Friday, September 21, 2007

Reference Book of the Week

This week's pick: Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Triads of the Island of Britain, edited by Rachel Bromwich. This is the long-awaited 3rd and final edition, published by the University of Wales Press in February 2006. At 768 pages and $145, this is neither light nor inexpensive reading, but for those interested in Welsh history and literature - and especially the bardic arts of poetry and storytelling - it is a treasure-trove, not only for the material in the triads themselves but for the extensive footnotes and commentary that goes with them.

The contents: Introduction (Manuscripts and Versions; Origin and Development of Trioedd Ynys Prydein) (99 pages); the Appendices (16 pages); Trioedd Ynys Prydein (Text and four appendices (The Names of the Island of Britain; The Descent of the Men of the North; The Thirteen Treasures of the Island of Britain; The Twenty-Four Knights of Arthur's Court) (270 pages); Notes to Personal Names (46 pages); Abbreviations, Select Bibliography, and Index.

Triads were groupings of three similar things to serve as a memory aid, and the Welsh triads may have originally been a sort of file-card index for the bards and storytellers in the days of primarily oral transmission of their material. A couple of examples:

"2. Three Generous (Noble/Victorious) Men of the Island of Britain: Nudd the Generous, son of Senyllt; Mordaf the Generous, son of Serwan; Rhydderch the Generous, son of Tudwal Tudglyd. (And Arthur himself was more generous than the three.)"

"21. Three Diademed Battle-leaders of the Island of Britain: Drystan son of Tallwch, and Hueil son of Caw, and Cai son of Cynyr of the Fine Beard. And one was diademed above the three of them: that was Bedwyr son of Bedrawc."

Trioedd Ynys Prydein is a book for browsing, not for reading straight through. For those interested in Welsh sources, it will provide many happy hours. Highly recommended.

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