Taliesin is an important figure of the Celtic Mythologie and Welsh literature, it is at the same time a historical poet of the 6th century and a bards mythical Welsh literature. It is not always easy to differentiate them the more so as the last is sometimes compared to Myrddin. Its name is also associated with the Livre of Taliesin , a collection of handwritten poems of the 10th century but whose composition would be contemporary historical bard. The legend makes of it the “Chief of the Bards of Brittany”.
The historical poetTaliesin would have been born towards 534 and would have died towards 599, it would be the son of saint Henwg de Llanhennock. It belongs to the Cynfeirdd, i.e. the first bards, some put forward the idea according to which its work would have been made up in Cambrien. According to the Historia Brittonum allotted to Nennius, it is a contemporary of Aneirin and one of the largest poets of Brittany.
A dozen poems of the Livre of Taliesin are authenticated and are allotted to him, they are praises of the various kings to the service of which it was attached. Towards 555 it is the bard of the king of the Powys Brochfael, then of its successor, Kynan Garwyn and finally of the king of Rheged (current Cumberland) Urien and of its son Owain mab Urien. The poet Alfred Tennyson (1809 - 1892), in his collection Idylls off the King , incorporates it in the Légende arthurienne and makes of it a bard of mythical the King Arthur.
The mythical bard
The tale of TaliesinAt the 16th century, Elect Gruffydd, a Welsh soldier in garrison with Calais (then English city) composes Hanes Taliesin : the tale of Taliesin . This text which tells the mythical birth of the bard and exposes its magic capacities to summer translated into English at the 19th century by lady Charlotte Guest and published with the Mabinogion.
History of Gwion BachTegid Voel (the “bald person”) lives in Wales under the reign of Arthur, his wife is called Ceridwenn, it is expert in magic, divination and sorcery. They have a hideous son and with the odious behavior, named Morvran but that one calls Avangddu (i.e. the Black Monster, because of the color of its skin) - they have also a Creirfyw girl, most beautiful of this time. The son is rejected by all and so that it is accepted, his/her mother decides to give him the gift of the prophetic inspiration. With this intention, it needs plants collected at exact moments, then to put them in a filled up water cauldron and to make boil the mixture during one year and a day. After this deadlines, one obtains three drops which make erudite and soothsayer that or that on which they fall. The remainder of the bubble is a powerful poison. An old blind man, of which we are unaware of the name, is charged to monitor the cauldron, it has a guide named Gwion Bach which deals with fire under the cauldron, Ceridwenn maintains the level of water. The monstrous son is placed close it cauldron, to receive the three drops when the moment comes. Whereas the mother fell asleep, the drops jump and fall on Gwion Bach which nimbly replaces Morvran. The cauldron explodes under the effect of the poison, Ceridwenn awakes and Gwion Bach guesses instantaneously that it will decide to kill it. He flees by taking the appearance of a hare. It is the episode various metamorphoses: a blue salmon, a dog, a stag, a roe-deer, a terminal, a cord, an axe, etc In the continuation, Ceridwenn change as much time. In a barn, it is transformed into grain of corn, Ceridwenn takes the appearance of a black hen, it swallows the grain of corn and some time later, gives rise to Gwion Bach. Not being able to be solved to kill it, it installs the child in a Coracle and gives up it on the sea.
History of TaliesinThe rider Gwyddno Garanhir holds fisheries in Caer Ddegannwy, in the estuary of the Coonwy. Each November 1st brings a great quantity of salmons to him. It has a son Elffin who is servant at the court of king Maelgwn. The Elffin November 1st, helped of his/her friends, will collect usual fishing, but the bow net is empty except for a coracle. It slices the cords of leather and a white face ( tal-iesin ) appears. It is the infant Gwion Bach who has wandered on the sea for forty years. Elffin puts the bag on a horse to take it along at his place and Taliesin starts a song which must comfort the unfortunate sinner: its lucky find has much more value than salmons. By this day, the fortune of Elffin increases considerably, just as its reputation at the court of the king. As, he praises himself to have a bard more erudite as all the bards of the king and than its wife is most estimable of the kingdom; what is worth to him to be imprisoned. The king dispatches his Rhun son with the castle of Elffin so that it allures the wife of the impudent one. Taliesin which knows the future, replaces the woman by one of her maidservants that Rhun deadens with a philter, it is made main from there and a finger, carrying a ring crosses to him. The king makes come Elffin and presents to him the finger, Elffin shows to him by three arguments that this finger is not that of his wife, furious the king returns it in prison. Taliesin explains to the woman of Elffin how it will release its Master. The bard arrives at the court of the king, in the big room, it settles with the variation. The bards of the court, pass in front of Taliesin which throws a fate to them, arrived in front of the king to pay homage to him, they can say only “blub, blub”. Tancé, Heinin their chief, explains to the king that they are victims of a magic spell and it designates the person in charge who is summoned to be explained. Taliesin speaks and is presented by reciting a poem, affirming its biblical origins and its exploits during the Antiquité. Then it connects another song in which it predicts the release of Elffin and another which starts a formidable storm; the king makes release Elffin. Taliesin requires of Elffin to make a bet with the king, it affirms to have a horse faster than all those of the king. A date of contest is stopped, the king arrives with 24 horses but it is that of Elffin which gains the race. Taliesin then makes dig a hole and one discovers a cauldron full of gold, it is the reward of the rescue of the child of the coracle.
CommentWorked out in a Christian context, written whereas the tradition was orally transmitted during centuries, the legend of Taliesin describes us the prototype of the Welsh poet, who is an evolution of the Celtic Druide . Among Celts, the divination as medicine is a branch of the magic, exerted by the sacerdotal class. It is by the trick that Gwion Bach monopolizes the prophetic gift but it must flee and show its capacities to be changed; these metamorphoses are current in Celtic mythology and one thinks particularly of the history of Finn Mac Cumaill.
Another important component of Celtic mythology, the cauldron which is in particular one of the talismans of the god-druid the Dagda Irish. It is the symbol of prosperity, the richness and also the ustensil of reference for the preparation of the magic.
In the Celtic Société of the Antiquité, the druid and the king form a kind of binomial, if the second reign on its people, it can do it only with the councils and under the spiritual direction of the first. It is what illustrate, in a very faded way, the relationship between Taliesin and Elffin.
- Four branches of Mabinogi and other tales Welsh , tale History of Taliesin , translated, presented and annotated by Pierre-Yves Lambert, Gallimard, coll “the paddle of the people”, Paris, 1993,
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