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The Mabinogion Project: A Brief History of the Mabinogion

1 Brynley Roberts, "Tales and Romances" in A Guide to Welsh Literature, Volume One, ed. A. O. H. Jarman and Gwilym Rees Hughes (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1992), p. 205.

2 Jones, p. 190.

3 Patrick K. Ford, The Mabinogi and Other Welsh Tales (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977), p. 2.

4 Roberts, p. 219.

5 Bromwich, Rachel, Trioedd Ynys Prydein (University of Wales Press, 2006), p. 322.

6 Bromwich, p. 321.

7 Ford, p. 29.

8 Ford, p. 21.

9 Bromwich, "Lady Charlotte Guest and the Mabinogion," in On Arthurian Women: Essays in Honor of Maureen Fries, ed. Bonnie Wheeler(Dallas: Scriptorium, 2001), endnote 5, p. 332.

10 Iolo Goch, Poems, trans. Dafydd Johnston (Llandysul: Gomer, 1993), p. 6.

11 Iolo Goch, Poems, p. 18.

12 Iolo Goch, Poems, p. 33.

13 Bromwich, Lady Charlotte Guest and the Mabinogion, p. 322.

14 Bromwich, Lady Charlotte Guest and the Mabinogion, p. 322.

15 Bromwich, "Lady Charlotte Guest and the Mabinogion," p. 324.

16 William Owen Pughe, "The Mabinogi of Taliesin," The Cambrian Quarterly (1822), vol. 3.

17 John Murray, Fairy Legends and Traditions from the South of Ireland (London: Thomas Davison, 1827), p. 158.

18 Bromwich, p. 324.

19 Bromwich, p. 324.

20 Guest, Charlotte, later Charlotte Elizabeth Bertie Guest Schreiber, Lady, The Mabinogion, p. iv.

21 Robert John Pryse, foreword to William Owen Pughe and Robert John Pryse, Geiriadur, p. xii.

22 Patrick Ford, The Mabinogi and Other Welsh Tales, footnote to p. 1.

23 Ford, p. 1, footnote 1.

24 Jones and Jones, The Golden Cockerel Mabinogion (Golden Cockerel Press: 1948), p. 7, footnote 1.

25 Sioned Davies, The Mabinogion (Oxford University Press Press, 2007) pp. x-xi.

26 Pughe, Grammar, unnumbered introduction.

27 Guest, p. xii.

28 Bromwich, p. 328.

29 Bromwich, p. 328.

30 Sir John Rhys, qtd. in Bromwich, p. 329.

31 Charlotte Guest, later Charlotte Elizabeth Bertie Guest Schreiber, Lady, ed. The Earl of Bessborough, Lady Charlotte Schreiber: Extracts from her Journal, 1853-1891 (1950), p. 72.

32 Charlotte Guest, Extracts from her Journal, 1853-1891 (1950), pp. 72 and 85, among others.

33 Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Letter to Sir Ivor Bertie Guest, January 8th, 1867. The Letters of Alfred Lord Tennyson, p. 449-450.

34 Staines, Tennyson's Camelot (Wilfred Laurier University Press, 1982), p. 36.

35 Tom Peete Cross, "Alfred Tennyson as a Celticist," in Modern Philology, vol. 18, no. 9, p. 150 and footnote to p. 150.

36 Alfred Lord Tennyson, A Variorum Edition of the Idylls of the King, ed. John Pfordresher (New York: Columbia University Press, 1973), p. 445.

37 Staines, p. 41.

38 Cross, p. 490.

39 Andrew Breeze, "Some Critics of the Four Branches" in Construction Nations, Reconstructing Myth: Essays in Honor of T. A. Shippey (Brepols: 2007), p. 156.

40 Bromwich, Lady Charlotte Guest, p. 323.

41 Bromwich, p. 329.

42Bromwich, p. 327.

43 Charlotte Guest, later Charlotte Elizabeth Bertie Guest Schreiber, Lady, Knightly Legends of Wales, or the Boy's Mabinogion, ed. Sidney Lanier (New York: Scribner, 1893).

44 Jeffrey Gantz, The Mabinogion (New York: Penguin Books, 1976), p. 55.

45 Bromwich, "Lady Charlotte Guest and the Mabinogion," p. 328.

46 John J. Parry, untitled review of Ellis and Lloyd, The Mabinogion, in Speculum (Medieval Academy of America, 1931), vol. 6 no. 1, p. 140.

47 William J. Gruffydd, untitled review of Ellis and Lloyd, The Mabinogion, in The Review of English Studies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1930), vol. 6, no. 22, p. 205-206.

48 W. J. Gruffydd, review of The Mabinogion, p. 205.

49 Matthew Arnold, qtd. in Breeze, p. 158.

50 Breeze, p. 159.

51 Breeze, pp. 159-160.

52 Breeze, p. 160.

53 John Rhys and J. Gwenogvryn Evans, Text of the Mabinogion and Other Welsh Tales from the Red Book of Hergest (Oxford: Series of Welsh Texts, 1887).

54 Mary Williams, untitled review. Folklore, Vol. 69. No. 2 (1969), pp.139-140.

55 Daniel G. Hoffman, untitled review. The Journal of American Folklore, vol. 73, no. 288 (1960), p. 164-165.

56 T. M. Charles-Edwards, "The Date of the Four Branches of the Mabinogion," in The Mabinogi: A Book of Essays, ed. C. W. Sullivan III (New York: Garland Publishing, 1996), p. 25.

57 Charles-Edwards, p. 26.

58 Roger Sherman Loomis, untitled review of Math Vab Mathonwy in Speculum (Medieval Academy of America, 1929), vol. 4, no. 1, p. 139.

59 Loomis, p. 139.

60 Roger Sherman Loomis, "Gawain, Gwri and Cuchulinn," in PMLA (Modern Language Association, 1928), p. 387.

61 Ifor Williams, Pedeir Keinc Y Mabinogi (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1930).

62 Gwyn Jones, qtd. in Roderick Cave and Sarah Manson, The History of the Golden Cockerel Press (Newcastle: British Library and Oak Knoll Press, 2002), p. 192.

63 Jones and Jones, The Golden Cockerel Mabinogion, p. XX.

64 T. P. Ellis, Tribal Law and Custom in Medieval Wales (Clarendon Press, 1926), p. 66.

65 Jones and Jones, The Golden Cockerel Mabinogion, p. 5-7.

66 Thompson, R. L., ed. Pwyll Pendeuic Dyfed (Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies: 1957).

67 Derick S. Thomson, ed. Branwyn uerch Llyr (Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies: 1961).

68 Brynley F. Roberts,ed. Lludd ac Llefelys (Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies: 1964)

69 Jeffrey Gantz, qtd. in Ford, "Prolegomena to a Reading of the Mabinogi," in The Mabinogi (New York: Garland Publishing, 1996), p. 200.

70 Sean O Coileain, "A Thematic Study of the Tale Pwyll Pendeuic Dyuet." in The Mabinogi (New York: Garland Publishing, 1996), p. 145.

71 Bollard, John K. "The Structure of the Four Branches of the Mabinogion," in The Mabinogi (New York: Garland Publishing, 1996), p. 165.

72 Patrick K. Ford, "Prolegomena to a Reading of the Mabinogi," in The Mabinogi (New York: Garland Publishing, 1996), p. 197.

73 R. M. Jones, "Narrative Structure in Medieval Welsh Prose Tales," in The Mabinogi (New York: Garland Publishing, 1996), p. 227.

74 Jeffrey Gantz, "Thematic Structure in the Four Branches of the Mabinogi," in The Mabinogi (New York: Garland Publishing, 1996), p. 265.

75 Gantz, p. 274.

76 Catherine McKenna, "Sovereignty in Pwyll," in Mabinogi (New York: Garland Publishing, 1996), p. 304.

77 McKenna, p. 304.

78 Juliette Wood, "The Calumniated Wife in Medieval Welsh Literature," in Mabinogi (New York: Garland Publishing, 1996), p. 61.

79 Sean O Coileain, "Pwyll Pendeuic Dyuet," in Mabinogi (New York: Garland Publishing, 1996), p. 149.

80 Sioned Davies, ed. The Horse in Celtic Culture: Medieval Welsh Perspectives (University of Wales Press: 1997).

81 Caitlin Matthews, Mabon and the Mysteries of Britain: An Exploration of the Mabinogion (New York: Arkana, 1987).

82 Joseph J. Duggan, Afterword to Chrétien des Troyes, Yvain, the Knight of the Lion, trans. Burton Raffel (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987), p. 215.

83 Duggan, p. 215.

84 Jeffrey Gantz, The Mabinogion (New York: Penguin Books, 1976).

85 Patrick K. Ford, Mabinogi, p. 3.

86 Andrew Welsh, "Manawydan fab Llyr," in The Mabinogi (New York: Garland Publishing, 1996), p. 126.

87 Welsh, "Manawydan fab Llyr," p. 134.

88 Welsh, "Manawydan fab Llyr," p.136.

89 Olwen Bowen, Tales from the Mabinogion (Random House, 1988).

90 C. W. Sullivan III, Welsh Celtic Myth in Modern Fantasy (Greenwood Press, 1989), p. 15.

91 Evangeline Walton, Prince of Annwn (New York: Ballantine, 1974), p. 30.

92 Evangeline Walton, Prince of Annwn, p. 125.

93 Russell Celyn Jones, The Ninth Wave (Bridgend: Seren, 2009).






The Medieval Mabinogion

The Mabinogion, in its most commonly accepted form, is a collection of eleven – sometimes twelve – Welsh prose tales, or chwedlau, combining significant mythological and folkloric elements with the romance tradition of the High Middle Ages. The stories are collected together in complete form in two manuscripts of the fourteenth century, the White Book of Rhydderch of c.1350 and the Red Book of Hergest, tentatively dated between 1382 and 1410. The texts are the same except for minor orthographic and lexical differences, and for the omission, in the White Book, of The Dream of Rhonabwy. Fragments of certain stories from the Mabinogion exist in manuscripts dating as much as a hundred years earlier. The stories, in the order given in the Red Book, are: The Dream of Rhonabwy; Owain, or The Lady of the Fountain; Peredur son of Efrawg; The Dream of Maxen Wledig; The Tale of Lludd and Llefelys; Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed; Branwen the Daughter of Llyr; Manawydan son of Llyr; Math son of Mathonwy; Gereint and Enid; and Culhwch and Olwen. The order in the White Book is Pwyll, Branwen, Manawydan, Math, Peredur, Maxen, Lludd and Llefelys, Owein, Gereint, and Culhwch.

