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Defining ‘Europe’ in Medieval European Geographical Discourse

Project Blog

The Medieval Welsh Image of the World

The medieval view of the world in medieval Wales largely corresponded to that on the Continent, as can be seen, for instance, in the poem known as ‘Greater Song of the World’ or ‘Song of the Macrocosm’, the inhabited world is divided into three parts, as it is in T-O type mappae mundi.

„Into three the Earth was divided
according to a different scheme:
one, Asia
two, Africa,
three, Europe…‟

(trans. by Marged Haycock, Legendary Poems from the Book of Taliesin, Aberystwyth, 2007)

This poem survives in the fourteenth-century manuscript Aberyswtyth, National Library of Wales, Peniarth 2, which is known by the name of ‘Book of Taliesin’ (for more on this manuscript and a digitalised version, see this page of the National Library of Wales website). because many of the poems it contains are associated with the legendary bard Taliesin.

Medieval European geographical knowledge was transmitted into Wales through numerous Latin texts, as well as through translations of scientific texts from Latin into Welsh. Notable examples of the latter are the two works of Honorius Augustodunensis, the Elucidarium and the Imago mundi. The former was rendered into Welsh as Ystoria Lucidar, while the geographical section of the Imago mundi was translated twice, and given the Welsh title Delw y Byd.

T-O maps themselves were also produced in Wales. The two main examples appear to be related and are both book illustrations. These are the mappa mundi in Exeter, Cathedral Library, MS 3514 (Whitland, s. xiii2), p. 53 and the related map in Oxford, Jesus College MS 20 (s. xiv/xv), f. 32v. The image of the latter can be accessed on the University of Oxford’s “Early Manuscripts at Oxford” website. The former has been reproduced with the kind permission of the Dean and Chapter of Exeter Cathedral as Plate 1 in N. Petrovskaia, Medieval Welsh Perceptions of the Orient (Turnhout: Brepols, 2015).

The investigation of the concept of Europe in the medieval Welsh tradition has formed part of the present project, and the results of this research were published in Celtic Forum 21 in October 2018. The full text of the article is freely accessible on our publications page.


For the medieval Welsh texts mentioned in this post, see:

J. Morris Jones and John Rhŷs, ed., The Elucidarium and Other Tracts in Welsh from the Book of the Anchorite (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1894)

Marged Haycock, ed. and trans., Legendary Poems from the Book of Taliesin (Aberystwyth: CMCS Publications, 2007)

H. Lewis and P. Diverres, ed., Delw y Byd (Imago Mundi) (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1928)


Post by Natalia Petrovskaia