The Mabinogi, a classic of Welsh literature, is a suite of four
stories in Middle Welsh. They were composed, or at least put into
their current form-it is hard to say which, because we do not know
who the author was-in the late eleventh or early twelfth century,
and they survive in two fourteenth-century manuscripts and two
thirteenth-century fragments. Set in a primal past, the Mabinogi
bridges many genres; it is part pre-Christian myth, part fairytale,
part guide to how nobles should act, and part dramatization of
political and social issues. First translated in parts by William
Owen Pughe (d. 1835), the Four Branches of the Mabinogi did not
become widely available in English until the mid nineteenth
century, with Lady Charlotte Guest's translation of "the
Mabinogion." (The word mabinogion, a plural form that occurs only
once in the manuscripts, has been repurposed to refer collectively
to the Mabinogi and seven other prose tales.) This new translation
is by a Celtic Studies scholar working with a contemporary American
playwright; its primary purpose is to make the text accessible and
engaging for twenty-first-century readers (and especially,
undergraduate students). One significant way in which that
philosophy is expressed is in the treatment of Welsh names. For
example, the protagonist of the First Branch is named Pwyll, Prince
of Dyfed. The University of Wales dictionary, Geiriadur Prifysgol
Cymru, lists the following possible meanings for pwyll:
"deliberation, consideration, care, caution; discretion, prudence,
wisdom, patience, understanding, intelligence, perception,
judgment, mind, wit(s), reason, (common) sense, sanity." It is one
of the hardest names in the text for North Americans to pronounce,
since it contains the notoriously difficult voiceless lateral ll.
Calling the character Prince Sage, as this translation does, is a
way of addressing both issues. (In general, transparently
meaningful names have been rendered in English; all other names
have been left in modernized Welsh spelling, with a note on
pronunciation when they first occur.) The editor has also included
a number of background materials that help place the Mabinogi in
the context of medieval Welsh history and culture.
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