The Mabinogion, tr. by Lady Charlotte Guest, , at sacred-texts.com
471a TALIESIN.--Page 471.
TALIESIN, literally, the "Radiant Brow," was a Welsh Bard of the sixth century. His name, regarded by his countrymen with the reverence due to the "Prince of Song," is known to the Saxon chiefly through the brief but spirited invocation of Gray.
The text records the fiction of which Taliesin is the hero. Of his real history little is known, excepting what may be gleaned from his works, and from the following notices given in the volume of Iolo MSS. recently published by the Welsh MSS. Society. The first of these latter is taken from Anthony Powel of Llwydarth's MS.
"Taliesin, Chief of the Bards, the son of Saint Henwg of Caerlleon upon Usk, was invited to the court of Urien Rheged, at Aberllychwr. He, with Elffin, the son of Urien, being once fishing at sea in a skin coracle, an Irish pirate ship seized him and his coracle, and bore him away towards Ireland; but while the pirates were at the height of
their drunken mirth, Taliesin pushed his coracle to the sea, and got into it himself, with a shield in his hand which he found in the ship, and with which he rowed the coracle until it verged the land; but, the waves breaking then in wild foam, he lost his hold on the shield, so that he had no alternative but to be driven at the mercy of the sea, in which state he continued for a short time, when the coracle stuck to the point of a pole in the weir of Gwyddno, Lord of Ceredigion, in Aberdyvi; and in that position he was found, at the ebb, by Gwyddno's fishermen, by whom he was interrogated; and when it was ascertained that he was a bard, and the tutor of Elffin, the son of Urien Rheged, the son of Cynvarch:--'I, too, have a son named Elffin,' said Gwyddno, 'be thou a bard and teacher to him, also, and I will give thee lands in free tenure.' The terms were accepted, and for several successive years he spent his time between the courts of Urien Rheged and Gwyddno, called Gwyddno Garanhir, Lord of the Lowland Cantred; but after the territory of Gwyddno had become overwhelmed by the sea, Taliesin was invited by the Emperor Arthur to his court at Caerlleon upon Usk, where he became highly celebrated for poetic genius and useful, meritorious sciences. After Arthur's death he retired to the estate given to him by Gwyddno, taking Elffin, the son of that prince, under his protection. It was from this account that Thomas, the son of Einion Offeiriad, descended from Gruffydd Gwyr, formed his romance of Taliesin, the son of Cariadwen--Elffin, the son of Goddnou--Rhun, the son of Maelgwn Gwynedd, and the operations of the Cauldron of Ceridwen."
Next follows the Pedigree of Taliesin, Chief of the Bards, from Thomas Hopkin of Coychurch's MS.:--
"Taliesin, Chief of the Bards of the West, the son of Saint Henwg, of Caerlleon upon Usk, the son of Fflwch, the son of Cynin, the son of Cynvarch, the son of Saint Clydawc, of Ewyas, the son of Gwynnar, the son of Caid, the son of Cadren, the son of Cynan, the son of Cyllin, the son of Caradog, the son of Bran, the Son of Llyr Llediaith, King Paramount of all the Kings of Britain, and King, in lineal descent, of the country between the rivers Wye and Towy. Taliesin became Chief Bard of the West, from having been appointed to preside over the chair of the Round Table, at Caerlleon upon Usk."
A manuscript once in the Havod Uchtryd collection gives the following particulars:--
"Taliesin, Chief of the Bards of the West, the son of Henwg the Bard, of the College of Saint Cadocus, the son of Fflwch Lawdrwm,
of Caerlleon upon Usk, in Glamorgan, the son of Cynvar, the son of Saint Clydog, the son of Gwynnar, the son of Cadrain, the son of Cynan, the son of Caradog, the son of Bran the Blessed, the son of Llyr Llediaith.
