Any comments appreciated!
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Sent: Monday, April 17, 2000 1:32 PM
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Subject: Ravens and crows...?
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From: "Patrick Roper" <[log in to unmask]>
To: "Arthurnet" <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: Crow or raven?
Date: Sat, 15 Apr 2000 12:08:05 +0100
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The recent discussion on the meaning of the Welsh name 'Bronwyn'
talked of the word 'bran' (with a circumflex on the a) meaning 'crow'
Since both crows and ravens are highly significant in Arthurian
matters I would like to ask about this apparent confusion of species.
According to my Welsh dictionaries, 'bran' means 'crow' with some
derivatives like 'bran lwyd' for 'hooded crow' and, interestingly
'bran Arthur', one of the Welsh terms for 'a chough'.
The word for 'raven' is always given as 'cigfran' (meaning 'flesh
crow' with the second syllable the mutated form of 'bran') and there
seem to be no alternative terms for ravens with 'bran' standing alone.
To my mind 'cigfran' is, as befits a raven, a much more powerful and
bloody word than 'bran'.
Thus to say that 'bran' means 'crow or raven' would, on the face of
it, seem to be wrong. It only means 'crow'.
So far as I know the birds are not confused in the public's mind and,
in the days when ravens were much commoner, I am sure everyone knew
which was which. The folklore related to each of these species is
also rather different. It seems to me there is a danger that, because
Arthur is often identified with the raven, too much could be read into
passages where crows are referred to on the basis that the author
could equally have meant ravens (unlikely).
Both birds eat carrion so either species would have fed on the dead
after battles thus 'bran'(or 'brain' or 'brein' as it is in the
plural) might, I acknowledge, have meant all large, black,
carrion-eating birds of the crow family.
Take the Gododdin as an illustration of my problem. In the version I
have the lines 'Gochore brein du ar uur/Caer ceni bei ef arthur' are
translated as 'He would feed black ravens on the wall/of a fortress,
though he were not Arthur'. In this very famous couplet, the first
ever reference to 'an Arthur', why has the translator decided 'brein'
are ravens rather than crows?