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Saturday, 29 February 2020


This short paper is an extract from my forthcoming book to get feedback on the analysis and translation of this difficult stanza.


Bedd Ann ap lleian ymnewais, fynydd
lluagor llew Ymrais
Prif ddewin Merddin Embrais”
1 (T. Jones 1967)
This brings us now to the notice of the Grave of Merddin Embrais in the Englynion y Beddau (The Stanzas of the Graves). This controversial and later addition to the grave stanzas were first transcribed and translated from the difficult and possibly corrupted orthography from the seventeenth century Peniarth MS 98b, copied by Dr. John Davies, from a manuscript transcribed in the sixteenth century by William Salesbury, now lost.1 So we are twice removed from the original. There appear to have been three related versions of this stanza in differing orthography, the earliest of which appears to be in The Myvyrian Archaeology of Wales: Collected Out of Ancient Manuscripts, by Owen Jones in 1870.3 Then there is the version transcribed by Thomas Jones in 1967 which has later orthography. In a more corrupted form is the version copied from the widow Wynne manuscripts in Archaeologia Cambrensis in 1900,4 that has varying orthography similar to that of both the Myvyrian and the Thomas Jones version. We will use the Myvyrian and Thomas Jones versions in this work, but the Wynne version can be found in this footnote.5

First some background to the contents. The first line of the stanza describes the mother of Merddin Emrys, called lleian (nun) and her “misfortune” (anap) at having been inseminated by a demon, the result of readings from the HB and Geoffrey's HRB. In effect anap lleian ('nuns misfortune') was a poetical kenning for the name Merdin Emreis, which was then corrupted to An ap [y] lleian (An son of the nun or son of Lleian) in this stanza and other works to be discussed. We know that anap is likely the correct form because, in the fifteenth century, Lewes Glyn Cothi (c.1420 – 1490) wrote a verse in praise of saints Simon and Jude that included this phrase:

tad y mab nid adnabu,No one knew who the boys father was,anap y fam neb pwy fu” The misfortune of his mother, from whom he came.”
The GPC appears to say this was known about since 1765 and it was mentioned by the reverend Evan Evans in 1825 in the Cambrian Quarterly Review and re-quoted from this by Lewis Morris (1878) in his Celtic Remains6, who writes: “The poets call him anap y lleian, that is, ‘the mischance of the nun”, which Dr. Davies, in his Catalogue, mistook for a proper name, and wrote it An ap y Lleian.” By 'poets' we must presume poets of the eighteenth century and earlier who used this kenning for Merlin. Evans and Morris then quote the above two lines from Glyn Gothi, which they say, were applied to Merlin. The phrase would have been used of lleian, probably long before the fifteenth century, as we shall now see from the confusion started in the fourteenth century Cleopatra version of the Brut y Brenhinedd.7 In this anap lleian was early misconstrued as “An ab y lleian,” i.e.Before that the boy was called An son of the Nun, and after that he was given [the name] Merdyn, because he was found in Kaer Vyrdyn.”8 By the sixteenth century this corruption was perpetuated in genealogies with Anan9 becoming a nephew to Lleian, her 'sister's son' (nai uab chwaer). This is slightly complicated by the fact that the Prose Brut of the thirteenth century gives Merlin's mother's name as Adhan.10 This shows how completely new characters and confusion can be created from simple misreadings and even further, then become attached to the landscape. Gruffudd Hiraethog in the sixteenth century11 wrote a note on a local feature at Llysan in the parish of Llanfihangel Glyn Myfyr,:

Maen [read Main] y Bardd [The Bard's Stones] is on the road between Cadair Dinmael and the chapel above the fields (cayav) within the township of Llys An vab y lleian. And within those stones is a little round tomb [where] was found An ab y lleian; and murddyn y lleian [the nun's ruin] is below that, near the place called Y Llysdir.”
We can now relate the Stanza in Peniarth 98B. Due to the corrupted forms of the stanzas in the manuscript, it was in the past difficult to tell whether the format of the stanza was in the poetic metre englyn penfyr or englyn milwr. The earliest transcribers might have thought milwr, as the stanza before is milwr. Later transcribers make it englyn penfyr. There does appear to be a pattern in the last six stanzas of alternating penfyr then milwr, which would make our stanza in this sequence penfyr. The format of englyn milwr, according to Jackson, consists, within narrow limits12 of seven syllables per line that rhyme on the last word of each line. Our stanza if milwr would possibly be within these narrow limits of 8-8-7.

According to Nicholas Jacobs (2012), the format of englyn penfyr would require a first line of nine to eleven syllables, a second line of six and a third of seven.13 Our stanza would satisfy this perfectly in the syllabic format 10-6-7. This means that there is a non rhyming gair cyrch at the end of the first line (the word vynyd), which is an addendum to a line (the last few syllables of a ten syllable line that follow the placement of the main rhyme), marked by a caesura (gwant). The gair cyrch in our stanza could, if we follow Jenny Rowland, might be seen as the beginning word of the next line,14 which is probably why in an early transcription vynyd was put on the second line, as in our first example below, which makes it into a milwr.15