Taliesin, Chief of the Bards, erected the church of Llanhenwg, at Caerlleon upon Usk, which he dedicated to the memory of his father, called Saint Henwg, who went to Rome on a mission to Constantine the Blessed, requesting that he would send Saints Germanus and Lupus to Britain, to strengthen the faith and renew baptism there.
Taliesin, the son of Henwg, was taken by the wild Irish, who unjustly occupied Gower; but while on board ship, on his way to Ireland, he saw a skin coracle, quite empty, on the surface of the sea, and it came closely to the side of the ship; whereupon Taliesin, taking a skin-covered spar in his hand, leaped into it, and rowed towards land, until he stuck on a pole in the weir of Gwyddno Garanhir; when a young chieftain, named Elphin, seeing him so entangled, delivered him from his peril. This Elphin was taken for the son of Gwyddno, although in reality he was the son of Elivri, his daughter, but by whom was then quite unknown; it was, however, afterwards discovered that Urien Rheged, King of Gower and Aberllychwr, was his father, who introduced him to the court of Arthur, at Caerlleon upon Usk, where his feats, learning, and endowments were found to be so superior that he was created a golden-tongued Knight of the Round Table. After the death of Arthur, Taliesin became Chief Bard to Urien Rheged, at Aberllychwr in Rheged."
Another extract, given in the above volume, is from a manuscript by Llywelyn Sion, of Llangewydd:--
"Talhaiarn, the father of Tangwn, presided in the chair of Urien Rheged, at Caer-Gwyroswydd, after the expulsion of the Irish from Gower, Carnwyllion, Cantrev-Bychan, and the Cantred of Iscennen. The said chair was established at Caer-Gwyroswydd, or Ystum Llwynarth, where Urien Rheged was accustomed to hold his national and royal court,
After the death of Talhaiarn, Taliesin, Chief of the Bards, presided in three chairs, namely: the chair of Caerlleon upon Usk, the chair of Rheged, at Bangor Teivy, under the patronage of Cedig ab Ceredig, ab Cuneddav Wledig; but he afterwards was invited to the territory of Gwyddnyw, the son of Gwydion, in Arllechwedd, Arvon, where he had lands conferred on him, and where he resided until the
time of Maelgwn Gwynedd, when he was dispossessed of that property, for which he pronounced his curse on Maelgwn, and all his possessions; whereupon the Vad Velen came to Rhos, and whoever witnessed it became doomed to certain death. Maelgwn saw the Vad Velen through the keyhole, in Rhos church, and died in consequence. Taliesin, in his old age, returned to Caer-Gwyroswydd, to Riwallon, the son of Urien; after which he visited Cedig, the son of Ceredig, the son of Cunnedav Wledig, where he died, and was buried with high honours, such as should always be shown to a man who ranked among the principal wise men of the Cymric nation; and Taliesin, Chief of the Bards, was the highest of the most exalted class, either in literature, wisdom, the science of vocal song, or any other attainment, whether sacred or profane. Thus terminates the information respecting the chief bards of the chair of Caerlleon upon Usk, called now the chair of Glamorgan."
It is probable that Taliesin was educated, or completed his education, at the school of the celebrated Cattwg, at Llanveithin, in Glamorgan. In after life he became the bard of Urien Rheged, to whom and to his son Owain, his principal poems are addressed. In the opinion of the most judicious critics these poems are undoubtedly genuine. They certainly contain passages of exquisite beauty, and are far superior to many of the other compositions attributed to him, of which some rest on very questionable authority, and some are evidently Middle Age productions. Indeed, the last of the poems translated in the text bears in some MSS. the name of Ionas Athraw o Fynyw.
The name of Taliesin is thus commemorated in the Triads:--
"The three Baptismal Bards of the Isle of Britain:--Merddin Emrys, Taliesin, Chief of Bards, and Merddin, son of Madoc Morvryn."--Tr. 125.
This Triad is more fully explained in an extract from MS. Triads of the Round Table, given in the Iolo MSS., p. 468.
