Sunday 22 March 2009

Gwydion’s Eagle

Lud’s Church (XIII)

Eagle, being on the top of the oak
If thou beest of the race of birds

Thou canst not be either domestic or tame

Gwydion’s Eagle
As we have seen in the poem the Battle of the Trees, which I have proposed as an allusion to the tales of the Mabinogi and specifically the episode of Fourth Branch, although Gwydion and Math are, Lleu is not mentioned directly but there may be an reference to him in the form of an Eagle in the line: “I have been a course, I have been an eagle.

The poem’s association with the cycle of tales included in the Mabinogi would appear to be confirmed by the lines immediately preceding this:

I have been a continuing bridge, Over three score Abers”

This could well be a reference to Bran the Blessed, (= Bendigeidfran, meaning literally "Blessed Crow”) who stretches himself to form a bridge over a river (Aber = river mouth) in the Second branch tale "Branwen daughter of Llyr". The poem goes on to mention the construction of Blodueudd from flowers by Math and Gwydion and even Goronwy appears in the later stages just as he does at the ending of the Fourth Branch.

There is a further allusion to Lleu as an eagle in the Dark Age poem Y Gododdin of Aneirin.
Aneirin, referred to as Aneirin of Flowing Verse, is named as one of the five bards famous for their poetry in the Historia Brittonum, attributed to Nennius, c.829AD, and is generally regarded as a genuine historical character. The poem Y Gododdin, or Canu Aneirin (the Song of Aneirin) is claimed to record a historical, disastrous event when a war band of three hundred men set out from the northern British kingdom of Gododdin, to attack the northern Angles of Deira and Bernicia at a place named Catraeth, (claimed to be modern Catterick) c. 595 - 600 AD. Some accounts say only three Britons survived the encounter, others only Aneirin himself lived to tell the tale.

There has been considerable debate amongst scholars over the location of the battle, the opponents, the use of Brittonic cavalry, the date, transmission of the poem to Wales and of course the poem may contain the earliest reference to Arthur the Warrior. Intriguing as it may be, a full discussion of the contents of Y Gododdin and the Battle of Catraeth is beyond the scope of this work and will have to wait for another day, for now we are primarily concerned with the allusion to Lleu as an eagle in Y Gododdin: “y am wyr eryr Gwydyen

This obscure passage has been variously translated:

For a feast, most sad, most precious,
For settled, for desolate land,

For the falling of hair from the head,

Among soldiers, an eagle, Gwydyen.

With his spear he fought for Gwyddug,

A Planner, a tiller, its owner.

Three bristled boars, bent on destruction,

Morien carried off with his spear,

Myrddin of song, sharing the best
Part of his wealth, our strength and support.
Ramparts ringing, the war-band fighting

With the Saxons and Irish and Picts,

He bore the stiff red corpse of Bradwen,

Deft-handed Gwenabwy fab Gwen

Compare with another translation of the same passage:

For the piercing of the skilful and most learned man,
For the fair corpse which fell prostrate on the ground,

For the failing of the hair from off his head,

From the grandson of the eagle of Gwydien,

Did not Gwyddwg defend with his spear,

Resembling and honouring his master?

Morieu of the sacred song defended

The wall, and deposed the head

Of the chief in the ground, both our support and our sovereign

Equal to three men, to please the maid, was Bradwen,

Equal to twelve was Gwenabwy the son of Gwen

A O H Jarman translates this line as For his warriors, Gwyddien was an eagle [4]

At first glance it would appear alarming that these scholars could vary so much in their translations, however archaic Welsh is notoriously difficult language and we can forgive any apparent shortcomings of the translators when we consider that the poem in its current manuscript form, Cardiff MS 2.81, dating from the mid-13th Century, would appear to be a muddle of at least two different versions as indicated by the repetition of certain elegies, distinguished respectively as “A” and “B” texts. This was recognised by Skene over a hundred years ago in his Four Ancient Books of Wales which contained a second Gododdin which was thought to be a second redaction of The Gododdin, immediately following the Gwarchan of Maelderw.

