Cad Goddeu

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Welsh title for a short, obscure poem of great antiquity preserved in the Book of Taliesin (13th cent.), known in English as The Battle of the Trees or The Army of the Trees. The poem is set during a war between Arawn, king of Annwfn, and Amaethon, a ploughman, prompted by the latter's theft of a white roebuck, a whelp, and a lapwing. Central to the poem is the magician Gwydion's use of a staff of enchantment to transform trees into fighting men. Although Cad Goddeu apparently contains implications of powers attributed to different trees, the larger meaning of the poem remains unexplicated. Robert Graves, though he professed to know no Welsh, ‘translated’ and rearranged the order of Cad Goddeu to support his thesis about the origin of the alphabet, which in turn was central to his ‘grammar of poetic myth’ in The White Goddess (New York, 1948); while Graves found a large lay readership, his views have been scorned by learned commentators on Welsh literature.

The Welsh text of Cad Goddeu was edited by J. G. Evans, Book of Taliesin (Llanbedrog, 1910), 23–7;see the translation by Patrick K. Ford, The Mabinogi (Berkeley, Calif., 1977), 183–7.Commentary: Marged Haycock, Celtic Linguistics: Readings in the Brythonic Languages, ed. Martin J. Ball et al. (Amsterdam, 1990), 297–332.

Subjects: Religion.

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