Aneirin


Aneirin
(fl. 560–600)
   A single 13th-century Welsh manuscript containing the 1,000-line poem Y GODODDIN (The Gododdin) is attributed to a sixth-century bard known as Aneirin. In his standard 1938 edition of the poem, the scholar Ifor Williams argued convincingly on linguistic and textual grounds that the bulk of the Llyfr Aneirin (Book of Aneirin)—now known as MS Cardiff I at the Free Library of Cardiff—dates from the last decades of the sixth century. Aneirin is mentioned in chapter 62 of NENNIUS’s Historia Brittonum (ca. 800), where he is said to have been active in the 560s. Internal evidence in his poem suggests that Aneirin was a bard active at the court of the British chieftain Mynyddog Mwynfawr (the Wealthy).He was apparently a contemporary of the poet TALIESIN, and composed his poem in Cumbric, ancestor of modern Welsh and a northern dialect of the Brythonic language, spoken by all the Celtic people in Britain south of the Firth of Forth. Mynyddog was chief of the Gododdin tribe, known to the Romans as the Votadini. Their capital was at Eidyn (modern-day Edinburgh).
   The Gododdin is a series of elegies to fallen heroes, all hand-picked by Mynyddog to help defend his kingdom against the Anglian hordes from Northumbria. Mynydogg sends the Gododdin warriors south to meet an overwhelming Anglian force at Catraeth (identified as Catterick in northern Yorkshire), and, fighting boldly, the British army is wiped out almost to the last man. The fact that virtually none of the warriors eulogized is known in other texts suggests that Aneirin was writing close to the events, and that the battle may have been historical and not fiction. It has been suggested that it took place ca. 588–590. It has been suggested that Aneirin was a younger son of a British king from West Yorkshire, Dunaut Bwr (the Stout) (ca. 505–595), that he was himself present at the Battle of Catraeth, and that in his old age he became a monk at Llancarfan in southern Wales. Such traditions are not really verifiable, and may be merely the stuff of legend.
   Bibliography
   ■ Aneirin, The Gododdin: The Oldest Scottish Poem. Edited by Kenneth H. Jackson. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1978.
   ■ Breeze, Andrew. Medieval Welsh Literature. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1997.
   ■ William, Ifor, ed. Canu Aneirin. Cardiff: Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru, 1938.
   ■ Williams, Gwyn. An Introduction to Welsh Poetry: From the Beginnings to the Sixteenth Century. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1970.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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