"The Nine Impulsive Stocks of the Baptismal Bards of Britain.--The three primitive baptismal bards of the Cambro-Britons: Madog, the son of Morvryn, of Caerlleon upon Usk; Taliesin, the son of Saint Henwg, of Caerlleon upon Usk; and Merddin Emrys, of Maesaleg, in Glywysyg; after whom came Saint Talhaiarn, the father of Tangwyn, Merddin, the son of Madog Morvryn, and Meugant Hên, of Caerlleon upon Usk; who were succeeded by Balchnoe, the bard of Teilo, at Llandaff; Saint Cattwg; and Cynddylan, the bard. These nine were called the Impulsive Stocks
of the baptismal bards of Britain; Taliesin being their chair-president; for which reason he was designated Taliesin, Chief Bard of the West. They are likewise called the nine superinstitutionists of the baptismal chair; and no institution is deemed permanent unless renewed triennially, till the end of thrice three, or nine years. The institution was also called the Chair of the Round Table, under the superior privileges of which Gildas, the prophet, and Saint Cattwg the Wise, of Lancarvan, were bards; and also Llywarch Hên, the son of Elidr Lydanwyn, Ystudvach, the bard, and Ystyphan, the bard of Teilo."
There are evidently in the foregoing notices some authentic historical facts, as well as legendary traditions of the age of chivalry, which it would require an able critic to separate from each other.
Tradition has handed down a Cairn near Aberystwyth as the grave of Taliesin, the locality of which agrees with the foregoing account.
At one of the meetings of the Cambrian Archæological Association this Cairn was visited. It contains a Cistvaen, eight feet long by two feet six wide, and about three feet deep, composed of rude slabs of stone. One of the top stones, which lies near it, measures five feet nine by three feet nine. The Cairn was opened some fifty or sixty years ago, and the Cistvaen then contained some earth of a different colour to that of the adjoining soil.
The various poems recited in the Tale of Taliesin appear to have been composed at different periods, and it is not improbable that the above-mentioned Thomas ab Einion Offeiriad collected the poems attributed to Taliesin, which were in existence before his time, and added others to form the Mabinogi, which from expressions in page 474, and the very numerous transformations stated in the poetry, but not given in the prose, must have been much more complete than in its present state.
That the story of Taliesin was current in the Middle Ages is well known. If proof were wanting the lines of Llywarch Prydydd Moch, in allusion to the liberation of Elphin, might be adduced. They occur in an ode to Llywelyn ap, Iorwerth, composed probably not later than 1220.
"I will address my Lord with the greatly greeting muse, with the dowry of Keridwen, the Ruler of Bardism, in the manner of Taliesin, when he liberated Elphin, when he overshaded the Bardic mystery with the banners of the Bards."--Davies's Myth. of the Druids.
From several poems being, addressed to Hopkin ap Thomas ab Einiawn, by Davydd y Coed, Iorwerth Llwyd, and others who flourished about the years 1300 to 1350, it may be inferred that Hopkin's father, the above Thomas ab Einiawn, was contemporary with Llywarch Prydydd y Koch, and therefore not the author but merely the compiler of the already well-known story of Caridwen, Taliesin, and Elphin.
No perfect copy of the Mabinogi of Taliesin being accessible, it has been necessary to print it in the present series from two fragments. The former of the two is contained in a MS. in the Library of the Welsh School, in London. It is written in a modern round hand and bears the title "Y Prif-feirdd Cymreig, sef Canau &c. a gasglwyd ganwyf fi, William Morris o Gaergybi ym Môn, 1758." The MS. is of quarto size.
The second fragment is from a MS. in the library of the late Iolo Morganwg, and was kindly communicated by his son, the late Mr. Taliesin Williams (Ab Iolo).
It should be mentioned that the Mabinogi of Taliesin has already been published, although not in so complete a form as the present version, with a translation, by the late Dr. Owen Paghe, in the fifth volume of the Cambrian Quarterly; and, with two exceptions (the poems beginning "Discover thou what is," and "I adore the Supreme, Lord of all animation," pp. 485, 487), the translations of the poems now published are extracted from that work, the necessary alterations being made where the text differed materially. The first portion of it is also to be found (untranslated) in the Myvyrian Archaiology, vol. I. page 17, and part of it is inserted in Jones's Welsh Bards.
