The Mabinogion

The Mabinogion

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The Mabinogion

The Mabinogion

Read FREE!

Synopsis

The Red Book of Hergest, a fourteenth-century MS. in the possession of Jesus College, Oxford, is a rich and varied store of Welsh literature in prose and verse; but down to the middle of the nineteenth century most of its contents were inaccessible to the general reader and even to the student.

In 1849, however, Lady Charlotte Guest published, in three handsome volumes, the text and an English translation of eleven tales, together with a large quantity of explanatory and illustrative notes. In 1877 she issued, in one volume, the English translation without the Welsh text, and with the original notes greatly condensed. Besides the eleven tales from the Red Book there was included, in both editions, the tale of Taliesin from a much later MS.

The tales themselves are intrinsically so interesting from a literary point of view, and Lady Charlotte Guest’s translation of them is so good, that no apology is needed for issuing her English version in a cheap form and without any material change.

In early-mediæval Wales the Bards were a class by themselves—graduates in a particular art. To obtain admission into the ranks of this bardic hierarchy the candidate had to undergo a strict and definite literary training: he had to prove himself master of certain traditional lore. The aspirant to bardic rank was called a Mabinog. The traditional lore which he had to acquire was roughly represented by the Mabinogi, which seems to have been at once a course of study and a source of income, for the Mabinog was probably allowed by custom to recite the tales he knew for pay. Using Mabinogion as the plural of Mabinogi Lady Charlotte Guest gives it as the general title of all the twelve tales contained in her book, although, strictly speaking, the title is applicable only to the four-branch tale of Pwyll, Branwen, Manawyddan and Math.

All the contents of this volume are older— some of them much older—than the MSS. in which they are found. They divide themselves naturally into four groups as follows:—

(1) The Mabinogion proper, or, to speak accurately, the Mabinogi of the four-branches, viz. Pwyll, Branwen, Manawyddan and Math.

(2) The two short, old-world Welsh tales of Maxen’s Dream, and Lludd and Llevelys.

(3) Stories of Arthur—viz. Kilhwch and Olwen, Rhonabwy’s Dream the Lady of the Fountain, Peredur and Geraint.

(4) The story of Taliesin.

(1) The stories of the first group, in their underlying substance, are pre-Christian and pre-historic; in their present form they are quasi-mythological. There is no reason to doubt the theory that they are a survival of the ancient mythology of the Celt; but the action of time and change has softened down the mythical element, without getting rid of it altogether. The gods have ceased to be gods, but they have not become ordinary men. In fact the substance is so much older than the form that the story-teller could not analyze his material even if he would. As Matthew Arnold says—“the mediæval story-teller is pillaging an antiquity of which he does not fully possess the secret; he is like a peasant building his hut on the site of Halicarnassus or Ephesus; he builds, but what he builds of is full of materials of which he knows not the history, or knows by a glimmering tradition merely: stones ‘ not of this building,’ but of an older architecture, greater, cunninger, more majestical.” The tales are saturated with magic and illusion.

Excerpt

Thereupon the two kings approached each other in the middle of the Ford, and encountered, and at the first thrust, the man who was in the stead of Arawn struck Havgan on the centre of the boss of his shield, so that it was cloven in twain, and his armour was broken, and Havgan himself was borne to the ground an arm’s and a spear’s length over the crupper of his horse, and he received a deadly blow. “O Chieftain,” said Havgan, “what right hast thou to cause my death? I was not injuring thee in anything, and I know not wherefore thou wouldest slay me. But, for the love of Heaven, since thou hast begun to slay me, complete thy work.” “Ah, Chieftain,” he replied, “1 may yet repent doing that unto thee, slay thee who may, I will not do so.” “My trusty Lords,” said Havgan, “bear me hence. My death has come. I shall be no more able to uphold you.” “My Nobles,” also said he who was in the semblance of Arawn, “take counsel and know who ought to be my subjects.” “Lord,” said the Nobles,” “all should be, for there is no king over the whole of Annwvyn but thee.” “Yes,” he replied, “it is right that he who comes humbly should be received graciously, but he that doth not come with obedience, shall be compelled by the force of swords.”

And thereupon he received the homage of the men, and he began to conquer the country; and the next day by noon the two kingdoms were in his power. And thereupon he went to keep his tryst, and came to Glyn Cuch.

And when he came there, the King of Annwvyn was there to meet him, and each of them was rejoiced to see the other. “Verily,” said Arawn, “may Heaven reward thee for thy friendship towards me. I have heard of it. When thou comest thyself to thy dominions,” said he, “ thou wilt see that which I have done for thee.” “Whatever thou hast done for me, may Heaven repay it thee.”

Then Arawn gave to Pwyll Prince of Dyved his proper form and semblance, and he himself took his own; and Arawn set forth towards the Court of Annwvyn; and he was rejoiced when he beheld his hosts, and his household, whom he had not seen so long; but they had not known of his absence, and wondered no more at his coming than usual. And that day was spent in joy and merriment; and he sat and conversed with his wife and his nobles. And when it was time for them rather to sleep than to carouse, they went to rest.

Pwyll Prince of Dyved came likewise to his country and dominions, and began to inquire of the nobles of the land, how his rule had been during the past year, compared with what it had been before. “Lord,” said they, “thy wisdom was never so great, and thou wast never so kind or so free in bestowing thy gifts, and thy justice was never more worthily seen than in this year.” “ByHeaven,” said he, “for all the good you have enjoyed, you should thank him who hath been with you; for behold, thus hath this matter been” And thereupon Pwyll related the whole unto them. “Verily, Lord,” said they, “render thanks unto Heaven that thou hast such a fellowship, and withhold not from us the rule which we have enjoyed for this year past” “I take Heaven to witness that I will not withhold it,” answered Pwyll . . .

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