The Mabinogion (Welsh pronunciation: [mabɪˈnɔɡjɔn]) is the title given to a collection of eleven prose stories collated from medieval Welsh manuscripts. The tales draw on pre-Christian Celtic mythology, international folktale motifs, and early medieval historical traditions. While some details may hark back to older Iron Age traditions, each of these tales is the product of a highly developed medieval Welsh narrative tradition, both oral and written. Lady Charlotte Guest in the mid 19th century was the first to publish English translations of the collection, popularising the name "Mabinogion" at the same time.
The name first appears in 1795 in William Owen Pughe's Cambrian Register: "The Mabinogion, or Juvenile Amusements, being Ancient Welsh Romances." It was then adopted as the title by the first English translator of the complete tales, Lady Charlotte Guest. The form mabynnogyon does indeed occur at the end of the first of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, but it is now generally agreed that this is a scribal error that was assumed to be the plural of the Welsh word mabinogi, which occurs correctly at the end of the remaining three branches. The word mabinogi itself is something of a puzzle, although it is ultimately related to the Welsh mab, which means "son, boy". Professor Eric P. Hamp, however, suggests that mabinogi derives from the name of the Celtic deity Maponos ("the Divine Son"), and originally referred to materials pertaining to that god. Strictly speaking, "Mabinogi" applies only to the Four Branches (see below), which are speculated to have derived from older tradition. Each of these four tales ends with a colophon meaning "thus ends this branch of the Mabinogi" (in various spellings), hence the name.
Date of stories
The question of the dates of the tales in the Mabinogion is important, because if they can be shown to have been written before Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae and the romances of Chrétien de Troyes then some of the tales, especially those dealing with Arthur, would provide important evidence for the development of Arthurian legend. Regardless, their importance as records of early myth, legend, folklore, culture, and language of Wales is immense.
The stories of the Mabinogion appear in either or both of two medieval Welsh manuscripts, the White Book of Rhydderch or Llyfr Gwyn Rhydderch, written circa 1350, and the Red Book of Hergest or Llyfr Coch Hergest, written about 1382–1410, though texts or fragments of some of the tales have been preserved in earlier 13th century and later manuscripts. Scholars agree that the tales are older than the existing manuscripts, but disagree over just how much older. It is clear that the different texts included in the Mabinogion originated at different times. Debate has focused on the dating of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi. Sir Ifor Williams offered a date prior to 1100, based on linguistic and historical arguments, while later Saunders Lewis set forth a number of arguments for a date between 1170 and 1190; Thomas Charles-Edwards, in a paper published in 1970, discussed the strengths and weaknesses of both viewpoints, and while critical of the arguments of both scholars, noted that the language of the stories best fits the 11th century, although much more work is needed. More recently, Patrick Sims-Williams argued for a plausible range of about 1060 to 1200, which seems to be the current scholarly consensus.
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