There also appears to be an internal rhyming scheme (called a llusg),16 where a syllable from the first half of a line, is rhymed in a syllable of the second half of the line e.g. Prif ddewin Merdin Emreis. There are difficulties with this stanza, to be discussed, and it has at least three rhyming schemes, showing that it was put together with great skill and thought. This version which appears to have older orthography17 was transcribed in 1870 by Owen Jones and translated by some nineteenth century historians such as Thomas Stevens in 1876 like this:

8Bed An ap llian18 ymnewais,      The grave of the son of nun,
Vynyd lluagor llew Emreis,         The companion of the lion of Emreis,
Prif ddewin merdin Emreis.”        The chief diviner Merdin Emreis.
                                                        Is in Newys mountain.
The first thing to note is that ymnewais vynyd is translated as 'Newys mountain' (resembling Ben Nevis, to be discussed) and pushed to the end; lluagor is translated as 'companion', and An is left untranslated. Owen Jones saw ymnewais as yn+newys, (newis/dewis – 'chosen')20 and lluagor as lluwagor – 'generous/bountiful' (lawagor). However, lluagor is also evident in one of the Triads as the name of a horse – Lluagor march Karadawc Vreichvras”, “Lluagor (host splitting) the horse of Caradoc Freichfras.” So 'host splitter', llu+agor, in the sense of 'mounted battle', appears sound.21 This might derive from Geoffrey's HRB where he states that Ambrosius was “a brave soldier on foot, even better on horseback” or from the Romance tales in which Merlin was portrayed as a military strategist and battle leader.22 The Welsh is certainly difficult. The most up to date translation is by Nicholas Tolstoi in 2016 from Jones' transcription in 1967, where there is later orthography more common to the sixteenth century, i.e. bedd, lleian, Ann and Merddin. Progress has been made and the format is now correct as englyn penfyr. Internal rhyming schemes highlighted.

10 Bedd Ann ap lleian ymnewais fynydd   The grave of the nuns misfortune on  Newais Mountain,
Iluagor llew Ymrais                                  Causing gaps in a host, lion of Embrais,
Prif ddewin Merddin Embrais.23               Chief diviner, Myrddin Emrys.24
We can see here a few changes with this translation. The words Ann ap lleian have been translated as - 'nuns misfortune', even though by this time it had become corrupted to 'Ann son of Lleian.' The word vynyd ('mountain/plain') has been transcribed as fynydd'mountain'. Emrais of the second line is now ymrais, compare the similar Welsh word, ymrain/emrain, 'semen', so Emrais would appear to be meant. The reason for the form ymrais was poetic, the second internal rhyming scheme.25Newais” mountain has not been associated with Merddin Emrys in any known way before, the word in Welsh having no ready meaning, only the place Nefyn has, with Merlin Sylvestris, but that's on a sandy bay, not on a mountain, although it is backed by them.26

So let's use the above versions and try to come to a suitable translation starting with the first line. As discussed “Bedd Ann ap lleian ymnewais, fynyddappears sound. As we have also seen, an ap lleian is a corruption of anap27 lleian – “the nun's/virgin's misfortune”. This is followed by Sims-Williams (2015) who agrees about anap and suggests an 'easy' emendation from ymnewais vynyd to yn Emrais fynydd - “within (yn) the mountain (fynydd) of Emrys.” (i.e. Dinas Emrys?).28 That's a pretty big emendation though with yn Emrais > ymNewais requiring quite a leap of faith.29 The idea itself though is not without merit. Following Geoffrey's HRB in 1136, John of Tinmouth in 1366 called Stonehenge Mons Ambrosii30 - 'Mount Ambrosius' in the Vita Sancta Dubricii, as did John Twine in 1550,31 and this continued well up to the eighteenth century.32 It's possible therefore, that there was some confusion and conflation of Geoffrey's Mount Ambrius with Ambrosius and Stonehenge. Therefore the Welsh version of this could indeed have been Emrais fynydd.

This confusion has prompted Dr Adrian Price to suggest33 that as Geoffrey had already conflated Ambrosius and Merlinus Silvanus he may have transposed the fortress of Dinas Emrys to Salisbury plain, renaming it Mount Ambrius, possibly influenced by the fact that Welsh mynydd can mean ‘plain’. However Geoffrey already knew of the monastery and its three hundred monks and did not attribute it to Ambrosius himself strangely enough, but to a previous monk called Ambrius. He also did not conflate Ambrosus with Silvanus until the later vita Merlini of c.1150. Dr Price then suggests that in this stanza a possible original Emrais vynyd was rewritten as Nevais vynyd > ymnewais vyned under the influence of ‘Ben Nevis’ because of a scribal error. In effect he proposes ymnewais fynyd is 'in mount Ambrius' and therefore suggests that Sims-Williams' solution may also be the correct one. As we have seen above, there was a conflation between mount AmbriusAmesbury with Stonehenge, and by the fifteenth to sixteenth century there was a Welsh proverb Mal gwaith Emrys - “Like the work of Emrys” referring to Stonehenge.34 But what we should note, is that by the fifteenth century when this stanza was written, the legend of Merlin was quite mature and its contents of this stanza are likely to be all about Merlin rather than having elements of Ambrosius except in name (Embrais). In conclusion, although yn Emrais fynydd > ymnewais vynydd appears to be an enticing corruption, it may just be a leap too far considering that there was only a short time between when this stanza was written and then copied, and yn Emrais is not apparent in any of the three known versions. It would also mean that Emrais would be the rhyming element in all three lines, which would appear unlikely and not give too much credit to the creators, certainly no other stanzas show such naming rhymes.

