As usual not posting what I promised to in the last post. Want to get into the habit of writing however loose and I have managed to misplace not one but the three versions of the texts I have. I dug them out last week, where are they?(edit. under the coffee table in the living room).
Give a very simple and dirty short version of the narrative that surrounds the poem and touch on some aspects of its early history and cultural origins. Don’t really want to touch on the history, social organization of war-bands or identity or its long use through time as a working text with a range of cultural and ideological functions. Somewhat more involved.Treat whats below as the story I’ve included some historical background but in terms of the basic plot of the poem its a story rather than a fact of history. So to begin.
The Gododdin (the double d is pronounced th) is a poem with a very strange stemma in part which suggests sections of it are extremely old dating to the early 6th century. Originally it would have been composed orally and sung. Its epic in scope, unrelentingly heroic in tone but is comprised as a series of elegies to warriors who died in a major battle.
Its attributed to Aneirin who is known from other sources and thought to be a historical figure. Considered to be one of the founders of the Welsh poetic tradition in the early 6th century. One later source describes him as a women but all other references refer to him as male. This is not an example of timeless age old Celtic culture and tradition, the poets of the Welsh rulers would only have recently moved from singing the praises of the ruling classes in Latin.Its an urban and Roman culture in collapse, economic melt down has lead to a decayed city structure. Move back to village level and older Iron age hill forts are re-used during this period for defense.
It is possible to offer points of comparison between what we know of a much older Celtic culture from western Europe but the similarities are due to the similar social structure and scale of society rather than cultural continuity. Gododdin is one of two significant British kingdoms in the Old North of Britain. Strathclyde on the west coast and the Gododdin on the east with its chief aristocratic center at Din Edyn (Edinburgh). British language was P Celtic, archaic Welsh, spoken in much of England, Wales and Scotland, the Pict’s also spoke P. Celtic and Pictish warriors form part of the Edinburgh cohort according to the poem. Two other notable British kingdoms of the north that play a considerable role in early 6th century poetry and later imagination are Elmet centered around Leeds and Rheged, with Carlisle as its base. Edinburgh fell early to the Anglo Saxons the poem survived as it was written down in a Strathclyde Ecclesiastical scriptorium and then transferred to Wales where it was long sung in the halls of its aristocratic rulers.
North of the wall Rome had never held power but the British kingdoms North and South of the wall had a comparable culture and close ties at the close of Roman Britain. The only contemporary historical source for the late 5th century, a polemic written by a British priest Gilda’s on the ruin of Britain has a notable tendency to strongly castigate southern rulers as tyrants, unlawful rulers filled with greed and sin (The Anglo Saxons Gods judgment on a profligate people) but is silent in regard to the rulers of the northern kingdoms. The British North of the wall had never had an urban economy and short term may have been in a more secure and stable situation although the longer term effects of migration and weakening of the kingdoms to the south would become a Northern issue soon enough.
Strife At Catreath
The story is a simple one. The king of the Gododdin forms a warband who are trained and feasted on castle rock Edinburgh (the site of a 6th century hill fort). The war-band is comprised of the children of the aristocracy aged around 10 to 14 years. Target is Catreath a Northern English stronghold (not identifiable) held by the Anglo Saxons. 300 warriors of the Gododdin storm south and are slaughtered almost to the last man (or child).
The poet knew each child personally, his poetry sung in the hall as they were feasted and fed on the kings wine and mead. They are inspired into battle by the promise of everlasting fame in song. They will not live long in life but for all time in in death. The poet has ensnared and inspired the slaughter, he carries a heavy burden and responsibility to ensure they are remembered for all eternity.Its the poets role to get to know these child warriors in life as his function is to praise and note personal characteristics in death. Personal involvement of the poet adds to the emotional impact of the song giving it a more personal tone, although it’s function ultimately is to legitimize the authority of the ruling elite and to declare the public and legitimate nature of violence.
The economy of the war-band is a gift giving one, reciprocity between King and warrior. The King provides the feast, the warriors fed with his wine and mead, given rich gift’s. This is a bling bling culture of display, consumption is highly conspicuous, highly ritualized and symbolic. One of the many reasons to despise the English suggested by the poem, is that unlike the warriors of the Goddodin they are not ostentatious, it is to be suspected the inference is they are poor warriors who have not won the shiny ornaments and fine clothing of the successful warrior. The poet here also has a debt to honor and the price a high one….
Stick this up raw, tidy it up and add further details. Not state what will come next but will probable try to get the poetic symbolism out of the way first. The role of the gift and the contract between king and warrior is the aspect that leads from art into how war-band’s operated in life and the life of this poem was considerable. The poem was described by one of its translator as a subject not fitting for anyone interested in ideas due to its unrelenting heroic tone. I think that depends on what kind of ideas you are interest in. The poem is an odd mix of things but it is a means of touching however far away and distant the mind and imagination of a very different culture and it charts a strategy for surviving with the living the dead and the dying in a hostile and stressful environment from within a culture under intense pressure and burden.