Black Book of Carmarthen
The Black Book of Carmarthen (Welsh: Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin) is thought to be the earliest surviving manuscript written solely in Welsh. Written before 1250, it is the work of a single scribe writing at different periods of his life. The book's name comes from its association with the Priory of St. John the Evangelist and Teulyddog at Carmarthen, and is referred to as black due to the colour of its binding. It is currently part of the collection of the National Library of Wales, where it is catalogued as NLW Peniarth MS 1.
This was one of the collection of manuscripts amassed at the mansion of Hengwrt, near Dolgellau, Gwynedd, by Welsh antiquary Robert Vaughan (c. 1592 – 1667); the collection later passed to the newly established National Library of Wales as the Peniarth or Hengwrt-Peniarth Manuscripts.
The book contains a collection of 9th - 12th century poetry falling into various categories: religious and secular subjects and odes of praise and mourning. Of greater interest are the poems which draw on traditions relating to the Welsh heroes associated with the Hen Ogledd (Cumbria and surrounding area), and especially those connected with the legend of Arthur and Myrddin, also known as Merlin, thus predating the descriptions of Merlin by Geoffrey of Monmouth. One of the poems, The Elegy of Gereint son of Erbin, refers to the "Battle of Llongborth", the location of which can no longer be pinpointed, and mentions Arthur's involvement in the battle.
The poems 'Yr Afallennau' and 'Yr Oianau' describe the mad Merlin in a forest talking to an apple tree and a pig, prophesying the success or failure of the Welsh army in battles with the Normans in South Wales.
It is believed that the manuscript is first recorded when it came to the possession of Sir John Price of Brecon (1502?-1555), whose work was to search the monasteries dissolved by Henry VIII. It was given to him by the treasurer of St Davids Cathedral, having come from Carmarthen Priory.
Some of the poems contained include:
- Ymddiddan Myrddin a Thaliesin (A Coversation Between Myrlin and Taliesin)
- Dialogue between the Body and the Soul
- Elegy to Madog ap Maredudd (d. 1160)
- The Elegy of Gereint son of Erbin
- Englynion y Beddau
There has been a recent call[when?] from the editor of the Carmarthen Journal newspaper to house the Black Book in its native Carmarthen, so that it might be seen by locals and tourists coming into the town.
Sources and references
- Daniel Huws of the National Library of Wales (Llyfrau Cymraeg 1250-1400, Aberystwyth 1993).
- "The Black Book of Carmarthen". National Library of Wales. Retrieved 29 May 2014.
- Jarman, A. O. H. (Ed.) (1982), Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin. Caerdydd : Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru. ISBN 0-7083-0629-2. A diplomatic edition of the original text.
- Pennar, Meirion. (1989), The Black Book of Carmarthen. Llanerch Enterprises. ISBN 0947992316. An introduction with translations of some of the poems, accompanied by corresponding reproductions of the J Evans diplomatic text.
- The Black Book of Carmarthen at the National Library of Wales. Gives access to colour images of Peniarth MS 1.
- The Black Book of Carmarthen at the Celtic Literature Collective. Uses Skene's incomplete and inaccurate translation from 1848.
- Evans, John Gwenogvryn. Ed. Black Book of Carmarthen. (Pwllheli: 1906). The diplomatic edition of the complete MS.