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Sunday, 21 August 2011

Marwnad Cynddylan and the mention of Arthur.

There is a much discussed mention of Arthur in the poem Marwnad Cynddylan ('The Death Song of Cynnddylan') which is about a seventh century king of Pengwern, where it includes the line :

Brodyr a'm bwyad. [Oedd] gwell ban fythyn, 
canawon artir fras, dinas dengyn,

This usually translated as:

It was better when they were
the young whelps of great Arthur, the mighty fortress.

'ardir' from the book of LLandaff
However I think only special pleading can place Arthur in this poem. The original word is quite clearly `artir' not Arthur. The 9th-10thC old Welsh word 'artir' appears in a welsh charter in the Book of Landaff and is expanded to `ardir' in Middle Welsh+ and has the meaning `upon the ground or land/territory'. So in translation would be,( my efforts):

Brodyr a'm bwyad
I had brothers who have gone.

gwell ban fythyn
Better forever in fame

canawon artir fras, dinas dengyn
Were the young whelps on the rich land of the mighty fortress,

[y] rhag Caer Lwytgoed nis digonsyn
against Caer Lwytgoed there was not enough of them..

I have brothers who have gone.
Better forever in fame
Were the young whelps on the rich land of the mighty fortress
Against Caer Lwytgoed there was not enough of them.

gwell =better,
ban =lofty, loud
fythyn = fyth yn = forever in

Canawon = whelps
Artir = Ar tir(dir) = upon the land of
fras = rich / broad
dinas = fortress /city
dengyn = mighty / strong

rhag = against,
nis =not
Digonsyn is 'digon' = enough, 'syn = plenty. 

Nothing whatsoever to do with Arthur.  I am not sure how the original translators got it so wrong or maybe I have? A more poetic version to keep faith with the original rhyme - fythin - dengyn - digonsyn would be:

I had brothers now gone,
Better in fame for all eternity,
Were the whelps in the rich land of fortress mighty, 
Before Caer Lwytgoed they were not a plenty.

Scholars such as R. Geraint Gruffydd still support the idea that Artir equals Arthur but I am at a loss to understand why when the word Artir is quite clearly composed of ar and tir, later ardir. Evidence of such conjugations are in the work itself with fythyn and digonsyn being two examples. Not content with translating Artir as Arthur, scholars also change fras (rich/broad) to wras (great) to make great Arthur. These wholesale changes just to make a non existent name fit is painful in the extreme.


  1. Very interesting. I am very interested in the possible connections between the Staffordshire Hoard, which was found a few miles from Caer Luitcoet (Wall in Staffordshire) and the battle mentioned in the poem. The late John Morris was convinced of the poem's historicity. There are strong legendary connections to Arthur in Shropshire, especially around Mitchell's Fold stone circle where he is supposed to have extracted the sword from the stone

  2. Thanks for the info, i live in the usa. My Page Family is from shropshire. 1256 c William Page and Wife Amice. We have been DNA Tested, we are of Celtic Decent, there is Page Family still living there today. This info helps me understand more about my family. I thought king Arthur was celtic, i have always been interested in Medevil period history, now i know why. Even before the dna testing i could feel it in my bones.

  3. Mark, you're ancestors were descended from the Carolingian Franks.