As to vynyd, the consensus35 appears to be that we see it as fynydd – 'mountain' and there is ample evidence for this.36 The earliest form37 of vynyd traceable however in the GPC is vynyd – 'plain', a lenited form of mynedd,38 noted at about 1400AD as a description for the Salisbury plain: “Ar vynyd salysbri y mae mein mawr ar weith gor- “Upon Salisbury plain where there is a wonderful/great work of stones in a circle.”39 This is significant if we remember that this is where both Ambrosius and Merlin are closely associated, and where Ambrosius is mythically buried. But this lenited form of mynedd would not really work in the word order and grammar of the stanza.40

Ymnewais of the first line then is the problem. Thomas Jones in 1967 did not even attempt to translate ymnewais, showing the extent of the difficulty with this word.41 Ym/yn means variously, 'to be', 'enclosed/in', 'my', 'before' etc.42 That leaves newais. Owen Jones' suggestion of newys/dewis43 - 'chosen one'? has some merit (as Emrys was chosen/found by Vortigern), but newis is problematical for newais in this construction, with no examples in the GPC, so must be rejected. We are left then with Price's and Sims-Williams' suggestions above, which require special pleading.

The word newais, could be construed to be Nevis, meaning Ben Nevis44 in Scotland.45 The Gaelic genitive form of the name is Beinn Nibheis (pronounced 'Neevis' or 'Neevish'), which would suggest a Welsh version could have been Newais, from an earlier Neweis. The Gaelic version was long ago proposed to mean something along the lines of nem'heaven' and bathais - 'top of a man's head', hence 'head in the clouds'46 but the solution is disputed as Gaelic Nem here is problematical, as is deriving it from Gaelic neimh, 'poison, venom'.47 The suggestion of the Latin genitive word for 'snow' – nivis, is often dismissed (even though some wrote Nevis in the form Nivis as long ago as 1790),48 others though have supported the solution.49 In classical Latin the -i- was pronounced long as in -ee-, which would agree with the Gaelic orthography and pronunciation, and in some modern works 'snow' is given as the meaning.50 It's more than likely then that this name in the Latin genitive, montis Nivis - 'snowy mountain' was then adapted into the Gaelic genitive form.

So ymnewais vynedd can be translated as “[enclosed] in Nevis mountain,” or “[enclosed] in Ben Nevis.” Ben Nevis is in the region of the Caledonian forest, and Geoffrey in his 1150 Vita Merlini has the wild-man Merlin live on the summit of a mountain in the Caledonian forest which is where the association with Ben Nevis probably arose.51 In the same work Merlin says in his old age that he will remain forever in the woods of Caledon until he dies or has 'everlasting life'.52

Merlin's death or entrapment stories are all French Romance tales that variously have him trapped forever in a rock, tree, cave or tower (probably to dress Geoffrey's idea of making Merlin have everlasting life). There is however a late legend that Merlin was buried in Wiltshire. In around 1215, Alexander Neckham mentioned in a poem: "Merlin's tumulus gave your name, Merleburgia (Marlborough)”.53 The town's motto Ubi nunc sapientis ossa Merlini -Where now are the bones of wise Merlin’ confirms the legend existed. However, the town appears in the Doomsday book of 1086 as Merleberge (Maerla's Hill), most likely a Saxon name. So the association is most likely post Galfridian54 and is an example of how Geoffrey's work was used to form legends in various places throughout Britain. There is another late legend, said to be related by monks concerning 'Merlins Hill' or Bryn Myrddin near Carmarthen, where Myrddin Emrys is reputed to be buried, but this would not be a suitable association with newais.

In the second line of the stanza llew is literally 'lion', but in a figurative sense can mean 'illustrious', 'valiant' and 'prophesied hero.'55 However, in the Estoire de Merlin, or Vulgate Merlin of the early thirteenth century, Merlin relates a prophecy of a wolf and a lion, and how the wolf will overpower the lion and bind it. Merlin then states that the prophecy relates to himself, so he is the lion. The wolf turns out to be Viviane, who will entrap Merlin with magical rings to bind him forever in a cave or tree.56 As this relates directly to a grave of Merlin, it could be significant for this stanza. It may also indicate that the entire stanza is about Merlin Emrys, rather than the second line applying to Ambrosius/Emrys. The Romance tales make Merlin a warrior wizard. The last line of the stanza is easy enough, so needs no examination.

