Part VI: The Mabinogion – Tales from Middle Ages
The Mabinogion is one of the masterworks of world literature, and a must-read for anyone who wants to have an understanding of Celtic traditions. Lady Charlotte Guest translated eleven of these medieval Welsh folk tales under the title The Mabinogion in 19th century. ‘Mabinogi’, derived from the word ‘mab’, meant ‘boyhood’ originally. It then gradually came to mean ‘tale of a hero’s boyhood’ or simply, ‘a tale’. The title was created by Lady Charlotte Guest. The word ‘mabinogion’, which she assumed was the plural form of ‘mabinogi’. The term only appears once in the manuscripts she translated and it was dismissed as a transcription error.
The stories in Mabinogion were based on historical characters and incidents from the dark ages in Wales and its vicinity, embroidered with elements of supernatural and folklore. The tales have the themes of fall and redemption, loyalty, love, and fidelity, etc. The Mabinogion is divided into three categories: 1) Four Branches of the Mabinogi (“Pedair Cainc y Mabinogi”), 2) Independent Tales from Welsh tradition and legend, and 3) Welsh Romances.
The Four Branches of the Mabinogi consists of four heroic tales of Pwyll, Branwen, Manawydan, and Math. A single character, Pryderi links all four ‘tales’. In the first tale, Pryderi was born and fostered, inherited a kingdom and married. In the second tale, he was hardly mentioned. In the third tale, Pyderi was imprisoned by enchantment and then set free. In the fourth tale, Pryderi fell in battle.
Some portions of the stories were written as early as the second half of the 11th century, and some stories are much older. These older stories were the oral tradition of storytelling of many fantastic and supernatural tales came from. The White Book of Rhydderch (1300-1325) and the Red Book of Hergest (1375-1425), a manuscript which is in the library of Oxford University, preserved all these stories.
The everlasting figures of Arthur and Merlin influenced by the Mabinogion. Moreover, it also provides the basis of abundant European and world literature, the fantasy fiction genre.
- The Mabinogion by Lady Charlotte Guest (1877) first translation text
- The Mabinogion, Translated by Sioned Davies, Oxford World’s Classics
- BBC Society and Culture – The Mabinogion