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Fiery ShapesCelestial Portents and Astrology in Ireland and Wales 700–1700$
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Mark Williams

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780199571840

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199571840.001.0001

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Taliesin and Geoffrey of Monmouth's astrological portents

Taliesin and Geoffrey of Monmouth's astrological portents

(p.73) 3 Taliesin and Geoffrey of Monmouth's astrological portents
Fiery Shapes

Mark Williams (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter moves to medieval Wales and examines the first appearances of the ideal of prophecy from the heavens in Welsh literature. It demonstrates that some of the perhaps 11th or 12th century poems in the Book of Taliesin (N.L.W. MS Peniarth 2) show a consciousness of the occult value of knowledge of the heavenly bodies, and that this knowledge increases the prestige of the mythic poet-prophet Taliesin. This is concentrated in the word sywedydd, which implies ‘sage’ or ‘astrologer’. Geoffrey of Monmouth was concerned to emphasise the astrological nature of prophecy in his Historia Regum Britannie (1137) and Vita Merlini (1150/1), two texts which scholars have acknowledged to draw on Celtic sources analogous to the poems of the Book of Taliesin. In these two texts, which are fundamental sources for the development of the Merlin legend, Geoffrey displays a strong awareness of the new learning associated with the translations of Arab astrological texts — learning which he wittily transposes to the legendary British past. Thus, he is drawing both on the new knowledge of astrology which had become available in his time, and also on Welsh traditions which connected prophetic poetry with an understanding of the cosmos.

Keywords:   Taliesin, Merlin, prophetic poetry, Geoffrey of Monmouth

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