It might be a good time to point out again, that the entire fiction of this stanza descends from Gildas saying that Ambrosius' parents were killed by the Saxons, hence Ambrosius was the boy without a father. This legend may even have been formulating at the time Gildas wrote, as he had to mention Ambrosius' parents and their nobility in De Excidio as though to qualify his descent. The stanza then, would have been written sometime after Geoffrey's HRB and Vita Merlini, where the 'nun' aspect was introduced and the association made with the northern wild man Wyllt, Sylvestris or Llailoken, and after the Vulgate Merlin of the early thirteenth century. By the mid thirteenth century the first stanzas of the graves were being written in the Black book of Carmarthen, but the orthography of our stanza is later57 so was likely influenced by the fourteenth century Cleopatra version of the Brut Y Brenhinedd's, “An ab y lleian”. The older ei (Emreis) orthography of the Myvyrian version would indicate the stanza being written sometime between the fourteenth and fifteenth century. The alternative rhyming scheme and orthography ymnewais, ymrais and Embrais are examples of Welsh ei to ai, which is a late development of the fifteenth century onwards. So a fifteenth century date seems appropriate for our stanza, to be copied by Salesbury in the sixteenth century with updated orthography. Therefore, to honour the skill of the original internal and ending rhyming schemes I will keep Newais for Nevis, Lleian as a name as seems to be intended, 'legion' for 'host' and use 'sage' for 'prophet'. The stanza could be translated thus:

Bedd Ann ap lleian ymnewais fynydd    The grave of Ann son of Lleian in Newais mountain,
Lluagor llew Ymrais,                               The legion-splitting lion, Emrais,
Prif ddewin Merddin Embrais.                The foremost sage, Merddin Embrais.”

1 Many thanks to Kamlesh Gautama for his help in our many discussions on this stanza, it's format and versions. Also Dr Adrian Price for help with the Welsh and other suggestions and Charles Evans Gunther.

2 See Jones, Thomas. The Black Book of Carmarthen, 'Stanzas of the Graves', lecture, 1967, p.99

3 This contains an introduction: “Allan o Lyfr Thomas Williams Physygwr a gymharwyd a Llyfr William Salisbury o Lanrwst gan Ieuan Fardd”, that differs from the introduction in Thomas Jones' version of 1967 which reads: “Angwhaneg o Englynion y Beddau, o law William Salsbri, medd Rossier Morys.”

4 Archaeologia Cambrensis, Journal of the Cambrian Archaeological Association, 1900.

5 Bedh airap Llian ym newais,
Vynydh lhiw agor llew ymrais,
Prif dhewin Merdin Embrais.

6 Celtic Remains, Cambrian Archaeological Association, p.323

7 Brut y Brenhinedd - "Chronicle of the Kings" is a collection of variant Middle Welsh versions of Geoffrey of Monmouth's 1136 Latin Historia Regum Britanniae.

8 The 14th century, ‘Cleopatra’ version of Brut y Brenhinedd (fol.61v) when introducing the name of the boy without a father says: Ac An ab y Lleian y gelwit y mab kyn no hynny, ac o hynny allan y dodet arnaw Merdyn o achos y gaffael yNgkaer Vyrdyn. ‘Before that the boy was called An son of the Nun, and after that he was given [the name] Merdyn, because he was found in Caerfyrddin.’

9 Possibly a diminutive of An. See Bonedd y Saint MS. L: “… ac Anan ap y lleian nai uab chwaer.” - “nephew, sisters son ” (nai fab chwaer).

10 Seems to be an Arabic word borrowed by the Normans meaning 'call to prayer' which suggest a link to the nun of course.

11 In Peniarth MS.176 p.39, Ibid., A Welsh Classical Dictionary, p. 565

12 Jackson informs us that the format was not always strict: “within narrow limits there is some latitude in the number of these [syllables]”, see Jackson, Kenneth. Incremental Repetition in the Early Welsh Englyn. Speculum, vol. 16, no. 3, 1941, pp. 304–321. JSTOR,

13 Nicolas Jacobs (editor), Early Welsh Gnomic and Nature Poetry - Library of Medieval Welsh Literature, Modern Humanities Research Association, 2012, p.xliii

14 Rowland lists this as “no rhyme on the gwant, gair cyrch connected to b [second line].” This is not the more common “rhyming gwant, gair cyrch connected to line b by alliteration.” She lists about five different ways the gair cyrch is linked to the first or following lines. See A Selection of Early Welsh Saga Poems, edited by Jenny Rowland, The Modern Humanities Research Association, 2014, p.xxiii Introduction.

15 See Jones, Owen. The Myvyrian Archaiology of Wales: Collected Out of Ancient Manuscripts, Part 2, T. Gee, 1870, p.78

16 Ibid., Rowland, 2014, p.xxiv Introduction.

17 It has bed instead of bedd, Merdin instead of Merddin and Llian instead of Lleian. Vynyd instead of fynydd. Bed was common from the fourteenth century onwards and its old Welsh form would have been bet. Merdin looks to be an old Welsh form retained. The word ap – 'son' in old Welsh would have been ab. The ei of Emreis is also earlier than the ai of the alternative Ymrais/Embrais.

18 An unusual form of the word, the usual spelling would be lleian but it appears as Llian in the Wynne and Myvryian. The word comes from Welsh llai/llei– 'gray' and an a diminutive. Ie, our grey one.

