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The Four Ancient Books of Wales

The Four Ancient Books of Wales [Kindle Edition]

William F. Skene
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Product Description

Product Description

"This is William Skene's anthology of dark-age Welsh Bardic poetry. Often cited, but difficult to obtain, this book contains every remaining piece of Bardic poetry known. The poems are translated from four manuscripts: the Black Book of Caermarthen, the Red Book of Hergest (which is also the source of the Mabinogion), the Book of Taliessin and the Book of Aneurin, all of which date from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries C.E. The poems themselves date from much earlier, probably from the sixth century by internal evidence.

This corpus is one of the treasures of world literature. It is also the only true source material for the study of Bardic lore, which reputedly preserved the esoteric (and long-lost) beliefs of the Druids. Largely written to satisfy wealthy patrons, much of the subject matter is related to mead-inspired battles, particularly the renowned Gododin cycle. However, the poetry rises above the gory combat and toadying to achieve an artistic height that would not be reached for many centuries. Some of the later works, which use Christian themes as a jumping-off point, have an almost haiku-like quality. The poems are infused throughout with mystic clarity, strange flashes of wisdom, and insight into humanity and nature." (Quote from

About the Author

About the Author:

"William Forbes Skene (7 June 1809– 29 August 1892), Scottish historian and antiquary, was the second son of Sir Walter Scott's friend, James Skene (1775–1864), of Rubislaw, near Aberdeen, and was born on June 7 1809.

He was educated at Edinburgh Academy in Edinburgh and at the University of St Andrews, taking an especial interest in the study of Celtic philology and literature. In 1832, he became a writer to the signet (WS), and shortly afterwards obtained an official appointment in the bill department of the Court of Session, which he held until 1865. His early interest in the history and antiquities of the Scottish Highlands bore its first fruit in 1837, when he published The Highlanders of Scotland, their Origin, History and Antiquities.

In 1847, during the Highland Potato Famine, he was appointed Secretary to the Central Board for Highland Relief. In this position he worked closely with Sir Charles Trevelyan, Assistant Secretary to the Treasury.

His chief work, however, is his Celtic Scotland, a History of Ancient Alban (5 vols., Edinburgh, 1876-1880), perhaps the most important contribution to Scottish history written during the 19th century. In 1879 he was made a Doctor of Civil Law (DCL) of the University of Oxford, and in 1881 Historiographer Royal for Scotland. He died in Edinburgh on August 29 1892.

The most important of Skene's other works are: editions of John of Fordun's Chronica genus Scotorum (Edinburgh, 1871–1872); of the Four Ancient Books of Wales (Edinburgh, 1868); of the Chronicles of the Picts and Scots (Edinburgh, 1867); and of Adomnán's Vita S. Columbae (Edinburgh, 1874); an Essay on the Coronation Stone of Scone (Edinburgh, 1869); and Memorials of the Family of Skene of Skene (Aberdeen, 1887)." (Quote from

