Then they took the flowers of the oak, and the flowers of the broom, and the flowers of the meadowsweet, and from those they conjured up the fairest and most beautiful maiden that anyone had ever seen.Celtic mythology, Arthurian romance, and an intriguing interpretation of British history -- these are just some of the themes embraced by the anonymous authors of the eleven tales that make up the Welsh medieval masterpiece known as the Mabinogion. They tell of Gwydion the shape-shifter, who can create a woman out of flowers; of Math the magician whose feet must lie in the lap of a virgin; of hanging a pregnant mouse and hunting a magical boar. Dragons, witches, and giants live alongside kings and heroes, and quests of honour, revenge, and love are set against the backdrop of a country struggling to retain its independence.Sioned Davies' lively translation recreates the storytelling world of medieval Wales and re-invests the tales with the power of performance.
a.) a literal translation: in that case, go with the Jones and Jones translation of the 1950s (IIRC), offered by Everyman
b.) a readable translation that also tries to give the flavor of the medieval original: in that case, go with Sioned Davies' translation from 2006.
c.) a translation that focuses on the pre-Christian mythology of the non-Romance tales: in that case, go with the Patrick Ford translation from the 1970s. The advantage of Ford's translation is its inclusion of the earliest version of "The Story of Taliesin"; the disadvantage is it doesn't include the Three Romances ("Peredur", "Owain", and "Gereint").
d.) a translation that focuses on the environment of Wales: the Bollard translation is great for this.
It must have got a laugh then, it gave me a great laugh the first time I read it, and it goes to show that the best comedy routines are timeless!
Also recommended if you enjoyed Lloyd Alexander in your youth, as he clearly drew heavily from this and similar sources.
It's old-fashioned. It's put-downable. And there's nothing else like it.
Camelot & Vine
"And he (Lludd) dwelt therein most part of the year, and therefore was it called Caer Lludd, and at last Caer London. And after the stranger-race came there it was called London or Lwndrys"
The above must be true as I read them in Lady Guest's 1849 translation of the Mabinogion. These tales were collated from medieval Welsh manuscripts and draw on pre-Christian Celtic mythology. The first four stories in the collection are the oldest and are known as the four branches of the Mabinogi. Pryderi fab Pwyll from Welsh mythology occurs in all of them and they have a very medieval feel to them and are not always easy to follow. Magic features prominently in all of them and there is much going "to meat" and "taking counsel", however these feel more like crude devices to keep the story moving or to depict time passing. There is no character development: merely a relating of events, but these get a bit bogged down by the need to list the names of characters that might be relevant to the narrative.
The five following tales are more recognisable because they are based around the figure of king Arthur and his knights. There are still difficulties however as in Kilhwch and Olwen there is a four page list of Arthur's knights, which are largely unrecognisable in their Welsh spellings. However all the tales have some interest especially the dream vision of Rhonabwy, which features Arthur, Gawain and flocks of ravens.
The next three tales are all recognisable from Chretien de Troyes Arthurian Romances. The Lady of the Fountain has the same source material as "The knight with the lion (Yvain)" and "Peredur the son of Evrawc" and "Geraint the son of Erbin use material from "The story of the Grail". They do not however have the same Christian message as Chretien's tales for example we find this in Peredur:
"Then said Peredur, to heaven I render thanks that I have not broken my vow to the Lady that best I love, which was that I would not speak one word unto any Christian"
As these three tales in particular have not been dated, it is still not known whether they came from an original source or are adapted from Chretien de Troyes Arthurian Romances. The final story in the collection is Taliesin; the story of the Welsh bard and features some of the poems accredited to him. Apparently this is from a later manuscript and there is a direct reference to Christianity in the first poem that Taliesin wrote which ends like so:
There lies a virtue in my tongue.
While I continue thy protector
Thou hast not much to fear;
Remembering the name of the Trinity,
None shall be able to harm thee.
The Mabinogion is certainly of interest for those who wish to delve into the history of the Arthurian legends and to medievalists in general. The Lady Charlotte E Guest's translation has been criticised for a bowdlerisation of the original text and at times it feels a bit clunky. There are more recent translations available but these may not include the Taliesin poems