Following the emergence of the theory from the National Museum of Wales that the engraved letters may not be ‘PW’ as previously thought but may instead be ‘Pur’, this considered reflection on The Druidstone Ring was kindly submitted to us by Peter Greenhill – a reflection which begins by teasing the possibility yet further:
“Alternatively, it might have been cleverly designed to incorporate both ‘W’ and ‘ur’ – that is, to read ambiguously as either ‘PW’ or ‘Pur’, both to signify Latin ‘Pura Wallia’.
“But if it is simply ‘pur’ – and I expect the museum would know if it is – then that is a word which significantly had very strong associations with the harp.
”As you may know, there were two bardic professions, each with equal status. The formal term ‘gŵr wrth gerdd dant’ was, in terms of performance, a musician who played on strings but was not expected to also himself vocalise; that is, he was purely a dedicated instrumentalist. The contrasting term ‘gŵr wrth gerdd dafod’ was, in terms of performance, a musician who vocalised and, commonly, also had the capacity to accompany himself on strings. Now, the pure instrumentalist was also known by the term ‘puror’ and the music that he produced was termed ‘puroriaeth’, so the root word ‘pur’ is fundamental to the distinction between a specialist harper (or crythor) and a vocalist.
“The distinction between the two bardic professions is often presented nowadays as having been those who played on strings and those who composed poetry – but that is incorrect. As I say, it was usual for the ‘gŵr wrth gerdd dafod’ to have the ability to accompany himself on the harp or the crwth, which is what he would do when the poetry required accompaniment if there was no pure instrumentalist present. The ideal performance context was described by Gruffydd Robert thus: ‘Os byddai un yn chwennychu digrifwch, e gai buror ai delyn i ganu mwyn bynciau, a datceiniad peroslau i ganu gida thant’. (If one were to desire pleasant entertainment, one would get a puror with his telyn [harp] to play gentle pynciau, and a sweet-toned datgeiniad to vocalise with strings.) The truth is that both professions had dual roles: as performers and as composers, so it is incorrect to treat the pure instrumentalists as merely performers and the vocalists as merely composers, as you often find today.
“In view of the word ‘pur’ being so central to harping, I think it is extremely likely that the museum is correct. I imagine the ring belonged to a harper, or was possibly an unrecorded part of the regalia, the ‘furniture’, of a South Walian eisteddfod tradition; in other words a prize rather like the ariandlws – the Mostyn silver harp badge. That’s an interesting thought…”
Once again, massive thanks to Peter for this.