Search over 450 titles and 1.2 million pages
Taliesin at the Court of Henry VIII: Aspects of the Writings ofElis Gruffydd* by Jerry Hunter, PhD The Tale of Gwion Bach and Taliesin has attracted a great deal of attention over the past two centuries. From Thomas Love Peacock and Charlotte Guest to John Rhys, John Morris Jones, Ifor Williams, and, more recently, Juliette Wood and Patrick Ford, the narrative has appealed to novelists, translators and scholars from many generations and various backgrounds.1 Much of the scholarly interest has been characterized by the Celticist's obsession with the very old and all things druidic, with John Rhys, John Morris-Jones, Ifor Williams and others being primarily concerned with the tale's relationships to the medieval Book of Taliesin and ways in which it might relate to the pre- Christian period of Celtic cultural history.2 However, the earliest version of this narrative, the Ystoria Taliesin, is found in the sixteenth-century chronicle of Elis Gruffydd, several centuries removed from the Book of Taliesin, and well over a thousand years removed from any pre-Christian druidic Celts. Ironically, while the Ystoria Taliesin has attracted more attention than any other part of Elis Gruffydd's work, it has only been used as a window on ear- lier times, beliefs and traditions, and has not been interpreted in terms of the life, times and work of Elis Gruffydd himself. While primarily concerned with the relationship between the Ystoria and other Celtic narratives about poetic inspiration, Patrick Ford has also drawn attention to the importance of studying the tale in the context of Elis Gruffydd's own work: 'Elis has a fine eye for detail, and he is a gifted story- teller with a keen dramatic sense, whose narrative art compares very favourably with the best medieval and Renaissance Welsh prose.'3 My inten- tion is to follow this lead and offer a better understanding of the Ystoria Taliesin by focusing, perhaps more sharply than others have done in the past, Based on a lecture given to the Honourable Society at the British Academy, 19 September 2002, with the Chairman of the Council in the chair. I am grateful to Diana Luft and Patrick Ford for help provided while writing this paper. 1 For a good survey of these scholarly views, see the introduction to Patrick K. Ford's edition, Ystoria Taliesin (Cardiff, 1992), 2-10. 2 For example, the way in which Ifor Williams described the oldest version of the tale: 'Ynddi, nid oedd wahaniaeth rhwng Taliesin a'r hen dduwiau ('In it there was no difference between Taliesin and the old gods Ifor Williams, Chwedl Taliesin (Cardiff, 196), 24. 3 Ford, Ystoria Taliesin, 64.