Llyfr Aneirin online

Gododdin of Aneirin

John Koch’s edition and translation of The Gododdin, published in 1997.

Lisa Spangenberg, who runs the excellent blog Scéla on things medieval and Celtic, recently posted an interesting piece of news: Llyfr Aneirin, the Book of Aneirin, is now available online. This thirteenth-century Welsh manuscript contains Y Gododdin, ‘The Gododdin’, a collection of verses seemingly commemorating the near-massacre of an army of Britons from Edinburgh at a place called Catraeth sometime around AD 600. Two versions of the collection are included in Llyfr Aneirin, each transcribed in a different hand.

It’s the manuscript itself that has been digitised, not an edition or translation, so what we’re seeing is one of the great artifacts of medieval Celtic literature in its original form. Whether any part of the contents – the heroic and enigmatic Gododdin verses – was actually composed in North Britain six centuries earlier is a different matter (and a highly controversial one).

I followed the link given by Lisa and selected a random page from Llyfr Aneirin. It contained one of several verses beginning with the words gwyr a aeth gatraeth (‘Men went to Catraeth’), neatly crafted in an elegant script from 800 years ago.

Lisa has helpfully added other relevant links to her blogpost, including the digitised version of Llyfr Taliesin, the Book of Taliesin. Elsewhere on her site you’ll find links to various useful resources, so I recommend a look around if your interests lean towards Celtic medievalia.

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Notes & links

Check out Lisa’s blogpost The Book of Aneirin digitized and online and her Celtic web resources page.

The National Library of Wales ran its own announcement last week: Warriors went to Catraeth.

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Question: How far does the poetry attributed to Aneirin and Taliesin reflect genuine North British history?
The jury is out, so we’re faced with a choice of answers. These range from wide-eyed enthusiasm (‘it’s all true’) through sensible scepticism (‘some of it might be true’) to sombre pessimism (‘this is poetry, not history’). Help is now at hand for those of us who aren’t specialists in Celtic literature, via the papers in Beyond the Gododdin: Dark Age Scotland in Medieval Wales. This very useful book, edited by Alex Woolf and published by the University of St Andrews in 2013, brings us up to date with current research. Anyone who wants to use the Taliesin poetry or The Gododdin as historical sources should read it. The papers represent a variety of opinions, all of them wise and measured, some more optimistic than others. But the main message is simple: let’s be more cautious when using these Old Welsh poems as ‘history’. Accepting them as authentic chronicles from the sixth or seventh centuries, or as reliable gazetteers of ancient North British place names, is no longer an option.

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8 comments on “Llyfr Aneirin online

  1. Jo Woolf says:

    Even the title sounds romantic! Do we have any idea where Catraeth is?

    • Tim says:

      A nineteenth century Welsh scholar suggested that Catraeth might be Catterick in Yorkshire, and this has been picked up by so many people that it’s easy to forget it’s just a guess. The truth is, nobody knows where this place was, or if it was a real location at all. A huge amount of fluff has been written around the idea of a Gododdin army riding down from Edinburgh to fight the Anglo-Saxons at Catterick, but none of it amounts to much when the identity of Catraeth remains a mystery.

      I wrote a blogpost on one aspect of the puzzle a few years ago.

  2. diaspora52 says:

    Such resources enrich our knowledge and our sense of the time! Thanks for the post!

  3. Clas Merdin says:

    Odd one this – the academics frown upon reconstructed histories using poetry yet the battle of Y Gododdin is entirely absent from the Chronicles but it is accepted as a historical event.
    Have a great Christmas Tim,
    Best wishes

    • Tim says:

      Cheers Ed.
      Lately I’ve noticed a growing number of scholars moving away from the idea that Y Gododdin commemorates a historical battle. Even the notion of Catraeth as an actual place is now being questioned (and rightly so, too).

        • Tim says:

          Yes, Rheged’s status as a historical location in North Britain is also questioned in Beyond The Gododdin, though its exalted position in modern reconstructions of sixth-century political geography is far too secure to be dislodged any time soon. Personally, I think Rheged was a real place, but probably not a kingdom.

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