19 See Stephens, Thomas & Williams, D. The Literature of the Kymry, ,Longmans, 1876, p.237

20 See Jones, Owen. The Myvyrian Archaiology of Wales: Collected Out of Ancient Manuscripts, Part 2, T. Gee, 1870, p.78

21 See Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Triads of the Island of Britain, edited by Rachel Bromwich, University of Wales Press, 2014, p.104

22 See Prose Merlin: Introduction by: John Conlee (Editor) from: Prose Merlin 1998, University of Rochester

23 Ibid., Bromwich, 2004, p.104

24 Tolstoy, Nikolai. The Mysteries of Stonehenge Myth and Ritual at the Sacred Centre Count Amberley Publishing, 2016.

25 Ymnewais, ymrais, and possibly merdin emrais.

26 Nefyn / Nevyn on the Llŷn peninsula near Bardsey Island, mentioned by Ranaulf Higden (Nevyn) in connection with Merlin Sylvestris and before him by Giraldus Cambrensis – Second book of Itinerary of Archbishop Baldwin through Wales, circa 1191:“We slept the night at Nevyn, where the Archdeacon, after long enquiry and research, is said to have found Merlin Sylvestris.” Unfortunately Nefyn is on sandy bay, not a mountain or even a mount.

27 GPC anap - misfortune, bad luck, misery, mishap, injury, loss. 

28 See Simms-Williams, Patrick. Clas Beuno and the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, in 150 Jahre "Mabinogion" - Deutsch-Walisische Kulturbeziehungen - Buchreihe Der Zeitschrift Für Celtische Philologie, edited by Bernhard Maier, Stefan Zimmer, De Gruyter 2015, p119

29 The Rev. Thomas Price suggested “in the mountain of Eweis”. See The Literary Remains of the Rev. Thomas Price, 1854, p.282

30Mons Ambrosii, qui nunc vulgo Stanhenges dicitur.” - “Mount Ambrosius, which is called by the common people Stonehenge.” See The Critical Review: Or, Annals of Literature, Volume 52, by Tobias George Smollett, W. Simpkin and R. Marshall, 1781, p.252

31In editiore loco, ex ejus no mine Mons Ambrofii dictus, sepultus est Aurelianus Ambro sius ; ubi ipsc prius, Ambrosii Merlini mathematici, scientia fretus, ut sertur, gigantum choream, vel immensæ magnitu- dinis faxa, in memoriam occisorum & sepultorum ibi Britan- norum procerum, erexerat.” - It was in this place that it was raised and was named after his name as mount Ambrosius and was where Aurelius Ambrosius was buried. It was he himself and at his command, that Ambrosius Merlin the mathematician had the giants dance made in gigantic size with huge rocks as a memorial to those noble Britons slain and entombed there.” Ibid Critical Review, p.252

32 See Dictionarium Rusticum and Urbanicum, Published by L. Hawes, W. Clarke, and R. Collins, London, 1765, STO-STR.

33 In communication on Facebook Historical Groups. Dr Price is a former Senior-lecturer in Welsh at the University of Glamorgan.

34 See the GPC and also Nicholson Dictionarium Rusticum & Urbanicum: Or, A Dictionary of All Sorts of Country Affairs, Handicraft, Trading, and Merchandizing, John Worlidge, Nathan Bailey, January 1704.

35 Simms-Williams, Thomas Jones, Niemeyer, Thomas Stevens, Bartum, Thomas Price, etc

36 For example vynyd is noted as a 'mountain' in NLW MS 5267B, ref above this, “Deu vynyd yssyd yn ynys brydein vn ma6r “There are two mountains in the Island of Britain, one big..”

37 In the sixteenth century Taliesin on Elphin it appears as vynydd – mountain, “O voroedd ac o vynydd” - “From the seas, and from the mountains.”

38 See GPC, as well as mountain it can also mean: 'common, mountain land, moorland; agricultural land; plain.' This dual opposite meaning may be due to early indo-European negative association, i.e. a mountain is 'not a plain'.

39 See GPC – mynydd > vynyd, see reference above this. See also Y Casgliad Brith or NLW MS 5267B (formerly Dingestow 7) a mid fifteenth century MS which also has this line. See Try, Rebecca, NLW MS 5267B; a partial transcription and commentary, dissertation, Cardiff University, 2015.

40 Advice from Dr. Adrian Price via Facebook Group chat. February 2020.

41 Ibid., Jones, 1967, p.137 “ The grave of Ann, son of a nun, on.....mountain.” Lawrence Eson also commenting “The allusion to “Newais Mountain,” which is mentioned in the “Stanzas of the Graves” englyn as the site of Myrddin’s grave, remains obscure”. Eson, Lawrence. (2007). Merlin's last cry: ritual burial and rebirth of the poet in Celtic and Norse tradition. Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie. 55. 10.1515/ZCPH.2007.181.

42 GPC: 'in', 'within', 'inside', 'our', 'before', 'to', 'my' etc.

43 GPC: choice, option, alternative, selection; person or thing chosen, select person or thing, elect, best, excellent.

44 The oldest note of the name is in a sixteenth century poem in Carries Guidebook. See From Tartan to Tartanry: Scottish Culture, History and Myth: Scottish, edited by Ian Brown, 2010 p.156

45 This solution was first proposed by Kamlesh Gautama in his article on Arthurian Web - Myrddin Emrys, 25/02/2019 - “The stanza says “newais” is the name of a mountain, perhaps, it is the Welsh equivalent of Gaelic “Nibheis”, as in Ben Nevis”

46 See Local Etymology: A Derivative Dictionary of Geographical Name, by Richard Stephen Charnock, 1859, p.33

47 See The Races of Ireland and Scotland, By William Cook Mackenzie, 1916, p.263. See also Wikipedia for short discussion that does not even mention the Latin nivis.

