January 02, 2024

#08-372: The Mabinogion

Lady Charlotte Guest (Wikimedia)

Note: One person--and a 19th-century woman at that!--is responsible or bringing us some of the earliest prose stories about King Arthur written down in what is now Great Britain.

Get Ready: How many languages do you speak? Do you wish to learn any more? Why or why not?

When we speak of "The United Kingdom" or simply "U.K.," few stop to realize that we are talking about an entity made up of four separate countries, each with its own language and culture. "The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" clearly contains Northern Ireland; and the "United Kingdom" part is England, Scotland, and Wales.

In modern times, the countries can easily by confused with one another. For example, the heir to the throne of the U.K. is called the Prince of Wales, a position King Charles III held previously, and his eldest son William holds currently.

But Wales also has its own capital (Cardiff) and government headed by a "First Minister" and its own legislature, as well as its own anthem, national flower and tree, and other symbols.

Small wonder, then, that it should have its own literature (in its own language). Central to this is the collection of stories, compiled in the 12th-13th centuries from earlier oral traditions, known today as The Mabinogion.

It contains eleven stories in prose, from such disparate genres as drama, philosophy, romance, tragedy, fantasy, and humor. We have discussed two of these--the love story "Culhwch and Olwen" (see Lesson #08-030) and the riddle story "Lludd and Llefelys" (see Lesson #08-172)--but it also contains tales of King Arthur and a number of others.

We owe the availability of these stories in English to the efforts of one woman, known then as Lady Charlotte Guest (and after the death of her husband, remarried as Lady Charlotte Schreiber). She had moved to Wales with her husband, Welsh industrialist John Josiah Guest, and taught herself the language (she had by that time already mastered seven: Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, Italian, Arabic, and Persian, as well as her native English).

She translated from a manuscript of The Red Book of Hergest belonging to a local judge named Bosanquet (and now found in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University). Her translation was published first in seven volumes between 1838 and 1845, and later in three volumes, with English and the original Middle Welsh and copious notes.

Today you will find her work in a slim, readable volume in English only. It is delightful.


Practice: Match the term to its definition:

Term Definition
  1. anthem
  2. compiled
  3. copious
  4. disparate
  5. entity
  6. heir
  7. industrialist
  8. manuscript
  9. oral
  10. prose
  1. a national song
  2. put together
  3. an independently existing thing
  4. writing that is not poetry
  5. spoken
  6. of different types
  7. a person who owns and operates one or more factories
  8. one who will inherit something
  9. in large amounts
  10. a hand-written document

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for January 2, 2024

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. a; 2. b; 3. i; 4. f; 5. c; 6. h; 7. g; 8. j; 9. e; 10. d