Patrick Sims-Williams has recently completed a new book, published by Oxford University Press, March 2011, on Irish influence on medieval Welsh literature which will be of interest not only to medievalists but to all those concerned with the problem of how to recognize and evaluate literary influence.
Professor Sims-Williams has authored several books on Celtic and Anglo-Saxon topics, including Ancient Celtic Place-Names in Europe and Asia Minor (Wiley-Blackwell, 2006), Ptolemy: Towards a Linguistic Atlas of the Earliest Celtic Place-names of Europe (CMCS Publications, 2000), The Celtic Inscriptions of Britain: Phonology and Chronology, C.400-1200 (Wiley-Blackwell, 2002), and Religion and Literature in Western England, 600-800 (Cambridge University Press, 2005).
He has also contributed to major works such as 'The Early Welsh Arthurian Poems' (pp.33-72) to The Arthur of the Welsh: Arthurian Legend in Mediaeval Welsh Literature, edited by Rachel Bromwich, AOH Jarman and Brinley Roberts (University of Wales Press, 1991) and 'Gildas and vernacular poetry' (pp. 169-190) in Gildas: New Approaches (1984), edited by Michael Lapidge and David Dumville. He has edited the journal Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies (CMCS) since 1981.
In this new book, Irish Influence on Medieval Welsh Literature, Patrick Sims-Williams examines the extensive and now famous literature of Ireland's Middle Ages which was unknown outside the Gaelic-speaking world of Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man - with Wales an important exception. With the settlement of Irish emigrants in Wales from the 5th century onwards, Irish scholars worked in Wales in the 9th century, and throughout the Middle Ages there were ecclesiastical, mercantile, and military contacts across the Irish Sea. From this standpoint, it is not surprising that the names of Irish heroes such as Cu Roi, Cu Chulainn, Finn, and Deirdre became known to Welsh poets, and that Irish narratives influenced the authors of the Welsh Mabinogion .
Yet the Welsh and Irish languages were not mutually comprehensible, the degree to which the two countries still shared a common Celtic inheritance is contested, and Latin provided a convenient lingua franca. This work discusses if some of the similarities between the Irish and Welsh literatures could be due to independent influences or even to coincidence? Patrick Sims-Williams provides a new approach to these controversial questions, situating them in the context of the rest of medieval literature and international folklore. The result is the first comprehensive estimation of the extent to which Irish literature influenced medieval Welsh literature.
Analytical Table of Contents
List of maps
The introduction discusses estimates of Irish vernacular influence on Welsh literature. Assumptions about ‘Celtic’ literature deriving from Renan and Arnold are considered in the light of ‘Celtoscepticism’. Problems include the divergence of Irish and Welsh, loss of manuscripts, uncertain dating of texts, independent folkloric influence, the widespread ‘Heroic Biography’ and ‘Heroic Age’, and the limitations of the philological Stammbaum model. Cognate names e.g. Finn/Gwynn, Nuadu/Nudd, Suibhne Geilt/Myrddin Wyllt (Merlin) versus borrowed names such as Mannanán/Manawydan are analysed, as is the character Brân. Historical contacts include Hywel ab Owain Gwynedd's and Cadwgan of Whitland's Irish parentage, the use of Welsh at Tracton, Co. Cork, and the alleged influence of Gruffudd ap Cynan on Welsh music and poetry. Latin intermediaries are include the Vita of Maedóc of Ferns. Some Irish material in Welsh reflects observation of reality (e.g. Irish dress) rather than texts.
2. Irish Vernacular Influence on the Earliest Welsh Literature
This chapter contends that solid evidence of Irish influence on Welsh literature starts with the ninth-century ‘brain drain’ of Irish scholars. The discussion covers the Cambridge Juvencus manuscript, Dubthach and Merfyn Frych, the Historia Brittonum, Cormac's Glossary, glosses and marginalia, the Pangur Bán poem, Cædmon's Hymn, the Twrch Trwyth and Ychen Bannog legends, and the May Day poem in the Black Book of Carmarthen and the Elegy on Cú Roí in the Book of Taliesin.
3. Kaer Sidi and other Celtic Otherworld Terms
In chapter three the author argues that modern terms the Otherworld and l'Autre Monde are problematic and that there was no common Celtic term. Locations overseas and in tumuli are discussed. Terms discussed include síd, Annwfn, Andoounnabo, gorsedd, forad, Ynys Wair, Kaer Sidi, Caer Siddi, tíre béo and terra viventium. Reference is made to Preiddeu Annwn, Historia Brittonum, De Abbatibus, Elis Gruffudd, Hanes Taliesin, and William Owen-Pughe.
