Mabinogion (măbĭnōˈgēən) [key], title given to a collection of medieval Welsh stories. Scholars differ as to the meaning of the word mabinogion: some think it to be the plural of the Welsh word mabinogi, which means "youthful career"; others think it derives from the Welsh word mabinog, meaning "aspirant to bardic honor." The stories in the Mabinogion are found in two manuscripts, the White Book of Rhydderch (c.1300–1325) and the Red Book of Hergest (c.1375–1425). The first four tales, which are called collectively The Four Branches of the Mabinogi, are divided into Pwyll, Branwen, Manawydan, and Math; their connecting link, now obscured by many accretions, is the story of Prince Gwri or, as he is later called, Pryderi. In the first tale he is born and fostered, inherits the kingdom and marries; in the second he is barely mentioned; in the third he is imprisoned by enchantment and released; and in the fourth he falls in battle. Another tale, the story of Kilhwch and Olwen, which was composed before 1100, is an early example of an Arthurian tale. The Dream of Rhonabwy, which was written before 1175, also contains Welsh traditions about King Arthur. A story apparently based on the legend of Emperor Maximus is The Dream of Maxim Wledig. Llud and Llevelys is a short folktale full of fairy tale elements. The last group in the Mabinogion consists of three Arthurian romances, Geraint, The Lady of the Fountain, and Peredur. It seems probable that the first two shared with the works of Chrétien de Troyes common sources written in French, and that the last drew on the vast body of Grail tradition. The Four Branches, Kilhwch, and the romances are invaluable in the study of the Arthurian legend. Using just the Red Book of Hergest as her source, Lady Charlotte Guest (1812–95) published the first English translation of the Mabinogion between 1838 and 1849; she also gave the volume its title. Later the White Book of Rhydderch was discovered, containing older, finer versions of the tales in Guest's work. In 1929, T. P. Ellis and J. Lloyd published a translation based on a composite of the tales in both the Red and White books. A later composite translation is The Mabinogion (1949) of Gwyn Jones and Thomas Jones.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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