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Posts Tagged ‘Celtic’

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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“Alfred, Lord Tennyson, wrote his poem ‘In Memoriam AHH,’ in response to the death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam. Several cantos consider the bleak lessons of paleontology — not just the myriads of deaths, but the specter of species extinction. Tennyson finished the poem in 1849, a decade before “The Origin of Species,” when the possibility of non-divinely-directed evolution and the reality of mass extinctions like the end-Permian were becoming part of general awareness.

LV

Are God and Nature then at strife,
That Nature lends such evil dreams?
So careful of the type she seems,
So careless of the single life;

That I, considering everywhere
Her secret meaning in her deeds,
And finding that of fifty seeds
She often brings but one to bear,

I falter where I firmly trod,
And falling with my weight of cares
Upon the great world’s altar-stairs
That slope thro’ darkness up to God,

I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope,
And gather dust and chaff, and call
To what I feel is Lord of all,
And faintly trust the larger hope.

LVI

‘So careful of the type?’ but no.
From scarped cliff and quarried stone
She cries, ‘A thousand types are gone:
I care for nothing, all shall go.

‘Thou makest thine appeal to me:
I bring to life, I bring to death:
The spirit does but mean the breath:
I know no more.’ And he, shall he,

Man, her last work, who seem’d so fair,
Such splendid purpose in his eyes,
Who roll’d the psalm to wintry skies,
Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer,

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law—
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed—

Who loved, who suffer’d countless ills,
Who battled for the True, the Just,
Be blown about the desert dust,
Or seal’d within the iron hills?

“For one answer to Tennyson’s anguished question about human extinction, there’s an argument that says we can estimate how much longer humanity has got from just basic probability theory. It comes from astrophysicist Richard Gott, and goes like this: Homo sapiens has been around about 200,000 years. It’s not very likely that we’re living at the very beginning or very end of our species’ history, just like it’s not very likely that a name chosen at random from the phone book will come at the very beginning or the very end. Specifically, there’s only a 2.5% chance that we’re living in the first 2.5% of our species’ life span, and only a 2.5% chance we’re living in the last 2.5% of our species’ life span. So do the math, and there’s a 95% probability that our species will last somewhere between .2 million and 8 million years.

“This might also explain the Fermi paradox — we, and other intelligent species aren’t likely to colonize the galaxy. But it’s only fair to add that a lot of other people (the physicist Freeman Dyson, for example) think this gloomily Tennysonian conclusion is an abuse of probability theory.”
Logarithmic History (https://logarithmichistory.wordpress.com/2019/03/13/in-memoriam-paleozoic-5/)

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Today’s Poem:
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Sculpture of the poet Taliesin on permanent loan to the Order of Sancta Sophia, Pennal.

“I have been many things,
Before becoming as I am.
I have been a narrow multi-colored sword.
I have been a tear in the air.
I have lived as the faintest of stars.
I have been a word among letters,
A book among words.”*
Taliesin, 500 ACE
(*My revisions to translation).

The Birth of Taliesin:
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Ceridwen and Gwion Bach by Tim Rossiter.

“The magical story of Taliesin (t-ah l-ee eh-sin) – Hanes Taliesin – begins with the goddess Ceridwen (KEH-rihd-wehn) stirring her Cauldron over her cooking fire. Ceridwen is the triple-goddess in her form as elder or ‘crone’. Her Cauldron is the source of everything, for she is God in the aspect of Creator. At this point, the Cauldron is the source of poetic inspiration (awen in Welsh) and of all wisdom and knowledge. She has her son Gwion Bach (which might be translated “Little Man-ling”) stir and watch the pot. Accidentally, three drops fall from the Cauldron onto Gwion’s thumb, and he sucks his thumb. With this act he becomes filled with all knowledge – and, seeing danger ahead for himself, scurries.

There follows a magic hunt, in which Ceridwen chases Gwion, Gwion shape-shifts into a hare, then an otter, then a bird, and Ceridwen shape-shifts in pursuit. Gwion then becomes an ear of grain and Ceridwen turns herself into a hen and eats him. The symbolic meaning is fairly transparent: Gwion, the archetypal Human Person, acquiring a little wisdom, flees from fire (the cauldron) via earth (hare), water (otter) and air (bird), all of them changing forms within the great cosmic delusion of Creation (hence, “shape shifting”); but the Divine Mother is in constant pursuit, ever coaxing Her child back to Herself. Eventually, the Human becomes totally humble, submitting himself to a state of being (one grain) in which he can be wholly absorbed into the Divine Consciousness…….

…..and, as often happens in a story when grain is a symbol, he is reborn. The Hanes Taliesin tells us that Gwion now spends nine months in the womb of Ceridwen and is then reborn as Taliesin. Ceridwen wills neither to keep him nor to kill him, so she leaves him in a basket by Gwyddno’s royal salmon weir. There he is found by Prince Elffin, son of King Gwyddno Garanhir of Ceredigion.

