Of Arthur Pendragon, Merlin and the Mabiogion

Before we look at the Welsh Myths themselves, it would be good to look at the evidence for them, the changing form of the myths and the affect they have had on later stories and literature in Wales, England and indeed Europe.

Such an expose has been done in the first two chapters of Celtic Myth and Legend by Charles Squire and I quote from those chapters here:

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The Myths of Britain - Light filled, poetical and visionary

Matthew Arnold in his Study of Celtic Literature was probably right in asserting that, while we owe to the Anglo-Saxon the more practical qualities that have built up the British Empire, we have inherited from the Celtic side that poetic vision which has made English literature the most brilliant since the Greek….. 

We have the right, therefore, to enter upon a new spiritual possession. And a splendid one it is! The Celtic mythology has little of the heavy crudeness that repels one in Teutonic and Scandinavian story……

Saxon conquest obliterated much in Eastern Britain, and changed more; but in the West of England, in Wales, in Scotland, and Ireland, the hills and dales still keep memories of the ancient gods of the ancient race. Here and there in South Wales and the West of England are regions - once mysterious and still romantic - which the British Celts held to be the homes of gods or outposts of the Other World….

Near Bettws-y-Coed, the British Mount Olympus

On Ludgate Hill (in London), as well as on many less famous eminences, once stood the temple of the British Zeus. A mountain not far from Bettws-y-Coed was the British Olympus, the court and palace of our ancient gods. 

The British Myths informed the Mediaeval Writers, Shakespeare ....

Popular fancy had rehabilitated the old gods, long banned by the priests' bell, book, and candle, under various disguises. They still lived on in legend as kings of ancient Britain reigning in a fabulous past anterior to Julius Caesar - such were King Lud, founder of London; King Lear, whose legend was immortalized by Shakespeare; King Brennius, who conquered Rome; as well as many others who will be found filling parts in old drama. They still lived on long-dead saints of the early churches of Ireland and Britain, whose wonderful attributes and adventures are, in many cases, only those of their origin namesakes, the old gods, told afresh. And they still lived on in another, and a yet more potent, way.

Arthur retold

Myths of Arthur and his cycle of gods passed into the hands of the Norman story-tellers, to reappear as romances of King Arthur and his Knights of the Table Round. Thus spread over civilized Europe, their influence was immense.  

The elemental powers of earth and fire, and the spirits which haunted the waves and streams

This diverse influence of Celtic mythology upon English poetry and romance has been eloquently set forth by Mr. Elton in his Origins of English History - "The religion of the British tribes", he writes, "has exercised an important influence upon literature - The mediaeval romances and the legends which stood for history are full of the `fair humanities’ and figures of its bright mythology. The elemental powers of earth and fire, and the spirits which haunted the waves and streams appear again kings in the Irish Annals, or as saints and hermits in Wales. The Knights of the Round Table, Sir Kay and Tristrem and the bold Sir Bedivere, betray their mighty origin by the attributes they retain as heroes of romance. It was a goddess, 'Dea quaedam phantastica', who bore the wounded Arthur to the peaceful valley. 'There was little sunlight: on its woods and streams, and the nights were dark and gloomy for want of the moon and stars.'  This is the country of Oberon and of Sir Huon of Bordeaux. It is the dreamy Forest of Arden. In an older mythology, it was the realm of a King of Shadows, the country of Gwyn ap Nudd, who rode as Sir Guyon in the `Fairie Queene' – 

"And knighthood took of good Sir Huon's hand, When with King Oberon he came to Fairyland'."

 

To trace Welsh and Irish kings and saints and hermits back to "the elemental powers of earth and fire, and the spirits that haunted the woods and streams" of Celtic imagination, and to disclose primitive pagan deities under the mediaeval and Christian trappings of "King Arthur's Knights" (requires looking at the evidence from old documents – Ed)

The Four Ancient Books of Wales

The Welsh documents cover about the same period as the Irish and the Scottish. Four of these stand out from the rest, as most important. The oldest is the Black Book of Caermarthen, which dates from the third quarter of the twelfth century; the Book of Aneurin, which was written late in the thirteenth; the Book of Taliesin, assigned to the fourteenth; and the Red Book of Hergest, compiled by various persons during that century and the one following it. The first three of these "Four Ancient Books of Wales" are small in size, and contain poems attributed to the great traditional bards of the sixth century, Myrddin, Taliesin, and Aneurin. The last - the Red Book of Hergest - is far larger. In it are to be found Welsh translations of the British Chronicles; the oft-mentioned Triads, verses celebrating famous traditionary persons or things; ancient poems attributed to Llywarch Hen; and, of priceless value to any study of our subject, the so-called Mabinogion, stories in which large portions of the old British mythology are worked up into romantic form.

 

 

 In Royal Arcade, Melbourne (Running off Bourke St and between Swanston and Elizabeth Streets) are the two giants Gog and Magog. They symbolise an ancient  conflict between the ancient Britons and Trojan invaders


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