The Book of Taliesin

Reference: NLW Peniarth MS 2

The Book of Taliesin (Peniarth MS 2), dating from the first half of the fourteenth century, is one of the most famous Welsh manuscripts. It does not appear to have been known by its present title until the seventeenth century. The volume contains a collection of some of the oldest poems in Welsh, many of them attributed to the poet Taliesin who was active towards the end of the sixth century and sang the praise of Urien Rheged and his son Owain ab Urien. Other poems reflect the kind of learning with which the poet became associated, deriving partly from Latin texts and partly from native Welsh tradition. It is this manuscript which preserves the texts of famous poems such as 'Armes Prydein Fawr', 'Preiddeu Annwfn' (which refers to Arthur and his warriors sailing across the sea to win a spear and a cauldron), and elegies to Cunedda and Dylan eil Ton, as well as the earliest mention in any western vernacular of the feats of Hercules and Alexander. The manuscript is incomplete, having lost a number of its original leaves, including the first.

The Book of Taliesin was copied by a single scribe, probably in Glamorgan. The same hand was responsible for four other manuscripts which are also associated with south-east Wales. By the seventeenth century, however, the Book of Taliesin had reached Radnorshire, and was in the hands of Hugh Myles of Evenjobb and later of his cousin John Lewis of Llynwene. Dr John Davies of Mallwyd made a transcript of it between 1631 and 1634 and it had reached the famous library of Robert Vaughan (c. 1592-1667) at Hengwrt, Merionethshire, by 1655 at the very latest. It remained at Hengwrt until 1859, when the manuscripts were bequeathed to W. W. E. Wynne of Peniarth. In 1904 he sold the Peniarth and former Hengwrt manuscripts, including the Book of Taliesin, to Sir John Williams who transferred them to the newly established National Library of Wales five years later.

For a detailed description and further references, see Marged Haycock, 'Llyfr Taliesin', National Library of Wales Journal, 25 (1987-8), 357-86.

Christmas 2014 and
New Year 2015

The Library will close on Tuesday 23 December, at 6pm, and re-open on Friday 2 January, at 9.30am.

A merry Christmas to everyone

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