Arthur in Medieval Welsh Literature

Arthur in Medieval Welsh Literature

O. J. Padel
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 2
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  • Book Info
    Arthur in Medieval Welsh Literature
    Book Description:

    O. J. Padel now provides an overall survey of medieval Welsh literary references to Arthur and emphasizes the importance of understanding the character and purpose of the texts in which allusions to Arthur occur.

    eISBN: 978-0-7083-2658-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface to the new edition
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-2)

    This book is about Arthur as a literary figure in medieval Wales. It is not about the Arthur of history, if there was such a person. It is widely assumed that the legendary figure was derived from a historical one, but it is equally possible that the seemingly historical Arthur was created by the historicization of a figure of legend. The legendary figure of Arthur was remarkably consistent in local British folklore for over a thousand years, from its first appearance in the ninth century to folklore current in the nineteenth; but learned authors, the intermediaries through whom we have...

  6. 2 The Earliest Texts
    (pp. 3-10)

    The earliest datable text mentioning Arthur is in Latin, the Historia Brittonum formerly attributed to Nennius. This was probably compiled in north Wales in the years 829—30. It is worth recalling, in passing, the notable absence of Arthur from an earlier Latin work, Gildas’s De Excidio Britanniae (‘On the Ruin of Britain’), composed in the sixth century. Gildas gave a historical summary of the English takeover of Britain, and if Arthur had played a major part in the British resistance we might well have expected Gildas to name him, as he does Ambrosius Aurelianus. Likewise, Arthur is absent from...

  7. 3 Arthur’s World: Culhwch and ‘Pa ŵr yw’r porthor?’
    (pp. 11-25)

    We cannot know what quantity of Welsh Arthurian material, oral or written, prose or poetry, from the Middle Ages has been lost: all we can do is extrapolate from what survives. But two texts seem almost designed to provide an overview of Arthur and his literary world, containing allusions and flashbacks to a range of additional events in which Arthur and his men played a major role. So we can be confident that there was a body of now-lost stories, written or oral, which the audiences of these two texts were expected to recognize. However, the texts do not tell...

  8. 4 Other Texts of the Central Middle Ages
    (pp. 26-48)

    A number of other texts from the central Middle Ages complement what is learnt from Culhwch and ‘Pa ŵr yw’r porthor?’. They all, for one reason or another, allude to Arthurian stories while primarily concentrating upon some other theme and, therefore, they expand Arthur’s repertoire of adventures, though without significantly altering the overall picture of Arthur himself. The works examined in this section all date probably from the tenth to the twelfth century, though typically they cannot be dated much more closely than that, except for those by named poets in the twelfth century; many of these works cannot be...

  9. 5 Three Dialogue Poems
    (pp. 49-55)

    Three poems all of the same type, though doubtless of varying dates, can usefully be considered together. All three are chiefly in the three-lineenglynmetre, and have the form of dialogues, with two or more characters conversing in successive stanzas. Both ‘Arthur and the Eagle’ and ‘The dialogue of Melwas and Gwenhwyfar’ may be as early as the mid-twelfth century, though they survive only in later manuscripts; but the date is uncertain and could be later. ‘Ystorya Trystan’ is unlikely to be so early (perhaps of the fourteenth or fifteenth century instead), the earliest manuscript being of the sixteenth...

  10. 6 The Matter of Britain
    (pp. 56-71)

    Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain has already been mentioned several times. Writing in Oxford in the 1130s, Geoffrey composed a history of Britain in the pre-English period, drawing on several known sources (including Gildas, Bede, the ninth-century Historia Brittonum and Welsh genealogies), and possibly others, including vernacular stories (written or oral) and poetry. Geoffrey’s connection with Wales is unknown, except for his name, which presumably indicates that he came from Monmouth; in Oxford he was actually known as Geoffrey ‘Arthur’, presumably because of his known interest in that figure of legend even before he completed his...

  11. 7 The Continuing Tradition
    (pp. 72-82)

    The Dream of Rhonabwy has been variously dated between the late twelfth and the late fourteenth century. No work, except possibly the Gododdin, better exemplifies our difficulties in interpreting the anonymous works of Medieval Welsh literature through not being able to date them precisely. The difficulty is increased by the pointlessness of the tale, because of its lack of a narrative thread: Rhonabwy falls asleep in a filthy hall while journeying to make peace between warring brothers in Powys, Madog ap Maredudd (died 1160, the last king of Powys) and Iorwerth. He dreams of the prelude to Arthur’s battle of...

  12. 8 Some Arthurian Characters
    (pp. 83-91)

    It has already been observed that the character of Arthur himself is rarely developed in any detail. His literary success through the ages has been partly due to the fact that he can be given any colouring according to the wishes of a particular writer – or of a particular literary fashion – by projecting a particular agenda onto the figure and its world. Writers following along these lines have not usually developed his character for its own sake. Arthur’s accompanying warriors or knights have received more attention, from the time of Culhwch and ‘Pa ŵr yw’r porthor?’ onwards. In this chapter...

  13. 9 Was There an Arthur of the Welsh?
    (pp. 92-98)

    Two related questions remain to be considered. First, was there a fully developed Arthurian legend in Wales, or only a range of independent tales and local folklore? Second, in what sense was there actually an ‘Arthur of the Welsh’ in the Middle Ages? These questions are worth discussing, even if definite answers cannot be provided. They form contributory parts of a larger question: what was the exact nature of the Arthurian legend in Wales before Geoffrey of Monmouth altered it for ever?

    Whether there was a fully developed Arthurian legend in Wales, as is provided by Geoffrey in recounting his...

  14. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 99-103)
  15. Supplementary Bibliography (2013)
    (pp. 104-106)
  16. Index
    (pp. 107-111)