The Info List - Mabinogion

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The _MABINOGION_ (/ˌmæbəˈnoʊɡiən/ ; Welsh pronunciation: ) are the earliest prose stories of the literature of Britain. The stories were compiled in Middle Welsh in the 12th–13th centuries from earlier oral traditions. The two main source manuscripts were created c. 1350–1410, as well as a few earlier fragments. These stories offer drama, philosophy, romance, tragedy, fantasy and humour, and were created by various narrators over time. The title covers a collection of eleven prose stories of widely different types. There is a classic hero quest, " Culhwch and Olwen "; historic legend in "Lludd and Llefelys " glimpses a far off age; and other tales portray a very different King Arthur from the later popular versions. The highly sophisticated complexity of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi defies categorisation. The stories are so diverse that a leading scholar has challenged them as a true collection.

Scholars from the 18th century to the 1970s predominantly viewed the tales as fragmentary pre-Christian Celtic mythology , or in terms of international folklore . There are certainly traces of mythology, and folklore components, but since the 1970s an understanding of the integrity of the tales has developed, with investigation of their plot structures, characterisation, and language styles. They are now seen as a sophisticated narrative tradition, both oral and written, with ancestral construction from oral storytelling, and overlay from Anglo-French influences.

The first modern publications were English translations by William Owen Pughe of several tales in journals in 1795, 1821, and 1829. However it was Lady Charlotte Guest in 1838–45 who first published the full collection, bilingually in Welsh and English. She is often assumed to be responsible for the name "Mabinogion", but this was already in standard use since the 18th century. Indeed, as early as 1632 the lexicographer John Davies quotes a sentence from _Math fab Mathonwy _ with the notation "Mabin." in his _Antiquae linguae Britannicae . . . dictionarium duplex_, article "Hob". The later Guest translation of 1877 in one volume has been widely influential and remains actively read today. The most recent translation is a compact version by Sioned Davies. John Bollard has published a series of volumes with his own translation, with copious photography of the sites in the stories. The tales continue to inspire new fiction, dramatic retellings, visual artwork, and research.


* 1 Etymology * 2 Translations * 3 Date of stories

* 4 Stories

* 4.1 Four Branches of the _Mabinogi_ * 4.2 Native tales * 4.3 Romances

* 5 Influence on later works * 6 See also * 7 References

* 8 Bibliography

* 8.1 Secondary sources

* 9 External links


The name first appears in 1795 in William Owen Pughe 's translation in the journal _Cambrian Register_: "The Mabinogion, or Juvenile Amusements, being Ancient Welsh Romances." The name appears to have been current among Welsh scholars of the London-Welsh Societies and the regional eisteddfodau in Wales. It was inherited as the title by the first publisher of the complete collection, Lady Charlotte Guest . The form _mabynnogyon_ occurs once at the end of the first of the _ Four Branches of the Mabinogi _ in one manuscript. It is now generally agreed that this one instance was a mediaeval scribal error which assumed 'mabinogion' was the plural of 'mabinogi.' But 'mabinogi' is already a Welsh plural, which occurs correctly at the end of the remaining three branches.

The word _mabinogi_ itself is something of a puzzle, although clearly derived from the Welsh _mab_, which means "son, boy, young person". Eric P. Hamp of the earlier school traditions in mythology, found a suggestive connection with Maponos "the Divine Son", a Gaulish deity . _Mabinogi_ properly applies only to the Four Branches, which is a tightly organised quartet very likely by one author, where the other seven are so very diverse (see below). Each of these four tales ends with the colophon "thus ends this branch of the Mabinogi" (in various spellings), hence the name.


Lady Charlotte Guest's work was helped by the earlier research and translation work of William Owen Pughe. The first part of Charlotte Guest's translation of the Mabinogion appeared in 1838, and it was completed in seven parts in 1845. A three-volume edition followed in 1846, and a revised edition in 1877. Her version of the _Mabinogion_ remained standard until the 1948 translation by Gwyn Jones and Thomas Jones, which has been widely praised for its combination of literal accuracy and elegant literary style. Several more, listed below, have since appeared.


