Sunday, 7 December 2008

Songs from the Sons of Llyr


"I have been in the battle of Godeu, with Lleu and Gwydion,
they changed the form of the elementary trees and sedges"
As we have seen in Part VII - Lludd’s Dragons, the three elements of the independent Welsh tale Lludd & Lleuelys (Cyfranc Lludd a Llefelys), echo the same features of the Irish tale of The Second Battle of Mag Tuired: sovereignty; force; fruitfulness. In this Irish tale Naudu Airgetlam, The King of the Tuatha De Danann, has lost kingship, the new King Bres tyrannises the people, the warriors have become powerless, and the fertility has been contravened by giving the harvest as tribute. In Lludd & Lleuelys, the three plagues have brought the same inflictions: The Coraniaid have effectively tyrannised the people with their magical powers of hearing; The May eve scream has reduced the strength of the warriors; food not eaten on the first night of the feast in the king’s court, a year’s provision, disappears. French scholar George Dumezil suggests the three plagues that menace human society are an archaic formulation, which he refers to as The Ancient Tripartite. [2]

According to John Koch the name Llefelys appears to be a compound, the first element being the same as Welsh Lleu, Old Irish Lugh, Celiberian and Gaulish Lugus.

Koch states: “The etymology of the second element is less apparent. Having recognised the fact that the common origin of the supernatural figures Old Irish Naudu, the Welsh Nudd and the Roman-British Nodons, the Irish mythology surrounding the figure Naudu confirms that Llefelys is to be connected with the Irish Lug in character as well as name.

...Elements of the Welsh story Lludd & Llefelys resonate with the features of the story of Naudu and Lug, the prinicipal of source being The Second Battle of Mag Tuired. Like Naudu, Lludd's kingdom is blighted by oppressors, including a failure of the food supply and fertility in both cases. Lug comes to aid Naudu as does Llefelys with Lludd to restore the kingdom.

Lleuelis the usual spelling in White Book and Red Book texts of the Cyfranc modernised as Llefelys. Ford writes this as Modern welsh Lleuelys, emphasing the connection with Lleu the central figure of the Math mab Mathonwy and counterpart of Lug.”

Patrick Ford therefore uses the name, in modern Welsh, Lleuelys, in place of Llefelys [4] to emphase the connection with Lleu the central figure of the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi, Math mab Mathonwy [5]. Some might query the form Lleuelys where most modern Welsh scholars give Llefelys. However, Lleuelis is the usual spelling in White Book of Rhydderch and Red Book of Hergest texts of the Cyfranc, modernised as Llefelys. The Red Book manuscript Column 705 gives Cyfranc Llud a Lleuelis. [6]

In both versions of the story, The Second Battle of Mag Tuired and Llud a Lleuelis the three elements are restored by the respective arrivals of Lug and Lleu; both cognate with the name Lugus.

Lleu Llaw Gyffes
The name Lleu appears in Welsh literature as Lleu Llaw Gyffes, the same figure from the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi, Math, son of Mathonwy. In addition to the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi the name Lleu appears in four Triads, the Book of Taliesin and in the Stanza of the Graves from the Black Book of Carmarthen, the epithet usually always attached to the name is LLaw Gyffes.

There are two variants to this name in Welsh, Lleu/Llew, the former is the original as revealed by the rhyme scheme in at least two poems; one in the Mabinogi of Math in the first three stanza sung by Gwydion to Lleu while he is in the form of an eagle, the other from the Book of Taliesin. Although the spelling Llew is more common in Mabinogi texts, probably having arisen from the ambiguities of early welsh spelling and manuscript errors, this is sometimes translated as the “Lion with the Steady Hand” which is quite incorrect as the naming of Lleu Llaw Gyffes is revealed in the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi.

The Mabinogion
Probably the most popular version, and certainly the first in English, of the Mabinogion was produced by Lady Charlotte Guest in the 19th Century. Lady Guest, an English woman, married John Josiah Guest, a Welshman born in Dowlais, Merthyr Tydfil, and owner of the Dowlais Iron Company. During her time in Wales she studied literature and learned Welsh, going on to translate medieval songs and poems, and eventually the misnamed Mabinogion. Guest noted the word “mabynnogyon in one manuscript which she took for a plural and applied to the whole collection of twelve tales. The word "mabinogion" does not exist in Welsh, it therefore probably being a copyist error to be found only at the end of the First Branch, the Mabinogi of Pwyll.
The word Mabinogi only correctly applies to the first four tales, known as the Four Branches of the Mabinogi. Various editions of the Mabinogion generally follow Guest, but can sometimes omit The Story of Taliesin (Hanes Taliesin) making the collection of only eleven tales.

