FIFTH BRANCH.

I imagine many of you have heard of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, the glories of medieval Welsh prose; they’ve been famous in English since Lady Charlotte Guest‘s translation (1838-1849). I read the first branch, Pwyll Pendeuic Dyuet (‘Pwyll Prince of Dyfed’), in my Middle Welsh class in grad school, and the first line (“Pwyll Pendeuic Dyuet a oed yn arglwyd ar seith cantref Dyuet” [PPD was the lord of the seven cantrefs of Dyfed]) is embedded almost as deep in my brain as “asid raja Nalo nama” (‘there was a king named Nala,’ the opening of the Nala and Damayanti story from the Mahabharata, the first thing Sanskrit students read in my day).
Well, it turns out there’s a fifth branch! The discovery of a medieval Welsh manuscript might not mean much to the man on the Clapham omnibus, but it’s pretty damned surprising to me, and in this wonderful era of the internet it’s online. I quote from its editor, Mark Williams:

The Four Branches of the Mabinogi – Pwyll, Branwen, Manawydan and Math – are the greatest works of medieval Welsh prose. They are based on a rich vein of orally-transmitted folklore and mythological material, but were synthesised in the early 12th century by a redactor of genius. They take the form of four roughly chronological and interlinked short-stories, termed ‘branches’, which are set in a pre-Christian, pre-Roman Britain which resembles an idealised version of the redactor’s own high medieval era. His humane, sober style contrasts fascinatingly with the violence and shape-shifting which loom so large in the four tales…
But the existence of the ‘fifth branch of the Mabinogi’, Amaethon uab Don, was unsuspected until very recently, when a hitherto-unknown medieval Welsh manuscript was discovered in the library of Judas College, Oxford… It seems very likely that the tale is the work of the same redactor or author who penned the familiar Four Branches of the Mabinogi, or at least of a close associate. The language does not seem to be any earlier or later than the PKM, and the existence of numerous verbal echoes and parallels of incident suggests that Amaethon uab Don is the final part of the Mabinogi as a consciously-composed and unitary work dating to the end of the 11th or early 12th century…
As with the other branches, fragments of lore and onomastic tales are woven into the texture of the narrative. Indeed Amaethon furnishes us with two hitherto-unknown triads – the ‘Three Unfrequented Graves’ and the ‘Three Chief Warrior-Women of the Island of Britain’. The last of these is a remarkable piece of evidence that Buddug/Byddug (Boudica) was the subject of a body of Welsh narrative tradition, in which she sacked Rome (!) in revenge for Julius Caesar’s abduction of Fflur from Caswallawn fab Beli. Similarly unexpected is the occurrence of a teichoscopia, a topos of heroic narratives throughout the Indo-European world, in which the heroes of an opposing army are pointed out one by one from the walls or ramparts of a besieged city. Examples occur in the Irish Táin Bó Cúailnge, the Iliad, and the Ramayana, and with our text a further Celtic instance of the topos can be added to this distinguished list of epic comparanda.

I can’t tell you how much I’d love to read a Welsh account of Boudica’s sack of Rome; in its absence, this will do nicely, and the first line of the text gave me a thrill of recognition: “Amathaon uab Don a oed arglwyd ar y seith cantref Dyuet…” Thanks for the link, Trevor!
Addendum. As Daniel Nolan says in the comments:

“Judas College” is a famous, but entirely fictional, Oxford college – made famous by Beerbohm’s comic masterpiece Zuleika Dobson. This “fifth branch” is presumably then not a medieval survival – it’s an apparently very entertaining piece written in the style of the Mabinogi, probably by its “editor” Mark Williams. So lots of kudos to Williams for a fun document, but let’s not rewrite our understanding of medieval Welsh prose just yet.

Comments

  1. Oh wow. Totally cool.
    Thanks!

  2. ‘Discovered in the library of Judas College, Oxford’ indeed! Did Zuleika Dobson leave it there?

  3. There’s a funny story about the time the Vikings conquered “Rome”.

  4. Holy crap.

  5. For me it’s “Nun bin ich endlich in München”, the first line in the first text of my elementary German textbook, Kurtz & Politzer.

  6. Wow, all kinds of things turn up in that library. That’s where they finally found a MS of Chaucer’s Boke of the Lyon, right?

  7. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    What is it, the first of April in Massachusetts?

  8. what

  9. Daniel Nolan says:

    I suspect LH is in on the joke, and some of the above commentators certainly are, but at the risk of spoiling the fun, I thought I’d be explicit about it before LH’s post misleads some readers.
    “Judas College” is a famous, but entirely fictional, Oxford college – made famous by Beerbohm’s comic masterpiece Zulieka Dobson. This “fifth branch” is presumably then not a medieval survival – it’s an apparently very entertaining piece written in the style of the Mabinogi, probably by its “editor” Mark Williams. So lots of kudos to Williams for a fun document, but let’s not rewrite our understanding of medieval Welsh prose just yet.

  10. “”Judas College” is a famous…”
    Ah, Roth’s Law in action yet again.

  11. It is, indeed, a hoax. It was made as a leaving-present for my supervisor here in Oxford. (On the occasion of my leaving, not his!).
    Hope you enjoy it. It’s designed to imitate the Four Branches on a macro- and micro-textual level.
    best wishes
    Mark

  12. A.J.P. Crown says:

    That’s really rotten that they made him leave. It’s nothing to do with Judas College, I saw through it immediately at a micro-textual level (you set your menu to Make Text Bigger).