48 See A short and easy introduction to the science of Geography, etc by Thomas Keith, 1805, p.29 Ftn. “Ben Nivis” Also The Universal Preceptor, by Sir Richard Phillips, 1822, p.119. See also Faden's Atlas (1778) “Ben Nevish” (which would suggest the Gaelic version existed at this time); Dorett (1782) called it “Ben Nevist”; Campbell (1790) called it “Ben Nivis.” See People and Places, John Hugh Brignal Peel Hale, 1980, p.82

49 See First (-Sixth) geographical reader. [With] Home-lesson book for Second (-Fourth) geographical reader, Blackwood William and sons – 1883, p.35. “Ben Nevis - 'snow clad mountain'See also The Intelligence: A Semi-monthly Journal of Education, Volumes 16-17, E.O. Vaile, 1896, p.299 “snow capped mountain.” Chambers's Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, by William Chambers, 1878 - “Snowy Hill”.

50 See Hatier pédagogie - Enseigner l'anglais de l'école au collège, by Line Audin (Author), Christiane Luc (Author), Marie-Hélène Archimbaud (Author), Colette Maurelet (Author), Hatier, 2005.

51 VM: The man sent to look for Merlin asked if the other had seen him in the woodlands and valleys. The traveller said, yes, he had seen such a man among the dense-wooded valleys of the Forest of Calidon; but when he had tried to sit and talk with him, he had rushed off among the oak trees.
As the traveller finished this tale, the messenger set off into the woods. He searched the deepest valleys, he crossed high mountains, he penetrated the most secluded places, seeking his man everywhere. There was a spring on the very top of a certain mountain, surrounded on all sides by hazels and dense thorns. Merlin had settled there, and from that place he could watch the whole woodland and the running and gambolling of the creatures of the wild. 
The messenger climbed up and quietly reached the summit, in search of his man. At length he saw the spring and Merlin sitting on the grass beyond it......” Translated by Basil Clarke, in The Life of Merlin. Cardiff: UWP, 1973. (OOP)

52 VM: "I have lived long, then, and by now the weight of my years has told on me and I will not reign again. While I remain under the green leaves of Calidon, its riches shall be my delight- a greater delight than the gems that India produces, or all the gold men say is found along the banks of the Tagus, or the corn of Sicily, or the grapes of pleasant Methis--more pleasing than high towers or wall-girt cities or clothes redolent of Tyrian scents. Nothing can please me so, nothing can tear me from my Calidon, ever dear to me, I feel. Here I will be while I live, happy with fruit and herbs: and I will purify my flesh with pious fasting, to enable me to enjoy endless everlasting life.”

53 Ashe, Geoffrey. The Traveller’s Guide to Arthurian Britain, Gothic Image Publications, 2nd Edition, 1997, p.170.

54 Geoffrey of Monmouth's (Gaufridus Monemutensis) pen name was Galfridus Artr. See Young, Brian. Geoffrey Of Monmouth's Prophetiae Merlini And Welsh Prophetic Literature. Geoffrey of Monmouth's Prophetiae Merlini and the Welsh Prophets, 2007. p.21

55 GPC: Llew, fig.: “valiant or resolute person, brave or fierce warrior, illustrious or imposing person; also as a name for the Prophesied Hero.”

56 See Eson, Lawrence. Merlin's last cry: ritual burial and rebirth of the poet in Celtic and Norse tradition. Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie. 55. 10.1515/ZCPH.2007.181, 2007, p.9

57 Note the earlier stanzas in the Black Book have old welsh bet for 'grave', whereas our stanza has bed or bedd. Bed was common from the fourteenth century, then Bedd by sixteenth. Also vynyd appears to be a late form, from around the thirteenth to fourteenth century.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Cuneglasus, Ursus and King Arthur

By Dane Pestano and contributing editor, Mak Wilson,1
© 2017. Composed in Sussex, England.