The question of the dates of the tales in the _Mabinogion_ is important, because if they can be shown to have been written before Geoffrey of Monmouth 's _Historia Regum Britanniae_ and the romances of Chrétien de Troyes , then some of the tales, especially those dealing with Arthur, would provide important evidence for the development of Arthurian legend. Regardless, their importance as records of early myth, legend, folklore, culture, and language of Wales is immense.

The stories of the _Mabinogion_ appear in either or both of two medieval Welsh manuscripts, the White Book of Rhydderch or _Llyfr Gwyn Rhydderch_, written circa 1350, and the Red Book of Hergest or _Llyfr Goch Hergest_, written about 1382–1410, though texts or fragments of some of the tales have been preserved in earlier 13th century and later manuscripts. Scholars agree that the tales are older than the existing manuscripts, but disagree over just how much older. It is clear that the different texts included in the _Mabinogion_ originated at different times. Debate has focused on the dating of the _Four Branches of the Mabinogi_. Sir Ifor Williams offered a date prior to 1100, based on linguistic and historical arguments, while later Saunders Lewis set forth a number of arguments for a date between 1170 and 1190; Thomas Charles-Edwards , in a paper published in 1970, discussed the strengths and weaknesses of both viewpoints, and while critical of the arguments of both scholars, noted that the language of the stories best fits the 11th century, although much more work is needed. More recently, Patrick Sims-Williams argued for a plausible range of about 1060 to 1200, which seems to be the current scholarly consensus.


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The collection represents the vast majority of prose found in medieval Welsh manuscripts which is not translated from other languages. Notable exceptions are the _Areithiau Pros_. None of the titles are contemporary with the earliest extant versions of the stories, but are on the whole modern ascriptions. The eleven tales are not adjacent in either of the main early manuscript sources, the White Book of Rhydderch (c. 1375) and the Red Book of Hergest (c. 1400), and indeed _Breuddwyd Rhonabwy_ is absent from the White Book.


The Four Branches of the _Mabinogi_ (_Pedair Cainc y Mabinogi_) are the most clearly mythological stories contained in the _Mabinogion_ collection. Pryderi appears in all four, though not always as the central character.

* _ Pwyll Pendefig Dyfed _ (_ Pwyll , Prince of Dyfed_) tells of Pryderi's parents and his birth, loss and recovery. * _ Branwen ferch Llŷr _ (_Branwen, daughter of Llŷr_) is mostly about Branwen 's marriage to the King of Ireland. Pryderi appears but does not play a major part. * _ Manawydan fab Llŷr _ (_Manawydan, son of Llŷr_) has Pryderi return home with Manawydan , brother of Branwen, and describes the misfortunes that follow them there. * _ Math fab Mathonwy _ (_Math, son of Mathonwy_) is mostly about the eponymous Math and Gwydion , who come into conflict with Pryderi.


_ Beginning of "The Dream of Macsen Wledig" from the White Book of Rhydderch _, f.45.r

Also included in Lady Guest's compilation are five stories from Welsh tradition and legend:

* _Breuddwyd Macsen Wledig _ (_The Dream of Macsen Wledig_) * _Lludd a Llefelys_ (_ Lludd and Llefelys _) * _ Culhwch ac Olwen _ (_ Culhwch and Olwen_) * _Breuddwyd Rhonabwy_ (_ The Dream of Rhonabwy _) * _Hanes Taliesin_ (_The Tale of Taliesin _)

The tales _ Culhwch and Olwen_ and _The Dream of Rhonabwy_ have interested scholars because they preserve older traditions of King Arthur. The subject matter and the characters described events that happened long before medieval times. After the departure of the Roman Legions, the later half of the 5th century was a difficult time in Britain. King Arthur's twelve battles and defeat of invaders and raiders are said to have culminated in the Battle of Badon .

There is no consensus about the ultimate meaning of _The Dream of Rhonabwy_. On one hand it derides Madoc 's time, which is critically compared to the illustrious Arthurian age. However, Arthur's time is portrayed as illogical and silly, leading to suggestions that this is a satire on both contemporary times and the myth of a heroic age.