The stories of Pwyll, Branwen, Manawydan, and Math are known as the "Four Branches of the Mabinogion," based on a common convention by which each finishes with "Here ends the (first, etc.) branch of the Mabinogi." Each deals with the parts of the life and adventures of figures of Celtic myth often identified as euhemerized gods. The only common thread among the four stories is the presence of the character Pryderi with varying levels of involvement. Peredur, Owein, and Gereint are referred to as the Tair Rhamant, or "Three Romances," based on their strong association with Continental romance, particularly their relationship with Chrétien de Troyes' Percival, Yvain, and Erec et Enide respectively, corresponding closely in character and plot. All three stories feature King Arthur in a supporting role. King Arthur is similarly featured in Culhwch and Olwen, which, along with Lludd and Llefelys, is often described as a native romance uninfluenced by the Continental tradition. Whether that is true or not, the stories feature elements which seem purely Celtic: speaking animals, shapechanging, giants, and other supernatural components. The dream narratives, Maxen and Rhonabwy, are entirely unrelated to each other, aside from the plot device of a daydream. Maxen is the story of Magnus Maximus, a fourth-century usurper of the throne of the Western Roman Emperor; it mixes a historical event with a heavy dose of Celtic lore and features the Welsh as a powerful force within the Roman Empire. Rhonabwy is an account of Arthur's court through the perspective of a twelfth-century Welsh soldier; it juxtaposes a mythical Golden Age with a fractured and contentious Wales in the early Middle Ages. It is included in the Mabinogion based on its presence in the Red Book, but it does not occur next to the other chwedlau in the manuscript, being separated from them by poetry, genealogies, devotional texts, and the entirety of Trioedd Ynys Prydein. Hanes Taliesin, the pseudo-historical account of the birth and youth of the sixth-century bard Taliesin, has been long associated with the Mabinogion but does not appear alongside the more conventionally accepted text in any manuscript. Thus it has recently been omitted or treated separately from the canon of the Mabinogion by modern scholars.

Yet there is no clear standard for qualifying or disqualifying a text from forming part of the Mabinogion corpus. It is clear that the twelve stories do not form any cohesive narrative or possess any theme, motif, character or even date in common. Yet their juxtaposition in multiple manuscripts of the Middle Ages suggests that there was an understood association for the scribe who recorded them. That these stories represent a record of an earlier and more extensive oral tradition has long been understood. Unfortunately, little survives of the tradition other than these few recorded examples. Brynley Roberts writes:

The living oral tradition of Welsh story-telling died before more than a few examples could be noted and it can never be re-created. What we have are versions of prose tales written in the medieval period by particular authors. These are in each case literary versions rather than verbatim copies of the oral tales on which they are based.1
The process of redaction which has preserved them for us has, however, simultaneously rendered assigning any of them a definite date impossible. The oldest manuscript containing fragments of the Mabinogion is Peniarth MS. 6, which contains fragments of the Second and Third Branches and is dated to c. 1225,2 while the last texts to be recorded are the two halves of the Taliesin narrative, which are unknown in redaction before the sixteenth century.3 The Tair Rhamant (the Three Romances: Owein, Peredur, Gereint) are probably late twelfth-century. Dating these texts is usually further complicated by the break between the oral and folk origins of a chwedl and its redaction. For example, the most archaic in language and style is Culhwch ac Olwen. However, the elaborate composition of Culhwch hints at some attempt at formal written composition; Brynley Roberts writes that Culhwch's
attempt at a sophisticated structure neatly divided into self-contained elements, the well-classified list of tasks, the disproportionate number of helpers, and some borrowings from written sources, suggest that the author was a literary man, perhaps following a common medieval mode of composition as he used and adapted an existing framework to serve as a vehicle for some favorite folk-tales.4
This inherent tension between the nature of the oral tale and the standards of medieval literary Welsh characterizes all of the tales in the Mabinogion. The texts range from the stylized but still clearly oral Four Branches to the pseudo-literary Culhwch to the Tair Rhamant to Breuddwyt Rhonabwy, which opens with the colophon that it cannot be learned "without a book," and reading its incredibly detailed panegyric and descriptive prose, it becomes evident that the text has literally been designed to be unrecitable.

Yet despite the literary pretensions of the redactor(s), the text itself seems to have been little-known in the Middle Ages. That is not to say that the oral and poetic traditions upon which it was based were not known, rather that the text itself does not seem to have been widely read. "The Mabinogion tales appear to have been widely known in oral tradition," Bromwich writes, "yet for the poets who were the custodians of this tradition, they bore no comparison in esteem to those works which were regarded as the pillars of the historical record,"5 such as texts like Nennius' Historia Brittonum or Trioedd Ynys Prydein. In fact, Bromwich says that "If we examine the allusions made by the [High and Late Medieval Welsh poets] to the traditional legendary characters it becomes very clear that the prime sources of their knowledge were the Triads and [the Historia], and the same is true, by and large, of the earlier [poets]."6 Of characters from our version of the Mabinogion, Bromwich has identified only four allusions that are likely or certain to have been made from the actual text. This speaks for the breadth and depth of the oral tradition in the period, and suggests that the unique versions of the stories preserved in the White Book and the Red Book are a particular interpretation of a number of ancient folk tales. Ford says that "it is certain that a single person was responsible for the final shape of the four branches of the Mabinogi," although not for the other stories in the collection.7 The medieval Mabinogion is an almost seamless blend of traditional lore and literary innovation. "The storyteller's art is everywhere in evidence," Ford writes, "though he could not alter his inherited materials at will, for that would have done violence to the myth."8 Given the particular nature of the text copied in the Red Book and White Book, in addition to its fractured origins, it not surprising that the existing folk traditions differ, even extensively, from the written form of the stories. Bromwich, has, however, suggested that the famous poet Dafydd ap Gwilym (c.1320 – c.1370) derived his knowledge of the Mabinogion either from the White Book itself or from its immediate source.9

In fact, allusions to the traditional characters and stories are plentiful in the poetry of Dafydd and his contemporaries. A good example is the poetry of Iolo Goch (fl. c. 1350 – 1398), which is teeming with references. In his panegyric to Sir Hywel of the Axe, a noted veteran of the Hundred Years' war, he describes his brutality in battle: "He was a barber like Erbin's son … with his hand and strength he did shave heads and beards and he let, without delay, blood over feet."10 The doer of the action has changed in this version of the myth, but there is no mistaking the violent climax of Culhwch and Olwen. If we had any doubt of the allusion, he later describes Hywel directly as the "Twrch Trwyd of battle." Similarly, the sons of Tudur Fychan are described as "four great Nudds" – a character who, in addition to being the father of a great deal of Arthur's host in Culhwch is also synonymous with Lludd of Lludd y Llefelys.11 Owain Glyndwr, the great Welsh rebel prince, is described as having "Peredur's hand"12 and therefore his prowess. It is clear that the traditions from which these chwedlau are drawn, if not the particular redactions that we possess today, were very much alive in the poetic consciousness of the fourteenth century. It is perhaps telling that it is this period in which the White Book and Red Book are written.

Early Scholarship

The disjointed nature of the Mabinogion as a text, in addition to the fantastic and ahistorical content of the chwedlau, both contributed to its being relatively unknown to scholars before the late eighteenth century. Bromwich writes that "in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries everything was deprecated that was not believed to contribute in some way to the historical record." Thus the Trioedd Ynys Prydein were considered a most important historical resource – given their purported seventh-century provenance – but the Mabinogion was mainly ignored, glossed over in Lhuyd's catalog of the contents of the Red Book of Hergest as "certain fabulous tales."13 Texts of Lludd and Llefelys and Breudwyt Maxen were included in a large collection of triads compiled in 1717 by Moses Williams but they were never published.14 That the medieval Mabinogion ever came to light at all is thanks to two nineteenth-century amateur scholars, the lexicographer Dr. William Owen Pughe and Lady Charlotte Guest.

William Owen Pughe (1759 – 1835) was a Welsh law clerk living in London who took up Celtic scholarship as a way of feeling connected with his homeland. Although a late inheritance and an honorary doctorate allowed him to focus his entire energies later in life on Welsh, his scholarship remained almost entirely self-taught. His theories, while advanced for his time, are notorious for his extremely prescriptive and preconceived approach to the Welsh language and the factual inaccuracies and idiosyncracies caused by his long association with the literary forger Edward Williams, more commonly known by his 'bardic name' Iolo Morganwg. ughe's best-known work, the Geiriadur Cynmraeg a Saesoneg (Dictionary of Welsh and English), a Welsh-English dictionary including words both modern and archaic, was published in 1793. In this Dictionary the following entry is given for "mabinogion": "mabinogi, s. m. pl -ion (mabinawg): Juvenility; juvenile instruction; the amusement of youth, the title of some ancient tales." Pughe's dismissive attitude is consistent with both the scholarly consensus of the time and his other early writings, as Bromwich notes that in the Cambrian Biography he "contrasted the Mabinogion with the Triads which he described as 'documents of undoubted credit' – again demonstrating the supposedly great historical value of TYP [Trioedd Ynys Prydein] which had persisted down the ages."15 Yet Pughe was drawn to the Mabinogion by the fascinating beauty of its prose, writing in his introduction to his translation of Hanes Taliesin, late in his career: "Many of these poetical compositions have long been known and admired as most happy efforts in the Welsh language.… These pieces, beautiful as they are, we must arrange in their proper rank, reject them as historical documents, and discard them as the genuine compositions of Taliesin, the bard of Urien Reged [sic] and Rhun."16 Nevertheless, he increasingly turned to the study of the Mabinogion, and by the time of his death he had completed in manuscript and intended to print, The Mabinogion, or The Ancient Romances of Wales, in the original language, and a literal translation into English, for which the prospectus had been printed in John Murray's Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland.17 While this was never published in its entirety, bits of it (like the Hanes Taliesin mentioned above) were published individually. Bromwich emphasizes the strong influence that Pughe's work would have on Charlotte Guest.18

Lady Charlotte Elizabeth Bertie Guest Schreiber (1812 – 1895) was an English aristocrat, entrepreneur and polymath who in her colorful life, in addition to the translation of the best-known and longest-printed edition of the Mabinogion, ran and operated a steelworks at Dowlais, in Wales, and amassed the world's largest collection of playing cards. Married at twenty-one to Welsh ironmaster John Guest, she learned literary Welsh in an effort to better understand her adopted country.19 It is at this point that it seems most probable that she encountered Pughe's works, for she writes that she chose to translate the Mabinogion as amusements for her growing family, to the two eldest of whom, Ivor and Merthyr, she dedicated her translation.20 Yet she found that not all of the Mabinogion seemed appropriate for the children she believed it was intended for; her resulting censorship of the sexuality in the First Branch is famous.

