The Four Branches of the Mabinogi is an old Welsh classic that was first written down about 900 years ago. It appears to be a collection of traditional tales that probably originated in the oral storytelling tradition of the early Welsh. But in truth, we don’t know much about their history, the only real certainty is that they were written down by some talented, but unknown, author.
The Four Branches are set in a past where the Welsh aristocracy still claim the Crown of Britain, and consider the whole island to be their sovereign territory. They are set in a past where the Romans, never mind the Saxons, are yet to arrive in Britain. Historically speaking, this would have been about 2000 years ago.
The general approach on this course is to read The Four Branches as teaching tales for the young nobility of medieval Wales. We will consider how this ancient Celtic mythology was used by storytellers, and ask what the tales could mean, because, as Pwyll himself declares in the first branch “There is some magical meaning there.”
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Before you begin . . .
Please get yourself a decent translation of The Four Branches. The translation I suggest is by Sioned Davies in The Mabinogion (OUP 2007). There is also Kindle edition.
Audible have released an audiobook version of Davies’ translation, but it’s narrated by someone who can’t pronounce the Welsh names properly (don’t ask me why, please complain to them), so you can use it as a quick reference but don’t use it as a pronunciation guide. Also, please don’t use the Lady Charlotte Guest translation that’s freely available online.
There’s no need to read any of the tales before you begin this first chapter, but if you want to get going, you can start reading the first part of the first branch (Pwyll’s journey to Annwfn) in preparation for Chapter 2. I’ll prompt you throughout the course to read the relevant branches.
Created by Dr Gwilym Morus-Baird. He completed his studies at Bangor University School of Welsh in 2011 with a dissertation on the bardic tradition of Medieval Wales. He has worked as a research fellow at the Library of Congress, Washington DC and has taught on courses in several different establishments. In recent years he has focussed on developing his own courses and running workshops for various organisations.