4. Narrative Techniques in Irish and Welsh, I: The 'Slavic Antithesis'
Looks at narrative technique, the so-called Slavic Antithesis', found in Irish and Welsh, but also elsewhere which casts doubt on there being a connection between the Celtic examples. Illustrations are given not only from Togail Bruidne Da Derga, Mesca Ulad, Táin Bó Cúailnge, the Cynddylan englynion, and Taliesin, but also the Finnsburg fragment and Eiríksmál, ballads from Russia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece, Finland, Ossetia, and even from Superman.
5. Narrative Techniques in Irish and Welsh, II: The Riddling 'Watchman Device'
With particular reference to Togail Bruidne Da Derga and Branwen this chapter discusses the narrative technique called the ‘Watchman Device’. It is illustrated from Homer, Statius, Valerius Flaccus, the Shahnama, the Mahabharata, Laxdœla saga, Thithreks saga, the Bórama, Táin Bó Cúailnge, Serbian and Scottish Gaelic ballads, and even Kenneth Grahame. The Irish and Welsh examples have undergone the influence, perhaps independently, of the ‘Slavic Antithesis’ of Chapter 4 and of international landscape riddles. Riddles from around the world are compared and the relationship beween riddle, metaphor, kenning, and myth is discussed.
6. The Irish Elements in Culhwch and Olwen
Chapter six examines the Irish personal names and place-names in Culhwch and Olwen and what they meant to the author in terms of Irish literature, e.g. Esgair Oerfel, Seisgeann Uairbheóil, the ‘five fifths of Ireland’, Diwrnach, Cai, Llenlleawg, Caledfwlch, Conchobar mac Nesa, Cú Roí mac Dáiri, Fergus mac Róich, Lóegaire Búadach, Conall Cernach, Maelwys mab Baedan, Scilti scawntroet, Gilla goeshydd, Garselit gwyddel, Brys fab bryssethach. Use of Annals, floating lists, and sheer invention is suggested. Some comparison is made with narrative themes in the areithiau, Cathcharpat Serda, Fled Bricrend, Widsith, Cath Maige Tuired and Rigomer.
7. The Irish Geography of Branwen
Allusions to Irish geography in the Second Branch of the Mabinogi, Branwen; the former rivers between Britain and Ireland called Lli and the Archan and the submerged kingdoms; the river Liffey and Dublin; and the origin story of the ‘five fifths of Ireland’ are discussed in the seventh chapter. The last is compared with Lebor Gabála Érenn and Giraldus Cambrensis, with the Lot story in Genesis 19, with the stories of Cairbre Cattchenn and Túathal Techtmar, and with the ‘Treachery at Scone’.
8. The Submission of Irish Kings in Fact and Fiction
This chapter looks at possible allusions in the Second Branch of the Mabinogi, Branwen, to Irish customs relating to hospitality and submission to an overlord, with particular reference to Brian Bórama, Athelstan, Henry II, ‘Easter houses’, and the use of halls and tents. Texts discussed include Gesta Regis Henrici Secundi, Annals of Inisfallen, Annals of Ulster, Annals of Tigernach, Mac Carthaigh's Book, Expugnatio Hibernica, Thady Dowling, Vita Sanctae Monennae, Chaucer's House of Fame, Tromdám Guaire, Scéla Cano meic Gartnáin, Scéla Mucce Meic Dathó, Fled Bricrenn, Orgain Denna Ríg, and Vitae of St Gwynllyw and St Gwenfrewy.
9. Llasar and the Lake of the Cauldron
Here the author offers an explanation of the story in Branwen about the giant Llasar bringing the cauldron of rebirth from a lake. Comparison is made with the folklore of Llyn Cwm-llwch and Llyn y Fan Fach, and in particular with that of Devenish on Lough Erne, as in Tochmarc Emire, Tochmarc Ferbae and Cóir Anmann. Llasar's story is compared with stereotyped hostile migration-legends, e.g. the Flemish in Pembrokeshire or Ingimund near Chester. Llasar's name derived from llasar ‘azure’ but got equated with Irish lasair ‘flame’ and Latin Lazarus, giving rise to the story that he was shunned, was burned in the Iron House and survived with the cauldron of resurrection. Welsh knowledge of the Lives Irish saints called Lasair, Mo Laise, or similar is likely; connections between Wales and the cult of St Maedóc at Ferns, Co. Wexford, and Drumlane, Co. Cavan provide a link.
10. The Iron House, the Men in Bags, and the Severed Head
Continuing from Chapter 9, this chapter begins with the Iron House story in Branwen. Arson in medieval life and literature is discussed, with special reference to Norse material and the Irish sagas Orgain Denna Ríg and Mesca Ulad, but also the Grimms' ‘Six Go Through the World’ and Vercelli Homily IX. It is argued that the Bórama, first attested in the Book of Leinster, is the best Irish parallel to Branwen and that a version of it, probably from St Maedóc's monastery at Ferns, Co. Wexford, influenced the Welsh author here and in his ‘Men in the Bags’ episode. A Leinster sequel, The Battle of Allen, may have influenced his story of Brân's severed head. The Welsh king Brân and Irish king Brandub seem to have been equated.
