Ynis Afallach Tuath


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Ynis Afallach Tuath



The Triads of the Island of  the Mighty (of Britain):
what they are and where they come from
1st part

(© Argante – Arc’Hant Afallon Alarch)

This long collection of Triads is composed of 97 elements, stemming from different sources.
They are mainly based on the manuscript MS PENIARTH 16 and on a fragment of the 4 TRIOEDD Y MEIRCH preserved in the Black Book of Carmarthen.
Rachel Bromwich refers to this first part as the ‘Early Version’ of the Triads, the earliest one. The ms. PEN 16 actually ends with Triad 46, that is, it only contains less than half of the examined triads  (97).

The others have been taken from:

- 47/69 from the White Book of Rhydderch  (1350 . LLYFR GWYN RHYDDERCH) but, where the text should be incomplete, it has been taken into consideration the list in the Red Book of Hergest (1400. LLYFR COCH HERGEST).

- 70/80 from ms PENIARTH 47

- 81/86 from ms PENIATH 50

-87/97 are triads found in different collections  of manuscripts.

I could write a very long compilation of texts out of which all the triads have been drawn, but it would only result in a notion-oriented directory , while the intent of this article is to put order in the chaotic world of the well-known Bardic Triads.

The order of the Triads is, as far as possible, that of the ms. PEN 16 as it is considered the earliest and  most complete compilation. It is a manuscript composed of several fragments dated between the 13th  and the 15th century. Contemporary to this volume, or barely later, is also the Ms PENIARTH 45, which contains more or less the same texts and the Triads known as TRIOEDD ARTHUR AI WYR.

The definition TRIOEDD YNIS PRYDEIN never appears in full in the ms PEN 16, as this collection unfortunately starts only from the half of the first triad, anyway we find the acronym TYP from which descends the official definition of TRIOEDD YNIS PRYDEIN. For our convenience, we will use the acronym TYP, too. Even though the ms PEN 16 remains the reference text, the ms PEN 45 contains much earlier phrases and vocabulary than the ms PEN 16. The comparison between the two mss is of  capital importance and necessary to draw up and accurate and exhaustive compilation of the triads themselves.

The study of the vocabulary employed, of the composition of  every single word forms the base of  the dating of every single triad. The dating itself obviously goes back centuries before the various manuscripts were ever written. We must not forget that the concepts expressed in the triads were orally transmitted among the Celtic people and these people never employed writing to transmit their knowledge.

In addition, the Welsh tradition, to which the Triads under examination belong to, has reached us in extremely impoverished conditions in comparison to, for instance, the Irish one.

The welsh mythological corpus that we know is just a tiny fragment of what it used to be in origin. We can get a vague idea by comparing it with the Irish one.

The splendid study by Rachel Bromwich aims to demonstrate how the TYP are a sort of  index of the Welsh mythological corpus. An index which was mainly of use to those whose task was to transmit knowledge orally.

The Triads were of use in several fields: medicine, law,  spiritual life, poetry….they were employed to remember, to learn more easily a vast amount of data and information. This series anyway is only exclusively concerned with the ancient Welsh narrative tradition.


2nd part

From the previous article: the brilliant study by Rachel Bromwich aims to demonstrate how the TYP are a sort of directory of  the Welsh mythological corpus. A directory mainly useful to those whose task was to transmit knowledge orally.

Such a theory is backed up by the fact that , for example, the bards were supposed to enunciate the triads in a catalogue-style in front of their lord or their audience.

The most skilled poets, with the highest degree (filid) used to know, according to the Book of Leinster:

- 250 primary stories

- and about 100 fo-scela (anecdotes)

In analyzing the triads, it is evident that the stories they are based upon revolve around:

- figures of the ancient Welsh mythological tradition;

- what can be described as the medieval version of the history of those lands in the pre-Saxon and the Saxon era;

- characters and events from the 6th and 7th century AD ancient heroic epic, which belongs both to Wales and North Britannia.

Unfortunately it is to be noted how the earliest section of the Triads refers to mythological versions that never reached us. We are also not aware of what the Bards were exactly supposed to know, even though it is safe enough to affirm that in origin they necessarily had a certain familiarity with the traditional mythological corpus of those nations.

While all of this is certain as regards the Irish Filid, unfortunately it is not possible to maintain the same in regard to the Welsh Bards.

The only anecdote we can refer to in order to make the point on the situation is found in the Mabinogion, and precisely in the passage that tells how Gwydion came to the court of Pryderi at the head of a company of story-tellers and entertained the court telling stories and adventures.

The narrator here refers to Gwydion as to the best story-teller in the world, using the term cyfarwyddyd. In spite of this we cannot know for certain if the cyfarwyddyd in Wales belonged to the Bardic Order, also because in Ireland the story-tellers (cyfarwyddyd) were a separate category from the Bards (Filid) themselves.

As regards Wales, this is inferred from the final words of the BREUDWYT RONADWY, where we read that this story had to be told without the help of a book both by Bards and by cyfarwyddyd, emphasizing the fact that there had to be some difference between the two categories of narrators.

The doubt lingers on, and our study continues….


Traduzione a cura di Abigail_derwen


© Ynis Afallach Tuath, 2008/2009
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