The Tuneful and the Damned

“Your excited ears hear not the praises of God from the sweet voices of the tuneful recruits of Christ, not the melodious music of the Church, but empty praises of yourself from the mouths of criminals who grate on the hearing like raving hucksters- mouths stuffed with lies and liable to bedew bystanders with their foaming phlegm.”

Gildas 5th century address to Maelgwn a British Ruler  


T.M Charles Edwards, Wales and the Britons, 350-1064


Gildas’s work The Ruin of Britain is one of the few existing documents detailing 5th century British history. It’s undated with a mid fifth century date normally accepted by historians, although a an earlier date pushing the texts to the start of the 5th century is argued by some.

Pracones, translated as ‘huckster’ is also used to denote both herald and praise poet.

One question arises, what language are the poets speaking in?

Gildas writes in learned latin, raving grating and unreasonable language of the poets may at first glance look like a swipe at vernacular language of the British, but Maelgwn is probable addressed by his poet’s in Latin.

Gildas seems to be playing with the relationship between language and reason rather than a latin and barbarian distinction.

No latin praise poetry survives, a number of poems which can be tentatively dated to within 50 to 80 years of Gildas’s death do survive in part. They are written in the vernacular language of the British, an early form of what will become modern Welsh (an archaic form of early Welsh is the language of both Northern Briton’s and the Picts ). Geographically this material is related to the Northern part of the Island rather than Wales or Southern England although it’s in later medieval Wales that this poetry and history is consumed.

Gildas’s ruin of Britain is a description of the fall of an urban Latin culture facing a national calamity due to Anglo Saxon invasion.


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