Lady Guest’s Mabinogion became the first translation of the material to be published, being printed in several volumes between 1838 and 1849, containing in addition to the Four Branches of the Mabinogi the so called Welsh Romances containing Arthurian material. The popularity of the tales continues today with modern versions continuing to be produced and although scholars may quibble over the translations of some words, content generally stays true to Guest’s work. [7]

The Three Romances:
Owain, or the Lady of the Fountain
Peredur, son of Efrawg

Gereint and Enid
(sometimes called Gereint son of Erbin)

The three romances bear some resemblance to Chrétien de Troyes 12th century tales, respectively Yvain, the Knight of the Lion, Perceval or the Story of the Grail, and Erec and Enide. There is some debate between scholars as to which came first, the Welsh Romances or Chrétien de Troyes tales. The Romances survive in the White Book of Rhydderch and the Red Book of Hergest, both from the fourteenth century, but contain much Celtic material which is considered at least as old as Chrétien, if not older. Chrétien may have based his tales on Breton material which may offer some explanation to the similarity of the sources. Roger Sherman Loomis presents a formidable case for the Celtic roots of the Grail story. [8]

The Native Tales:
Culhwch ac Olwen
The Dream of Rhonabwy

The Dream of Mascen Wledig

Lludd and Llefelys

Hanes Taliesin

Lady Guest also included in her anthology these five native tales; Culhwch ac Olwen contains much early Arthurian material and echoes the raid on the otherworld as depicted in the early Arthurian poem The Spoils of Annwfn. The court list in Culhwch ac Olwen is of particular interest as it features figures like Lludd Llaw Eraint and Gwynn ap Nudd which seem to be based on the mythological Children of Don, Welsh counterpart of the Irish Tuatha De Danann.

The Dream of Rhonabwy is one of the later tales included in the Mabinogion, composed in the second half of the 12th Century but has interested scholars because it preserves much older Arthurian traditions. The tale takes place in a vision that came to Rhonabwy during a dream. On the road, Rhonabwy meets one Iddawg, one of Arthur's messengers at the Battle of Camlann, who escorts Rhonabwy through the dreamscape, patiently answering all his questions. A colophon at the end of the tale states that no one can recite the work in full without a book, as the amount of detail is too great for the memory alone.

The tale The Dream of Macsen Wledig is a romanticized story about the Roman Commander Magnus Maximus, proclaimed Emperor by his army in Britain in AD 383, after recovering Britain from incursions by the Picts and Scots in AD 381. Maximus, in pursuit of his imperial ambitions, took his troops to Gaul and defeated the Emperor Gratian, but was executed by Theodosius five years later. Maximus is criticised by Gildas and the Historia Brittonum for took the bulk of the Roman British Garrison to the continent and left the country undefended at the mercy of foreign invaders. Although Hispanic by birth, Maximus became an important figure and appears in many medieval Welsh dynasties.

Hanes Taliesin, sometimes known as the Ystoria Taliesin, or Chwedl Taliesin is a later piece, not included in the Red or White Books, which although included by Lady Guest more recent translations tend to omit from the Mabinogion. It is a mixture of Welsh prose and poetry, about and supposedly by Taliesin, though none of these poems are found in the Llyfr Taliesin. The earliest text is found in Elis Gruffydd’s Chronicle of the Six Ages of the World compiled during the first half of the sixteenth century. There are over twenty manuscripts of Ystoria Taliesin many of which only contain the first part, The Tale of Gwion Bach, set in the days of the legendary King Arthur, dealing with a witch, a magical brew and shape shifting. Patrick Ford comments that the tales wonder and magic remind us of Culhwch and Olwen. The second part, The Tale of Taliesin, has few of those qualities, and although the two parts are chronologically consecutive, they are worlds apart. [9]

