good morning everyone. i’d like you to take out your mabinogion and find the dream of rhonabwy. my 1976 penguin by jeffrey gantz may be slightly aged, but is as good as any and it has an interesting little introduction to the dream of rhonabwy, which gives us a little bit of context.

now i chat now and then with other newts, salamanders, tadpoles and toads, and occasionally chew the fat with a stickleback, minnow or other queer fish, and i’m startled now and again to be reminded that the consensus of earthling opinion concerning the celts is that they were illiterate except that the irish used the ogham for carving names on stone, and perhaps some druids may have written some little things down in perhaps greek, but heavens, no idea where they are now…

mr gantz is a very fine scholar i’m sure, and conscientious with it, but he isn’t always scrupulous about giving references, nevertheless when he says that madawg son of maredudd is a genuine historical figure, i do believe him, because if he weren’t he would not have been mentioned in a welsh historical text, and here he is, mentioned in the dream of rhonabwy. and when he says he died in 1159, and his brother iorwerth a few years later i wouldn’t question it. but i would question two or three other small points: which madawg, which iorwerth, whose 1159, and what are you calling a ‘brother’?

you see, madawg is the same as mad-og; and mad means path and og means scholar and often juvenile scholar, and many thousands of young og scholars and old boys would have identified as madog, or madawg, or however else you’d like to spell it, over a period of praps many centuries. they didn’t give their personal names back then. it’d be like admitting in front of all the blokes that your mother called you ‘schnooksy’.

iorwerth, or various spellings thereof, means ireland, although its etymology shows it once meant ore-selling, and there was and still is enough of that in wales without going to ireland for it.

no word is more bandied about metaphorically, poetically, falsely and sometimes simplistically sincerely than the word brother. cuchullain called his adversary in any battle his brother, his equal, worthy to be honoured, a fellow warrior on the path of war; and scholars still want to believe he killed his own mother’s son in a single exceptional heart-wrenchingly poignant battle, so as not to reveal his impeccable and respectable code of honour because they still want him misrepresented as a barbaric uncivilised killer with blood-thirsty attitudes, who was subject to insane battle rages. also, monks call each other brothers. so in ancient texts all such details are under cautious, scrupulous doubt.

not least, whose dates. there have been many calendars in use over the centuries, and before the (sometimes only partial) roman catholicisation of the celts the gregorian one was unknown. take a look at all the other calendars known to have been in use throughout the world before the gregorian one began to prevail. many of them had starting points much earlier than 0 bc. did the welsh have their own calendar before the romans imposed theirs? did they wistfully wait for someone else to come and tell them what year it was? phillip? don’t know? moira? dai? yes, egbert? yes you are perfectly correct – and stand back, i’m about to lurch into capitOls – the correct answer is

NOBODY KNOWS!!!!!!!!!!

take a moment to recover from that before you read on: take a deep breath, stretch, get your bearings, that’s right. cause there’s another just like the othery coming. here it is:

how old is this text, the dream of rhonabwy, ye little blessed ones, o hermeneutical earthlings wherever you may be? arnie? jennifer? that’s right, jennifer, just as you say:


anyway, let’s get into the text, although there is one thing i’d like to just praps mention… although jeffrey has been very discreet, there is a well, rude part in it. so while you’re reading it through, which is what i’m asking you to do for your homework, if you are under thirteen and unaccompanied by a responsible adult, when you get to the words ‘after that a wind and rainstorm arose,’ shut your eyes at once. then opening them just the teeniest bit, no peeking now, just skip the next clause of that sentence and start again at ‘and then with the restlessness of their journey…’

it’s an abysmal translation, really…