Elffin is frustrated. He was there, allowed to fish for salmon for the first time in his life, and instead of catching any he caught this darned baby. The baby Taliesin immediately sings Elffin a poem, in which he proclaims himself “loquacious though not yet able to speak” (reminiscent of Krishna’s comparably surprising day-of-birth speech to his father), informs him “I was once little Gwion Bach but now I am Taliesin”, and promises the young prince that he will one day be worth more to him than even as inconceivably big a day’s catch as three hundred salmon.”
https://kingarthursomerset.wordpress.com/about/

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On March 17, while roaming through the Amazon website, I came across a book by Frank Delaney entitled “Ireland: A Novel” about Irish stories and storytelling.

Ireland has always been a special, perhaps even magical place for me ever since that day many years ago when while sitting in a pub somewhere in Kerry drinking a half and half I noticed a man beside slumped over the bar seemingly deep asleep. Suddenly he woke up with a start — hair wild, sticking out here and there like shards of glass, face red and lumpy, watery grey-blue eyes and missing a few teeth behind a stubbled jaw. He turned towards me  and said, “De ye know how d’Irish lost da battle o d’Boyne?”,  in a brogue so thick I could barely understand him. He then launched into an hour-long tale of King Billy with his shining armor and King Jimmy who ran away — about the last minute fording of the river by the English cavalry preventing the out manned and out gunned Irish from achieving a stunning victory and changing history. I was enthralled.

Weeks later, standing on the hill at Newgrange overlooking that same Boyne winding through the green far below, I could, in my mind, see the wounded King Billy riding off after being shot by the Irish gunners, rallying his troops to victory and the silver river turning red with blood.

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I turned from that scene and entered Newgrange, the massive 6000-year-old structure older than the Pyramids, older than Stonehenge (no one claimed it was built by aliens either). Bending low, I followed the long dark tunnel (people could freely enter then) to the large room in the center where no light penetrated.

On the longest night of the year, the winter Solstice, whoever it was that may have worshiped there so long ago gathered and awaited the dawn. Upon the sun’s first breasting of the horizon. a shaft of light would flash through a passage above the tunnel and illuminate the chamber in a brilliant magical glow. How wonderful, I thought, it must have been for those from a society bereft of movies, social media, books and the like to gather here once a year and experience such splendor.

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Anyway, that and my fondness for storytelling prompted me to order the book and begin reading it on my Kindle. As strange as it may seem, it was not until later that I realized that it was also Saint Patricks Day.

I found the novel delightful. It contains a series of tales told by an itinerant storyteller. The stories about Ireland include The Architect of Newgrange, King Connor’s Comeuppance, Saint Patrick Drives the Snakes along with the Devil from Ireland, Brendan Discovers America, and Finn McCool’s Wedding.

“THE GREAT IRISH WARRIOR, FINN MACCOOL, had the longest arms and the fastest legs and the fairest hair and the bluest eyes and the broadest shoulders and the soundest digestion of any man ever living. He was a god, a leader, a warrior, a hunter, and a thinker. And he was a poet.”
Delaney, Frank. Ireland: A Novel (p. 152). HarperCollins.

(Hmm, by “soundest digestion” did the storyteller mean the ability to eat everything from rusty nails to spoiled meat or was he focused on the other end of the digestive tract, stools, neither watery nor hard as rocks?)

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In the novel, all these tales were linked  by the account of a young man’s obsession with stories and storytelling and his long search for the itinerant storyteller who when he was a child had met the storyteller, listened to his stories and was forever changed. Although the storyteller relates most of the tales in the novel, the young man does also, including an appealing story about Brian Boru.

There is also a wonderful lecture by the fictitious but delightful history professor T. Bartlett Ryle, who loved Spenser’s poetry but hated his harsh treatment of his beloved Irish. The lecture given at his first class with his new students may be one of the more amusing expositions of what the story of history is and is not. It begins:

“THE MOST DISGRACEFULLY NEGLECTED PERIOD of Irish history stretches from the year seven-ninety-five to the year eleven-seventy. Those dates are in what many people call the Dark Ages. I am not one of those people. And I sincerely doubt that any of your teachers has clearly defined the centuries of the Dark Ages, so let us strap them down here and now. Most of the stuff that’s spoken about that era is good enough to grow roses in.”

“I dislike the term Dark Ages. Day by day, ancient texts and archaeology’s finds are brightening those centuries, and it may well prove to be the case that one day the Ages won’t deserve to be called Dark anymore. The word you should be searching for is medieval. In my lectures you’ll hear only the terms early medieval, high medieval, and late medieval. Let me see nothing else in your essays. You may write about the sexing of chickens—there’s deep sympathy around here for that sort of thing. You may write about the effect of drought upon a toper. You may write about the fate of maiden ladies who work in bishops’ houses. But you may not write about the Dark Ages.”
Delaney, Frank. Ireland: A Novel (p. 229). HarperCollins.

