An Edition of the Welsh Merlin Poetry

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: Welsh


This project will create an online edition and translation of the Welsh poetry attributed to Merlin surviving in manuscripts before 1800. We will produce new, detailed studies of the relationships between these poems and the broader Merlin tradition, and of how the Welsh poems develop over time. The corpus to be edited consists of c. 102 poems of c. 4450 lines in total in c. 519 manuscript copies. This includes seven major early poems (c. 980 lines) extant in medieval manuscripts, as well as c. 95 later poems surviving from the early modern period, which often adapt and echo the earlier verse.

Welsh poetry is an important source for the internationally renowned Merlin legend. Geoffrey of Monmouth, who spread the Arthurian tradition throughout Europe, appears to have drawn on Welsh poetic sources. Despite their importance, the Welsh Merlin poems remain largely unedited. This means researchers in Arthurian studies are currently unable to access these works, let alone assess their significance in a broader international context. By editing all this poetry for the first time and making it freely available, this project will enable Arthurianists to engage with these texts in detail. The new diachronic and comparative studies undertaken in the project will also greatly advance the field. The public and the education sector will have unprecedented access to these fascinating works, and a section of the edition website aimed at schools will highlight Merlin traditions and their relevance to Wales, Britain, and beyond.

The poetic corpus will be presented in a freely-accessible online edition. This will include the edited texts with manuscript transcriptions and corresponding images (served via IIIF technology), introductions, commentary, textual notes, and translations, ensuring maximum accessibility. We will make the templates and models used to create our text edition platform openly available to ensure that such editorial projects are easier to produce in future and that this project has a productive legacy.

In addition to producing this edition, the project will study the links between the Welsh Merlin poems and broader Arthurian tradition. We will produce a new comparative study of Geoffrey of Monmouth's work (especially his Vita Merlini) and early Welsh Merlin poems, illuminating the relationship between them. This comparative study is crucial in enabling scholars to view the Welsh poems in a broader European context and to cross traditional disciplinary boundaries, bringing the Welsh texts to the core of international Arthurian studies.

As well as being cross-cultural, our approach will be cross-period. Producing this edition, which is innovative in encompassing both the earliest Merlin poetry and later verse, will enable us to advance research into how Merlin verse developed over time and was shaped by contemporary interests, as when deployed by early modern Welsh historians. It will also revolutionize approaches to Welsh literary history, highlighting how early Welsh poetry develops into early modern "free verse", thereby creating new avenues for teaching and studying Welsh literature across traditional period boundaries.

We will hold numerous public outreach events, working with schools and heritage organizations. We aim to impact school curricula by highlighting to schools and teachers how the project resources could be used by them and how certain texts could be deployed for the first time in the Welsh A-level syllabus. We aim more broadly to change public perceptions of Merlin by highlighting his close connections with Wales and Welsh literature, including sites like Carmarthen (traditionally interpreted as 'Merlin's Fortress') and the Brittonic 'Old North' of northern England and southern Scotland.

The project will provide significant new advances in the study of Welsh literature and Arthurian tradition, reframing the field of Arthurian studies and enabling new interdisciplinary research opportunities.


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