This conception of the Mabinogion as a collection of stories intended for children is due to a mistranslation by Pughe, whose interpretation of the meaning of "mabinog" is highly influenced by his dubious linguistic theories. Robert John Pryse, editing the third edition of Pughe's Geiriadur, writes that

Dr. Pughe believed that letters, or combinations of two or three letters, had a philosophical signification, although such were not significant or usual words in the language.… He considered such letters or unauthorized syllables also as roots of Welsh words. For this reason, the first part of his explanations of numerous words is nothing more than an explanation of imaginary roots.21
Pughe deconstructed mabinogi by separating out the "philosophical signification"—a Pughism for "meaning"—of the element he recognized, "mab." In this case there was no need for him to supply an inventive meaning; mab was and is the Welsh word for a son or more importantly a boy or youth. Thus Pughe understood Mabinogion to be "a Juvenile Amusement," that is, stories for children. Considering the "very singular and curious" nature of the texts, the fantastical elements they contained, it is not difficult to understand why Pughe would have readily believed this, and why Charlotte Guest would have accepted and diffused it in turn. Thus for Pughe any colorful early Welsh story becomes a candidate for inclusion, which explains his addition of The Dream of Rhonabwy and Hanes Taliesin; he went so far as to re-title the second text "The Mabinogi of Taliesin." Guest's faithful following of his selection of texts meant that these erroneous assumptions became almost ironically considered to be part of the Mabinogion canon.

This is, regrettably, not the last error of Pughe's which has persisted in scholarship of the Mabinogion, nor the most visible. The title Mabinogion itself reflects an uncertainty with his translation. He understood the plural of 'mabinogi' to be 'Mabinogion,' but the title Mabinogion is actually grammatically incorrect. The form Mabinogi, which occurs at the end of the Second, Third and Fourth Branches, is already plural. The error made in pluralizing an already-plural form can be explained by a scribe's error, at the end of the First Branch in the Red Book of Hergest, transposing the plural ending of a word directly above mabinogi, to inadvertently create the more famous title "Mabinogion."22 Because of the widespread popularity and truly foundational importance of Guest's first complete translation of the Mabinogion into English, this error is assumed to be hers by Ford,23 Jones and Jones,24 and Davies,25 among others, but this is obviously incorrect as Pughe's Dictionary predates her birth by decades.

Pughe's errors aside, his discussion of the Mabinogion did contribute one important aspect of later scholarly debate. He writes in his introduction to his Grammar of the Welsh Language that the Mabinogion "are highly valuable, on account of the numerous traits of original nuances, and of ancient British mythology, which they display. These, as I am induced to suppose, for several reasons, were the origins of romance in Europe."26 This sentence, apart from being a clear (so to speak) example of the arcane and often incomprehensible style known as 'Pughism,' is clearly a grandiose pronouncement based more in nationalist sentiment than literary analysis. But Guest, an Englishwoman with little experience in Celtic philology, took it literally. She writes

Before commencing these labours, I was aware, generally, that there existed a connexion between the Welsh Mabinogion and the Romance of the Continent; but as I advanced, I became better acquainted with the closeness and extent of that connexion, its history, and the proofs by which it is supported. […] Such being the case, it is remarkable that when the chief romances are examined, the name of many of the heroes and their scenes of action are found to be Celtic.27
She took Pughe's rhetoric literally and meticulously researched it, demonstrating parallels not just in French but in German and Icelandic literature, which would be the foundation of a debate over the originals of the Tair Rhamant which continues to the present day under the name of the "Mabinogionfraga," or the "Question of the Mabinogion," which will be discussed in more detail later in this essay.

Of the publication of Guest's first translation, Bromwich writes that it was "an epoch-making event in Welsh studies.... Her translation had a penetrating influence both at home and abroad, as can be seen from the manner in which allusions and themes from the Mabinogi gained increasing prominence in the work of Welsh poets."28 In both the literary and scholarly world, which now, in the nineteenth century, could be considered to be formally separated, Guest sparked a new interest in stories that had been hitherto little-known even among the most ardent Welsh nationalists. Furthermore, her "easy, fluent, slightly archaic style," as Bromwich puts it,29 ensured that her translation was considered not only a scholarly treatise but literature in its own right. Guest does seem to have regarded her work, initiated though it was for children, as a legitimate scholarly effort, with a long philological and literary introduction, copious scholarly notes and the edited text both of the Mabinogion itself (from the Red Book) and of many of the texts to which she compared it. Even though later scholars like John Rhys would allege that her work belonged to "a pre-scientific age,"30 her contributions both to scholarship and the literary ambit of nineteenth-century Europe were considerable.

The Mabinogion in Nineteenth-Century Literature

On October 28, 1853, Charlotte Guest recorded in her diary that "The Tennysons came this week to stay at the Camerons. I went there one evening to meet them. We spent a very pleasant evening."31 In fact, Tennyson and Charlotte Guest were long acquainted; he often stayed with the Camerons, a local family, and Charlotte Guest records repeated encounters in local society.32 Tennyson's debt to Guest in the composition of his Idylls of the King, particularly that of Enid, was acknowledged by the poet during his own life33 and is obvious even to the casual eye. David Staines, in his Tennyson's Camelot:The Idylls of the King and Its Medieval Sources, demonstrates what he calls Tennyson's "fidelity to the story in the Mabinogion [albeit with] additions and minor changes [that] serve to bring the story into a new light." Compare, for demonstration, the examples Staines gives of the close textual relationship: "And one of them went, and she found but two horses in the stable, and Gwenhwyvar and one of her maidens mounted them, and went through the Usk, and followed the track of the men and the horses. And as they rode thus, they heard a loud and rushing sound..." compared to Tennyson's "But rose at last, a single maiden with her / Took horse, and forded Usk, and gain'd the wood / There, on a little knoll beside it, stay'd / Waiting to hear the hounds; but heard instead / A sudden sound of hoofs..."34 Yet we should not assume that Tennyson's sole exposure to the material was through Guest's translation, however much he owed to it. In 1921, Tom Peete Cross demonstrated that Tennyson had almost certainly encountered the English-language works of William Owen Pughe, both the Cambrian Biography – which included substantial material drawn from the Mabinogion – and Pughe's contribution on the Mabinogion to T. C. Croker's Fairy Legends.35 Furthermore, Staines demonstrates that the account of Geraint's death in Enid – "He crowned a happy life with a fair death, and fell / Against the heathen of the Northern Sea / In battle, fighting for the blameless King"36 – occurs nowhere in the corresponding Mabinog, and must have been taken from the only known account of his death in the elegies of Llywarch Hen,37 which as Cross had pointed out, Tennyson recorded in his journals as being one of the texts he had read with his wife shortly after taking up Welsh.38 A literary passion for things Welsh was not by any means limited only to Tennyson. As Andrew Breeze has pointed out, Charlotte Guest quoted Sir Walter Scott in her introduction to the Mabinogion,39 and Bromwich records that Scott often had consulted with Pughe.40 Certainly Scott's interest in local folk-lore and in medieval traditions is so well-known and evident in his work – from the chivalrous Ivanhoe to The Talisman's story of Crusade to The Bride of Lammermoor and its extensive use of medieval and Scots folk traditions – that it hardly merits citation. There is no evidence of Scott's having used the Mabinogion directly in any of his work, but it is clear that he and other major figures of nineteenth-century British literature were aware of and intimately connected with the developments in Welsh literature as they began to blossom for the first time into what Sir John Rhys would have called "scientific" study.

Arguably, however, the greatest contribution the Mabinogion made to the nineteenth-century literary canon was the text itself. Unlike other medieval texts which had been published, translated, republished and distributed over the intervening centuries since their redaction, the Mabinogion, as we have previously discussed, more or less burst onto the English literary scene – particularly the London literary scene – all at once with the publication of the second edition in 1877. The first edition, while enjoying great popularity among scholars of Celtic studies and enthusiasts such as Tennyson, had several features which prevented its more general popularity: its relative difficulty to obtain, of which Sir John Rhys would complain,41 and the inclusion, along with the translation, of both the original Welsh text and texts which Guest considered relevant to the context or understanding of the Mabinogion; Lady Charlotte, it seems, eschewed citation in favor of inclusion. Friends supplied many of her examples, but several of the texts she acknowledged having copied herself from medieval manuscripts.42 This produced first a seven-part series of publications starting in 1838, which were published together in a three-volume edition by Longman, Orme, Brown, Green and Longman's of London: Volume One in 1838, Volume Two in 1840, and Volume Three in 1849. The size – and thus expense – of the set limited its availability. Yet with the completion of a second edition, published by Quaritch in 1877, many of these problems were resolved. The new, single-volume edition retained Guest's notes and comments on the text but omitted the considerable mass of source and related texts. It was a more compact version that would have had more appeal to a Romantic market eager for ancient tales but perhaps less keen on scholarly apparatus.