He goes on:

“So: old Irish, Vikings, and Normans—three people on one island; my purpose here is to pick a way for you through that mixture and give you a teaching our history since the Normans that’ll render you fit to go forth, marry decently, raise a family, live to a ripe old age, evacuate your bowels no more than once daily, cultivate your garden, or if you prefer, spend your life in low dives, gambling on two flies climbing up a wall while drinking cheap liquor imported from Rumania. I hope you’re still with me—in spirit if not in spite.”
Delaney, Frank. Ireland: A Novel (p. 232). HarperCollins.

Santayana’s statement that “Those who do not remember history are forced to repeat it” is partially true. We humans, singly or collectively, seem to make the same mistakes over and over again. We also suffer from our common tendency to concentrate on the minutia we understand and avoid where we can the difficult complexities of life. For example, the introduction of the steel plow, the internal combustion engine or the transistor may have changed everything but we still went about our lives and politics obsessed with the same things we have always been obsessed with, among which was how to control and ultimately consume all the resources necessary for us live and our species to survive.

“When politicians and those who observe them consider matters, they frequently fall into the trap of assuming—hopefully or desperately, depending which side they’re on—that a status quo may last forever. They forget what changes things—events. That’s what all politics are changed by—events.”
Delaney, Frank. Ireland: A Novel (p. 234). HarperCollins.

The young man, Ronan by name, goes on to become a storyteller himself wandering the byways, homes and pubs of the country where, in return for shelter food and some Guinness and Irish whisky, he told stories of old Ireland, of its heroes and its villains, its suffering and triumphs even about Kings Billy and Jimmy at the famous Battle of the Boyne.

“We merge our myths with our facts according to our feelings, we tell ourselves our own story. And no matter what we are told, we choose what we believe. All “truths” are only our truths, because we bring to the “facts” our feelings, our experiences, our wishes. Thus, storytelling—from wherever it comes—forms a layer in the foundation of the world; and glinting in it we see the trace elements of every tribe on earth.”
Delaney, Frank. Ireland: A Novel. HarperCollins.

Pookie says, “Check it out.”

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I spent the morning – during my walk to breakfast, at breakfast, while swimming and at lunch – running through my mind various self-justifying stories about what that particular day means to me. I was going to write them down here because I thought some of them were pretty good. But, I’ll save you that pleasure. What really interests me today is Samuel Beckett. You know Andre the Giant’s friend who was so obsessed with cricket, – that Sam Beckett. (Samuel Beckett used to drive André the Giant to school. All they talked about was cricket.)

Andre the Giant was a professional wrestler and actor who appeared in what is, in my opinion, the greatest movie ever made, “The Princess Bride.”

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Contemplating the mystery and significance of Andre would take me more than one day so, instead, I concentrated on Sam.

Well, Sam wrote a lot of books and plays when he was not driving Andre around or watching cricket matches. One novel in particular always fascinated me. It was about someone deaf, dumb and blind, without arms and legs lying face down in a puddle of mud slowly slithering along until he bumps into something. This was all that the novel was about, all three hundred or so pages of it. I do not remember the name of the book. You can look it up.

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Now, I know Beckett intended his story to explore solipsism (you can look that up too), a philosophy or view of life that fascinated him. But he was a storyteller and as I have pointed out previously one can never trust a storyteller, they always lie. The lies aside, what always interested me was that he was also wrong.

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You see, even someone deaf, dumb and blind, without arms and legs lying face down in a puddle of mud slowly slithering along when he bumps into something is still a blood sack with a bunch of electrons floating around between neurons that have gathered from the environment various electrical and other forces, formed them into an image and then tells the blood sack what it is he is experiencing. Now, the deaf, dumb and blind someone without arms and legs lying face down in a puddle of mud slowly slithering along has no idea whether what he is being told is the truth or not. He may, actually, be floating through the air above a beautiful verdant landscape for all he knows. Something may be amiss among the neurons or they may just be playing with him. In fact, if he believes he is deaf, dumb and blind, without arms and legs lying face down in a puddle of mud slowly slithering along when he bumps into something, something is probably very wrong with his neurological machinery. Even if, in fact, he is deaf dumb and blind and slithering face down through a puddle of mud he may either panic and despair or laugh at the absurdity of it all. And, if the latter, he could then utter Reilly’s famous observation, “what a revolting development this is.”

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Which brings me back to what this all means to me on this particular day. What it means to me and to you is that, if you know who Reilly is, then you are probably at least as old as I am, and you know, as I do, that our “Use by” date is rapidly approaching.

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