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History_of_the_Kings_(f.99.v)_Cadwallon_fab_Cadfan


I periodically like to visit the Blog “The Fold of the Bards,” (http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/index.html) containing mostly the poetry, original and in translation, of the Celtic bards of antiquity. Posting of much of the poetry, epic in form, is far too long to include in T&T so I often look for shorter pieces or excerpts like the one I include below.

The poems themselves were not originally written down. In order to become a bard, one had to spend as much as eighteen years memorizing the poems of the past. Most of the poems concerned battles or the doings of the various gods or other supernatural creatures of Celtic mythology. Often when the heroes of one tribe met the heroes of another in battle, the bards of the respective warrior bands would retire to a nearby valley and conduct a bardic competition. The victor’s poem in that competition often would become the record of the battle in the bardic canon no matter the actual outcome of the battle.

One epic poem I read concerned a powerful tribe in northern England who had achieved dominance over a large area of what is now Northumbria. The battle was fought and the tribe was wiped out to a man. The only record we have of the tribes and that battle is a long poem listing every warrior on that losing side, what each was known for and how they died in battle (heroically of course). As for the winners, virtually nothing appears in the bardic canon. They disappeared from history as though they did not ever exist.

 
Gofara Braint
The Flooding of the Braint River

LlGC 9094 (i, ii) [Robert Vaughan’s Notebook]
Peniarth 120 (iii) [Edward Lhuyd’s copy of Vaughan’s Notebook]

Handid haus genyf gerdet yn ddigynvyl
o adaw kymbry wrth ynghussyl
Can dodyw pen Edwin lys Aberffraw
a dyfod Cymru yn un andaw
Neus duc Gwynedd gorvoled i Vrython


Translation:

The Flooding of the Braint River
Ease the flood without strife
From Wales to forsake my council (?)
The head of Edwin came to the court at Aberffraw
And the Welsh came in an assembly
The lord of Gwynedd brought joy to the Britons


NOTES: This five-line fragment of what we assume was a longer poem is found in only two manuscripts, the second a copy of the first. Robert Vaughan records it, but it’s believed to be much older, at least before the 14th century, based on its orthography, and perhaps not much longer after the life of Cadwallon ap Cadfan, about whom this poem is apparently about. Cadwallon defeated King Edwin of England, who was beheaded; Bede says the head was taken to York, but this poem claims it was taken to the royal court of Aberffraw on the Isle of Anglesey.

The title is difficult to understand on its own; it’s believed that gofara should be amended to gorlifa, “flooding”, and thus evokes the image of the Braint River on Anglesey, overflowing its banks after the death of Cadwallon.

The image of the river overflowing in grief–essentially the land weeping for its fallen lord–may have its origins in the old Celtic concept of the king marrying the goddess of sovereignty. The name of the river–Braint–is derived from Brigantia, the tutelary goddess of the Brigantes, the powerful tribe of North Britain. The name Brigantia, it is argued by scholars like D.A. Binchy, gave rise to the Welsh word for king, brenin, i.e. brenin < breenhin < *brigantīnos, “consort of the goddess Brigantia”. It certainly was the origin of the word braint, meaning “privilege”, for instance privileges concerning land grants (i.e., the Braint Teilo).

This possibly points to either a general wider worship of Brigantia, or to the settlement of Gwynedd by the legendary Cunedda from the part of North Britain where Brigantia was worshipped; however, this presupposes Cunedda to have still been pagan in the fifth century, which while possible is unlikely. It’s also possible that the river was named by the Irish who settled North Wales, including Anglesey, in the fifth century; indeed the Llŷn Peninsula that stretches southeast from the area bordering Anglesey is named for the Laigin, i.e., the Leinstermen, who were likely descended of the Brigantes in Ireland (their territories overlap), and whose patron saint was, not coincidently, St. Brigit.

SOURCES: Gruffydd, R. Geraint. “Canu Cadwallon ap Cadfan”. Astudiaethau ar yr Hengerdd: Studies in Old Welsh Poetry. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. 1978.

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