The Celtic Myths That Shape the Way We Think

Mark Williams



The events of Celtic mythology have been retold and reinterpreted for millennia, shapeshifting through the ages and spreading across the world. Medieval specialist Mark Williams takes a fresh look at the stories at the heart of this ancient mythology, capturing the beauty of the tales that have shaped our artistic and literary canons and continue to inspire today.

For centuries, since the tales were first written down in the Middle Ages - already by then hundreds of years old - authors and artists have drawn on the ancient lore and legends, giving their vivid characters a rich and powerful afterlife. Cú Chulainn, the hero of Ireland’s great medieval epic, the Táin, became a symbol of the reborn Irish nation; the Irish and Scottish hero Finn captured the imagination of Napoleon, Goethe and Mendelssohn; and the Welsh mythical figure Blodeuwedd, magically created from flowers of the oak, inspired the Irish Romantic poet Yeats.

How is it that these figures are so familiar to us, though they came from a world very different from our own? How did King Arthur, first named in early Welsh chronicles and poetry, become, paradoxically, the archetypal English hero? Williams interrogates the roots of the myths that have had the greatest cultural impact, leaving their mark on everything from the modern fantasy genre to nationalist ideology, and unpacks the multiple meanings they have inspired in the ages since their inception.

With 77 illustrations


'This is simply the best concise work on its subject, for a student or general reader, yet published. The author is not only expert in the original texts but has a profound understanding of how they have been used ever since: and so why they matter'
Ronald Hutton, Professor of History, University of Bristol and author of 'The Witch' and 'Pagan Britain'

Further Details


Format: Hardback

Size: 23.4 x 15.3 cm

Extent: 304 pp

Publication date: 16 September 2021

ISBN: 9780500252369

Contents List

Introduction: The Nature of Celtic Mythology
1. Shining Brow: Taliesin, Chief of Poets
2. The Celtic Arthur
3. Merlin: from Wildman to Wizard
4. Brutus: Britain’s Forgotten Founder
5. The Tragic Story of Branwen
6. The Hero Cú Chulainn: The Hound of Ulster
7. Finn: The Roving Warrior
8. Blodeuwedd: The Woman Made From Flowers
9. The Celtic Love Triangle: Deirdriu of the Sorrows
10. Irish Fairies: The People of the Síde
Epilogue: The Legacy of Celtic Myths

About the Author

Mark Williams is Associate Professor of Global Medieval Literature at the University of Oxford and the author of Ireland’s Immortals: A History of the Gods of Irish Myth. He writes with ‘extraordinary erudition and devastating wit’ (New York Review of Books).