The Book of Aneirin
There is only one extant early manuscript of Y Gododdin, “The Book of Aneirin”, (Llyfr Aneirin), kept in Cardiff Central Library, thought to date to c.1265. It is generally accepted that this manuscript contains the work of two scribes, referred to as Scribe A and Scribe B. Scribe A wrote down 88 stanzas of the poem, leaving a blank page before continuing with four poems known as Gorchanau. Scribe A recorded the 88 awdlau [5] and the Gorchanau in Middle Welsh. Later Scribe B added material to the same manuscript, and must have had access to an earlier manuscript since the material he added was in Old Welsh. Scribe B added some 35 awdlau, some being variants of the awdlau already written down by Scribe A, and some of these had been omitted by Scribe A.

Three folios appear to be missing from the end of the manuscript, indicating some material has been lost, this would appear to be confirmed by the incompleteness of the last awdl which breaks off short. This is further complicated within the material added by Scribe B which is inconsistent. The first 23 awdlau of the B material display partial modernisation, while the remaining material appears to retain the Old Welsh features. This was given the explanation that Scribe B started modernising the orthography as he copied the awdlau, but tired of this and copied the rest of the awdlau as they appeared in the older manuscript. This being an unsatisfactory explanation, Graham Isaac, noting the orthographic practice used by the B Scribe changes radically between B1.23 and B2.24 has suggested that Scribe B was using two source texts, namely B1 (awdlau B.1- 23) and B2 (awdlau B.24 – 42), thereby proposing that the material in the extant manuscript of The Book of Aneirin is from three sources. Therefore we have three textual versions, A, B1, and B2; these variants of Y Gododdin portrayed in awdlau A.48 = B1.3 = B2.24, suggesting that the original first awdl of each version posing a related variant. [6]

John T Koch [7] has taken this a stage further and attempted to untangle this mess and reconstruct the separate Y Gododdin texts. Koch argues that the most archaic text, reflecting the first, or Leech Leud=ud recension, deriving from the original oral tale, remained in the North, possibly Strathclyde, while the AB1 text, The Srath Caruin Recension, moved to Gwynedd following the Battle of Winwaed, which the Anglo Saxon Chronicle records in 655AD, fought between the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Northumbria and Mercia-Gwynedd alliance. British/Welsh accounts refer to "Maes Gai". Although the exact location has been lost, the most likely site is likely to be close to Leeds, probably Whinmoor in Yorkshire. From the AB1 text derived the separate A and B1 texts.

Koch has reconstructed three reconstructed texts, variants A, B1 and B2, categorised as follows:

B2 – the most archaic surviving text, reflecting the first, or Leech Leud=ud recension, deriving from the original oral tale, was absent of Christian influence and does not contain attribution to Aneirin or indeed mention of Aneirin as the sole survivor of the battle, or even the Bernicians (Northern English) as the enemies.

B1 – this text derives from the second or The Srath Caruin recension (AB1), a Christian collection attributed to Aneirin.

A – also derived from the second or The Srath Caruin recension (AB1), but through third and fourth recensions; Kayawc Kynhorawc, and Greddyf Gwr respectively; again a Christian collection attributed to Aneirin, has the Bernicians as the enemy and displays interests in Gwynedd, the Coeling and in the personae of Talysessin and Myrdin.