The tyrant Cuneglasus appears in a polemic written by a sixth century monk called Gildas in his work: De excidio et Conquestu Britanniæ (‘On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain’ shortened to De Excidio), where all of Cuneglasus’ various crimes and sins are laid bare by its author for all to see, along with those of four other tyrannical rulers of the Britons.2 In looking at the life of Cuneglasus from Gildas’ words we will try to disentangle the historical Cuneglasus from perceived links with King Arthur by various authors. The main points below will be discussed.
  1. By the twelfth century Cuneglasus has been assumed by some, to have been Arthur;3 as Geoffrey of Monmouth may have disguised him in his description of Gildas’ five kings, which he made follow Arthur in kingship in his History of the Kings of Britain; and certain Arthurian glosses were added to the Historia Britonnum in the early thirteenth century that have been seen to be related to Gildas’ description of Cuneglasus.4
  2. Assertions that Cuneglasus was 'King' Arthur may have been made because of the ‘bear’ reference to Cuneglasus in De Excidio (as Welsh Arth can mean ‘bear’),5 and, perhaps, because Geoffrey gave Arthur a 'special weapon', Caliburnus (later called Excalibur), just as Cuneglasus is described as having “arms special to thyself”.
  3. Geoffrey also used the form of Arthurus when referring to Arthur in his Prophecies of Merlin (c. 1130CE), a name that can be derived from the Greco-Romano cosmological and mythological figure, Arcturus (Greek Arktouros); an imagery that some have read into Gildas’ words regarding Cuneglasus (as Arcturus > Arthurus > Arthur).
  4. It could also be argued that by the twelfth century Cuneglasus had contributed to the legend of Arthur by hagiographers who portrayed a rather more brutal, tyrannical Arthur, prone to murder, civil war and rebellion, in Wales.
  5. From here it has also been suggested that the link with Cuneglasus and Arthur was picked up by the French Romance writers who tell the story of the False Guinevere, seemingly shadowing the story of Cuneglasus having driven away his wife and courted his wife’s sister. Mallory’s ‘Castle of the Chariot’, perhaps the Grail Castle, has also been seen as a reference to Cuneglasus, and Gildas’ use of the chariot metaphor.6
  6. Cuneglasus has been linked to a fort called Dinarth in Rhos, north Wales, due to the words of Gildas, and also to other possible forts in Ceredigion. We will discuss the validity of this in relation to a proposed metaphorical reading of Gildas' words.
In looking at all these arguments, on a line by line basis from Gildas’ De Excidio, the metaphorical and biblical nature of some of Gildas’ polemics against Cuneglasus will be examined and presented in a revised form and a solution to the difficult subject of Gildas’ confused translation of Cuneglasus into Latin ‘tawny butcher’ will also be attempted.
      The map below is a rough guide to Wales in the mid sixth century, with tyrants placed in approximate places as discussed in this work; including some of the later medieval names for the kingdoms. It presumes Maglocunus had deposed other tyrants in the north as described by Gildas and so a larger7 Gwynedd is indicated than would normally apply later. It should not be taken as definitive in any way.

Cuneglasus8 the bear.
(De excidio, §32) “Ut quid in nequitiae tuae volveris vetusta faece et tu ab adolescentiae annis, urse, multorum sessor auriga que currus receptaculi ursi, dei contemptor sortisque eius depressor, Cuneglase, Romana lingua lanio fulve. Quare tantum certamen tam hominibus quam deo praestas, hominibus, civibus scilicet, armis specialibus, deo infinitis sceleribus? Quid praeter innumerabiles casus propria uxore pulsa furciferam germanum eius, perpetuam deo viduitatis castimoniam promittentem, ut poeta ait, summam ceu teneritudinem caelicolarum, tota animi veneratione vel potius hebetudine [nympharum] contra interdictum apostoli denegantis posse adulteros regni caelestis esse municipes suspicis? Quid gemitus atque suspiria sanctorum propter te corporaliter versantium, vice immanis leaenae dentium ossa tua quandoque fracturae, crebris instigas iniuriis?”9
Why dost thou, also, wallow in the old filth of thy wickedness, from the years of thy youth, thou bear, rider of many, and driver of a chariot belonging to a bear's den, despiser of God and contemner of His decree, thou Cuneglas[us] (meaning in the Roman tongue, thou ‘tawny butcher’). Why dost thou maintain such strife against both men and God? Against men, thine own countrymen, to wit, by arms special to thyself; against God, by crimes without number? Why, in addition to innumerable lapses, dost thou, having driven away thy wife, cast thine eyes upon her dastardly sister, who is under a vow to God of the perpetual chastity of widowhood, that is as the poet says, of the highest tenderness of heavenly nymphs, with the full reverence, or rather bluntness, of her mind, against the apostle's prohibition when he says that adulterers cannot be citizens of the kingdom of heaven? 
Why dost thou provoke, by thy repeated injuries, the groans and sighs of saints, who on thy account are living in the body, as if they were the teeth of a huge lioness that shall some day break thy bones? [...]”