  13. While this may be fake, remember that Malory’s Le Morte Darthur, chaps. VII-XII, contains an account of how King Arthur defeated the Romans and was crowned emperor:
    “Then he rideth into Tuscany, and winneth towns and castles, and wasted all in his way that to him will not obey, and so to Spolute and Viterbe, and from thence he rode into the Vale of Vicecount among the vines. And from thence he sent to the senators, to wit whether they would know him for their lord. But soon after on a Saturday came unto King Arthur all the senators that were left alive, and the noblest cardinals that then dwelt in Rome, and prayed him of peace, and proferred him full large, and besought him as governor to give licence for six weeks for to assemble all the Romans, and then to crown him emperor with chrism as it belongeth to so high estate. I assent, said the king, like as ye have devised, and at Christmas there to be crowned, and to hold my Round Table with my knights as me liketh. And then the senators made ready for his enthronization. And at the day appointed, as the romance telleth, he came into Rome, and was crowned emperor by the pope’s hand, with all the royalty that could be made, and sojourned there a time, and established all his lands from Rome into France, and gave lands and realms unto his servants and knights, to everych after his desert, in such wise that none complained, rich nor poor.”

  14. Richard Hershberger says:

    A hoax? Piffle! Next you’ll be telling us that Harry Flashman’s isn’t actually an eyewitness account of the First Afghan War.
    If you’ll excuse me, I am going to return to contemplating the insights into ancient Gaelic culture provided by Ossian.

  15. But … but … Are you saying that Boudicca *didn’t* sack Rome? Next you’ll be claiming Brutus wasn’t the first King of Britain.

  16. David Marjanović says:

    Awwwwww. And there I was all excited about an extracaesarian mention of Cassivellaunus.

  17. He (Cassivellaunus) does genuinely appear in Welsh legend, as Caswallawn. (He’s in the second branch, ‘Branwen’, mentioned in the third, and a body of legend did exist in which he was in a love triangle with Julius Caesar over a maiden called Fflur. Unfortunately the story doesn’t survive.)

  18. How many sides to the triangle? I seem to recall Caesar being referred to as “he of the loose belt” or summat.

  19. You mean this was all a *hoax*?! That there is no Fifth Branch?!
    Capering Celticists, Batman, I wish someone had told me that before I published it!
    Mark, you’ve got some explaining to do …
    Jane
    Editor: Horizon Review

  20. A.J.P. Crown says:

    It might as well be real Jane, it is really good — or didn’t you think so? If you’re worried, just move it into the fiction section. Isn’t this just the sort of potential publicity that new publications would pay tons of money for, if they had tons of money? Think of it as a gift from god, or someone. Your magazine looks really interesting, and I would never have heard of it if it weren’t for Mark’s piece.

  21. I had no notion when I began to read the English version (I have no Welsh) that it might be a flim-flam, but as I read on, I just found it a little *too* perfect. It cleared up too many mysteries of the Mabinogion without giving us any new ones. And I’m no student of the original, just someone who’s read and enjoyed it in several translations, plus the wonderful Evangeline Walton books. It sort of reminds me of those fake Mayan codices that Richard Feynman talks about (indeed, the famous Richard Feynman).

  22. I dont’t want to venture too far into ‘defending’ my own work – but the reference to Gwydion’s blinding in Caer Goludd was designed as precisely such an attempt to give a new mystery. There are others (Byddug, Mederei, why Arawn depends on the three animals).
    M

  23. marie-lucie says:

    … those fake Mayan codices that Richard Feynman talks about …
    Can you be more specific? I have never heard of these, where can I read about them?

  24. John Emerson says:

    I believe that I’ve spotted the perp! Activate the Batsignal!

  25. John Emerson says:

    I believe that I’ve spotted the perp! Activate the Batsignal!

  26. David Marjanović says:

    It might as well be real Jane, it is really good — or didn’t you think so?

    Se non è vero, è ben’ trovato…

  27. Lol, you really think I didn’t know!? Priceless. (Erm, I thought the “Capering Celticists” exclamation might have given away my level of seriousness, but clearly not … )
    Mark and I go back years. And I always loved that story of the Dreadnought Hoax. So when he mentioned it to me I did indeed think it a gift. And ben’ trovato too.
    I still think he ought to publish the whole thing. There are Notes too, Glossary, Place-Names, a proper Introduction (that one on the Horizon site is only a taster). Superlative!

  28. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    Duped by a dupe. Damn.

  29. I still think he ought to publish the whole thing. There are Notes too, Glossary, Place-Names, a proper Introduction (that one on the Horizon site is only a taster).
    Yes indeed!

  30. John Emerson says:

    Let’s not be too quick to accept Mark’s assurance that this is a hoax. Haven’t you people ever read any detective fiction?

  31. John Emerson says:

    Let’s not be too quick to accept Mark’s assurance that this is a hoax. Haven’t you people ever read any detective fiction?

  32. Don’t forget Graham Greene’s “Our Man in Havanna”.
    The protagonist manages to fake out the British intelligence into believing there are Russian missiles on Cuba in order to get a British visa, emigrate and get a desk job in England. The date of publication was less than a year before the real Cuban missile crisis.

  33. Reincarnation exixts! Iolo, I salute your return and your latest work.

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