The AB1 text diverged and the A text in particular, now in Gwynedd, became subject to later additions and interpolations which would seem to account for the reference to Lleu as Gwydion’s eagle and also includes allusion to characters known to us from Culhwch ac Olwen and the Gorchan of Cynvelyn mentions Twrch Trwyth, the boar hunted by Arthur and his men. Gwydion, as the father of Lleu, occurs as Gwydyen in this obscure passage where we have “eryr Gwydyen”, which, as meaning Gwydion's Eagle, would exactly describe Lleu, his son, in the episode after being struck with the spear thrown by Goronwy. Koch interprets this line as a reference to the Fourth Branch’s account of Lleu’s transformation to an eagle, [8]

There is a further allusion to Lleu in the Gododdin poem, awdl B1.18 = A.26: “no one’s horses could match Marchleu” this is a direct reference to the steed of Lleu. In Irish tradition it is Lugh who invented horse racing and in Welsh tradition Lleu’s steed is noted as one of The Bestowed Horses Of The Island Of Britain:

"Melyngan Mangre, march Lleu Law Gyffes"
(Pale Yellow of the Stud, horse of Lleu Skilful-Hand)

Melyngan, Rachel Bromwich, translates this as literally “Pale-White” and mangre as “stud” or “stallion”. [9] We are reminded that the colour white in Celtic mythology usually refers to Otherworldly, or supernatural, qualities.

Lleu’s horse receives a further mention in the poem The Song of the Horses, from the Book of Taliesin XXV, “the steed of Lleu half domesticated”. This poem lists the steeds of heroes of Celtic mythology, Caradawg, Gwythur, Gwarddur, Arthur, and Taliesin amongst others, and is reminiscent of the Triads of the Horses. Worthy of note here is that it is the warrior Gwarddur who is mentioned in Y Gododdin and compared to Arthur, as we have seen the earliest reference to Arthur in extant literature.

However, the line alluding to Lleu is A.40 – line 462, being embroiled in the confusion of awdlau B1.5, A.40, = B1.6, A41, whose relationship is complex and obscure: all four begin with versions of the same line, and three end with versions of the same line, it being impossible to determine the correct original from these four awdlau. Although Koch states that there is no reason to attribute this reference, or anything like it, to the older Srath Caruin Recension, AB1 text (mid 7th Century), it is possibly 9th or 10th Century which significantly predates the Fourth Branch of Mabinogi in its extant manuscript form, providing evidence that the tale of Lleu was known in oral tradition at least.

Of course, Koch’s re-constructed texts have not been without criticism [10] but he should be applauded for attempting what other scholars have shied away from.

Lleu’s Mountain
Significantly the opening stanza to the most archaic Y Gododdin B2 text, derived from the Leech Leud=ud recension, is named from the translation of the opening line The rock of Lleu’s tribe, B2 text awdl B2.24:

The rock of Lleu’s tribe,
the folk of Lleu’s mountain stronghold at Gododdin’s frontier;

the frontier was held. Counsel was taken,
storm gathering;
the vessel from over the Firth of a warband from over the Firth.

[A man] who nurtures warbands came to us out of Din Dywyd to be an obstruction to the king’s warband.

The shield of Grugyn before the bull of battle had a broken bos

As we have seen above B2.24 exists in three variants; B2.24=B1.3=A.48; denoting the archaic provenance of this singular awdl, which, according to Koch, is “primary material, pre-Christian, linguistically Archaic” and regards the opening lines as referring to a hill fort on Gododdin’s frontier probably Din Eidin (modern Edinburgh), [11] this was the chief citadel of the Britons of Gododdin.

Koch posits Leech Leu-dud interprets as ‘the rock of the tribe of Lugus’ (Celtic *luga-touta) would be a circumlocution for Tut Leu-urethe tribe of Lleu’s hill fort’ suggesting *Lugu-dunon as an ancient alternative name for Din Eidin[12] We saw in Part VI – Lludd’s City that according to Geoffrey of Monmouth the City of London was named from ‘Caerlud’. London has clear associations with Lludd, a variant form of the name of the god Lug; lugudunon could easily have become corrupted to London and presents a more credible etymology.