11. Cu Chulainn in Late Medieval Wales
This chapter discusses a legendary Irish musical council at Glendalough and then a reference to Cú Chulainn in a sixteenth-century Welsh tune-name. Allusions to this hero by the poets Lewys Glyn Cothi and Gwilym ab Ieuan Hen may refer to this tune or to the Elegy on Cú Roí mac Dáiri in the Book of Taliesin, available in Radnorshire. The name Cú Chulainn also seems to have been used as a nickname for Irish immigrants at Ystumgwern in the Extent of Merioneth of 1420 and in Llyn in a subsidy roll for 1292–3, The status of other Irish immigrants such as the Twrllachied of Anglesey and Osbwrn Wyddel of Llanaber are discussed. In Appendix I it is argued that Cuhelyn is an unrelated name and that allusions to ‘Cuhelyn's shield’ are more likely to refer to the Welsh Cuhelyn Fardd than to the Irish story about the shield of Cú Chulainn. In Appendix II it is argued that allusions to ‘nyf’ by Casnodyn, Dafydd ap Gwilym, Gruffudd ap Maredudd and other Welsh poets are not to an Irish heroine Niamh, but to the Welsh word nyf meaning ‘snow’.
12. Fionn, Deirdre, and Lebarcham in Late Medieval Wales
Chapter 12 considers allusions to Fionn, Deirdre, and Lebarcham by late medieval Welsh poets, in particular Gruffudd ap Maredudd, Dafydd y Coed, Dafydd ap Gwilym, Casnodyn, Trahaearn, Lewys Glyn Cothi, Ieuan Du'r Bilwg, Dafydd Nanmor and Wiliam Llyn. A reference to ‘Ffin vab Koel’ in the satire Araith Iolo Goch is also discussed. The Deirdre allusions are to the late medieval Oided mac nUisnig (or Oidheadh Chloinne hUisneach) rather than the Old Irish Longes mac nUislenn. The descriptions of Lebarcham recall Talland Étair and Tochmarc Luaine ocus Aided Athairne.
13. Irish Influence on Medieval Welsh Literary Criticism?
Discusses a possible instance of medieval Irish literary criticism influencing Welsh literacy criticism, in connection with comments on shifts between second and third person address in panegyric. Reference is made to the Irish Grammatical Tracts and Bardic Syntactical Tracts, the Trefhocul tract, Preface to Amra Coluim Cille, Taliesin, the Gogynfeirdd, the Cywyddwyr, Einion Offeiriad and the Welsh Bardic Grammar. Comparison is made with Priscian and Petrus Hispanus, and evocatio in Latin rhetoric. A possible Latin formula praesens et absens is hypothesized.
In summary, the final chapter discusses the book's findings and the changing views on Irish influence of scholars such as John Rhys, Kuno Meyer, Ludwig Stern, John Morris-Jones, T. Gwynn Jones, J. Lloyd-Jones, Ifor Williams, Saunders Lewis, C. H. Slover, Cecile O'Rahilly, and Proinsias Mac Cana.
Abbreviations and References
Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies
Patrick Sims-Williams has been Professor of Celtic Studies at Aberystwyth University since 1994 and was previously Reader in Celtic and Anglo-Saxon an the University of Cambridge. Currently President of the International Congress of Celtic Studies, he was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1996 and directs the Academy’s research project on the Development of the Welsh Language (Datblygiad yr Iaith Gymraeg).
In 1981 he founded the academic journal Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies (formerly Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies to 1992) and has remained the journal's editor to this day. CMCS is a bi-annual journal of Celtic studies, appearing in summer and winter, covering Medieval Celtic language, literature, history, and archaeology of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Brittany from A.D. 400 to 1500.
More recently, CMCS Publications has widened its publishing output to monographs, such as Helen McKee's The Cambridge Juvencus manuscript glossed in Latin, Old Welsh, and Old Irish: Text and Commentary (2000) and Marged Haycock's Legendary Poems from the Book of Taliesin (2007).
Patrick Sims-Williams is a regular contributor with articles such as:
Gildas and the Anglo-Saxons - CMCS 6 (1983), pp. 1-30.
The submission of Irish kings in fact and fiction: Henry II Bendigeidfran, and dating of The Four Branches of the Mabinogi - CMCS 22 (1991), pp. 31-61
The provenance of the Llywarch Hen poems: a case for Llan-gors, Brycheiniog - CMCS 26 (1993), pp. 27-63
The death of Urien - CMCS 32 (1996) , pp. 25-56
Celtomania and Celtoscepticism - CMCS 36 (1998), pp. 1-36
CMCS is available from the Department of Welsh, Old College, King Street, Aberystwyth. SY23 2AX. Wales. Annual subscription (since 2002) is £22 to institutions; £10 to individuals for 2 numbers, inclusive of packing and postage.
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