preserving the ancient writings and the ancient traditions; but they were simply copyists, though they had undoubtedly some hand in giving the Gododin its final form and in setting in its convenient framework the names of the forefathers of their aristocratic abbots.
In the year 1044 Gruffydd ab Llewelyn conquered Hywel ab Edwin and became king of Wales. By means of his diplomacy and his arms he succeeded in stemming the tide of Saxon invasion that was threatening to overflow even the little remnant of land that was left to the Welsh, and his strong rule gave the Welsh muse another opportunity. Gruffydd, however, died in 1063, and was eventually succeeded in 1073 by Trahaern in North Wales, and Rhys ab Owen in South Wales. The rule of these two princes was destined to be the last period of literary inertness in the long interval following the confinement of Wales to her inaccessible highlands.
During these years a man was hiding in Ireland, called Gruffydd ab Cynan, a scion of the old branch of Welsh kings. In Brittany, too, Rhys ab Tewdwr, a claimant to the throne of South Wales, had sought the protection of his Breton kinsmen. In 1073 Rhys ab Tewdwr obtained the throne of Rhys ab Owen, and, after many years of hard fighting, Gruffydd ab Cynan, with the help of Rhys ab Tewdwr, defeated Trahaern at the battle of Myrydd Carn in 1081. On the accession of these two powerful princes the whole country broke forth into songs of praise and jubilation, and the long night was at an end.
It is important to remember that both Gruffydd and Rhys had a direct personal influence on the literary revival of their times. Gruffydd ab Cynan while in exile had seen how the Irish Oenach was held, and had seen prizes given for poetry and song. We have it on the authority of Welsh writers that he reorganized the bards and improved the music, and in many other ways gave a great and beneficial impulse to Welsh literature. He may have brought over some of the later Irish legends which have had such a powerful effect on the literature of Wales.
Rhys ab Tewdwr, too, brought with him from Brittany an enthusiasm for the old Celtic tales, and perhaps some of the tales themselves which had been by that time forgotten in Wales, tales of the Round Table, and Arthur “begirt with British and Armoric knights,” of knightly deeds and magical metamorphoses, which were destined to influence profoundly all the literatures of the West. We find, therefore, in this period that poetry flourished mostly in the North under Gruffydd ab Cynan, and prose in the south under Rhys ab Tewdwr, where the new enthusiasm for the old Welsh legends resulted in the Geoffrey of Montmouth. History of Britain of Geoffrey of Monmouth, which is an expansion of the books attributed to Gildas and Nennius. It was written in Latin sometime before 1147, and is dedicated to Robert, earl of Gloucester, the grandson of Rhys ab Tewdwr. In the introductory epistle, Geoffrey states that Walter, archdeacon of Oxford, had given him a very ancient book in the British tongue, giving an account of the kings of Britain from Brutus to Cadwaladr, and that he had translated it into Latin at the archdeacon’s request. The book, however, is a compilation and not a translation, but the materials were probably drawn from British sources. In this history Geoffrey asserts that the deeds of Arthur “were commonly related in a pleasing manner.” He was perhaps originally but the hero of some popular ballad, or of a forgotten stanza of the Gododin, and the importance of his name in the literature of the world seems to be due to an accident. We cannot, however, in this article consider the Arthurian Legend (q.v.) as a whole; we must be content with dealing with the most important of the romantic tales which are contained in the Red Book of Hergest. They may be divided into four classes:—
(i.) The Mabinogi proper, containing (1) Pwyll, prince of Dyvet; (2) Branwen, daughter of Llyr; (3) Manawyddan, son of Llyr; (4) Math, son of Mathonwy.
(ii.) Old British tales referring to Roman times, viz. (1) Lludd and Llevelys; (2) The Dream of Macsen Wledic.
(iii.) British Arthurian tales, viz. (1) Kilhwch and Olwen; (2) The Dream of Rhonabwy.
(iv.) Later tales of chivalry, viz. (1) The Lady of the Fountain; (2) Peredur, son of Evrawc; (3) Geraint, son of Erbin.
The group of four romances in the first class forms a cycle of legends and is called in the manuscript Pedeir Keinc y Mabinogi—the Four Branches of the Mabinogi; so it is only these four tales that can, strictly speaking, be called The Mabinogion. Mabinogion. In these stories we have the relics of the ancient Irish mythology of the Tuatha Dé Danann, sometimes mixed with later myths. The Caer Sidi, where neither disease nor old age affects any one, is the Sid of Irish mythology, the residence of the gods of the Aes Side. It is called in one of the old poems the prison of Gweir, who no doubt represents Gaiar, son of Manandán MacLir, the Atropos who cut the thread of life of Irish mythology. Llyr is the Irish sea-god Lir, and was called Llyr Llediaith, or the half-tongued, implying that he spoke a language only partially intelligible to the people of the country. Bran, the son of Llyr, is the Irish Bran MacAllait, Allait being one of the names of Lir. Manawyddan is clearly the Manandán or Manannán MacLir of Irish mythology. These tales contain other characters which may not have been borrowed from Irish mythology but which are common to both mythologies; for example, Rhiannon, the wife of Pwyll who possessed marvellous birds which held warriors spell-bound for eighty years by their singing, comes from Annwn, or the unseen world, and her son Pryderi gives her, on the death of Pwyll, as a wife to Manawyddan.
Of the second class the first story relates to Lludd, son of Beli the Great, son of Manogan, who became king after his father’s death, while his brother Llevelys becomes king of France and shows his brother how to get rid of the three plagues which devastated Britain:—first, a strange race, the Coranians, whose knowledge was so great that they heard everything no matter how low soever it might be spoken; second, a shriek which came into every house on May eve, caused by the fighting of two dragons; and third, a great giant who carried off all the provisions of the king’s palace every day. The second tale relates how Maxen, emperor of Rome, has a dream while hunting, in which he imagines that he visits Britain, and in Caer Seint or Carnarvon sees a beautiful damsel, Helen, whom he ultimately finds and marries. Both tales are British in origin and are founded on traditions referring to Roman times.
The most important of these tales are undoubtedly those contained in the first class, and the story of Kilhwch and Olwen. The form in which they are found in the Red Book of Hergest is, as we have already said, comparatively speaking, modern. But it is apparent to any one reading these tales that the writers or compilers, as Matthew Arnold has suggested, are “pillaging an antiquity, the secret of which they do not fully possess.” The foundations of the tales are the old Celtic traditions of the gods and the older heroes, and they clearly show Goidelic influence both in the persons they introduce and in their incidents. The tales would at first exist only in oral tradition, and after the advent of Christianity the characters they contain lost their title of divinity and became simply heroes—warriors and magicians. In time the monks began to write these ancient traditions, embellishing them and suppressing no doubt what they considered to be most objectionable. These then are the tales which we now possess—the traditional doings of the old heroes as set in order by Christian writers.
The changes which these later copyists wrought in the substance of the tales fall into two main divisions. In the first place, they attempted to find some connexion between tales or cycles of tales which originally had no connexion whatever, and were therefore forced to invent new incidents or to introduce other incidents from the outside in order to establish this connexion; and secondly, as in the case of the Gododin, the tales were twisted and altered to support references to and explanations of names known to the writer. So we find in the tale of Math vab Mathonwy the incident of the pigs is expanded to explain some place-names which the writer knew. It is this also that gives a local interest to the tales; for instance, Dyvet, the land of Pwyll, has come to be regarded as the home of Hud a Lledrith, of magic and