The Four Branches of the Mabinogi
It is important to differentiate between the Mabinogion, the collection of tales based on Guest’s anthology and the Four Branches of the Mabinogi (Pedeir Keinc y Mabinogi) which contain only the following:

First Branch: Pwyll Prince of Dyfed
Second Branch: Branwen Daughter of Llyr
Third Branch: Manawydan son of Llyr
Fourth Branch: Math son of Mathonwy

The most mythological stories contained in the Mabinogion collection are the four interrelated tales, from a single storyteller, titled The Mabinogi in the manuscripts, or often "The Four Branches of the Mabinogi". The word Branch is the common translation of the word keinc and the title generally given to the four tales. A second meaning for keinc can be “strand or yarn (of a rope)” resulting in the possibility of intentionally interconnected episodes linked throughout a relationship of the subject matter. [10]
Although The Four Branches of the Mabinogi are dated c.1060-1120, it is generally thought that they preserve much older material, remnants from a complete cycle of tales centred on Pryderi, who appears in all four branches, though not always as a central character, is born in the First Branch and dies in the Fourth. The word “mabinogi” is usually translated as "tales for youth," or "tales of the hero", derived from "mabon" or "meibon", meaning a boy, young man or youth.

This mythological cycle is betrayed by the name of the key characters; Rhiannon has her roots in the goddess Rigantona, (Great Queen Goddess) and Pryderi is considered to have his roots in the British god Maponus (Mabon), with much material comparable to the ancient Irish sagas, although written in Early Christian society of twelfth-century Wales the Four Branches of the Mabinogi contains tales of figures from the British Celtic mythological cycle; The Children of Don and the Children of Llyr, pagan cultures from prehistoric Britain.

Therefore the term Mabinogi may also mean "tales of Mabon" derived from the name this god, Mabon ap Modron, (The Divine Son of the Divine Mother) who was stolen at three days old, and is named in the Triads as one of The Three Exalted Prisoners of the Island of Britain. It has been suggested that the Four Branches may have originally been an account of the birth, disappearance and restoration of Pryderi, which is another name for the British god Maponus, god of youth and rebirth, whose imprisonment and release plays a significant role in Culhwch and Olwen. [11]

There is further evidence of this lost mythological cycle; Pryderi also appears in the Welsh tale Preiddiau Annwfn (Spoils of Annwfn), in which Arthur attempts to steal a magic cauldron from Annwfn (The Otherworld). Pryderi is one of the seven survivors, along with Arthur and Taliesin, which holds similarities to the tale of Branwen Daughter of Llyr in the Second Branch.

The First Branch, sometimes called The Mabinogi of Pwyll is set in Dyfed, South West Wales, tells the story of Rhiannon the horse goddess, connected with birds and the Otherworld. Pwyll, endures a succession of magical trials before emerging as the 'Head of Annwfn'. He then becomes the consort of the Great Queen; she then gives birth to the hero Pryderi. Pryderi, whose departure and revival form the conclusion of thee First Branch, epitomise an important connection to the other Branches.

In The Second Branch, or Mabinogi of Branwen, the mythical Sons of Llyr appear as the leading dynasty among the tribes of Britain before the ascendancy of the Sons of Beli Mawr.
Bran, or Bendigeidfran, leads an ill-fated journey to Ireland to avenge his sister, Branwen. On the return from this expedition, carrying the living, talking head of Bran the seven survivors find that Caswallan the son of Beli, has seized control of the Island in their absence.

The Third Branch, The Mabinogi of Manawydan, the consequences from the events of the first two branches is recounted by Manawydan son of Llyr, Pryderi son of Pwyll, his mother Rhiannon and his wife Cigfa residing in a bare land devoid of human habitation, the traditional Wasteland myth. The restoration of the Enchantment of Dyfed comes when Manawydan, through knowledge and scheming, outwits the magical influence which brought about his downfall, and banishes its influence from Dyfed for ever.

The Fourth Branch, The Mabinogi of Math, features the story of Lleu who is forced to overcome the curse of his mother after he is conceived in dubious circumstances; she determines he shall not receive neither a name, a weapon, or a wife. With the assistance of his uncle, the magician Gwydion, son of Don, he succeeds in overcoming this triple curse. Gwydion and Math magically create a woman for Lleu, conjuring her out of wild flowers. She falls in love with Gronw Pebyr and betrays him; they attempt to kill Lleu, who turns into an eagle. Gwydion finds him in a tree top and restores him to health.