...and he goes on for a while longer after this with some Biblical examples, ending with....
 “Otherwise thou shalt know and see, even in this world, how evil and bitter it is to have abandoned the Lord thy God, and that His fear is not with thee, and that in the world to come thou shalt be burnt in the hideous mass of eternal fires, without, however, in any way dying. For the souls of sinners are as immortal for never-ending fire as those of the saints are for joy.” 10 
The Latin name Cuneglasus is from Brythonic *Cunoglastos - Cunoglasos. Brythonic *cune means ‘hound’, 'dog’, ‘wolf’ or ‘lord’11 and *glasos (Welsh glas) is normally used for ‘blue’ or ‘green’ (sometimes ‘silver’); it can also mean ‘grey’ in Cornish and Gaelic.12 Gildas’ suggestion that it meant ‘tawny butcher’ will be resolved below when we come to discuss that part of his tirade.
Most scholars identify this man with Cinglas from the tenth-century North Welsh genealogies13 of the small kingdom of Rhos, with its llys (fort/court) at Dinerth/Dinarth (now Bryn Euryn) in what is now mid-North Wales. Another Rhos in West Wales has also been suggested, because of a Dinarth in Ceredigion, near the Avon (River) Arth.14 The hill fort of Llandewi, Aberarth in Ceredigion has also been suggested as an alternative ruling site for the rulers of this kingdom, as the archaeology suggests a possible early medieval enclosure there.15 This second position would make sense if Gildas were moving in a geographical clockwise direction with his tyrants’ locations, otherwise he has jumped Gwynedd, which follows Cuneglasus if he were from Rhos. Of course, perhaps he had no choice since Maglocunus (the next in line for Gildas’ quill lashing) attracted far more of his time; in fact, more ink is spilled on him than the other four leaders put together, portraying him as the most powerful of the five. 
 Like others, Nicholas Higham suggested the power-base of Cuneglasus to have been the area that became the North Wales cantref 16 of Rhos. He notes that in the ninth century the kingdom of Powys was ruled from their Gwynedd (Venedotia) overlord’s fort of Deganwy, which lies only five miles west of Dinerth as the crow flies. This is why he suggests Gwynedd (and therefore Maglocunus) may have also ruled Rhos, and it in turn may have encompassed what had been the Romano-British Deceangli region (what became medieval Tegeingl) and part of what became northern Powys. Therefore, between Gwynedd and Rhos, perhaps, all of what is now north-west to north-east Wales was under their rule, and even perhaps, in Gildas’ time.17 If this were the case, it would seem Cuneglasus would have to have had some kind of power for Gildas to focus on him also, unless his marital crimes were enough to get his attention; that and, possibly, his familial relation to the next tyrant to get Gildas’ tirade. Of course, Cuneglasus himself couldn’t have ruled Gwynedd at the time if Maglocunus was its ruler, and the most powerful in the region, hence why it is thought that Rhos could have been a sub-kingdom of Gwynedd, or a tribute polity. If this is all the case, however, it is hard to understand how Cuneglasus could still have held power in the region, being in such close proximity, unless he was one of the tyrants that Maglocunus removed from power, but did not kill. If Cuneglasus was given an association by Gildas with a fort whose name contained -arth, which is by no means certain,18 we would suggest that Ceredigion or the area that became Powys, as Gildas may have implied, would be a more suitable kingdom, being far enough away from Maglocunus to be viable.

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 1 Thanks and appreciation goes to Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews for help with the Latin and Charles Evans-Gunther for help with the structure and a peer review to formalise the final version. Special thanks to Mak Wilson, whose many contributions and help with the copious editing has been invaluable.

2 Maglocunus, Aurelius Caninus, Constantine and Vortiporus.

3 See: Mark Devere Davis’s theory concerning Cuneglasus and Arthur- [Accessed 8th February, 2017]
Graham Phillips and Martin Keatman, King Arthur: The True Story, Bit Bound, 1992, and Graham Phillips the Lost Tomb Of King Arthur, 2016, who suggest Owain Danwyn (whom they call, Owain Ddantgwyn), the genealogical father of Cinglas (Cuneglasus) could be Arthur, but this is easily disproved. Latin is more precise than English and when Gildas used the word uncle when describing the man Owain killed to grab power, he used the Latin word “avunculus”. The precise meaning is ‘one’s mother’s brother’ – in other words the maternal uncle. Owain Danwyn was Maelgwn’s (i.e. Maglocunus’s) paternal uncle. Many scholars suggest the word was used just a general meaning for uncle, but this is the sixth century and Gildas was clearly a well education member of the religious class. He would have used Latin in its correct form. Thanks to Charles Evans-Gunther for pointing this out.

4 A. O. Anderson, “Gildas and Arthur.” The Celtic Review, vol. 8, no. 30, 1912, pp. 149–165. [Accessed 8th February, 2017]

5 For example by Steve Blake and Scott Lloyd, Pendragon: The Definitive Account of the Origins of Arthur, The Lyons Press, 2004.

6 Ibid., Mark Devere.- This castle was, however, in Lambeth, London. From the Book of the Queens Maying- Le Morte d’Arthur Book XIX chapter I, [accessed 8th February, 2017] .

7 As portrayed in the eleventh to twelfth century Saints' lives where Maglocunus rules all of the north.

8 Gildas wrote the name as Cuneglase, in the vocative, as was Urse.

9 We will also consider readings from the simplified De Excidio, Avranches PL.162 MS, which is twelfth century but possibly from a family of MSS dated to around the ninth to tenth century. That reading is in the appendix.

10 From the Winterbottom translation.

11 Thomas O’Sullivan, The De excidio of Gildas: Its Authenticity and Date, Leiden: Brill, 1978, p.27.

12 Ibid.

13 Harleian genealogy 3: [H]iguel map Caratauc map Meriaun map Rumaun map Enniaun map Ytigoy map Catgual Crisban map Cangan map Meic map Cinglas map Eugein dant guin map Enniaun Girt map Cuneda. Source: [Accessed 8th February, 2017]. Thomas O’Sullivan noted that the Rhos genealogy may not have been well preserved by their overlords and sometimes enemy, Gwynedd (The De Excidio of Gildas: Its Authenticity and Date, 1978, p.108).

14 Castle of Dinerth (Welsh: Castell Dineirth, Castell Dinerth, or Castell Allt Craig Arth) is in the Welsh county of Ceredigion, West Wales. No evidence of an early medieval settlement has been found but there are remains of a promontory fort, which the Normans may have built over.

15 See August Hunt’s Shadows in the Mist website: The Probable ruling center [sic] of Ceredig/Arthur in Ceredigion.

16 Cantref = hundred towns.

17 Nicholas Higham, The English Conquest, Manchester University Press, 1994, pp.179-180

18 We will discuss this further below. Gildas would need to have been layering several metaphorical meanings over this one line concerning the refuge of the bear.