A further bowdlerized, simplified and edited version of Guest's text appeared in print in 1881 as The Boy's Mabinogion,43 notably with phonetic spelling and removal of confusing or risqué plot elements. It was published by Scribner and written by Sidney Lanier, a Confederate veteran, professional flautist and poet, who would similarly reduce Malory, Thomas Percy and, improbably, Jean Froissart. The willingness with which the public was ready to accept the Mabinogion as children's tales is a testament to the faith in and respect for the Guest translation.

The Turn of the Twentieth Century

Despite the issues with the Guest Mabinogion, it nevertheless was to remain the standard text for decades after its author's death in 1895. In 1892, three years before Lady Guest passed away, Cassell began what would be a long run of a condensed version of the Guest Mabinogion in two volumes edited by Meta E. Williams and marketed as juvenile literature, under the title "Tales from the Mabinogion." It featured a heavily-edited and simplified text, much in the style of Lanier's Boy's Mabinogion, and was published jointly by E.P. Dutton (now Dutton Penguin) of New York and J. M. Dent as part of the Temple Classics series, but by 1906 those two publishing houses had begun the Everyman's Library series and the Guest Mabinogion became one of its titles, re-set and featuring new scholarly notes by Robert Williams. In this form it would remain in print until 1949.

Yet the feeling on the part of Sir John Rhys that Guest's translation was "unscientific" seemed to have been shared by other notable members of the Celticist community, and the time was ripe for a new translation along more scholarly lines. This was attempted in 1927 by Thomas Peter Ellis, a historian known primarily for his two-volume Tribal Law and Custom in Medieval Wales and John Lloyd, translating this time not just from the Red Book of Hergest, as had Guest, but also from the White Book of Rhydderch, which Gwenogvryn Evans had published in a diplomatic edition in 1907. The resulting translation was published in a two-volume set by Oxford University Press. The failure of this edition to replace the Guest text (as we shall see, editions of Guest in one form or another were published continuously until 1949) can be explained by two factors: the rather unliterary quality of the finished text and the violently negative reaction by W. J. Gruffydd and other reviewers. This and the Jones and Jones translation that was to follow it in 1949 were marked, as Jeffrey Gantz wrote of the latter, by "literalness" and "unidiomatic English."44 Thus, it was felt, it could not have the same popular success that the unreliable but "easy, fluent, slightly archaic"45 Guest translation had had. On top of that, it lacked the novelty that Guest's translation, as the first published, had had. If the Ellis and Lloyd text had been a critical or scholarly success, it might have found a niche in academic circles, but the text was likewise seriously flawed. John J. Parry, reviewing the new translation, notes particularly the inconsistency of the translation of the same words in different instances and the extremely awkward English.46 W. J. Gruffydd's review is even less kind. "It is impossible in the current space," he writes, "to mention any of the innumerable blunders of this unfortunate work. … Neither of [the translators] had the knowledge necessary to their undertaking."47 He takes particular offense at attempts by the translators to discuss the origins of the text:

The difficulty arises when the scholar tries to discover what original legends underlie the present complex of tales contained in these texts, or when he wishes to correlate the Mabinogion with other forms of legend. In their present form, as far as it concerns the scholar, the Mabinogion are a crude material which must be carefully worked over and manipulated before it can be utilised for comparison with other material. It was the absence of this preliminary study that vitiated much of the work of that brilliant scholar the late Sir John Rhys, who, on other grounds, had all the necessary qualities for such work, namely, a knowledge of Welsh and Irish, and of the mediaeval and later legends of Europe in general. It follows, then, that the translator, unless he has the necessary knowledge, should not attempt to add either introduction or notes except on the formal details of the text.48
He simultaneously asserted the correctness of his own mentor (and thus his own work, as later exemplified in Folklore and Myth) and suggested the irrelevance of Ellis and Lloyd's work. While it is clear that Ellis and Lloyd's translation is imperfect, Gruffydd's review – delving as it does into personal attack – seems more motivated by a desire to discredit any other interpretation of the Mabinogion's origins than it does to consider the book impartially as a translation.

The conception of the Mabinogion as "crude material to be worked upon" characterized most formal study of the period. Matthew Arnold in On the Study of Celtic Literature famously described Welsh literature as "pillaging... antiquity. … a peasant building his hut on the site of Halicarnassus or Ephesus."49 Andrew Breeze, in his article "Some Critics of the Four Branches," has outlined how this conception of Welsh literature as a "remnant" of an older tradition evolved through successive generations of English and Welsh scholars. The first example of this was Sir John Rhys himself, who attempted to recreate a Celtic pantheon that he felt was reflected in the text of the Four Branches. Most particularly, his conception of a "culture hero, one who was originally a god or demigod,"50 was the first suggestion of a euhemerized pantheon of Welsh gods whose names can be found splashed across Neopagan and New Age websites today. Two of his students carried on his work. Sir Edward Anwyl made the first tentative attempt at reconstructing a hypothetical "original narrative" behind the Mabinogion stories and was the first to suggest Pryderi as its theoretical hero. He stripped the tales of what he felt must be later additions of the stories of the sons of Don and the sons of Llyr (the majority of the second and third branches).51 The second student of Rhys' who developed this idea was W. J. (William John) Gruffydd (1881-1954), whom Breeze calls that "academic, poet, polemicist, and stormy Welsh nationalist, who ended his career somewhat improbably as MP for the University of Wales."52 This highly colorful figure was to shape the study of the Mabinogion even into the present day.

When Gruffydd published his first essays on Branwen and gave the first of a series of lectures that were to become his Folklore and Myth in the Mabinogion, he had access to two resources that Arnold had not had. The appearance for the first time of a diplomatic edition of the text of the Red Book of Hergest by John Rhys and J. Gwenogvryn Evans in 188753 allowed scholars the close access to the original (without its being viewed through the lens of Guest's translation) that had been lacking. His work combined the "Grimmian" theories first promulgated by Arnold with Rhys and Anwyl's attempts to reconstruct aspects of an original Celtic culture from these "huts built on Ephesus." In a book that is more magisterial in nature than argumentative, Gruffydd puts forward the most elaborate reconstruction to date of a theoretical early Welsh "saga" around the figure of Pryderi. He takes this a step further, however, and attempts to integrate this argument into the context of Welsh folk-lore, suggesting that the Mabinogion is distantly taken from early legends of supernatural demigods or fairies, pointing out successive uses of iron and fire and attempting to explain several confusing passages in light of the conflict between fairies, or creatures of the Otherworld (Annwn)—as represented by Arawn, Havgan and others—and the creatures of the living world, such as Pwyll. Pryderi, in this interpretation, is a son of Arawn begot on Pwyll's wife, the fairy Rhiannon, while Pwyll is in Annwn, and the Second Branch is a jumble of a raid undertaken by Pryderi to recover the Cauldron of Life. Reception of Folklore and Myth was initially positive. Mary Williams, writing for Folklore, was unreserved in her praise: "There is so much of interest in this lecture."54 Daniel Hoffman wrote in 1959 that "Gruffydd makes a convincing case."55

That is not to say that there were no contemporary scholars who disagreed with Gruffydd's mythological interpretation of the Mabinogion. Scholar and politician Saunders Lewis, famously Gruffydd's opponent in his first campaign for political office, argued for a historical contextualization of the Mabinogion and the Mabinogi in particular, based primarily on an identification of King Caswallon of Lloegr (present in the Third Branch) as Henry II of England.56 This is based on two main connections: one, that Caswallon, like Henry II, gained his throne by force, and two, that he thus valued highly acts of homage by his vassals. T. M. Charles-Edwards has pointed out, however, that this picture "is just as true, or even more so, of every English king since 1066. William the Conqueror, William II, Henry I, Stephen, all seized the throne in spite of good or even superior rival claims."57 Other small inconsistencies, such as what exactly constitutes "homage" in the feudal sense of the word, make a direct historical correspondence unlikely. Future criticism of Gruffydd's work would come mostly on thematic and structural grounds, not on historical ones.

Gruffydd's work had one other important effect – it served to stimulate interest in the formal study of the Mabinogion in the United States, where the text had been hitherto known only through Guest and the interpretations of Sidney Lanier, both of whom considered the stories to be flights of fancy aimed at children. With the publication of Folklore and Myth and Gruffydd's other works the body of textual criticism became accessible and understandable to an American audience. Roger Sherman Loomis, the great American medievalist and early American Celticist at Columbia University, wrote in response to the publication of Gruffydd's essay Math Vab Mathonwy in 1928—outlining his theories on mythological derivation—that "he has made so good a case.… that his points are secure."58 That Loomis adopted Gruffydd's principles is clear from his assertion that "The Four Branches, then, are conclusively demonstrated to be what Matthew Arnold divined: a structure composed of the shattered fragments of ancient tradition…. [Those who] would have us believe that mediaeval texts owe little to century-old tradition but are, in the main, like modern novels, the original products of the author's imagination, can hardly claim that the Four Branches is an example of their theory…. If it is, the author must have been deranged."59 Loomis went on to use aspects of Gruffydd's work in his own analyses of the Mabinogion, attempting to demonstrate mythical origins for characters or devices; for example, that Gawain's father in the Welsh was a corrupted form of an Irish sun-god and the father of Cuchulinn—citing Gruffydd several times on his first page alone.60