There is an entry in the Roman Ravenna Cosmography, c.700AD, listing Lugudunum, as apparently located somewhere in the north of Britain. We have seen the same name as Dinlleu (same elements reversed) in the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi as Lleu’s fortress in North Wales. This name is well known among the Continental Celts, the best known being modern Lyon, generally agreed upon as the ‘fortress of the god Lugus’ (Lug in later Celtic tradition, Lleu in Welsh). [13]

Arthur's Seat
The rock of Lleu’s tribe at Din Eidin ( Lugudunum) can be no other than Arthur’s Seat (Suidhe Arthair), an ancient volcano, towering over Edinburgh and linked with the stories of Arthur the Warrior. Local folklore states that Arthur and his men are sleeping inside the hill, awaiting the call to come forth in time of the Country’s need. This reminds us of the legend of The Iron Gates, near Alderley Edge in Cheshire, discussed in Lud’s Church - Part I. In the earliest records the origin of the name is simply “the Crag” and it has been suggested that this may be a corruption either of the Gaelic Ard-na-Said, meaning “height of arrows”, or Ard Thor, meaning the “height of the thunderer”. [14]

The Lothian Line
The equinox sunrise (21st March and 21st September) is visible over Arthur’s Seat when viewed from Cairnpapple, nearly 29 kilometres to the west. If this line is extended to the east a further 30 kilometres, it crosses over Traprain Law. Therefore the sunrise on the spring and autumn equinoxes when viewed from Arthur’s Seat can be seen to rise over Traprain Law and set over Cairnpapple Hill. This solar phenomenon, presented by the east-west alignment of these three naturally positioned hills, roughly equidistant apart, has been termed “The Lothian line”, being a natural occurrence, similar to the Leek Double Sunset mentioned in Lud’s Church - Part I. This ‘sacred’ Lothian alignment straddles the east-west axis, and gives clear indication as a key calendar marker, the movement of the sun appearing to rotate around the equinoxes, creating an East-West axis when day and night are of equal length. [15]

The old Brittonnic kingdom of Gododdin extended from south-east Scotland to north-east England, identified as the region of modern Lothian, bordered on the west by the Brythonic Kingdom of Strathclyde, to the north by the Picts, and as far south the English River Tyne. Gododdin included three territories: Manaw Gododdin, (near Stirling), Lleuddinyawn (Lothian), and Berneich, (later to become Anglian Bernicia).

The claim that Din Eidin equates with Lugudunum is supported as the earliest recorded form of "Lothian" is from a 12th Century poem by the Welsh bard, Hywel ap Owain, as “Neu dreitsy tra lliw Lleudinyawn dreuyt”. Lleudinyawn in modern form Lleuddiniawn, means literally, the "land of Lleu's fortress", constructed from the elements lleu (personal name), din (fortress), and -iawn (land of). [16]

We find further evidence of the former size of Lleudinyawn (Lothian), as just north of Dinguaroy, a Celtic coastal fortress in the southerly territory of the Gododdin kingdom, now the site of Bamburgh castle, opposite the Farne Islands, are the rivers of the North and South Low. These were identified on early maps as the North and South Llew[17] which, as we have previously discussed is the medieval Welsh rendition for Lleu, used in the Mabinogion tradition.

Traditionally the mouth of the River Low (Aber Lleu - "the river-mouth of the god Lug/Lleu") is the site where the Celtic King Urien, Lord of Catraeth, was treacherously killed, after he beseiged Theodoric, “flame-bearer” on the Isle of Metcaut, being the original Brythonic name for Holy Island, Lindisfarne, as told in the Northern History section of the Historia Brittonum, attributed to Nennius, c.829AD:

….. Hussa reigned seven years. Against him fought four kings, Urien, and Ryderthen, and Guallauc, and Morcant. Theodoric fought bravely, together with his sons, against that Urien. But at that time sometimes the enemy and sometimes our countrymen were defeated, and he shut them up three days and three nights in the island of Metcaut; and whilst he was on an expedition he was murdered, at the instance of Morcant, out of envy…” -. Translation by J.A. Giles, in Six Old English Chronicles.

