Planet 228

Will Parker reviews
The Mabinogi
by Matthew Francis and
Dark Land, Dark Skies - The Mabinogion in the Night Sky
by Martin Griffiths

The Mabinogi

Faber & Faber, £14.99

Traduttore, traditore as the Italians warn – the translator is a traitor. Can the essence of such a nuanced literary work as the Four Branches ever hope to survive transplantation into a foreign medium? Medievalists and Welsh speakers alike feel a natural protective anxiety at the idea of this textual inheritance being adapted or reworked, but – as the plays of Saunders Lewis and the novels of Alan Garner have shown – these works are robust enough to withstand a variety of appropriations and reinterpretations. We specialists should remember the injunction of the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, who made the case for the jettisoning of the scholarly obsession with origins in favour of a more flexible sense of evolving tradition. According to this view, modern retellings as well as medieval transcriptions have their place within the textual family tree. Naturally enough, differences of detail, emphasis or even meaning will emerge through this process of transmission: but rather than regarding such developments as uncanonical corruptions, should we not instead regard them as evidence of the vitality of the underlying structure?

Sign in to read more
Subscribe here