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The Welsh Triads (Welsh Trioedd Ynys Prydein, literally "Triads of the Island of Britain") are a group of related texts in medieval manuscripts which preserve fragments of Welsh folklore, mythology and traditional history in groups of three. The triad is a rhetorical form whereby objects are grouped together in threes, with a heading indicating the point of likeness. For example, "Three things not easily restrained, the flow of a torrent, the flight of an arrow, and the tongue of a fool".
The texts include references to King Arthur and other semi-historical characters from Sub-Roman Britain, mythic figures such as Bran the Blessed, undeniably historical personages such as Alan IV, Duke of Brittany (who is called Alan Fyrgan) and even Iron Age characters like Caswallawn (Cassivellaunus) and Caradoc (Caratacus).
Some triads simply give a list of three characters with something in common (such as "the three frivolous bards of the island of Britain") while others include substantial narrative explanation. The triad form probably originated amongst the Welsh bards or poets as a mnemonic aid in composing their poems and stories, and later became a rhetorical device of Welsh literature. The Medieval Welsh tale Culhwch and Olwen has many triads embedded in its narrative.
Earliest surviving collection
The earliest surviving collection of the Welsh Triads is bound in the manuscript Peniarth 16, now at the National Library of Wales, which has been dated to the third quarter of the 13th century and contains 46 of the 86 triads edited by Rachel Bromwich. Other important manuscripts include Peniarth 45 (written about 1275), and the pair White Book of Rhydderch (Welsh: Llyfr Gwyn Rhydderch) and Red Book of Hergest (Welsh: Llyfr Coch Hergest), which share a common version clearly different from the version behind the collections in the Peniarth manuscripts.
The 18th century Welsh antiquarian Iolo Morganwg compiled a collection of triads, which he claimed to have taken from his own collection of manuscripts. Some of his triads are similar to those found in the medieval manuscripts, but some are unique to Morganwg, and are widely believed to have been of his own invention.
- Lloyd, John Edward (1911), "Note to the Historical Triads", A History of Wales from the Earliest Times to the Edwardian Conquest I (Second ed.), London: Longmans, Green, and Co. (published 1912), p. 122
- Alan Lupack, "The Oxford guide to Arthurian literature and legend",Oxford University Press, 2007, ISBN 0-19-921509-X, p.21
- Rachel Bromwich, editor and translator. Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Welsh Triads. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, Second Edition 1978. ISBN 0-7083-0690-X
- Rachel Bromwich, editor and translator. Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Welsh Triads. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, Third Edition, 2006. ISBN 0-7083-1386-8
- W. Probert (trans) (1977), Iolo Morganwg, The Triads of Britain
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- Triads from the Red Book of Hergest
- Triads from MS Peniarth 54
- Triads of Northern Britain
- Triads of the Knights of King Arthur's Court
- Bardic Triads from MS Peniarth 20
- Triads of Ynys Prydein