u)ein, Eug(u)ein, Ywein, Euguen, Iguein, Yuein, Ouwin, Owein: Well-born son of Magnus Maximus
Owein fab Macsen Wledig (Ewein, Eugenius, Oug(u)ein, Eug(u)ein, Ywein, Euguen, Iguein, Yuein, Ouwin, Owein) is a Cymric (Welsh) hero known from the ancient genealogies as the son of Magnus Maximus, Emperor of the West. He is a fictional character now immortalized in folk tales.

According to Cymric folklore Owein is the son of emperor Macsen Wledig (Magnus Maximus) by his Cymric wife, Elen Lluyddawg (Elen of the Hosts). As far as can be judged by the extant records Magnus Maximus had but one son when he became ‘Emperor of the West’. This son was named Victor and Magnus Maximus left him with the Gauls as their emperor. Shortly afterwards he was killed by a Gaul named Arbogastes (see Nennius). Shortly after Arbogastes set-up a certain Eugenius as emperor in Victor’s stead. It may well be the faint memory of this Eugenius that survived in the Cymric mythos of Magnus Maximus’ son ‘Owein’.

Even the etymology of the name ‘Owein’ (and its Irish cognate, Eógan) is in doubt with some linking the name to Esugenos (engendered by Esus) though the more likely etymology is from the Latin Eugenius (well-born) which gives rise to the Old Cymric forms: Oug(u)ein/Eug(u)ein which yields the Middle and Modern Cymric Owein. This etymology also explains how emperor Eugenius becomes converted by folklore into Owein, the son of Magnus Maximus.

Various genealogies give Owein as the son of Magnus Maximus; the foremost of these being the Life of St Cadog and the same genealogy is given in Jesus Genealogy IV though this version of Owein’s descent attempts to make him a descendant of Caswallon mab Beli on the distaff side. The same genealogy also names five other sons for Macsen Wledig; though only Owein survives in later folklore. One of the most popular later traditions linked Owein mab Macsen with Dinas Emrys in Nant Gwynant, Gwynedd. The following version of the tale was recorded by Edward Lhuyd the antiquarian in 1693:

A rhwng y Dinas a’r llyn y mae bedd Sr Owen y Mhaxen, yr hwn a fy yn ymladd a’r cawr a phellenau dûr. Mae pannylau yn y ddaear lle ‘roedd pob un yn sefyll i’w gweled etto. Mae rhai eraill yn dywedyd mae ymladd a saethau yr oeddynt, a’r panynnau a welir heddiw yno oedd lle darfu uddunt gloddio i amddiffyn i hunain, ond ni escorodd yr un mo’r tro. Pan welwyd y marchog [Owein] nad oedd ddim gobaith iddo fyw fawr hwy, fe ofynnwyd iddo ple y mynnei gael i gladdu, fy archodd saethu saeth i’r awyr, a lle y descynnai hi y gwnaent ei fedd yno.

And between Dinas Emrys and the lake of Llyn Dinas there lies the grave of Sir Owein son of Maximus who had been battling with a giant with steel balls. The depressions in the ground where each one stood are still to be seen. Others say that they fought with arrows and that the depressions which are seen there even today represent the places where they dug-in to defend themselves, but neither survived the encounter. When the knight [Owein] saw that he had no hope of surviving much longer he was asked where he wished to be buried and asked that an arrow be shot into the air and wherever it fell, there would his grave be.

The tale obviously belongs to the various tales of giant folklore of the region and a variant is related by Iolo Morgannwg where Owein is maned as Owein Vinddu (Owein Black-lip) and the giant is named Urnach. Even the cywyddwyr knew of Owein’s link to Gwynedd and Rhys Goch Eryri describes Gwynedd as ‘the land of Macsen’s son’ (ie the land of Owein) and is strongly indicative of the antiquity of this tradition. The tradition itself probably arose because of the link between Owein’s supposed mother, Elen and Gwynedd, specifically Caernarfon. A tradition which was later transferred to Owein himself.