The Golden Cockerel Mabinogion

The "Jones and Jones" text, drawn mostly from the White Book, is both more accurate than Guest's text and written in better English than Ellis and Lloyd's. This was made possible when Ifor Williams published a new, more correct edition of the White Book text in 1930.61 In their introduction, the authors credit Guest with a "charming and felicitous piece of English prose," noting that "it has been her just reward that almost every English reader, and many a foreign, has made acquaintance with Pwyll and Branwen." Yet they share some of Rhys' misgivings about her work: "She translated under difficulty, at a time when no satisfactory edition of her original was available, and when the value of the White Book was unappreciated; and she translated for her children in the nursery.… The wonder is that she was able to translate at all." Gwyn Jones later wrote:
We wanted to steer clear… of Malory and Pseudo-Malory…. Gawain was not to take a stroll, nor Goewin possess an abdomen (I am quoting from our predecessors); on the other hand a single 'peradventure' would have struck us dumb …. We wanted prose with a manner, but clear, vigorous, rich, exact.62
That is certainly what they delivered. Compare the following passages, from the opening of Culhwch and Olwen. Here is Guest's:
The lady returned home with joy, and she asked her consort, "Wherefore hast thou concealed thy children from me?" The king said, "I will do so no longer." And he sent messengers for his son, and he was brought to the court. His stepmother said unto him, "It were well for thee to have a wife, and I have a daughter who is sought of every man of renown in the world." "I am not yet of an age to wed," answered the youth. Then said she unto him, "I declare to thee, that it is thy destiny not to be suited with a wife until thou obtain Olwen, the daughter of Yspaddaden [sic] Penkawr."
Here is the Jones and Jones version:
The good lady returned home joyfully, and quoth she to her husband, "What reason hast thou to hide thy child from me?" Quoth the king, "I will hide him no longer." Messengers were sent after the boy, and he came to the court. His stepmother said to him, "It were well for thee to take a wife, son, and I have a daughter meet for any nobleman in the world." Quoth the boy, "I am not yet of an age to take a wife." Said she in reply: "I will swear a destiny upon thee, that thy side shall never strike against woman till thou win Olwen daughter of Ysbaddaden Chief Giant."63
Not only is Jones and Jones' translation more accurate (among other things, translating "penkawr" as "Chief Giant," when Guest had left it untranslated) but it retains the characteristic Welsh word order and more technical details that would have been unimportant to Guest, such as the distinction between cousin and first cousin, which has a specific meaning in Welsh kinship obligations,64 without losing clarity. Furthermore, they fulfilled their intention of eliminating most of the Maloryesque prose, although Gantz' later criticism of their unidiomatic English is in parts justified. Although their translation is considered more accurate, Jones and Jones do credit Ellis and Lloyd's attempt in 1929 with "a far greater accuracy in detail... directed at 'scholastic and scholarly circles'." Their work, then, is to "convey literature in terms of literature, and yet endure the most rigorous scrutiny of contemporary scholarship."65 It was no low standard to which they aspired.

It is a testament to the nearly universal positive contemporary acclaim for this translation that it quickly became the definitive edition of the text, even though its original release was quite limited. Jones and Jones undertook the translation at the request of the Golden Cockerel Press, who published a limited, illustrated edition of their Mabinogion in 1948, almost one hundred years after Guest had released her landmark translation. Admittedly, Gwyn Jones was not unknown in Welsh scholarly circles, as he founded The Welsh Review in 1939 and was still serving as editor at the time of his translation, nor was Thomas Jones, who served as professor of Celtic Studies at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, and is perhaps known to modern Celtic Studies for, among other things, his edition of both versions of the chronicle Brut y Tywysogion. But it is still impressive that in the same year that the new translation was published the Everyman's Library edition of the Mabinogion that had used Guest's text since the turn of the century replaced it with the Jones and Jones, which it still uses today.

Recent Scholarship

The Jones and Jones was just a part of a sudden increase of interest in the Mabinogion as a scholarly text. Starting in 1957 with Pwyll Pendeuic Dyfed, the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) released editions of the text from the White Book manuscript (with additions and corrections from the Red Book), edited by R. L. Thompson.66 This edition, in contrast to that prepared by J. Gwenogvryn Evans, contained extensive annotations, grammatical notes and suggested readings, marking it as the first edition aimed primarily towards students of the language. These would be followed by Derick S. Thomson's edition of Branwyn uerch Llyr in 1961,67 then Owain, or Iarlles y Ffynnawn in 1968 and Lludd ac Llefelys in 1975.68 Even more importantly, in 1964 D. Simon Evans had published through DIAS a student Grammar of Middle Welsh, which has remained the standard up to the present and, used with the other DIAS texts, remains a core part of the teaching of Middle Welsh. The new availability and approachability of these texts cannot help but have spurred interest in the Mabinogion and new critical approaches.

As previously discussed, much modern scholarship is in some way an answer to Gruffydd's theories on the Mabinogion, which have their admirers and their detractors. Their disagreement is essentially structural. As Gantz wrote, "such myths as are preserved in these tales are so obscure and fragmentary that restoration is difficult if not impossible."69 The tales seem unconnected, forced together by a misunderstanding scribe who, as Loomis unhelpfully suggested, must have been mad. Unlike Gruffydd, who attempted the reconstruction of an underlying body of material in the Mabinogion, his intellectual successors have concluded that aside from scattered gleanings, the texts themselves, their primary emphasis, and their social role are obscured by the mists of time and redaction. Kenneth Jackson contented himself with categorizing the many folk motifs present in the work, but did not attempt to use them to explain the tale.70 John K. Bollard objects specifically to this belief that the tales are essentially fractured, particularly to Gruffydd's assertion that the First Branch consists of several different – and unrelated—episodes. Bollard's arguments, as best expressed in "The Structure of the Four Branches of the Mabinogion,"71 and those of Patrick K. Ford, in "Prolegomena to a Reading of the Mabinogi,"72 are that the tales must be approached from a vertical, not horizontal, perspective. Instead of focusing on the abrupt disconnects—which, R. M. Jones argues, might not have seemed as strange to a medieval listener73—Bollard suggests the emphasis should be placed on the repetitive elements linking the stories together, such as the repeated banquets in the Third Branch, the repeated animal transformations in the Fourth, and so on. This is most clearly demonstrated in an article by Gantz, "Thematic Structure,"74 where he maps the progressions of plots through each of the episodes in each of the branches. He comes to the conclusion that "the structure [of the Mabinogion] is [its] theme; for, as alternating tales balance and sequences parallel each other, so the world of the Four Branches is an ideally just one in which good begets good, evil evil."75 Thus selfish and unselfish actions are the duality on which the tension of the Branches is based, from which we can extrapolate issues in the society which produced them. Bollard, borrowing from Professor Eugene Vinaver, calls this the "interlace method," whereby multiple episodes and themes are managed simultaneously. The interlocking structure of the Mabinogion, then, serves as a means of keeping the themes of the earlier Branches in the mind of the reader. Although the reminder at the end of the Third Branch of the injury done to Gwawl would have seemed sudden to a modern reader, if the parallels in plot and theme, character and situation, and even diction and idiom are more apparent to a medieval reader/listener, the effect is to constantly keep multiple plots present in one's mind.

Although Gruffydd's structural analysis—or lack thereof—has been widely rejected, his mythological assertions—where it is possible to evaluate them—are still generally accepted as valid. Catherine McKenna calls this "the reconstructive approach,"76 and describes how Kenneth Jackson attempted to reconcile the arguments for literary status for the Mabinogion with Gruffydd's assertion that they were but fragmented pieces of a far older folklore.77 His work thus encouraged scholars to interpret the Branches as they were rather than simply looking for some older original. In fact, the idea that the Mabinogion can only be understood by "refining" it to some more Celtic ancestor becomes ridiculous when faced with studies such as Juliette Wood's "The Calumniated Wife in Medieval Welsh Literature" which, focusing mostly on Rhiannon, demonstrates a great deal of conformance on the part of these Welsh stories to their contemporaries elsewhere in Europe.78 It is difficult to argue that the Welsh themes and stories are somehow obscured versions of others from antiquity if there are good examples of the same themes—with no suggestion of their being corrupted from others—in diverse cultures of the Middle Ages. The only argument put forward that justifies a concern about the antiquity of these motifs is the idea that they may have been contaminated over the centuries by external themes and motifs present in other works of literature diffused in Wales. Sean O Coileain puts forward a thematic, not structural, argument for the unity of the First Branch by demonstrating thematic links, suggesting, for example, that it is the contamination of the Chaste Friend/Brother motif that causes Pwyll to fail in what was traditionally his purpose, to beget a child on a lady of the other world, and necessitates a "restart" so that Pwyll can father an otherworldly child properly, this time with Rhiannon, something with many parallels in other tales.79

The modern continuance of Gruffydd's folkloristic approach to the Mabinogion has become more specialized in recent years with studies such as Sioned Davies' interpretation of horses in the Mabinogion and Rhiannon's role as a horse-goddess akin to Gaulish Epona,80 but it has also led to a great deal of "popular" scholarship aimed more at the neopagan community than at scholars or students, such as the book Mabon and the Mysteries of Britain: An Exploration of the Mabinogion, which takes Gruffydd's work and extrapolates a "Welsh pantheon" of gods and goddesses.81

Other recent work on the Mabinogion has focused on Guest's mabinogionfrage, the relationship between the romances of Chrétien de Troyes and the Tair Rhamant. Ardent Welsh nationalist scholars have long argued either for the originality of the Welsh or for some common ancestor, preferring to believe that the Welsh must have been first. Although this can be dismissed as an attempt to claim for Wales some piece of France's heritage, recent work has suggested an intriguing possibility. Joseph J. Duggan admits that it is "likely that a reading of Chrétien's romance [Yvain] was heard by some Welsh storyteller who retold the tale using elements familiar to his audience and stripping it of most of the characteristics that make it instructive in the ways of courtliness."82 However, he underlines elements of Celtic myth inherent to the story that seem to originate in a mid-twelfth-century hagiography of St. Kentigern, writing: "At least a decade before Chrétien's work the Yvain figure appeared in a story in which, in league with a female intermediary, he courted and abandoned a lady of the fountain(s) who was associated with a herdsman, [with a] disguise [that] appears to be analogous to Yvain's ring of invisibility."83 So it is possible that the mid-fourteenth-century (or older) Owain y Iarlles y Ffynnawn drew upon either source or both; not to mention the considerable body of native myth that the writer of the Hagiography and Chrétien must have had to draw upon in the first place. Thus a fourteenth-century redaction possibly conceals a seventh-century origin.

