By Thomas Øverby
Master thesis, University of Oslo, 2009
Abstract: This thesis is concerned with the medieval Welsh prose tale Breuddwyd Rhonabwy. The theory of cultural memory as formulated by Jan Assmann is employed as a theoretical framework for the analysis and interpretation of the text. Assmann argues that writing functions as a medium of memory and that one therefore may speak of a cultural memory. This memory soon becomes vast and diverse. He claims that man sees himself in relation to the cultural memory and that it shapes his identity. The identity of both collective and individual is thus based on the past, but memory and thereby the view of the past is also influenced by man’s need of identity and security. Accordingly, history may be said to be governed not so much by the search for “the truth” as by people’s need of a past. With background in this theoretical framework the thesis argues for a historical interpretation of Breuddwyd Rhonabwy.
Initially, the dream of Breuddwyd Rhonabwy is analysed in order to detect how it portrays the past, and through analysing a number of historical accounts important for the cultural memory of the Welsh the depiction of the past in the dream is put in a greater perspective. The frame tale is further analysed as an account of the society of the author and seen in relation to the depiction of the past in the dream. Finally, the depiction of the past in Breuddwyd Rhonabwy is discussed with regard to the impact of its context and it is demonstrated how the dream may function as a historical narrative.
Introduction: The object of this study is the analysis of Breuddwyd Rhonabwy, which is one of the two extant Welsh prose tales about King Arthur. The story about Arthur is located within a dream which is preluded by an introductory sequence set in the 12th century and followed by a short epilogue. Breuddwyd Rhonabwy differs radically from Culhwch ac Olwen, which is the other Welsh tale about Arthur. With regard to the Welsh tradition, Arthur is often described by scholars as a multifaceted character, and there has been a tendency to separate between the Arthur found in literature and the historical Arthur. The Arthur depicted in Breuddwyd Rhonabwy, however, differs from both these categories.