The Transmigrations of Taliesin will remind the general reader of the adventures of the second Royal Calender in the Arabian Nights.
471b CARIDWEN.--Page 471.
CARIDWEN is generally considered to be the Goddess of Nature of Welsh mythology. The principal circumstances of her fabulous history are those detailed in the Mabinogi of Taliesin. Upon them are founded most of the allusions to her contained in the poems of the bards, with whom the cauldron of Caridwen, of Inspiration, or the Awen, is a subject of frequent reference. As regards her singular family we have but little information and few details. Several notices, however, occur in Welsh writings of her fair
daughter Creirwy. Of these it may be sufficient to instance the Triad which celebrates her with Arianrod and Gwenn, verch Cywryd ab Crydon, as one of the three beauteous ladies of the island. 1 One of the two Triads extant on the subject of Morvran has been already cited. (See p. 273.) It alludes to the extreme ugliness assigned him in the text, to which, nevertheless, he was indebted for the preservation of his life in the battle of Camlan; the other ranks him with Gilbert mab Cadgyffro and Gwgan Gleddyvrudd, as one of the three stayers of slaughter. 2 No further particulars of him are preserved.
472a GWYDDNO GARANHIR.--Page 472.
GWYDDNO GARANHIR was Sovereign of Cantref y Gwaelod, a territory bordering on the sea, and protected from its ravages by a high embankment. One evening there was revelry at the Court, and Seithenin, 3 the son of Seithyn Saidi, King of Dyved, upon whom it devolved to look after the embankment, 4 and see that all was safe, became inebriated and neglected his charge. The consequence was that the sea broke in through the bank in the course of the night. Gwyddno and his Court escaped with difficulty from the impending ruin, and the Cantrev y Gwaelod was submerged and irretrievably lost. By this calamity sixteen fortified cities, the largest and finest that were in Wales, excepting only Caerlleon upon Usk, were entirely destroyed, and Cardigan Bay occupies the spot, where the fertile plains of the Cantrev had been the habitation and support of a flourishing population. Such as escaped the inundation fled to Ardudwy, and the country of Arvon, and the mountains of Eryri (Snowdon), and other places not previously inhabited. By none was this misfortune more severely felt than by Gwyddno Garanhir, to whom the reverse of circumstances it occasioned was so great that, from being an opulent monarch, he was all at once reduced to
the necessity of maintaining himself and his only son, the unfortunate Elphin, by the produce of the fishing weir mentioned in the text.
This disastrous event is commemorated in a proverb still repeated in the Principality.--
"The sigh of Gwyddno Garanhir
When the wave rolled over his land."
There is also preserved in the Myvyrian Archaiology (I. 165), a short poem upon the subject attributed to Gwyddno Garanhir, in which there are some exceedingly poetic and striking passages. The bereft monarch calls upon the author of his distress to view the calamitous effects of his intemperance, pronounces maledictions upon his head, and describes the outcry of the perishing inhabitants of that unhappy region. The piece bears a strong resemblance to some of the Works of Llywarch Hên, and is probably as old as the sixth century.
"Stand forth Seithenin and behold the dwelling of heroes,--the plain of Gwyddno the ocean covers!
Accursed be the sea guard, who after his carousal let loose the destroying fountain of the raging deep.
Accursed be the watcher, who after his drunken revelry, loosed the fountain of the desolating sea.
A cry from the sea arises above the ramparts; even to heaven does it ascend,--after the fierce excess comes the long cessation!
A cry from the sea ascends above the ramparts; even to heaven does the supplication come!-after the excess there ensues restraint!
A cry from the sea awakens me this night!-
A cry from the sea arises above the winds!