_Rhonabwy_ is the most literary of the medieval Welsh prose tales. It may have also been the last written. A colophon at the end declares that no one is able to recite the work in full without a book, the level of detail being too much for the memory to handle. The comment suggests it was not popular with storytellers, though this was more likely due to its position as a literary tale rather than a traditional one.

The tale _The Dream of Macsen Wledig_ is a romanticised story about the Roman emperor Magnus Maximus , called _Macsen Wledig_ in Welsh. Born in Hispania , he became a legionary commander in Britain, assembled a Celtic army and assumed the title of Emperor of the Western Roman Empire in 383 . He was defeated in battle in 385 and beheaded at the direction of the Eastern Roman emperor .

The story of Taliesin is a later survival, not present in the Red or White Books, and is omitted from many of the more recent translations.


The tales called the _ Three Welsh Romances _ (_Y Tair Rhamant_) are Welsh-language versions of Arthurian tales that also appear in the work of Chrétien de Troyes . Critics have debated whether the Welsh Romances are based on Chrétien's poems or if they derive from a shared original. Though it is arguable that the surviving Romances might derive, directly or indirectly, from Chrétien, it is probable that he in turn based his tales on older, Celtic sources. The Welsh stories are not direct translations and include material not found in Chrétien's work.

* _Owain, neu Iarlles y Ffynnon_ (_Owain, or the Lady of the Fountain_) * _ Peredur fab Efrog_ (_ Peredur son of Efrawg _) * _ Geraint ac Enid_ (_ Geraint and Enid_)


* Kenneth Morris , himself a Welshman, pioneered the adaptation of the _Mabinogion_ with _The Fates of the Princes of Dyfed_ (1914) and _Book of the Three Dragons_ (1930). * Evangeline Walton adapted the _Mabinogion_ in the novels _The Island of the Mighty _ (1936), _ The Children of Llyr _ (1971), _The Song of Rhiannon _ (1972) and _ Prince of Annwn _ (1974), each one of which she based on one of the branches, although she began with the fourth and ended by telling the first. These were published together in chronological sequence as _The Mabinogion Tetralogy_ in 2002. * _ Y Mabinogi _ is a film version, produced in 2003. It starts with live action among Welsh people in the modern world. They then 'fall into' the legend, which is shown through animated characters. It conflates some elements of the myths and omits others. * The tale of " Culhwch and Olwen " was adapted by Derek Webb in Welsh and English as a dramatic recreation for the reopening of Narberth Castle in Pembrokeshire in 2005. * Lloyd Alexander 's award-winning _ The Chronicles of Prydain _, which are fantasies for younger readers, are loosely based on Welsh legends found in the _Mabinogion_. Specific elements incorporated within Alexander's books include the Cauldron of the Undead, as well as adapted versions of important figures in the _Mabinogion_ such as Prince Gwydion and Arawn, Lord of the Dead. * Alan Garner 's novel _ The Owl Service _ (Collins, 1967; first US edition Henry Z. Walck, 1968) alludes to the mythical Blodeuwedd featured in the Fourth Branch of the _Mabinogi_. In Garner's tale three teenagers find themselves re-enacting the story. They awaken the legend by finding a set of dinner plates (a "dinner service") with an owl pattern, which gives the novel its title. * The Welsh mythology of _The Mabinogion_, especially the _Four Branches of the Mabinogi _, is important in John Cowper Powys 's novels _Owen Glendower _ (1941), and _ Porius _ (1951). Jeremy Hooker sees _The Mabinogion_ as having "a significant presence through character's knowledge of its stories and identification of themselves or others with figures or incidents in the stories". Indeed, there are "almost fifty allusions to these four tales"' (The _Four Branches of the Mabinogi_) in the novel, though "some ... are fairly obscure and inconspicuous". Also in _Porius_ Powys creates the character Sylvannus Bleheris, Henog of Dyfed , author of _the Four Pre-Arthurian Branches of the Mabinogi _ concerned with Pryderi , as a way linking the mythological background of _Porius_ with this aspect of the _Mabinogion_.


