Hwn yw y Gododdin. Aneirin ae cant. This is the Gododdin. Aneirin sang it. He charged before three hundred of the finest, He cut down both centre and wing, He excelled in the forefront of the noblest host, He gave gifts of horses from the herd in winter, He fed black ravens on the rampart of a fortress. Though he was no Arthur, Among the powerful ones in battle, In the front rank, Gwawrddur was a palisade.
This is the earliest reference to Arthur, as cited in the ancient epic poem Y Gododdin. Composed around 600AD, the poem tells the story of a great battle centred on the ancient kingdom of Gododdin, now known as Edinburgh.
Cardiff Council has loaned an early manuscript copy of the poem to Edinburgh’s City Arts Centre, where it will be one of the central exhibits of The Quest for Camelot: The Arthurian Legend in Art, a major display of Arthurian works from art collections around the world.
Speaking at the opening of the exhibition in Edinburgh, the Lord Mayor of Cardiff, Councillor Russell Goodway, said he was delighted that Cardiff was able to contribute the Book of Aneirin to the exhibition and spoke of the friendly rivalry in the quest for ownership of Arthurís heritage.
“Since the Gododdin were a tribe of South Scotland, I understand why Scotland should claim that Arthur was Scottish,” he said. “But I am bound to say that the case for a Welsh Arthur is stronger.
“The Book of Aneirin indicates that the legend was already well established by 600 AD. And Aneirin was drawing on the memories of his people. Read the Welsh poems, the Stanzas of the Graves, the Mabinogion. Understand the icons of Welsh history. And Caerleon ñ perhaps Arthurís Camelot. All give credence to the Welsh claim.
“The debate about Arthur has been riven by national claims. Was Arthur a Scot? Or was he Welsh? The truth probably lies somewhere in between.
“Arthur was probably a Roman-style military commander, operating in a highly fluid and interconnected Romano-British society that encompassed Scotland and Wales. With the collapse of Roman Britain the tribes of Britain struggled to defend their identities against invasion from new and aggressive peoples from western and northern Europe. Is it not possible that Arthur was a figure of unity for these Britons?
“Whatever the case, Arthur serves to remind us of our shared history and common legacy. Scotland and Wales are both Celtic nations, existing on the peripheries of Europe. Their national histories hinge on the fact that the Romans did not vanquish their indigenous cultures. They were nations that had distinctive lowland and highland societies.
“These are facts of the utmost importance in the history of Scotland and Wales.
“And whatever the truth about the historical Arthur, there’s no doubt about his role in both Welsh and Scottish culture. Arthur is a mythical figure. But heís none the less important for that. Peopleís sense of their own history is bound up with myth. Arthur is part of the popular imagination of the people of Wales in just the same way that heís a component part of Scottish identity.
“That’s why we’re delighted to be here. Arthur is a heroic figure - celebrated in Scotland and in Wales. He connects our cultures and for that fact he must be celebrated.”
The Quest for Camelot: The Arthurian Legend in Art will be at the City Art Centre, Edinburgh, from November 3, 2001 to January 26, 2002 and consideration is being given to the possibility of staging a similar event in Cardiff.