A cry from the sea impels me from my place of rest this night
After excess comes the far extending death!"
Another composition, attributed to him, is to be found in the same valuable collection. It is in the colloquial form, between himself and the king of Faerie, Gwyn ap Nudd.
The magic basket of Gwyddno has a place amongst the Thirteen Precious Things of Britain.--See page 285.
476a MAELGWN GWYNEDD.--Page 476.
This king succeeded his father Caswallon Lawhir in the sovereignty of Gwynedd, about the year 517. He is the subject of a most violent invective by Gildas, who accuses him of being a most cruel and profligate character; which is rather confirmed by its being recorded that he was rebuked by St. Padarn, for certain injuries committed by him in Ceredigion; and that he oppressed Tydecho, one of the Armorican Saints, who had settled in his dominion; but in consequence of some miracles said to have been performed by that Saint, be was compelled to make ample amends. He afterwards founded a College at Caergybi, and a Priory at Penmon, and also endowed Bangor, and erected it into a Bishopric. His reign was more powerful than most of those we read of in those unsettled ages; about the year 546 he was elected to the nominal sovereignty of the Britons, and, according to the Brut, he added six islands, Ireland, Iceland, Gothland, Orkney, Llychlyn (Norway), and Denmark to the British possessions. He died of the Vad Velen, or Yellow Pestilence, usually called the Yellow Plague of Rhos, which was said to have been caused by the number of unburied bodies of the slain that remained on that spot, and whoever went within the reach of the effluvia fell dead immediately.
To avoid the effects of this pestilence it is said that Maelgwn retired from his castle of Dyganwy, to the church of Llaurhos, where he hoped to remain, shut up in the sanctuary, safe from all danger; but being impelled by curiosity, he looked out through the keyhole of the door, and thereby caught the infection, thus fulfilling the prediction uttered by Taliesin,--
"A most strange creature will come,
From the sea marsh of Rhianedd,
As a punishment of iniquity,
On Maelgwn Gwynedd;
His hair and his teeth,
And his eyes being as gold;
And this will bring destruction
On Maelgwn Gwynedd."
A traditionary remembrance of this circumstance is preserved in the adage "Hun Maelgwn Gwynedd yn Eglwys Llanrhos," or as it is given in the "Annales Cambriæ," published by the Record Commission, "Hir hun Maelgwn en llis Ros," The long sleep of Maelgwn in the court of Rhos.
This plague lasted from the year 557 to 562, and its ravages were fearful in the extreme. A Triad records it as one of the three direful maladies, and it is even employed as an image of horror in the compositions of the Bards.
477a HEININ VARDD.--Page 477.
IT would appear that Heinin was Bard to the College of Llanveithin, at Llancarvan, in Glamorganshire, and that he flourished between A.D. 520 and 560. In the "Chwedlau'r Doethion," or "Sayings of Wise Men," preserved in a Welsh MS. called "Llyfr Tre Brynn," and published in the collection of Iolo MSS. by the Welsh MSS. Society, the following saying is attributed to him.--
Hast thou heard the saying of Heinin,
The Bard of the college of Llanveithin? 1
The brave is never cruel!"
WYMAN AND SONS, PRINTERS, GREAT QUEEN STREET, LONDON, W.C.
501:1 Triad 107.
501:2 Triad xxix.
501:3 Seithinyn the Drunkard's mischance in letting the sea overflow the Cantrev y Gwaelod, is related in Triad xli.
501:4 Traces of three ancient stone embankments are said to be still visible in the district where this inundation took place. They are called Sarn Cynvelyn, Sarn y Bwch, and Sarn Padrig. "The latter is particularly conspicuous, being left dry at low water to the extent of about nine miles, and the sailors of the neighbouring ports describe its whole length to be twenty-one miles, beginning near Harlech, and running in a south-west direction." (Cambro-Briton, 1. 362.) The Hanes Cymru contains some interesting remarks on this subject.
504:1 Qu. ? "Bangor"--Iolo Morganwg.