* Medieval Welsh literature * Christopher Williams painted three paintings from the _Mabinogion_. _Branwen_ (1915) can be viewed at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery , Swansea. _Blodeuwedd_ (1930) is at the Newport Museum and Art Gallery. The third painting in the series is _ Ceridwen _ (1910). * _ The Chronicles of Prydain _ * _Mabinogion_ sheep problem


* ^ Bollard, John K. "Mabinogi and Mabinogion - The Mabinogi". _The Legend and Landscape of Wales Series_. * ^ Notably Matthew Arnold; William J. Gruffydd. * ^ Jackson, Kenneth Hurlstone. 1961. The International Popular Tale and the Early Welsh Tradition. The Gregynog Lectures. Cardiff: CUP. * ^ Bollard 1974; Gantz 1978; Ford 1981. * ^ Davies, Sioned. 1998. "Written Text as Performance: The Implications for Middle Welsh Prose Narratives" in _Literacy in Medieval Celtic Societies_, 133–48 * ^ Davies, Sioned. 2005. "'He Was the Best Teller of Tales in the World': Performing Medieval Welsh Narrative." In _Performing Medieval Narrative_, 15–26. Cambridge: Brewer.

* ^ 1. Pughe, William Owen. 1795. "The Mabinogion, or Juvenile Amusements, Being Ancient Welsh Romances." _Cambrian Register_, 177–87. 2. Pughe, William Owen. 1821. "The Tale of Pwyll." _Cambro-Briton Journal_ 2 (18): 271–75. 3. Pughe, William Owen. 1829. "The Mabinogi: Or, the Romance of Math Ab Mathonwy." _The Cambrian Quarterly Magazine and Celtic Repository_ 1: 170–79. * ^ Available online since 2004. Guest, Charlotte. 2004. "The Mabinogion. (Gutenberg, Guest)." Gutenberg. http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/gutbook/lookup?num=5160. * ^ Davies, Sioned. 2007. _The Mabinogion_. Oxford: OUP.

* ^ 1. Bollard, John Kenneth. 2006. _Legend and Landscape of Wales: The Mabinogi_. Llandysul, Wales: Gomer Press. 2. Bollard, John Kenneth. 2007. _Companion Tales to The Mabinogi_. Llandysul, Wales: Gomer Press. 3. Bollard, John Kenneth. 2010. _Tales of Arthur: Legend and Landscape of Wales_. Llandysul, Wales: Gomer Press. Photography by Anthony Griffiths. * ^ For example the Seren series 2009–2014; but the earliest reinterpretations were by Evangeline Walton starting in 1936. * ^ e.g. Robin Williams; Daniel Morden. * ^ "BBC – Wales History – The Mabinogion". www.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2008-07-11. * ^ "Guest (Schreiber), Lady Charlotte Elizabeth Bertie". _The National Library opf Wales: Dictionary of Welsh biography_. Retrieved 6 March 2015. * ^ "BBC Wales History – Lady Charlotte Guest". _BBC Wales_. Retrieved 6 March 2015. * ^ "Lady Charlotte Guest. extracts from her journal 1833 – 1852". _Genuki: UK and Ireland Genealogy_. Retrieved 6 March 2015. * ^ "Lady Charlotte Guest". _Data Wales Index and search_. Retrieved 6 March 2015. * ^ Stephens, Meic , ed. (1986). _The Oxford Companion to the Literature of Wales_. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 306, 326. ISBN 0-19-211586-3 . * ^ Roberts, Brynley F. (1991). "The Dream of Rhonabwy." In Lacy, Norris J., _The New Arthurian Encyclopedia_, p. 120–121. New York: Garland. ISBN 0-8240-4377-4 . * ^ Lloyd-Morgan, Ceridwen. (1991). "'Breuddwyd Rhonabwy' and Later Arthurian Literature." In Bromwich, Rachel, et al., "The Arthur of the Welsh", p. 183. Cardiff: University of Wales. ISBN 0-7083-1107-5 . * ^ John Brebner describes _The Mabinogion_ as "indispensable for understanding Powys's later novels", by which he means _Owen Glendower_ and _Porius_ (fn, p. 191). * ^ "John Cowper Powys: 'Figure of the Marches'", in his _Imagining Wales_ (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2001), p. 106. * ^ W. J. Keith, p. 44. * ^ John Cowper Powys, "The Characters of the Book", _Porius_, p. 18.