The story is told in the Llwyarch Hen cycle of poems, contained within the Red Book of Hergest, known as the Death of Urien:

A head I bear by my side,
The head of Urien, the mild leader of his army-

And on his white bosom the sable raven is perched.

A head I bear in my shirt,

The head of Urien who governed a court in mildness-

And on his white bosom the sable raven gluts.

Eurdyl will be sorrowful from the tribulation of this night,

And from the fate that is to me befallen;

That her brother should be slain at Aber Lleu.

The poet is clearly carrying Urien’s head, leading to suggestions that it was taken as a trophy or more likely so as the enemy did not retrieve it. The Triads calls the death of Urien one of the "three unfortunate assassinations" and describes Urien as one of the three great battle leaders of Britain. It has puzzled historians for years the location Catraeth, if it was on the border of the Gododdin’s territory it cannot have been Catterick, even more if Urien Rheged was the Lord of Catraeth, why the Gododdin should attack it. Perhaps the poetry of Llywarch Hen and the archaic B2 text hold the answer.

Traprain Law
East Lothian is the location of Traprain Law, considered one of the most important archaeological sites in Scotland, the site of an Iron Age hill fort, thought to have been the capital of the Gododdin, before moving to Din Eidin (Lleu’s fortress). The people of Gododdin (earlier name Gutodin) were known to Romans as the Votadini, an Iron Age tribe, their territory was either side on the Northern Walls providing a buffer zone to the Roman Frontier, tradition states that it is from Manaw Gododdin that Cunedda was moved by Magnus Maximus, into North Wales and founded Gwynedd. The native tale The Dream of Macsen Wledig, included in Charlotte Guest’s Mabinogion, is a romanticised 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.

The Loth Stone is found about 300m south-west of Traprain Law, standing 8 feet high and said to mark the grave of the mythical King Loth, traditionally after whom the Lothians were said to be named, although excavations have not revealed any evidence of a grave in the vicinity of the stone.

Traprain Law, at 725 feet in height, is the site of an ancient hill fort, with evidence of occupation and signs of ramparts dated from c.1000 BC. Following the Roman withdrawal from Southern Scotland to the line of Hadrian's Wall, Traprain Law was occupied from c.200AD almost continuously until c.400AD. East Lothian’s absence of Roman military camps has been interpreted as an indication that authority was maintained from Traprain Law. It would appear probable, that the Votadini had allied with the Romans and historians suspect, acted as a buffer state between the Northern Walls on the Empire frontier. However, c.400AD a final rampart was erected at Traprain Law, and soon after the site abandoned, perhaps related to the break down of Roman rule in Britain. [18]

In 1919 a silver treasure hoard was found by Traprain Law, conjectured to be payment from the Romans to their local allies the Votadini. Following a fire on Traprain Law in 2003, a number of finds where made including 5,000-year-old Neolithic rock art and Bronze Age axes.
This hill was only known as Traprain Law from the late 18th century, prior to that it is found on old maps as “Dunpendyrlaw”, still known locally as Dunpelder. A suggested translation has been Gaelic, Dun, from Brythonic Din ‘fort’ and Brythonic, paladur , or pelydr ‘spear shaft’, owing to the Brythonic origin of this name it may have been called Dinpaladur[19]

To recap;

In Part IV - The Search for Lud we discussed how Gwalchmei/Gawain’s mother appears to be one and the same persona albeit substituted with different epithets and it is evident that his father’s name persisted as Lot, Llew or Lleu. According to Geoffrey of Monmouth Gawain’s father was Lot, which as Loth, appears to been have based on the name for a ruler of the Scottish region known as Lothian. As previously discussed, this may have been based this notion on a Northern tradition of Lot which Geoffrey confused with the Lot Luwddoc (of the Host) possibly based on the semi-legendary Leudonus, a late 5th century post-roman ruler of the Gododdin.