Along with new directions in scholarship, two new translations were published in a one year span from 1975-1976 with very different priorities. Jeffrey Gantz sought to create a translation that would function like that of Jones and Jones; a relatively conservative, readable text incorporating all of the chwedlau of the traditional Mabinogion as in the Jones and Jones or Guest. His text is clear, easy to read, and presented with minimal annotation or notes—this Penguin Classics edition is clearly meant for wide consumption.84 Patrick K. Ford, on the other hand, published in 1975 a book entitled The Mabinogi and Other Welsh Tales. Simply from the title, it would be easy to surmise—correctly—that Ford is looking to change the general perception of the text. Instead of the Mabinogion stories as originally selected by Pughe, Ford rejects the Tair Rhamant as being French-influenced and translates the Four Branches, the stories of Breudwyt Maxen Wledig and Lludd and Llefelys. He omits Breudwyt Rhonabwy as being unrelated to the other texts, but includes the two linked stories of Gwion Bach/Taliesin and the archaic poem Cad Goddeu. Ford is following in Gruffydd's footsteps, in a way, consolidating the Mabinogion to include just those tales whose origins are demonstrably Celtic and which consist of "more or less related adventures, related sufficiently for them to be metaphorically conceived as branches, rather than as independent tales. … Each branch represents a collection of more or less related lore."85 His extensive introduction provides a background to Gruffydd's theories and his own, making it quite useful to beginning Celticists.

The most recent translation of the Mabinogion is that published by Sioned Davies in 2007. Davies, like Ford before her, emphasizes the nature of the text as folktale, but unlike Ford, she believes these to have been performed texts, and her work is specifically translated to allow both ease of understanding and also ease of recitation, with some attempt being made to imitate the original in its speech-patterns. Although this is a significant aspect of Celtic literature and poetry as a whole and Middle Welsh in particular, it has never before been attempted with a prose text. Davies' translation accomplishes her goals admirably; is clear and readable—and, in some places, its vastly simplified language is a blessing—and it seems at least as accurate as Gantz or Jones. The language is vastly more contemporary without incorporating elements of modern slang or simplifying the vocabulary—the literal meaning of the line is the same but its clarity is much improved. This translation is the first to suggest that a Mabinogion translation can be both academically rigorous and popularly accessible.

Some New Directions in Scholarship

Structural and thematic analysis, although the primary medium of criticism of the Mabinogion for most of the twentieth century, seems to have been well explored. Perhaps the next steps to take in the analysis and understanding of the Mabinogion lie exactly in the direction in which Sioned Davies has taken it. Understanding the place of these tales in the society that produced them—their almost certain identity as tales to be performed aloud before a hall—give them an importance that an esoteric ccollection of folk tales might not otherwise have. The reverse side of the coin, as it were, of these texts being oral accumulations of material—if, in fact, that is what they are—is that these texts are, in fact, oral. They were performed, they were understood and, presumably, enjoyed. What aspects of the stories, then, serve to fulfill a social need? Or is it the performance that serves the need? No text would be so important as to be preserved and enshrined in Welsh culture as has been the Mabinogion without satisfying some requirement, conscious or unconscious, of its audience.

Certainly several writers have outlined corrective themes in the Four Branches. Bollard, as previously mentioned, wishes to see this as a simple duality; that is, with sense on one side and lack-of-sense on the other. Bollard sees the tales as essentially highlighting a stark contrast between good and evil. A more subtle reading is that provided by Andrew Welsh, who writes that the story of Manawydan mab Llyr presents "a thoroughgoing criticism of the heroic ideal [in which] social and political values of the author's own time are reflected and also criticized."86 He specifically discusses the patterns of vengeance and feud prevalent in medieval life. In a sense, though, I think this ties into a greater theme in all four Branches and to a certain extent in the Tair Rhamant and Culhwch and Olwen—the omnipresent tension between law and violence in a society ruled by a warrior class.

In Culhwch we get a sense of the violence of the warrior unrestrained; Twrch Trwyth, once an Irish prince but so horribly sinful that he has been transformed by God into a literal manifestation of his ugliness and brutality, must be conquered—i.e. subdued, controlled—by the soldiers of King Arthur, a clan warlord here (think of his obligation to Kilhwch based on the fact that they are cousins). The first segment of Pwyll is all about properly used violence—Pwyll must strike Havgan once and only once. This will kill him. Any indulgence in further violence—either out of a sense of obligation to the customs of the warrior class or for petty enjoyment—will result in a literalizing of the cycle of violence: Havgan will simply be unhurt and continue to fight. Only through the proper regulation of his violence can Pwyll destroy him and end the civil war which divides Annwn in half. This is further reinforced by Pwyll's switch with Arawn. When Arawn takes his place, he rules correctly, justly, so well that Pwyll's men "have never been better ruled." So, it goes, in order for the exchange to be just, Pwyll must rule correctly in the other realm. We know that they are not being contrasted—after all, if Pwyll was meant as a model of incorrect kingship his chastity and withholding his sexuality from Arawn's wife would never be mentioned—but they are, somehow, being equated. If the gateway in the forest in Glyn Cuch is viewed as a great equals sign, we have Arawn's just rule = Pwyll's restricted violence.

This is carried on into Manawydan, where, as Andrew Welsh writes, "heroic battle appears … to be futile as a means for freeing the land from the spell."87 When first Pryderi, and then Rhiannon, rush into the strange fortress, they simply disappear. There is no violent clash of arms, no opportunity for glory. In fact, it is through Manawydan's capture, trial, and formal execution (or threatened execution) of the culprit that "Rhiannon and Pryderi are freed, herds and houses and human society are restored to the land."88

There are other examples throughout the Branches—a desire for vengeance leads to the massacre of almost every living thing in Ireland in the Second Branch, for instance—but this is only the very tip of the iceberg. Given the layers upon layers of meanings and legends, it is possible that not only is there one set of corrective themes, but that there are multiple sets, some partial, intended for cultures and societies through which the text has passed in its oral descent to the presen but which are no longer present. Certainly, the tenth, eleventh and twelfth-century tales of the glory of Welsh kings would have rung hollow by the end of the thirteenth. Or perhaps they would have held a particular value, praised as references in poetry to suggest a Golden Age. All this demonstrates is that now, having finally understood the structure of the Mabinogion, we are only barely beginning to be able to truly read it in the manner that its redactor clearly felt it needed to be read.

Modern Retellings

The inevitable consequence of so much interest in Welsh and in the Mabinogion as a whole is the text's entry to some degree into popular culture, as it had done in the nineteenth century with Tennyson's Idylls. In the twentieth century, with books like "Mabon and the Mysteries of Britain," elements of the Mabinogion are becoming fused with popular understandings of "Celtic" culture. Yet there are particular works, mostly historical fiction or fantasy, that draw directly on the Mabinogion as retellings or elaborations and more that use characters, situations, or even motifs and themes. An example of this is Olwen Bowen's 1969 romantic retellings in Tales from the Mabinogion,89 where she simplifies and "corrects" the plot to make it resemble Arthurian romance—or rather, to resemble nineteenth-century versions of Arthurian romance. She does not add new characters or elements to the story; but her descriptions are elaborate and detailed and the dialogue so much changed that this qualifies as a retelling, not a loose translation. A more elaborate retelling—but still recognizably the Mabinogion—is found in the novels of Evangeline Walton, starting with The Virgin and the Swine and ending with Prince of Annwn. As C. W. Sullivan has noted, she has "altered little, but added much."90 For example, the lone monstrous arm that steals the colt in the First Branch is here extended to an entire battle scene between Pwyll and a monster, which showcases some of Walton's occasionally questionable prose—"he plunged his sword into the wriggling redness"91 and "Pwyll saw her shiningness, that for a little while the bushes had hidden"92 come to mind—but also gives a fascinating account of a story where Pwyll is as completely lacking in agency as he is in the original Mabinogion. A slightly less recognizable retelling is The Ninth Wave by Russell Celyn Jones.93 Here Pwyll carries an AK-47 and rules an industrial wasteland. Rhiannon is punished not by being transformed into a horse but into a janitor. The dialogue is sparse but effective, and if one can relinquish one's preconceived notions of what to expect from the Mabinogion, the novel is enjoyable. A series of books which borrow liberally from the Mabinogion is Lloyd Alexander's Prydain chronicles. The name Prydain itself, of course, is the Welsh word for Britain. The plot bears some similarities to the First Branch—Taran is born, comes of age, marries a princess (named Eilonwy here), journeys with bards, and defeats Arawn, here not a benevolent otherworld figure but an evil God of the Dead. The morally ambiguous Cauldron-Born of the Second Branch become for Alexander a mute, grey-skinned army of the dead, and a great deal of the series—specifically the book The Black Cauldron—concerns itself with a raid on the Otherworld to retrieve the cauldron, clearly an episode drawn from the Middle Welsh poem Preiddeu Annwn. Other names from the Mabinogion are here, corresponding more or less with their medieval namesake: Coll mab Colfrewy, who is mentioned briefly in the court list in Culhwch and Olwen as eternally chasing the magic pig, Henwen, is here made into a father figure for the protagonist, and the pig and her escape are a central theme to the series; Fflewddur Flam, a historical king and bard, appears as a similar—and hilarious—character in the novels; the half-man half-beast character Gwrgi has a name similar to that of Gwri but there is no explanation, as far as I can make out, for his nature and behavior. Even more tenuously, the story of Bendegeidfran and his ships is drawn upon by Katharine Kerr in her Celtic-fantasy Deverry series, beginning with Daggerspell, which concerns itself with a culture founded by exiles from Dark Age Britain led away on the sea by "The Blessed Bran" (bendigeid vran), much as he led the Britons to Ireland. Although it shares no other plot elements with the Mabinogion, the culture depicted, full of blood feuds, honor-prices, and dweomer-magic, certainly feels familiar to a Celticist.


William Owen Pughe intended, with his translations and editions of the Mabinogion, to revive the academic study of Welsh literature and promote it in the world, to found a new generation of scholarship that would eventually exalt what he believed the oldest of languages to its deserved place in the forefront of the study of Celtic language and indigenous British culture. He succeeded, but not in the manner that he intended. When he died, with the manuscript of what would have become his Mabinogion and his magnum opus left unpublished, it might have seemed to him and to those close to him that he had failed in his purpose. Yet thanks to a young English aristocrat, translations from Pughe's material became foundational not just to the study of the Mabinogion but to Celtic Studies as a discipline. The Mabinogion, by far the most composed, constructed and therefore accessible text to emerge from the Welsh Middle Ages, provided a "way in" for generations of scholars and both today and in the foreseeable future, courses in Middle Welsh always begin with the Four Branches. Yet, again not quite as Pughe had intended, the text went beyond the academic field of Celticism and inspired retellings and wholly new stories. It was not Pughe and Edward Williams' druidic ritual they were interested in but in the Celtic world, in the intricacies of Celtic myth and legend, accessible through the euhemerized heroes of the Mabinogion. At the heart of all of these retellings just as at the heart of the scholarship, there is a common theme: to celebrate the stories and the complex and larger-than-life characters that inhabit them, to bring these stories out of the Middle Ages and into the present where they belong.