Translations and retellings

* Bollard, John K. (translator), and Anthony Griffiths (photographer). _Tales of Arthur: Legend and Landscape of Wales_. Gomer Press, Llandysul, 2010. ISBN 978-1-84851-112-5 . (Contains "The History of Peredur or The Fortress of Wonders", "The Tale of the Countess of the Spring", and "The History of Geraint son of Erbin", with textual notes.) * Bollard, John K. (translator), and Anthony Griffiths (photographer). _Companion Tales to The Mabinogi: Legend and Landscape of Wales_. Gomer Press, Llandysul, 2007. ISBN 1-84323-825-X . (Contains "How Culhwch Got Olwen", "The Dream of Maxen Wledig", "The Story of Lludd and Llefelys", and "The Dream of Rhonabwy", with textual notes.) * Bollard, John K. (translator), and Anthony Griffiths (photographer). _The Mabinogi: Legend and Landscape of Wales_. Gomer Press, Llandysul, 2006. ISBN 1-84323-348-7 . (Contains the Four Branches, with textual notes.) * Davies, Sioned. _The Mabinogion_. Oxford World's Classics, 2007. ISBN 1-4068-0509-2 . (Omits "Taliesin". Has extensive notes.) * Ellis, T. P., and John Lloyd. _The Mabinogion: a New Translation._ Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1929. (Omits "Taliesin"; only English translation to list manuscript variants.) * Ford, Patrick K. _The Mabinogi and Other Medieval Welsh Tales_. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977. ISBN 0-520-03414-7 . (Includes "Taliesin" but omits "The Dream of Rhonabwy", "The Dream of Macsen Wledig" and the three Arthurian romances.) * Gantz, Jeffrey. Trans. _The Mabinogion._ London and New York: Penguin Books, 1976. ISBN 0-14-044322-3 . (Omits "Taliesin".) * Guest, Lady Charlotte. _The Mabinogion._ Dover Publications, 1997. ISBN 0-486-29541-9 . (Guest omits passages which only a Victorian would find at all risqué. This particular edition omits all Guest's notes.)

* Jones, Gwyn and Jones, Thomas. _The Mabinogion._ Golden Cockerel Press, 1948. (Omits "Taliesin".)

* Everyman's Library edition, 1949; revised in 1989, 1991. * Jones, George (Ed), 1993 edition, Everyman S, ISBN 0-460-87297-4 . * 2001 Edition, (Preface by John Updike), ISBN 0-375-41175-5 .

* Knill, Stanley. _The Mabinogion Brought To Life_. Capel-y-ffin Publishing, 2013. ISBN 978-1-4895-1528-5 . (Omits _Taliesin_. A retelling with General Explanatory Notes.) Presented as prose but comprising 10,000+ lines of hidden decasyllabic verse.

Welsh text and editions

* _ Branwen Uerch Lyr_. Ed. Derick S. Thomson. Medieval and Modern Welsh Series Vol. II. Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1976. ISBN 1-85500-059-8 * _Breuddwyd Maxen_. Ed. Ifor Williams. Bangor: Jarvis Second edition, 1992. * _Cyfranc Lludd a Llefelys_. Ed. Brynley F. Roberts. Medieval and Modern Welsh Series Vol. VII. Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1975. * _Historia Peredur vab Efrawc_. Ed. Glenys Witchard Goetinck. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. 1976. * _Llyfr Gwyn Rhydderch_. Ed. J. Gwenogvryn Evans. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1973. * _Math Uab Mathonwy_. Ed. Ian Hughes. Aberystwyth: Prifysgol Cymru, 2000. * _Owein or Chwedyl Iarlles y Ffynnawn_. Ed. R.L. Thomson. Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1986. * _Pedeir Keinc y Mabinogi_. Ed. Ifor Williams. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1951. ISBN 0-7083-1407-4 * _ Pwyll Pendeuic Dyuet_. Ed. R. L. Thomson. Medieval and Modern Welsh Series