Ys Into It


One myth I’d heard of before and didn’t really know any of the details was that of Ys (pronounced like “ease”), sometimes called Ker-Ys, a sunken city in Brittany, France.

Picture by Laura Csajagi
There’s a series of video games with “Ys” in the title, but I get the impression that they don’t follow the myth all that closely.

I’ve never actually played any of them. The story is basically a mix of the tales of Atlantis and Sodom and Gomorrah, in that the city is destroyed for its sins. Its building is sometimes credited to King Gradlon the Great, although other versions of the myth say it already existed as many as 2000 years prior to his time. Perhaps he expanded an existing settlement into a world-class city.

Anyway, Gradlon, a successful warrior, fell in love with a druidess and magician named Malgven, and the two of them had a child named Dahut.

Picture by Christophe Babonneau
Malgven either died or childbirth or left Gradlon after he converted to Christianity at the behest of St. Guenole, founder of the first abbey in Brittany. Either way, Gradlon doted on his daughter, building a city right on the sea at her request. Unlike her father, she remained a pagan. And because this is an anti-pagan story, this meant she took a different lover every night (you could say she was Ys-y), then threw each one in the sea as a sacrifice.

Picture by Maelinn
Guenole warned that this would bring ruin upon the city, but Gradlon was too devoted to his daughter to listen. One day, Dahut took in a knight in red, who got her drunk and convinced her to steal the key to the dikes from her father. The knight unlocked them and flooded the city. It turned out he was actually the Devil himself, who I guess considered destroying a city the greater of two evils, since you’d think he’d be down with having sex with guys and then drowning them. But then, this gets back into the issue of whether Satan is against God or an agent of God who punishes humanity. Gradlon and Dahut escaped the flood on a magic horse that had belonged to Malgven, but they were about to drown anyway until the king took Guenole’s advice and dropped his daughter in the sea.

Gradlon survived and had a new capital built, while Dahut turned into a Siren.

Picture by Jessica Lynn Clark
Apparently everyone else in town died, while the actual perpetrator of heinous crimes lived on in some form. There’s truly no justice in the world, is there? A folk etymology for the city of Paris says its name means “like Ys,” although it was more likely named after the Iron Age Parisii tribe. According to a proverb, Ys will re-emerge from the sea when Paris sinks.

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