Translations of the Entire Text

Davies, Sioned, trans. The Mabinogion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.
With an emphasis on capturing the sound of the performed Welsh tales, Davies' translation leaves out any of the romantic embellishment which characterized Guest and to a certain extent Jones and Jones' translations. She leaves the repetitions, continuous sentences, and other distinctive features of the Middle Welsh language while intentionally choosing approachable vocabulary.
Ellis, Thomas Peter and Lloyd, John, trans. The Mabinogion: A New Translation by T.P. Ellis and John Lloyd. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1929.
Based on John Gwenogvryn Evans' two diplomatic texts of the White and Red Book Mabinogions. Received badly, although John Rhys noted the quality of T. P. Ellis' footnotes concerning Welsh legal sources.
Ford, Patrick K., trans. The Mabinogi and Other Welsh Tales. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977. Foulkes, Isaac. Y Mabinogion Cymreig: Sef, Chwedlau Rhamantus yr hen Gymry. Yn yr hen Gymraeg, a'r Gymraeg Bresenol. Liverpool: Isaac Foulkes, 1880.
This is an early Modern Welsh translation of the Four Branches.
Gantz, Jeffrey trans. The Mabinogion. New York: Penguin Books, 1976.
Gantz's easy-to-read edition is used in many places as a student edition (released through the Penguin Classics series) but seems mostly unused in critical circles, probably because of its simplification of linguistic problems and generally conservative approach.
Henri, Theodore Claude, vicomte Hersart de la Villemarque. Contes Populaire des Anciens Bretons. Paris: Imprimerie Schneider et Landgrand, 1842.
Although claimed as original Breton tales by its author, this is widely considered to be a translation into French of Guest's Mabinogion and has been since 1842. For a contemporary review, see The Literary Gazette and Journal of Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences, etc. London: Robson, Levey and Franklin, 1842, p. 564.
Jones, Gwyn and Jones, Thomas, trans. The Mabinogion. New York and London: Everyman's Library (J. M. Dent and Sons and E. P. Dutton), 1949.
By 1949 the Jones and Jones text had replaced the Guest translation as the basis of the Everyman's Library edition of the Mabinogion.
Jones, Gwyn and Thomas Jones. The Golden Cockerel Mabinogion: A New Translation from the White Book of Rhydderch and the Red Book of Hergest by Gwyn Jones and Thomas Jones. Illus. Dorothea Braby. London: Golden Cockerel Press, 1948.
This is a beautifully illustrated and meticulously crafted collector's edition of the Jones and Jones text, featuring Dorothea Braby's wood engravings and Eric Gill's unique typeface. Golden Cockerel Press became famous for this kind of illustration and artisan work; their best-known product is probably their edition of Sr Gawain and the Green Knight.
Jones, Gwyn and Thomas Jones. The Mabinogion. Illus. Alan Lee. Hendrik-Ido-Ambacht: Dragon's Dream, 1982.
This is a reissue of the Jones and Jones text in large size with illustrations added by Alan Lee, most famous for his work with Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.
Loth, Joseph Marie, trans. Les Mabinogion: Traduits en Entier pour la Première Fois en Français avec un Commentaire Explicatif et des Notes Critiques par J. Loth. 2 vol. Cours de littérature celtique, 1889.
Reissued in 1913 "entierement rev., cor., et augm."
Schreiber, Charlotte Elizabeth Bertie Guest, Lady. The Mabinogion: From the Llyfyr Coch o Hergest, and Other Ancient Welsh Manuscripts: With an English Translation and Notes, by Lady C. G. 3 vol. in 7 pt. London: Longman, Orme, Brown, Green and Longman's, 1849.
Simultaneously published by Rees of Llandovery. This is the original seven-part version of the Mabinogion published in 1849 with source texts, some in full and some in summary or abridged.
Schreiber, Charlotte Elizabeth Bertie Guest, Lady, trans. The Boy's Mabinogion; Being the Earliest Welsh Tales of King Arthur in the Famous Red Book of Hergest. Ed. with introduction Sidney Lanier. London: Sampson Low and Co., 1881.
Simultaneously published in the U.S. with a new title page by Scribner's Sons of New York.
Schreiber, Charlotte Elizabeth Bertie Guest, Lady, trans. The Mabinogion. Ed. Robert Williams. New York and London: Everyman's Library (J. M. Dent and Sons and E. P. Dutton), 1906.
This is the second version of Guest's Mabinogion printed jointly by Dent and Dutton. With the advent of the Everyman's Library series joint venture in 1906, the text seems to have been moved from its place in their earlier Temple Classics series.
Schreiber, Charlotte Elizabeth Bertie Guest, Lady, trans. The Mabinogion. Ed. with epilogue and marginalia Robert Williams. New York and London: Temple Classics (J. M. Dent and Sons and E. P. Dutton), 1902.
Before Dent and Dutton produced the Everyman's Library series, they first presented Schreiber's Mabinogion text as part of their Temple Classics series. By 1906, the text was being published through their new series, Everyman's Library, where it remained until replaced in 1949 by the Jones and Jones text, the year after that text had been published by the Golden Cockerel Press for the first time.
Schreiber, Charlotte Elizabeth Bertie Guest, Lady, trans. The Mabinogion. London: Quaritch, 1877.
This is an abridged version of the 1849 Longman's edition which omits the Welsh text and other sources, although her notes at the end of each part are left intact. Reduced because of this to one volume.
Schreiber, Charlotte Elizabeth Bertie Guest, Lady, trans. The Mabinogion: Medieval Welsh Romances Translated by Lady Charlotte Guest. Ed. Alfred Nutt. London: David Nutt, 1902.
Second edition revised and enlarged, published 1904.
Schreiber, Charlotte Elizabeth Bertie Guest, Lady, trans. The Mabinogion: Translated from the Red Book of Hergest by Lady Charlotte Guest. London. The Welsh Library, 1902 etc. Translations of Part of the Text Bollard, John K., trans. Legend and Landscape of Wales: The Mabinogi. Illus. with photographs Anthony Griffiths. Llandysul: Gomer Press, 2006.
This is a "coffee table" edition of the Four Branches, with a simplified, easy-to-read text and notes of general interest, illustrated with photos of named or related places in modern Wales.
Hetmann, Fredrik, trans. Zaubermarchen aus Wales. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verlag, 1977.

Pughe, William Owen, "The Mabinogi of Taliesin," second part. Cambrian and Caledonian Quarterly Magazine 5 (1833): 366-382.

Pughe, William Owen. "The Mabinogi of Taliesin," first part. Cambrian Quarterly Magazine and Celtic Repertory 5 (1833): 198-214.

Schreiber, Charlotte Elizabeth Bertie Guest, Lady, trans. "The Lady of the Fountain: from the Mabinogion." In The Pendragon Chronicles, ed. Mike Ashley. Wings Books: Avenel, 1993.

Schreiber, Charlotte Elizabeth Bertie Guest, Lady, trans. Mabinogion Legends: Translated from the Red Book of Hergest by Lady Charlotte Guest. Ed. Owen Williams. Illus. Jo Nathan. Felinfach: Llanerch, 1992.
The second part of the Williams edition of the Guest Mabinogion reprinted by Llanerch.
Schreiber, Charlotte Elizabeth Bertie Guest, Lady, trans. Mabinogion Tales. Ed. Owen Williams. Illus. Jo Conti. Llanerch: Felinfach, 1991.
This is a new edition of the edited Guest text from the 1901 Mabinogion Tales. Fisher Unwin edition, with illustrations added by Jo Conti. It forms part of a series with Mabinogion Legends and Mabinogion: The Four Branches.
Schreiber, Charlotte Elizabeth Bertie Guest, Lady, trans. Mabinogion Tales. Ed. Owen Williams. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1901.

Schreiber, Charlotte Elizabeth Bertie Guest, Lady, trans. Mabinogion: The Four Branches. Ed. Owen Williams. Illus Jo Conti. Felinfach: Llanerch, 1992.

Editions of the Whole Text

Buber, Martin, trans. Die vier Zweige des Mabinogi: Ein keltisches Sagenbuch, Deutsch von Martin Buber. Frankfurt am Main: Insel-Verlag, 1966. Die vier Zweige des Mabinogi: Pedeir Ceinc y Mabinogi, Mit Lesarten und Glossar. Halle (Saale): Ludwig Muhlhausen, 1925.
This is a German edition of the text with a Middle Welsh-German glossary.
Pedeir Keinc y Mabinogi, Allan o Lyfr Gwyn Rhydderch. Ed. Ifor Williams. Cardiff: Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru, 1930.

Rhys, John, and Evans, John Gwenogvryn. The Text of the Mabinogion and Other Welsh Tales from the Red Book of Hergest, Edited by John Rhys …and J. Gwenogvryn Evans. Series of Welsh Texts, 1887. Series of Welsh Texts 1.

Rhys, John, and Evans, John Gwenogvryn. The White Book of the Mabinogion: Welsh Tales and Romances Reproduced from the Peniarth Manuscripts: Edited by J. Gwenogvryn Evans. Pwllheli: Series of Welsh Texts, 1907. Series of Welsh Texts 7.

Editions of Part of the Text

Branwen uerch Lyr: The second of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, Edited from the White Book of Rhydderch with Variants from the Red Book of Hergest and from Peniarth by Derick S. Thomson. Ed. Derick S. Thomson. Dublin and Oxford: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1961.

Breudwyt Maxen Wledic, ed. Brynley F. Roberts. Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 2005.