In Part III - The Hawk of May we saw how the redactor of the Brut y Brenhinedd - the Welsh translation of Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain –confuses Lot Luwddoc with Llew ap Cynfarch, the brother of Urien Rheged, the most powerful king in Northern Britain at that time. Llew ap Cynfarch is a historical character, mentioned in the Northern genealogies, one of six brothers of the dynasty of Cynfarch Oer "The Dismal" King of North Rheged but features about one hundred years after Lot Luwddoc (Leudonus). Lot was certainly confused with the historical character by the redactor of the Brut who substitutes Llew ap Cynfarch for him in the Brut.

We can now see the reason for the confusion with the name Lew/Lleu and Lot should not be confused with Llew ap Cynfarch, king of Caer Guendoleu.

At the Battle of Arfderydd in AD 573, Gwenddolew ap Ceidio, the King of Caer-Guendoleu, died fighting against the opposing forces led by Ebrauc and Dunoting. Having no heir, Caer-Guendoleu passes into the hands of his cousin, Urien Rheged and is ruled by his two brothers; Llew ap Cynfarch and Arawn ap Cynfarch.

The same stanza of Y Gododdin that mentions Lleu as Gwydyen’s Eagle, there also is an allusion to Myrddin, who went mad after the Battle of Arfderydd and fled to become a Wildman of the woods.

Continued in Part XIV - Wizards and Wildmen

*Edited 08/12/19 - Ten years after publication an error has been pointed to me (see comment below dated 07/12/19), so I have removed the offending illustration.


1. Dialogue of Arthur and the Eagle, 16th Century manuscript, Jes. MS 3.
2. Joseph P.Clancy Earliest Welsh Poetry. Macmillan, London & New York, 1970. Medieval Welsh Poems, published by Four Courts Press 2003.
3. The Four Ancient Books of Wales. ed. by William F. Skene. Edinburgh, 1868.
4. A O H Jarman, Aneirin: Y Gododdin line 440, p30, Gomer Press, 1990.
5. Awdl (plural = awdlau), pronounced “ode,” “lay”. The most highly regarded form of Welsh bardic composition. The word, originally a variant of the Celtic term for rhyme, odl, came to mean a run of monorhyming lines, a complete poem in monorhyme.
6. G R Isaac, Canu Aneirin and awdl LI, Journal of Celtic Linguistics 2, 1993
7. John T Koch, The Gododdin of Aneirin: Text & Context from Dark Age North Britain, University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 1997.
8. Ibid. p160
9. Rachel Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein, The Triads of the Island of Britain, 3rd Edition, University Of Wales Press, 2006, p104.
10. G R Isaac, "Readings in the history and transmission of the Gododdin". Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies 37, 1999. pp. 55-78
11. Koch, op cit. p131.
12. Ibid. p131.
13. A.L.F. Rivet and C. Smith, The Place-names of Roman Britain, Batsford, London (1979) 401-2).
14. Philip Coppens, Land of the Gods; Lothian’s Scared Landscape
15. Ibid.. Coppens states that Steve Sweeney-Turner (see note 16 below) first proposed that there might be “a kind of symmetrical plan underlying the whole of Gododdin/Lothian, dating back from the pre-Celtic period and throughout it.” Sweeney-Turner thought the shape was that of a diamond, from Cairnpapple in the West to Traprain Law in the East, and with Arthur’s Seat at its epicentre.
16. Steve Sweeney-Turner, Ancient Lothian website, lleu of lleuddiniawn 
17. Alexander and William McCall, Artur, Gwenwhyvawr and Myrddin: Ancient Brythons of the North, Pentland Press, 1997, p.172.
18. British Archaeology magazine, Issue 57, February 2001
19. Bethany Fox ,  The P-Celtic Place-Names of North-East England and South-East Scotland, The Heroic Age, A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe Issue 10 (May 2007)

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