1. This poem, untitled but usually referred to as Song Before the Sons of Llyr ("Kerdd Veib am Llyr"), Book of Taliesin, XIV, Four Ancient Books of Wales by Skene, attributed to Taliesin, brings together several mythological themes, the Cauldron of Cerridwen, the Cauldron of Bran, the Cauldron of Annwn, with allusions to the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, the battles between the Children of Don and the Children of Llyr: Pryderi, Manawyddan, Bran, and Gwydion. It also refers to Cad Goddeu, (the Battle of the Trees), and Caer Siddi, the mythical city from which Arthur and his retinue steal the Cauldron of Annwn in the Prieddu Annwn, (Spoils of Annfwn), "Save seven, none returned from Caer Siddi" - both poems also found in the Book of Taliesin. Taliesin also appears as one of the seven survivors, along with Manawyddan, Pryderi, from the Battle of Ireland in Branwen Daughter of Llyr, The Second Branch of the Mabinogi; “Now the seven men that escaped were Pryderi, Manawyddan, Gluneu Eil Taran, Taliesin, Ynawc, Grudyen the son of Muryel, and Heilyn the son of Gwynn Hen.”
2. George Dumezil discusses the tale and shows that the three plagues that menace human society are an archaic formulation in Mythe et Epopee I, 1968, pp.613-623, - referred to in The Mabinogi and Other Medieval Welsh Tales by Patrick K Ford, pp. 111-112.
3. Celtic Culture, A Historical Encyclopedia By John T. Koch, ABC-CLIO, 2006, pp 1164 – 1166
4. The Mabinogi and other Medieval Welsh Tales by Patrick K Ford, University of California Press, 2nd Revised 30th Anniversary Edition 2008, p.111.
5. John T. Koch, 2006, Ibid. pp 1164 – 1166.
6. “Col. 705. ILyma gyfranc llud a lleuelis” - The given text represents the entry for the Llyfr Coch Hergest in Cymraeg Canol (middle Cymric).as given in the Historical Manuscripts Commission, Report on manuscripts in the Welsh language, vol. II part I, (London, 1902).
See >> Red Book of Hergest at Celtnet
7. For good, readable recent editions in modern English see: The Mabinogi and other Medieval Welsh Tales by Patrick K Ford, University of California Press, 2nd Revised 30th Anniversary Edition 2008; The Mabinogion by Sioned Davies, Oxord University Press 2007; The Four Branches of the Mabinogi by Will Parker, Bardic press 2007; The Mabinogi by John K Bollard, Gomer Press 2006.
8. The Grail: From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol by Roger Sherman Loomis, Cardiff University Press, First Edition, 1963. One reviewer says “In terms of serious scholarship, there has been little that supersedes or countervenes this work from a major Authuriad scholar at the height of his powers.”
9. Patrick K Ford, Ibid, p.159.
10. The Mabinogion by Sioned Davies, Oxord University Press 2007, p.232.
11. “Hamp states that mabinogi "has nothing to do with 'youth' or 'boy, son'. It is a collective of an adjective denoting what pertains to a stem *mapono-; in [this] context its relevance to Maponos is immediately clear. The derivative *mapon-āk-ijīmeant 'the (collective) material pertaining to (those of ) Maponos'." Maponos 'the Divine Son', son of Matrona 'the Divine Mother'is represented in early Middle Welsh poetry and in the earliest Arthurian tale, How Culhwch Got Olwen, as Mabon son of Modron. Thus, The Mabinogi is so-called, Hamp concludes, because it deals with material derived from myths of the earlier Brythonic deities, who are also reflected in the names Rhiannon, 'the Divine Queen,' and Teyrnon, 'the Divine King.' And there are, of course, other characters of mythological origin in The Mabinogi. (The name Maponos/Mabon derives ultimately from the same root as that of mab; the -on indicates divinity in all these names.)” – “What is The Mabinogi? What is "The Mabinogion"? - John K Bollard.
See >> Mabinogi and Archaism, Celtica 23 by Eric P Hamp [PDF file]

* * *