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Flight of King Gradlon, by E. V. Luminais, 1884 (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Quimper)

Ys, also spelled Is or Ker-Is in Breton, and Ker-Ys in French (ker means city in Breton), is a mythical city that was built on the coast of Brittany and later swallowed by the ocean. Most versions of the legend place the city in the Douarnenez Bay.


[edit] The legend

[edit] Origins

According to some versions of the legend, Ys was built below sea level by Gradlon (Gralon in Breton), King of Cornouaille (Kerne in Breton), upon the request of his daughter Dahut (also called Ahes), who loved the sea.

In others, Ys was founded more than 2000 years before Gradlon's reign in a then-dry location off the current coast of the Bay of Douarnenez, but the sea level had slowly "risen" to the point where Ys was under it at each high tide when Gradlon's reign began.

To protect Ys from inundation, a dike was built with a gate that was opened for ships during low tide. The one key that opened the gate was held by the king.

[edit] Fall

Ys was the most beautiful and impressive city in the world, but quickly became a city of sin under the influence of Dahut. She organized orgies and had the habit of killing her lovers when morning broke. Saint Winwaloe decried the corruption of Ys and warned of God's wrath and punishment, but was ignored by Dahut and the populace.

One day, a knight dressed in red came to Ys. Dahut asked him to come with her, and one night, he agreed. A storm broke out in the middle of the night and the waves could be heard smashing against the gate and the bronze walls. Dahut said to the knight: "Let the storm rage. The gates of the city are strong, and it is King Gradlon, my father, who owns the only key, attached to his neck." The knight replied: "Your father the king sleeps. You can now easily take his key." Dahut stole the key from her father and gave it to the knight, who was none other than the devil. The devil, or, in another version of the story, a wine-besotted Dahut herself, then opened the gate.

Because the gate was open during storm and at high tide, a wave as high as a mountain collapsed on Ys. King Gradlon and his daughter climbed on Morvarc'h, his magical horse. Saint Winwaloe approached them and told Gradlon: "Push back the demon sitting behind you!" Gradlon initially refused, but he finally gave in and pushed his daughter into the sea. The sea swallowed Dahut, who became a mermaid or morgen.

Gradlon took refuge in Quimper, which became his new capital. An equestrian statue of Gradlon was made, and it is still around today, between the spires of the Cathedral of Saint Corentin in Quimper. It is said that the bells of the churches of Ys can still be heard in the sea calm. A legend says that when Paris will be swallowed, the city of Ys will rise up from under the waves: Pa vo beuzet Paris, Ec'h adsavo Ker Is (Par-Is meaning, in Breton, "similar to Ys" ).

This history is also sometimes viewed as the victory of Christianity -as Gradlon was converted by Saint Winwaloe- over druidism. (Dahut and most inhabitants of Ys were worshippers of Celtic gods). However, a Breton folktale asserts that Gradlon met, spoke with and consoled the last Druid in Brittany, and oversaw his pagan burial, before building a chapel in his sacred grove.[citation needed]

[edit] Later use of the legend

The legend of Ys was confined to the folk of Brittany until 1839, when T. Hersart de la Villemarqué published a collection of popular songs collected from oral tradition, the Barzaz Breizh. The collection achieved a wide distribution and brought Breton folk culture into European awareness. One of the oldest of the collected songs was this tale. The medieval poet Marie de France also wrote poetry and stories based around the Ys legend.

[edit] Literature

  • Poul Anderson and his wife Karen wrote a tetralogy of novels in the 1980's called The King of Ys. There a Roman centurion becomes king of Ys, which was founded centuries before by Carthaginians. Prior to that series, fantasy writer A. Merritt in his novel Creep, Shadow! drew from the Ys legend.
  • Michael Scott Rohan's fantasy trilogy 'The Winter of the World' Features Kerys as a initially semi legendary city which is later visited and does indeed sink beneath the sea.
  • French author Gabriel Jan's 2007 novel Ys, le Monde Englouti reworks and retells the legend of Ys.

[edit] Painting

[edit] Music

  • In Claude Debussy's first book of Preludes (published 1910), the evocative La Cathédrale engloutie recalls the drowned cathedral in the city of Ys, with the muffled and watery sonority of its spectral bells.
  • Breton harpist Alan Stivell recorded an instrumental track called "Ys" on his 1972 album Renaissance de la Harpe Celtique.
  • The heavy metal band Bal-Sagoth has included Ys in many of its stories/songs.

[edit] Video and board games

  • The Japanese video game company Falcom created a video game series also named Ys in 1987, and it has become very popular in both Japan and the United States.
  • The American video game company Bungie Studios included a subtle reference Ys in their Myth series; the "Drowned Kingdom of Yer-Ks" [sic] is visible at the far northeastern corner of the world map.[2]
  • The American board game company Rio Grande Games has published a board game based on the legend titled Ys.

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes and references

[edit] Further Reading

  • Guyot, Charles. The Legend of the City of Ys, Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1979.
  • MacKillop, James. Myths and Legends of the Celts, London ; New York : Penguin Global, 2005, pp. 299-302.

[edit] Externals links

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