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Taliesin

Taliesin

Taliesin was a Welsh poet of the a.d. 500s who inspired a well-known legend of Celtic* mythology. It happened that a witch named Caridwen had a very ugly son. To make up for his looks, she decided to prepare a magic potion that would give him all the world's knowledge. However, the pot containing the potion had to boil for a year, so she asked Taliesinthen a poor farm boy named Gwionto watch the pot for her.

One day the pot bubbled over, and a drop of the liquid splashed on Gwion's finger. When he licked his finger, he received one-third of the world's knowledge and the ability to change his form. He also realized that Caridwen was going to kill him when the potion was ready, so he ran away He assumed the shape of many animals but could not get away from Caridwen. Finally, he turned himself into a grain of wheat, and Caridwenin the form of a henate him.

prophet one who claims to have received divine messages or insights

Nine months later, Caridwen gave birth to Gwion. She sewed him into a leather bag and tossed it into a river. A Welsh prince found the bag, and when he opened it he saw the boy's shining face. He named the child Taliesin (meaning shining brow) and raised him in the royal court, where he became one of the greatest Celtic prophets and poets.

See also Witches and Wizards.

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Taliesin

Taliesin (6th cent.). Bard. Taliesin and Aneurin were two of the five great bards referred to by Nennius in his Historia Brittonum (c.796). Taliesin's surviving work records the deeds of Urien, king of the Britons, in Rheged and his struggle against the Anglo-Saxons, just as Aneurin does for Gododdin: ‘And when I'm grown old, with death hard upon me, I'll not be happy save to praise Urien.’ But establishing the corpus of Taliesin's work has proved difficult and only a few poems in the Book of Taliesin are accepted by most scholars. He may have come from Powys and settled in Rheged as a resident bard, but his very existence has been strenuously denied by some.

J. A. Cannon

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Taliesin

Taliesin or Taliessin (both: tălēĕs´Ĭn), 6th cent.?, Welsh bard, whose Book of Taliesin is one of the great Welsh poetic works. The book exists only in a 13th-century form, but tradition places Taliesin in the 6th cent., as a contemporary of the battles his poems celebrate. One theory about Taliesin is that he was an ancient Celtic mythical character, about whose name have collected a series of traditional poems.

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Taliesin

Taliesin a British bard of the 6th century, perhaps a mythic personage, first mentioned in the Saxon Genealogies appended to the Historia Britonum (c.690).

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Taliesin

TALIESIN

TALIESIN . The ninth-century Historia Brittonum, usually attributed to "Nennius," names Taliesin as one of a famed group of Welsh poets of the latter half of the sixth century. The thirteenth-century Book of Taliesin contains a body of poetry of diverse origins and different dates that the scribe presumably associated with Taliesin, but modern research has isolated some twelve poems that are regarded as his authentic work. These are heroic court poems sung to royal patrons and to Urien, Owain, and Gwallawg, kings of the sixth-century northern British kingdoms of Rheged and Elmet.

The early medieval Welsh poet was a complex persona, and Taliesin acquired the status of a vaticinatory poet (perhaps conflated with the figure of Myrddin/Merlin) and purveyor of esoteric and learned lore, both bardic and Christian. Many of the poems in the Book of Taliesin reflect this role, which is given a specific context in the Story of Taliesin (Hanes Taliesin). Although found in manuscript copies of the sixteenth century and later, this composite tale is certainly earlier. The first part relates how the witch Ceridwen concentrated her learning in three drops of a brew which she prepared for her son. At the crucial moment of fulfillment they fell onto the hand of a serving lad, Gwion Bach, who sucked his scalded finger and acquired the knowledge and bardic power intended for the son. In the ensuing pursuit Gwion and Ceridwen undergo several metamorphoses until the lad is swallowed as a seed of corn by Ceridwen in the guise of a hen to be reborn nine months later. He is taken up by Elffin, named Taliesin, and soon reveals his precocity as poet and sage. The rest of the tale recounts his feats of learning at the court of the sixth-century king Maelgwn Gwynedd.

Poems of the Story of Taliesin are spoken by Taliesin, but those in the Book of Taliesin, though lacking this specific context, nevertheless refer to similar circumstances and are to be dated to the tenth century. One such poem alludes to Taliesin's creation by the wizards Math and Gwydion, characters found in the Four Branches of the Mabinogi; another relates his transforming of trees into warriors in the Battle of Goddau. The poem titled The Spoils of Annwn refers to the poet's return as one of the survivors of Arthur's disastrous attack on the otherworld, an episode underlying the Second Branch, which names Taliesin and a survivor. This early stratum of Taliesin's legend links him not with historical characters of the sixth century but with purely mythological figures and episodes. In later bardic tradition, Taliesin becomes the archetypal inspired poet.

Bibliography

Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Welsh Triads, 2d ed. (Cardiff, 1978), edited by Rachel Bromwich, gives a concise discussion of the sources and offers scholarly opinion, while Ifor Williams's Chwedl Taliesin (Cardiff, 1957) analyzes the development of the Taliesin legend. Patrick K. Ford edits the text of the legend, Ystoria Taliesin (Cardiff, 1992) and in his introduction he discusses its themes; he translates the story in his The Mabinogi and Medieval Welsh Tales (Berkeley, 1977). See also Juliette Wood, "The Elphin Section of Hanes Taliesin," Etudes Celtiques 18 (1981): 229244, and "The Folklore Background of the Gwion Bach Section of Hanes Taliesin," Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies 29 (1982): 621634. Marged Haycock has published a number of important articles on the nonhistorical Taliesin material in the Book of Taliesin, including "Preideu Annwn and the Figure of Taliesin," Studia Celtica, 18/19 (19831984): 5278, "Cadair Ceridwen," in Iestyn Daniel and others, eds., Cyfoeth y Testun (Cardiff, 2003), 148175, "The Significance of the Cad Goddeu Tree List in the Book of Taliesin," in M. J. Ball et al., editors, Celtic Linguistics (Amsterdam, 1990): 297331, "Taliesin's Questions," Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies 33 (1997): 1980.

Brynley F. Roberts (1987 and 2005)

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