The Mabinogion, the Jews ... and Gareth Bale
Studying the medieval Welsh tales of the Mabinogion recently took one of Bangor University’s School of Welsh lecturers to the streets of Jerusalem. This in turn has opened the door to a comparison of the Welsh legends with the stories and mythologies of one of the most remarkable Jewish sects.
It all began when Dr Aled Llion Jones noticed, among a list of people who have translated the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, the name of the philosopher and theologian Martin Buber, whose most famous works investigate the nature of the relationship between the human and the divine." These concerns are clearly present in the Four Branches: the relationship between this world and the otherworld – how the otherworld is made present in this one." That is a major part of the Hasidic Jews’ mystical tradition and their own legends, and this thread is what drew Martin Buber to the Mabinogion: according to Aled Llion Jones it's an "exciting, new" way of looking at the Welsh legends.
Stemming from this research, Aled has already published an article in the latest volume of Ysgrifau Beirniadol (‘Critical Writings’, the leading Welsh-language periodical) – the article introduces the results of his trip to Israel in the summer of 2016, when he was able to read documents in Buber's archive at the National Library. Aled had spent many years lecturing in Poland, and could already read four of Buber’s languages – Polish, French, German and English – but had to spend a few months in advance of the trip learning as much Hebrew as possible.
"It was a thrill to be in the archive, and I found a lot of really important documents, as well as many, many more which were not related to this particular project but were simply fascinating. Buber was central to the intellectual and cultural life of early twentieth-century European Jewry, and to the discussions surrounding the founding of both the state of Israel itself, and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. However, though I was came away with a wealth of information, I was there for too brief a time, and I need to keep looking for the ‘Holy Grail’ of this particular project – Buber’s annotated copy of the Four Branches!"
Being in Jerusalem was an "unforgettable experience", a city overflowing in history and political tensions. And the current tensions explain why Aled Llion Jones is grateful to the world-famous Welsh footballer Gareth Bale – only by evoking Bale’s name could he explain what Wales is, when armed police in the Old City were enthusiastically questioning him about what he was doing and where he was from.
Publication date: 27 March 2018