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Forgotton Books are best forgotten 16 Jun 2009
It's very disappointing that the caveat printed inside the cover of this and other 'Forgotten Books' publications isn't reproduced on the Amazon listings - 'this book has been scanned and reformatted from the original, and as such as cannot guarantee that it is free from errors or contains the full content of the original'. So full of errors that after just a couple of pages I had to get a pencil to mark my own corrections. The text has been very badly corrupted and as both English and Welsh are involved this makes reading both difficult and dispiriting. Don't waste your money on something with such poor production standards.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth the effort 17 Feb 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Yes there are errors in formatting, even potentially errors in spelling, crucial when trying to unravel complexities between misunderstandings in confluence of languages. However many of Mr Skenes observations and his reproductions of the bards are invaluable to scholars. It is not easy to unravel but is seriously worth the effort of persevering. This era was difficult,language and spelling were inconsistent. Some languages did not recognise certain lettering, MH when transcribed by the romans would be V, Y would become I. To find a scholar who recognises that St Ciaran is the same man as St Pieran, that place changes name purely because race does not accept the idiosyncracies of anothers language, instead adding their own interpretation to personalise individuals. This possesion of greatness by owning the King, Knight or Saint, by attaching them to local language and place means many individuals could in fact be few!Interesting avenues, especially in The verses of the Graves from the Black Book of Caermarthen.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Four Ancient Books of Wales 12 Mar 2009
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The Four Ancient Books of Wales is an anthology of Bardic poetry of Wales written and translated by Scottish historian William F. Skene first printed in 1868.
With the dissolution of religious orders in Wales at the time of Henry 8th which saw the distribution of their libraries over the centuries; various collections made their way to safe havens, Jesus College Oxford obtained some but a collection Earl Pembroke was destroyed by fire at Raglan Castle in the time of Oliver Cromwell but one collection eventually made it's way safely to The British Museum.
We are lucky still to be able to read these direct words from the Welsh Bards of over a thousand years ago which are closely related to the stories from the Mabinogion. For those familiar with these old legends from Wales will find a hint of King Arthur and also J. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Ring trilogy in these pages there are links forged of this forgotten world before the Norman invasion when we almost the loss of our heritage to an alien language.
The books making up this collection of ancient Welsh books are called The Book of Aneurin, The Red Book of Hergest, The Black Book of Carmarthen and The Book of Taliessin and are what is termed the Four Ancient Books of Wales. Granted they became books in the Norman times but their lineage goes back to pre invasion of 1066. Here are spun the forgotten history and legends from our first Celtic language kept alive during the times or suppression and invasion.
These pages can stand alongside Old and Middle English tales of Beowulf, The Battle of Maldon and The Wanderer; all poems from a similar era that echo the glory of a proud people. These are poems to echo around the Mede Hall as sparks fly from the log fire shooting skyward into the black of night.
This is a book interesting for the modern reader as well as scholar of mythology and history; the publisher Forgotten Books have again succeeded in presenting a forgotten treasure into our modern world.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
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While this is evidently a well-researched and very interesting read for anyone wishing to know more about the literature of ancient Wales or the origin of many Arthurian legends, I cannot give this any more than two stars for one simple reason: the way it has been laid out makes it very difficult to read. Almost EVERY PAGE prior to the books themselves has a spelling or grammar error, with asterisks often cutting in halfway through paragraphs or on a page far removed from the point to which they are attached. This makes it incredibly difficult to read as one is constantly having to flick back and forth in order to try and establish where a sentence will continue and whether or not to continue reading a paragraph before or after the section that has cut into it mid-word. It is almost as if someone unable to speak English has simply been handed the hard copy and told to type it up without being supervised or even given a spellchecking program. Another potential stumbling block for readers is the lack of translations for the majority of the Welsh and Latin passages used by the author, meaning that without at least a basic understanding of both languages it would be even for difficult to follow the points made which rely on said extracts.

Overall, this is an interesting look into the cultural and literary traditions of our ancestors rendered practically unreadable in parts by an apparent lack of care on the behalf of the publisher to even check the finished product.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars  17 reviews
29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This is an excellent resource of ancient Welsh poems 19 Jun 1999
By A Customer - Published on
This is one of the better books considering the time period in which it was written. Much better and more accurate to the original texts than the Mabinogion edited by Lady Charlotte Guest. For anyone looking into Welsh mythology and history, this book is a must
27 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A "Must Have" 18 Feb 2007
By Lana Gramlich - Published on
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If you're TRULY into Celtic/Welsh mythology, this book is a must have. Wonderful collection of some of the oldest Welsh writings available. The works gathered reflect the society and history of the times. Fascinating (& often quite beautiful) stuff!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic view into my heritage. 29 Sep 2012
By Ruth B., Montes - Published on
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This book is a must read for anyone interested in Welsh or ancient British literature and life. I am having a great learning and relearning about nearly forgotten people and events.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hope you like reading preface notes 24 April 2013
By Sean Conroe - Published on
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While the Poetry and writings of the actual Ancient Books of Wales are an incredible spring of beauty, knowledge, and illumination, the introductory notes of one of the translators consumes a solid third of this book's heft. The notes provide great background for the Books, but is a bit of a dry read.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful foreward, translation 19 Jun 2014
By Jonathan McQuay - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I truly love the background presented in the beginning of this book. William F. Skene really goes in depth in explaining where and who these texts come from, and who has handled them up to his work. Be ready for a decent amount of Latin and French phrases though, this is from the classic approach to scholarship. He obviously expects his readership to be fluent in both.
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