Jul 22 2009

The Mabinogion was a Breeze for a woman named Gwenllian

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The Mabinogion – regarded as the most important text in Welsh literature – has helped spawn everything from King Arthur to Lord of the Rings.

And the medieval masterpiece, which was first translated by Lady Charlotte Guest, is widely thought to have been written by a man, perhaps a monk.

But now academic Andrew Breeze has published a controversial new book arguing the most important parts of the tome were written by a woman reports Wales Online.

He names her as the very well-connected Gwenllian. Born in 1097, she was the daughter of Gruffudd ap Cynan, king of Gwynedd and wife of Gruffudd ap Rhys, prince of Dyfed.

Oxbridge educated Dr Breeze, English lecturer at the University of Navarre, in Pamplona, believes the style of writing in The Mabinogion’s first four stories indicates they were the work of a female and that Gwenllian was perfectly positioned in history to be the scribe.

She could also have had the kind of geographical knowledge shown in The Four Branches.

The author of The Origins of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi said:

What we can say about these stories is that they are very good at describing children, babies, breast feeding, motherhood, and even though warfare occurs the writer is not interested in swords and daggers and axes.

Then we get these small characters like Rhiannon and Branwen and in some cases they get the better of their men.

Dr Breeze insisted he was “quite certain” the Four Branches were the work of a woman.

He said:

In the first story there is an incident where the character Pwll meets Arawn, king of the other world. He goes to the other world and changes shape (into Arawn). He sleeps with Arawn’s wife for a year and a day.

During this time there is no sexual contact between the characters. A male writer would have been unlikely to display such sensitivity, Dr Breeze argued.

But Dr Breeze’s theories have ruffled feathers in academia.

Iestyn Daniel, of the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies, said: “I don’t think he is correct in deducing it is the work of a woman.

Personally I think it is by a Dominican [monk]. If the author were a Dominican he might well have been experienced in treating women’s spiritual needs and that might have been reflected in The Mabinogi.

He added:

What he has written is valuable in that it draws attention to the feminine element but I don’t think it follows that the author was therefore a woman.

Dr Sioned Davies, the head of the school of Welsh at Cardiff University, was more forthright in her criticism.

She said:

I know Andrew Breeze well and he is a good academic. But he has a bee in his bonnet about the conceit that a woman wrote it.

Nothing would give me more pleasure than discovering this, but scholars have shown quite clearly that his arguments are unfounded. We cannot even date the Four Branches of the Mabinogi so he has a rather circular argument.

And the level (of argument) is not what I would expect of a someone of his calibre.

Dr Maredudd ap Huw, manuscripts librarian at the National Library of Wales, declined to express a view on Dr Breeze’s opinions.

He said:

All I can tell is that the academic community does not warm to his theories.

But Dr Breeze dismissed his critics as “flatearthers”.

People are unwilling to change their minds. In a tiny way I feel like Galileo.

he said.

Read the original article at Wales Online.

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “The Mabinogion was a Breeze for a woman named Gwenllian”

  1. Susan Ducketton 27 Dec 2009 at 3:29 am

    Enjoyed the site. Will come back to it when I have time to delve into it more deeply (currently in grad school-immersed in health informatics!). Have bookmarked it!

  2. Garyon 27 Dec 2009 at 1:13 pm

    Thank you :) I’m glad you like the look of the site and I hope you enjoy it when you have time!

    All the best,


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