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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Aneirin (fl. Sixth Century)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
AMONG the triad of singers—Llywarch, prince and bard, Aneirin, warrior and bard, and Taliessin, bard only—who were among the followers of the heroic British chief Urien, when he bravely but unsuccessfully resisted the invasion of the victorious Angles and Saxons, Aneirin was famous both as poet and warrior. He sang of the long struggle that eventually was to turn Briton into England, and celebrated in his ‘Gododin’ ninety of the fallen Cymric chiefs. The notes of his life are scanty, and are drawn chiefly from his allusion to himself in his poem. He was the son of Cwm Cawlwyd, a chief of the tribe of Gododin. He seems to have been educated at St. Cadoc’s College at Llancarvan, and afterwards entered the bardic order. As appears from the ‘Gododin,’ he was present at the battle of Cattræth both as bard and as priest. He fled, but was taken prisoner. In his poem he refers to the hardships he endured in his captivity. After his release he returned to Llancarvan, Wales, and in his old age he went north to live with his brother in Galloway. Here he was murdered; his death is referred to as one of the “three accursed hatchet-strokes of the isle of Britain.” His friendship with Taliessin is commemorated by both bards.  1
  The ‘Gododin’ is at once the longest and the most important composition in early Welsh literature. It has been variously interpreted, but is thought to celebrate the battle of Cattræth. This battle was fought in 570 between the Britons, who had formed a league to defend their country, and their Teutonic invaders. It “began on a Tuesday, lasted for a week, and ended with great slaughter of the Britons, who fought desperately till they perished on the field.” Three hundred and sixty chieftains were slain; only three escaped by flight, among whom was Aneirin, who afterwards commemorated the slaughter in the ‘Gododin,’ a lament for the dead. Ninety-seven of the stanzas remain. In various measures of alliterative and assonant verse they sing the praises of ninety of the fallen chiefs, usually giving one stanza to each hero. One of these stanzas is known to readers of Gray, who translated it under the name of ‘The Death of Hoel.’  2
  Again the ‘Gododin’ is assumed to be, like many early epic poems whose origin is wrapped in mystery, not the commemoration of one single, particular event, but a collection of lays composed at various times, which compresses into one battle the long and disastrous period of the Anglo-Saxon invasion, ending in the subjugation of the Britons.  3
  But whatever its history, the ‘Gododin’ is one of the finest monuments of Cymric literature. “In the brevity of the narrative, the careless boldness of the actors as they present themselves, the condensed energy of the action, and the fierce exultation of the slaughter, together with the recurring elegiac note, this poem (or poems if it be the work of two authors) has some of the highest epic qualities. The ideas and manners are in harmony with the age and the country to which it is referred.”  4
  Like all early songs, the poem was handed down through centuries by oral tradition. It is now preserved in the ‘Book of Aneirin,’ a small quarto manuscript of nineteen leaves of vellum, of the end of the thirteenth century.  5
  The ‘Gododin’ has been published with an English translation and notes by the Rev. J. Williams (1852); and by the Cymmrodorion Society, with a translation by Thomas Stevens, in 1885. Interesting information covering it may be found in Skene’s ‘Four Ancient Books of Wales’ (1866), and in the article ‘Celtic Literature’ in this work.  6
 
 
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