26 Treasures

Curators at the National Library of Wales selected 26 different objects to reflect the diversity of their collections, from sound recordings to maps, medieval books to films, photographic albums to historic pamphlets. Writers (half writing in English, half in Welsh) then wrote 62 words exactly in response. The pieces were translated into Welsh and English and submitted to the Translation Challenge as part of the National Eisteddfod in Wrexham. A Bardic staff was awarded to the winner. You can see all the 26 sestudes, along with their translations in the Treasures section, and you can read some of the stories behind the finished pieces in the Creation Stories section.

Aeth cenaduron y Llyfrgell Genedlaethol ati i ddewis 26 gwrthrych er mwyn adlewyrchu  amrywiaeth eu casgliadau, o recordiadau sain i fapiau, o lyfrau canoloesol i ffilmiau, ac o albymau lluniau i bamffledi hanesyddol.  Bu’r awduron maes o law yn ysgrifennu union 62 gair o ymateb i un o’r gwrthrychau (gyda’u hanner yn ysgrifennu yn y Gymraeg, a’r hanner arall yn y Saesneg).

Cyfieithwyd y darnau i’r Gymraeg ac i’r Saesneg, ac fe’i cyflwynwyd i’r Her Gyfeithu fel rhan o’r Eisteddfod Genedlaethol yn Wrecsam.  Gwobrwywyd yr enillydd gyda Ffon Farddol.

Gallwch weld pob un o’r ‘sestudes’ yn ogystal â’r cyfieithiadau yn yr adran ‘Treasures’, a gallwch ddarllen rhai o’r straeon sy’n gefndir i’r gwaith gorffenedig yn adran y ‘Creation Stories”.


creation wales
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'Whatever people say I am, I'm not' // MAP OF THE BRITISH ISLES Ptolemy, 200 A.D; Johann Reger, 1486 // Writer Anita Holford

I was really pleased to have a map as my object, because it offers so many possibilities for writing: about journeys, connections, things being viewed from different perspectives and great voyages and voyagers.

In the end, my poem wasn’t anything like that. I decided to follow my instinct: that most people, like me, would find the ‘map’ confusing because it almost has a double life. I also found that its ‘truth’ (eventually found to be a lie) had a significance in terms of my own beliefs about the world and the people in it.

The distance from Rome to Ulm

The map was labelled ‘Ptolemy (200 A.D.), Prima Europe Tabula, [Ulm, Johann Reger, 1486]’. So although it was created in Roman times, the map wasn’t printed until 1,200 years later. Why, I wondered? And why would people at that time, have been interested in using something that was 1,200 years out of date?

The more I found out, the more my response to the map was about things – particularly distances – being not what they might seem (and as a big music fan, I couldn’t resist the Arctic Monkey’s reference – the title is a play on their single, ‘Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not’).

Ptolemy wasn’t, in fact a Roman: he was a Greek who lived in Alexandria, Egypt. And he wasn’t just a geographer, he was an astronomer. More confusingly, what he ‘created’ wasn’t a map, but a book called ‘Geographia’, which was full of co-ordinates and place names. It contained a mathematical method for creating a flat map of the world. His system was the first known projection of the map as a globe, the first to use latitude and longitude, and its principles have shaped the way maps are made today.

Amongst these and many other fascinating facts, the map expert at the National Library of Wales (thank you Huw!) also told me that the well-known Columbus story – about having to convince the church leaders that he wouldn’t fall off the edge of the earth – was untrue. People knew the world was round long before that. What they were actually arguing about was the size of the circumference of the earth.

But getting back to Ptolemy: his book was lost in the fall of Rome, rediscovered after the fall of Constantinople, and taken to Italy. By this time – in the late 1400s – people were emerging from the Middle/Dark Ages. It was the Renaissance, and there was a rediscovery and rebirth of the classical knowledge that had been lost when the Roman Empire collapsed. There was a thirst for exploration, and great mariners like Columbus set off on epic journeys to learn more about the world.

By this time the printing press had also been invented, which made it possible to print these classical works and distribute them to a wider audience. In this case, Johann Reger - a printer based in Ulm - employed a cartographer/artist to create maps from Ptolemy’s manuscript, which were then printed into bound volumes.

Truth or lies?

The rediscovery of Ptolemy’s method was a huge step forward for map-making, but even so, it was wrong. He underestimated the circumference of the earth, and overestimated the size of certain continents, like Europe and Asia. So in fact, the distance between places was incorrect. It’s said that if Columbus had known the true distances involved, he may never have set sail on his journey of discovery.

I liked the idea that, if we were to believe Ptolemy, the world is smaller than we think. It chimed with something that happened to me during the process of researching this poem: rediscovering my childhood pen pal after 30 years – still living over the other side of the world. Which reminded me that the distances between people aren’t really so great as they might seem. I’m with Ptolemy on that one.


Anita Holford – original in English
‘Treasure’ – Map of the British isles. Ptolemy, 200 A.D; Johann Reger, 1486

Whatever people say I am … I’m not

I am not what I seem.
An anomaly in cartography,
my longitude and latitude,
meridians and idioms,
created, fêted, and then lost.

Time passed.
Great nations rose and fell,
the world turned,
knowledge froze, until

Rediscovered in Corinthium,
Dark Ages turned to light,
they printed me, pressed me, and shared my truth:
perhaps the distance in between us,
is small, after all.

Sian Northey – translation into Welsh
‘Trysor’ – Map o Ynysoedd Prydain. Ptolemy, 200 A.D; Johann Reger, 1486

Beth bynnag a ddywedant... gwahanol wyf.

Rwy'n gamarweiniol.
Gwyriad mewn cartograffeg,
fy hydred a fy lledred,
fy nawnlin, fy idiomau
oll wedi'u creu, eu cyfarch ac yna'u colli.

Treiglodd amser.
Aeth y mawr yn bethau bychain,
trodd y rhod,
ceulodd gwybodaeth, ac yna

Yr ailgaffael yn Nghorinthium,
Yr Oesau Tywyll eto'n oleuedig,
a hwythau'n fy argraffu a rhannu fy ngwirioneddau:
efallai nad yw'r pellter rhyngddom
ond megis cam.


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