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The Book of Aneirin

  • Colin A. Gresham

The Book of Aneirin, which contains all the verses that go to make up the Gododdin, is a manuscript written on vellum about the year 1250. It is incomplete, ending at the bottom of folio 38 and at least three or four folios are missing. The condition of the manuscript suggests that the existing folios have been re-arranged. The various later copies of the poem on paper are not worth further study, for they are not evidence of better texts, but of the carelessness of copyists. The manuscript is in two different handwritings, which may be called-A and B. The body of the work is in A and was written first. As well as the Gododdin verses, it contains four other poems, the last of which is attributed to Taliesin. The verses in the second handwriting B were added afterwards on the empty pages of the manuscript, and are nearly all variant versions of ones already given in A.

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1 This paper is a précis of the Introduction to Professor Ifor Williams’ book Canu Aneirin. This book was reviewed by Kenneth Jackson in ANTIQUITY for March 1939 and, as it is in Welsh, he dwelt at some length on the most important points of the Introduction. However, the great value of the subject seems to justify a fuller treatment. Accordingly the following pages have been prepared, although they have not been published without first passing through Piofessor Ifor Williams’ hands and I wish here to thank him most gratefully for allowing me to use his material in this way and for a number of helpful corrections.

2 Professor J. Loth goes further and says that the kernel of the Gododdin goes back to the 7th century, although the form which has come down to us is not older than the 9th.

3 Sir John Morris-Jones, ‘Taliesin’, Y Cymmrodor, XXVIII. The greater part of the poems in the Book of Taliesin are of a much later date than the so-called Historical Poems.

4 Collingwood and Myres, Roman Britain and the English Settlements, 288-90.

5 Skene, The Four Ancient Books of Wales, 11, 366-7.

6 Rhys, Celtic Britain, 152.

7 The placing of the definite article before Welsh tribal names is a late custom.

* See ANTIQUITY, 1939, XIII, 33-4, sketch-map and topographical remarks on the situation of Catterick and its relations to Roman roads and the Scots’ Dyke.

8 ‘And it is possible that, behind the Gododdin poems attributed to the sixth-century poet Aneirin, with their memories of a British disaster at Catraeth (Catterick), there may survive traditions of this northward advance of the Deirans.’ Roman Britain, 418-19.

9 Monumenta Historica Britannica, Petrie-Sharp, XIV.

10 Gould and Fisher, Lives of the British Saints, IV, 367, 370-1.

11 Tigernach, 581, Cath Manand; Rhys, Celtic Britain, 155.

12 Roman Britain, 321-4. [A coat of chain mail was found in the Sutton Hoo ship-burial, c. 625-30—O.G.S.C.].

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  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
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