We may be a forgotten patch of land on the left hand side of Britain, but there’s more to Wales than meets the eye. This week I’d like to tell you a little story of an old language, whispered once all over the Brittish isles and some of Europe.
Welsh is the eldest of the European languages dating back around 4,000 years. It evolved from the original language talked by the Britons and was first documented around the year 500. These languages were spoken by clans of celti,the term Celti had various meanings when used by contemporary Greek and Roman writers, though it tended to be applied to the barbarians of Western Europe. These had begun a series of major migrations towards the end of the 5th century BC, bringing them into conflict with neighbouring societies to the south and east. They raided and settled across Europe, reaching into Asia Minor and Spain as well as Italy, where they initially defeated Roman armies and sacked Rome itself. The Celti language was fragmented into the Brythonic languages (Breton, Cornish, Eiren and Cumbric) in the early middle ages.
Welsh writing developed further with the writing of the Mabinogi, the folklore which had been spoken for centuries recorded and bound in the chronicles or the pedair cainc. A tale of four branches in the four corners of the country.
These stories, which are suffused with pre-Christian myth and legend, are divided into the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, and are found in either or both of Llyfr Gwyn Rhydderch (The White Book of Rhydderch) and Llyfr Coch Hergest (The Red Book of Hergest), which are thought to have been written between the middle of the 14th and the beginning of the 15th century.
So a rich and varied tapestry thus far, part two to follow!