The Book of Aneirin, one of the most important literary works from medieval Wales, can now be freely viewed online.
The 13th century text is now kept at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. Written around 1265, the Book of Aneirin contains a long poem called ‘Y Gododdin’. The poem is attributed to Aneirin, who was in his prime during the second half of the sixth century and commemorates the heroic deeds of part of the Gododdin tribe who fell in an assault upon the strategic site of Catraeth (Catterick, Yorkshire), about the year 600. After a fierce battle, only 3 Brythonic warriors escaped with their lives, among them the poet Aneirin. He then composed a series of stanzas in a form of early Welsh, commemorating the slain young warriors.
Dr Maredudd ap Huw, Manuscripts Librarian at the National Library explained, “Although they went to their deaths, the young men of Edinburgh butchered their enemies, and their ferocity and unrelenting savagery is celebrated by the poet. These youths would ‘sooner go to battle than to a wedding feast’. and their goal was to ensure that “the clash of spears echoed in the heads of mothers” as they “paid for their mead” with their lives. They were defeated, but their valiant attempt was regarded as being heroic, and not in vain’.
The language, metrical forms and general technique of the poem indicate that it stems from a long tradition of praise-poetry in the Brythonic language.
The Book was acquired by the librarian for the city of Cardiff in the late 19th century. In 2010, Cardiff Council decided to deposit the manuscript with the National Library of Wales on a long-term basis, which had better resources to preserve the work.
Lynda Thorne, speaking on behalf of Cardiff Council, added “The Llyfr Aneirin (Book of Aneirin) is one of the most important books in the Welsh language. Placing the book in deposit in the National Library meant we have successfully safeguard the manuscript and means that it will be in the hands of experts who are best placed to ensure the long-term preservation. I am delighted that the team at The National Library of Wales are publishing parts of this national treasure online so people from across Wales and beyond are able to access it.”