Bard - Encyclopedia

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BARD, a word of Celtic derivation (Gaelic baird, Cymric bardh, Irish bard) applied to the ancient Celtic poets, though the name is sometimes loosely used as synonymous with poet in general. So far as can be ascertained, the title bards, and some of the privileges peculiar to that class of poets, are to be found only among Celtic peoples. The name itself is not used by Caesar in his account of the manners and customs of Gaul and Britain, but he appears to ascribe the functions of the bards to a section of the Druids, with which class they seem to have been closely connected. Later Latin authors, such as Lucan (Phar. p. 447), Festus (De Verb. Sign. s.v.), and Ammianus Marcellinus (bk. xv.), used the term Bardi as the recognized title of the national poets or minstrels among the peoples of Gaul and Britain. In Gaul, however, the institution soon disappeared; the purely Celtic peoples were swept back by the waves of Latin and Teutonic conquest, and finally settled in Wales, Ireland, Brittany and the north of Scotland. There is clear evidence of the existence of bards in all these places, though the known relics belong almost entirely to Wales and Ireland, where the institution was more distinctively national. In Wales they formed an organized society, with hereditary rights and privileges. They were treated with the utmost respect and were exempt from taxes or military service. Their special duties were to celebrate the victories of their people and to sing hymns of praise to God. They thus gave poetic expression to the religious and national sentiments of the people, and therefore exercised a very powerful influence. The whole society of bards was regulated by laws, said to have been first distinctly formulated by Hywell Dha, and to have been afterwards revised by Gruffydd ap Conan. At stated intervals great festivals were held, at which the most famous bards from the various districts met and contended in song, the umpires being generally the princes and nobles. Even after the conquest of Wales, these congresses, or Eisteddfodau, as they were called (from the Welsh eistedd, to sit), continued to be summoned by royal commission, but from the reign of Elizabeth the custom has been allowed to fall into abeyance. They have not been since summoned by royal authority, but were revived about 1822, and are held regularly at the present time. In modern Welsh, a bard is a poet whose vocation has been recognized at an Eisteddfod. In Ireland also the bards were a distinct class with peculiar and hereditary privileges. They appear to have been divided into three great sections: the first celebrated victories and sang hymns of praise; the second chanted the laws of the nation; the third gave poetic genealogies and family histories. The Irish bards were held in high repute, and frequently were brought over to Wales to give instruction to the singers of that country.

In consequence, perhaps, of Lucan's having spoken of carmina bardi, the word bard began to be used, early in the 17th century, to designate any kind of a serious poet, whether lyric or epic, and is so employed by Shakespeare, Milton and Pope. On the other hand, in Lowland Scots it grew to be a term of contempt and reproach, as describing a class of frenzied vagabonds.

See Ed. Jones Relics of the Welsh Bards (1784); Walker Memoirs of the Irish Bards (1786); Owen Jones, Myvyrian Archaeology of Wales (3 vols. 1801-1807); W. F. Skene, Four Ancient Books of Wales (2 vols., 1868).

Bardaisan, an early teacher of Christianity in Mesopotamia, the writer of numerous Syriac works which have entirely perished' (with one possible exception, the Hymn of the Soul in the Acts of Thomas), and the founder of a school which was soon branded as heretical. According to the trustworthy Chronicle of Edessa, he was born in that city on the 11th Tammuz (July), A.D. 154.

1 The Book of the Laws of the Countries, referred to below, is the work of a disciple of Bardaisan.

His parents were of rank and probably pagan; according to Barhebraeus, he was in youth a priest in a heathen temple at Mabbog. Another probable tradition asserts that he shared the education of a royal prince who afterwards became king of Edessa - perhaps Abgar bar Manu, who reigned 202-217. He is said to have converted the prince to Christianity, and may have had an important share in christianizing the city. Epiphanius and Barhebraeus assert that he was first an orthodox Christian and afterwards an adherent of Valentinus; but Eusebius and the Armenian Moses of Chorene reverse the order, stating that in his later days he largely, but not completely, purged himself of his earlier errors. The earliest works attributed to him (by Eusebius and others) are polemical dialogues against Marcionism and other heresies; these were afterwards translated into Greek. He also wrote, probably under Caracalla, an apology for the Christian religion in a time of persecution. But his greatest title to fame was furnished by his hymns, which, according to St Ephrem, numbered 150 and were composed in imitation of the Davidic psalter. He thus became the father of Syriac hymnology, and from the favour enjoyed by his poems during the century and a half that intervened between him and St Ephrem we may conclude that he possessed original poetic genius. This would be clearly proved if (as is not unlikely) the beautiful Hymn of the Soul incorporated in the apocryphal Acts of Thomas could be regarded as proceeding from his pen; it is practically the only piece of real poetry in Syriac that has come down to us. Perhaps owing to the persecution under Caracalla mentioned above, Bardaisan for a time retreated into Armenia, and is said to have there preached Christianity with indifferent success, and also to have composed a history of the Armenian kings. Porphyry states that on one occasion at Edessa he interviewed an Indian deputation who had been sent to the Roman emperor, and questioned them as to the nature of Indian religion. He was undoubtedly a man of wide culture. He died (according to the patriarch Michael) in 222.

For our knowledge of Bardaisan's doctrine we are mainly dependent on the hostile witness of St Ephrem, and on statements by Greek writers who had no acquaintance with his works in their original form. His teaching had certain affinities with gnosticism. Thus he certainly denied the resurrection of the body; and so far as we can judge by the obscure quotations from his hymns furnished by St Ephrem he explained the origin of the world by a process of emanation from the supreme God whom he called "the Father of the living." On the other hand the dialogue known as the Book of the Laws of the Countries, which was written by a disciple and is quoted by Eusebius as a genuine exposition of the master's teaching - while it recognizes the influence of the celestial bodies over the body of man and throughout the material sphere and attributes to them a certain delegated authority 1 - upholds the freedom of the human will and can in the main be reconciled with orthodox Christian teaching. On this M. Nau has based his effort (see Une Biographic inedite de Bardesane l'astrologue, Paris, 1897; Le Livre des lois des pays, Paris, 1899) to clear Bardaisan of the reproach of gnosticism, maintaining that the charge of heresy arises from a misunderstanding of certain astrological speculations. It must be admitted that it is impossible to reconstruct Bardaisan's system from the few fragments remaining of his own work and therefore a certain verdict cannot be given. But the ancient testimony to the connexion of Bardaisan with Valentinianism is strong, and the dialogue probably represents a modification of Bardesanist teaching in the direction of orthodoxy. The later adherents of the school appear to have moved towards a Manichean dualism.

The subject is exhaustively discussed in Hort's article "Bardaisan" in Did. Christ. Biog., and a full collection of the ancient testimonies will be found in Harnack's Altchristliche Litteratur, vol. i. pp. 184 ff. (N. M.)

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