Chwedl Geraint ab Erbin: Golygwyd, Gyda Nodiadau a Geirfa, Gan D. J. Davies. Ed. D. J. Davies. Casnewydd [Newport]: Southall a'i Gwmni [Southall and Company], 1921.

Cyfranc Lludd and Llefelys. Ed. Brynley F. Roberts. Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1975.

Gruffydd, William John. Mab vab Mathonwy: An Inquiry into the Origins and Development of the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi, with the Text and a Translation. Cardiff: University of Wales Press Board, 1928.

Owein, or Chwedyl Iarlles y Ffynnawn. Ed. R. L. Thompson. Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1968. Pedeir Ceinc y Mabinogi. Ed. Ifor Williams. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1951.
As with all of Williams' editions of Welsh texts, this has for years been considered the definitive edition. Although parts of it have been replaced with the DIAS texts, the majority of it remains the standard for the translation of the Mabinogion.
Pwyll Pendeuic Dyuet: The First of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, Edited from the White Book of Rhydderch with Variants from the Red Book of Hergest and from Peniarth by Derick S. Thomson. Ed. Derick S. Thomson. Dublin and Oxford: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1961.
The most commonly used student edition.
Ystorya Gereint uab Erbin. Ed. R. L. Thompson. Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1997.

Retellings and Adaptations

"On the Tongue of a Bird: The Story of Branwen." Perf. West Glamorgan Youth Theater and Dance Company. Llandysul: Pont, 1998.

Alexander, Lloyd Chudley. New York: The Foundling and Other Tales from Prydein. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970.

Alexander, Lloyd Chudley. Taran Wanderer. New York: Henry Holt, 1967.

Alexander, Lloyd Chudley. The Black Cauldron. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965.

Alexander, Lloyd Chudley. The Book of Three. New York: Henry Holt, 1964.

Alexander, Lloyd Chudley. The Castle of Llyr. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966.

Alexander, Lloyd Chudley. The High King. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1968.
Based in part on the Mabinogion and other Welsh sources.
Bullfinch, Thomas. "The Mabinogion." In The Book of Romance, ed. Katharine Newbold Birdsall. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1910. Cawkwell, Katy. The Story of Rhiannon. Cardigan: Parthian, 2007. Collins, W. J. Townsend. Tales from the New Mabinogion. London: A. & C. Black, 1923.
Mostly "standard" chivalric fantasy, including the almost-mystical powers of Griffith the Bard in "Griffith and Bronwen," and the noble knight Tarianfrych in "The Quest of Tarianfrych," owing more, perhaps, to the Tair Rhamant than to the Four Branches or Kilhwch and Olwen. Replete with swooning maidens in distress, twilight and fog in the mountains, and a maiden who can win the heart of a knight through her "dumplings… and pasties beyond compare."
Davies, Olwen Bowen. Tales from the Mabinogion. Gollancz, 1969.

Evans, Ellen. Y Mabinogion i'r Plant. Cardiff: Hugues and Sons, 1955.

French, Claire. The Queen of the Silver Castle. Floris Books, 1999.

Griffiths, Niall. "The Dreams of Max and Ronnie." New Stories from the Mabinogion. Bridgend: Seren, 2010.

Humphreys, Emyr. The Kingdom of Bran. London: Keith Holmes, 1979.

Jones, Russell Celyn. "The Ninth Wave." New Stories from the Mabinogion. Bridgend: Seren, 2009.

Jones, Tegwyn and Jac Jones. Stori Branwen. Llandysul: Gwasg Gomer, 2003.

Lewis, Gwyneth. "The Meat Tree." New Stories from the Mabinogion. Bridgend: Seren, 2010.

Mehta, Sarla. From Merlin's Box: The First Branch of the Mabinogion. Langdon, 1990.
Children's comic version of the Mabinogion.
Miller, Margaret J. "The First Great Deed of Peredur," in Knights, Beasts and Wonders: Tales and Legends from Mediaeval Britain. New York: David White, 1969.

Morris, Kenneth. The Fates of the Princes of Dyfed. North Hollywood: Newcastle Publication, 1978.

Otherworld. Dir. Derek W. Hayes. Perf. Daniel Evans, Jenny Livsey, Matthew Rhys, Sue Jones-Davies, and Ioan Gruffudd. S4C/BBC Wales, 2007.
This is a feature-length animated adaptation of the Four Branches, professionally produced and with voice talent from well-known actors.
Peacock, Thomas Love. The Misfortune of Elphin. Ed. Richard Garnett. J. M. Dent, 1891.

Sheers, Owen. "White Ravens." New Stories from the Mabinogion. Bridgend: Seren, 2009.

Smith, Ray. "How Culhwch Won Olwen." Jackanory. BBC Radio, 1971.

Thomson, Sarah L. The Dragon's Son. New York: Orchid Books, 2001.

Walton, Evangeline. Prince of Annwn. Ballantine Books, 1974.

Walton, Evangeline. The Children of Llyr. Ballantine Books, 1971.

Walton, Evangeline. The Song of Rhiannon. Ballantine Books, 1972.

Walton, Evangeline. The Virgin and the Swine. Ballantine Books, 1936. Republished as The Island of the Mighty in 1970.

Williams, Meta E. Tales from the Mabinogion. New York: Cassell, 1892.


Andrew Breeze. "Some Critics of the Four Branches." In Construction Nations, Reconstructing Myth: Essays in Honor of T. A. Shippey. Brepols, 2007.

Arnold, Matthew. On the Study of Celtic Literature. London: Smith, Elder, and Co., 1867.

Bromwich, Rachel, A. O. H. Jarman and Brynley Roberts, eds. The Arthur of the Welsh: The Arthurian Legend in Medieval Welsh Literature. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1991.

Brynley Roberts, "Tales and Romances." In A Guide to Welsh Literature, Volume One. Ed. A. O. H. Jarman and Gwilym Rees Hughes. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1992.

Duggan, Joseph J. Afterword to Chretien des Troyes, Yvain, the Knight of the Lion. Trans. Burton Raffel. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987, p. 215.

Gruffydd, William John. Folklore and Myth in the Mabinogion: A lecture delivered at the National Museum of Wales on 27 October 1950. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1958.

Gruffydd, William John. Rhiannon: An Inquiry into the Origin of the First and Third Branches. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1953.

Loomis, Roger Sherman. "Calogrenanz and Chretien's Originality." Modern Language Notes 43.4 (1928): 215-222.
An American take on the mabinogionfrage, and a good exemplar of Loomis' work in general, as the first American scholar who adopted W. J. Gruffydd's theories on the underlying myths of the Mabinogion.
Mac Cana, Proinsias. Branwen, Daughter of Llyr: A Study of the Irish Affinities and the Composition of the Second Branch of the Mabinogion.

Matthews, Caitlin. King Arthur and the Goddess of the Land: The Divine Feminine in the Mabinogion. Rochester: Inner Traditions, 2002.

Matthews, Caitlin. Mabon and the Mysteries of Britain: An Exploration of the Mabinogion. New York: Arkana, 1987.
An example of neopagan adoption and adaptation of the Mabinogion. This text postulates connections to ancient Celtic gods. Like the work of W. J. Gruffydd it attempts to reconstruct aspects of the text; unlike Gruffydd it is primarily speculative. For a good review of the above, see Juliette Wood's review in Folklore 99.2 (1988): 262.
Sioned Davies, ed. The Horse in Celtic Culture: Medieval Welsh Perspectives. University of Wales Press: 1997. Sullivan, Charles William, ed. The Mabinogi: A Book of Essays. New York: Garland Pub., 1996.
A collection of recent scholarship on the Mabinogion, identifying themes and trends in scholarly thought, with an emphasis on structural studies.
Tolstoy, Nikolai. The Oldest British Prose Literature: The Compilation of the Four Branches of the Mabinogion. Lampeter: Edwin Mellen, 2009.

Welsh, Andrew. "Doubling and Incest in the Mabinogi." Speculum 65.2 (1990): 344–362.

Related Texts

Bromwich, Rachel, ed. and trans. Trioedd Ynys Prydein. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1961.
The Triads codify a lot of legendary material also found in the Mabinogion, in many cases the only other known reference and thus proof of the existence of these traditions in contemporary society.
Ellis, Thomas Peter. Welsh Tribal Law and Custom. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1928.
Ellis' two-volume set brings together all of the different Welsh law codes into one readable explication of the nature and practice of Welsh law, a subject caught up in the Mabinogion – the issue of social status and propriety is everywhere and the text makes frequent – if not always correct – use of legal terminology, betraying the centrality of the subject to the Welsh aristocratic mindset.
Pughe, William Owen. The Cambrian Biography or Historical notices of celebrated men among the ancient Britons. London: E. Williams, 1803.
Pughe's volume contains information on many Mabinogion figures, often with information drawn from other sources. Although his interpretations are interesting (particularly given their originality), the lack of citation and Pughe's known faults as a scholar are problematic.

Note: The prevalence of Guest's text and its easy availability on Project Gutenberg has spawned dozens of mirror sites throughout the Web. For the sake of clarity and brevity I will include only a few exemplars and otherwise limit this section to sites with original content.

"Arthurian Pages' Mabinogion."
An online guide to the Mabinogion with texts included from Guest's original.
"The Mabinogi."
Massively multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG). Very little actual content related to the Mabinogion, as it is actually mostly based on Shakespeare. A spirit-guide named Pryderi (female!) seems the only connection.
"The Mabinogion."
A quite accurate and well-put together reference guide to the Mabinogion.
"The Romance of Branwen." "Titus Texts: The Mabinogion."
Text of the Four Branches, from the 1930 Ifor Williams edition, indexed for searching and easy translation.
Parker, Will, trans. "The Four Branches of the Mabinogion." Available online:
An independent translation and website compiled by Will Parker, who has also released his translation through an independent publisher, Bardic Press.
Schreiber, Lady Charlotte Elizabeth Bertie Guest, trans. The Mabinogion. Available Online:
This is the free Project Gutenberg edition, drawn from the original 1849 publication by Longman's.
Schreiber, Lady Charlotte Elizabeth Bertie Guest, trans. The Mabinogion. Available online: