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Merlin dictating his poems, as illustrated in a French book from the 13th century

Merlin is a legendary figure best known as the wizard featured in the Arthurian legend. The standard depiction of the character first appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, written c. 1136, and is based on an amalgamation of previous historical and legendary figures. Geoffrey combined existing stories of Myrddin Wyllt (Merlinus Caledonensis), a North British madman with no connection to King Arthur, with tales of the Romano-British war leader Ambrosius Aurelianus to form the composite figure he called Merlin Ambrosius (Welsh: Myrddin Emrys).

Geoffrey's rendering of the character was immediately popular; later writers expanded the account to produce a fuller image of the wizard. Merlin's traditional biography casts him as a cambion; born of a mortal woman, sired by an incubus, the non-human wellspring from whom he inherits his supernatural powers and abilities.[1] Merlin matures to an ascendant sagehood and engineers the birth of Arthur through magic and intrigue.[2] Later authors have Merlin serve as the king's advisor until he is bewitched and imprisoned by the Lady of the Lake.[2]


Name and etymology

Merlin advising King Arthur in Gustave Doré's illustration

The Welsh name Myrddin (Welsh pronunciation: [ˈmərðɪn]) is usually explained as deriving from a (mistaken) folk etymology of the toponym Moridunum, the Roman era name of modern Carmarthen, as referring to a person (OED).

Some accounts describe two different figures named Merlin. For example, the Welsh Triads state there were three baptismal bards: Chief of Bards Taliesin, Myrddin Wyllt, and Myrddin Emrys (i.e., Merlinus Ambrosius). It is believed that these two bards called Myrddin were originally variants of the same figure. The stories of Wyllt and Emrys had become different in the earliest texts that they are treated as separate characters, even though similar incidents are ascribed to both.[citation needed]

Medievalist Gaston Paris suggested that Geoffrey chose the Latinization Merlinus rather than the regular Merdinus to avoid a resemblance to the Anglo-Norman word for "shit", merde.

The common name of Falco columbarius, "merlin" is unrelated, having lost an initial s- in Old French, originally deriving from a cognate of Old High German smerle (OED).

Geoffrey's sources

Geoffrey's composite Merlin is based primarily on Myrddin Wyllt, also called Merlinus Caledonensis, and Aurelius Ambrosius, a mostly fictionalized version of the historical war leader Ambrosius Aurelianus. The former had nothing to do with Arthur and flourished after the Arthurian period. According to lore he was a bard driven mad after witnessing the horrors of war, who fled civilization to become a wild man of the wood in the 6th century. Geoffrey had this individual in mind when he wrote his earliest surviving work, the Prophetiae Merlini (Prophecies of Merlin), which he claimed were the actual words of the legendary madman.

Geoffrey's Prophetiae do not reveal much about Merlin's background. When he included the prophet in his next work, Historia Regum Britanniae, he supplemented the characterization by attributing to him stories about Aurelius Ambrosius, taken from Nennius' Historia Brittonum. According to Nennius, Ambrosius was discovered when the British king Vortigern was trying to erect a tower. The tower always collapsed before completion, and his wise men told him the only solution was to sprinkle the foundation with the blood of a child born without a father. Ambrosius was rumored to be such a child, but when brought before the king, he revealed the real reason for the tower's collapse: below the foundation was a lake containing two dragons who destroyed the tower by fighting. Geoffrey retells this story in Historia Regum Britanniæ with some embellishments, and gives the fatherless child the name of the prophetic bard, Merlin. He keeps this new figure separate from Aurelius Ambrosius, and to disguise his changing of Nennius, he simply states that Ambrosius was another name for Merlin. He goes on to add new episodes that tie Merlin into the story of King Arthur and his predecessors.

Geoffrey dealt with Merlin again in his third work, Vita Merlini. He based the Vita on stories of the original 6th-century Myrddin. Though set long after his time frame for the life of "Merlin Ambrosius", he tries to assert the characters are the same with references to King Arthur and his death as told in the Historia Regum Britanniae.

Merlin Ambrosius, or Myrddin Emrys

A giant helps Merlin build Stonehenge. From a manuscript of the Roman de Brut by Wace (British Library, Egerton 3208)

Geoffrey's account of Merlin Ambrosius' early life in the Historia Regum Britanniae is based on the story of Ambrosius in the Historia Brittonum. He adds his own embellishments to the tale, which he sets in Carmarthen, Wales (Welsh: Caerfyrddin). While Nennius' Ambrosius eventually reveals himself to be the son of a Roman consul, Geoffrey's Merlin is begotten on a king's daughter by an incubus. The story of Vortigern's tower is essentially the same; the underground dragons, one white and one red, represent the Saxons and the British, and their final battle is a portent of things to come.

At this point Geoffrey inserts a long section of Merlin's prophecies, taken from his earlier Prophetiae Merlini. He tells only two further tales of the character; in the first, Merlin creates Stonehenge as a burial place for Aurelius Ambrosius. In the second, Merlin's magic enables Uther Pendragon to enter into Tintagel in disguise and father his son Arthur with his enemy's wife, Igraine. These episodes appear in many later adaptations of Geoffrey's account. As Lewis Thorpe notes, Merlin disappears from the narrative after this; he does not tutor and advise Arthur as in later versions.[2]

Later adaptations of the legend

Merlin, from the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)

Several decades later the poet Robert de Boron retold this material in his poem Merlin. Only a few lines of the poem have survived, but a prose retelling became popular and was later incorporated into two other romances. In Robert's account Merlin is begotten by a devil on a virgin as an intended Antichrist. This plot is thwarted when the expectant mother informs her confessor Blaise of her predicament; they immediately baptize the boy at birth, thus freeing him from the power of Satan. The demonic legacy invests Merlin with a preternatural knowledge of the past and present, which is supplemented by God, who gives the boy a prophetic knowledge of the future.

Robert de Boron lays great emphasis on Merlin's power to shapeshift, on his joking personality and on his connection to the Holy Grail. This text introduces Merlin's master Blaise, who is pictured as writing down Merlin's deeds, explaining how they came to be known and preserved. Robert was inspired by Wace's Roman de Brut, an Anglo-Norman adaptation of Geoffrey's Historia. Robert's poem was rewritten in prose in the 12th century as the Estoire de Merlin, also called the Vulgate or Prose Merlin. It was originally attached to a cycle of prose versions of Robert's poems, which tells the story of the Holy Grail: brought from the Middle East to Britain by followers of Joseph of Arimathea, the Grail is eventually recovered by Arthur's knight Percival.

The Prose Merlin contains many instances of Merlin's shapeshifting. He appears as a woodcutter with an axe about his neck, big shoes, a torn coat, bristly hair and a large beard. He is later found in the forest of Northumberland by a follower of Uther's disguised as an ugly man and tending a great herd of beasts. He then appears first as a handsome man and then as a beautiful boy. Years later, he approaches Arthur disguised as a peasant wearing leather boots, a wool coat, a hood and a belt of knotted sheepskin. He is described as tall, black and bristly, and as seeming cruel and fierce. Finally, he appears as an old man with a long beard, short and hunchbacked, in an old torn woolen coat, who carries a club and drives a multitude of beasts before him (Loomis, 1927).

The Prose Merlin later came to serve as a sort of prequel to the vast Lancelot-Grail, also known as the Vulgate Cycle. The authors of that work expanded it with the Vulgate Suite du Merlin (Vulgate Merlin Continuation), which describes King Arthur's early adventures. The Prose Merlin was also used as a prequel to the later Post-Vulgate Cycle, the authors of which added their own continuation, the Huth Merlin or Post-Vulgate Suite du Merlin.

In the Livre d'Artus, Merlin enters Rome in the form of a huge stag with a white fore-foot. He bursts into the presence of Julius Caesar and tells the emperor that only the wild man of the woods can interpret the dream that has been troubling him. Later, he returns in the form of a black, shaggy man, barefoot with a torn coat. In another episode, he decides to do something that will be spoken of forever. Going into the forest of Brocéliande, he transforms himself into a herdsman carrying a club and wearing a wolf-skin and leggings. He is large, bent, black, lean, hairy and old, and his ears hang down to his waist. His head is as big as a buffalo's, his hair is down to his waist, he has a hump on his back, his feet and hands are backwards, he's hideous, and is over 18 feet tall. By his arts, he calls a herd of deer to come and graze around him (Loomis, 1927).

These works were adapted and translated into several other languages; the Post-Vulgate Suite was the inspiration for the early parts of Sir Thomas Malory's English language Le Morte d'Arthur. Many later medieval works also deal with the Merlin legend. The Italian The Prophecies of Merlin contains long prophecies of Merlin (mostly concerned with 13th-century Italian politics), some by his ghost after his death. The prophecies are interspersed with episodes relating Merlin's deeds and with various Arthurian adventures in which Merlin does not appear at all. The earliest English verse romance concerning Merlin is Arthour and Merlin, which drew from the chronicles and the French Lancelot-Grail.

As the Arthurian mythos was retold and embellished, Merlin's prophetic aspects were sometimes de-emphasized in favor of portraying him as a wizard and elder advisor to Arthur. On the other hand in the Lancelot-Grail it is said that Merlin was never baptized and never did any good in his life, only evil. Medieval Arthurian tales abound in inconsistencies.

In the Lancelot-Grail and later accounts Merlin's eventual downfall came from his lusting after a huntress named Niviane (or Nymue, Nimue, Niniane, Nyneue, or Viviane in some versions of the legend), who was the daughter of the king of Northumberland. In the Suite du Merlin [3], for example, Niviane is about to depart from Arthur's court, but, with some encouragement from Merlin, Arthur asks her to stay in his castle with the queen. During her stay, Merlin falls in love with her and desires her. Niviane, frightened that Merlin might take advantage of her with his spells, swears that she will never love him unless he swears to teach her all of his magic. Merlin consents, unaware that throughout the course of her lessons, Niviane will use Merlin's own powers against him, forcing him to do her bidding.[3]

When Niviane finally goes back to her country, Merlin escorts her. However, along the way, Merlin receives a vision that Arthur is in need of assistance against the schemes of Morgan le Fay. Niviane and Merlin rush back to Arthur's castle, but have to stop for the night in a stone chamber, once inhabited by two lovers. Merlin relates that when the lovers died, they were placed in a magic tomb within a room in the chamber. That night, while Merlin is asleep, Niviane, still disgusted with Merlin's desire for her, as well as his demon heritage, casts a spell over him and places him in the magic tomb so that he can never escape, thus causing his death.[3]

Merlin's death is recounted differently in other versions of the narrative, the enchanted prison variously described as a cave (in the Lancelot-Grail), a large rock (in Le Morte d'Arthur), an invisible tower. In the Prophetiae Merlini, Niviane confines him in the forest of Brocéliande with walls of air, visible as mist to others but as a beautiful tower to him (Loomis, 1927). This is unfortunate for Arthur, who has lost his greatest counselor. Another version has it that Merlin angers Arthur to the point where he beheads, cuts in half, burns, and curses Merlin.

Fiction featuring Merlin


Many parts of Arthurian fiction include Merlin as a character. Mark Twain made Merlin the villain in his 1889 novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. He is presented as a complete charlatan with no real magic power, and the character seems to stand for (and to satirise) superstition, yet at the very last chapter of the book Merlin suddenly seems to have a real magic power and he puts the protagonist into a centuries-long sleep (as Merlin himself was put to sleep in the original Arthurian canon). C. S. Lewis used the figure of Merlin Ambrosius in his 1946 novel That Hideous Strength, the third book in the Space Trilogy. In it, Merlin has supposedly lain asleep for centuries to be awakened for the battle against the materialistic agents of the devil, able to consort with the angelic powers because he came from a time when sorcery was not yet a corrupt art. Lewis's character of Ransom has apparently inherited the title of Pendragon from the Arthurian tradition.

Merlin is also portrayed in the T.A Barron book series(The Lost Years Of Merlin)and (The Great Tree Of Avalon) in the lost years he is young and has to find his identity after being washed up on shore in The Great Tree Of Avalon he is mentioned a lot but does not appear until the 3rd novel.In other books Merlin is a major character in T. H. White's collection The Once and Future King and the related The Book of Merlyn. White's Merlin is an old man living time backward, with final goodbyes being first encounters, and first encounters being fond farewells. Mary Stewart produced an influential quintet of Arthurian novels; Merlin is the protagonist in the first three: The Crystal Cave (1970), The Hollow Hills (1970) and The Last Enchantment (1979). Merlin plays a modern-day villain in Roger Zelazny's short story "The Last Defender of Camelot" (1979), which won the 1980 Balrog Award for short fiction and was adapted into an episode of the television series The Twilight Zone in 1986. Additionally, the last five books in Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber star a character named Merlin, with seemingly little to do with Arthurian legend, though other references to the legend seem to hint at a connection. Merlin also plays a major role in Stephen R. Lawhead's The Pendragon Cycle.

The character itself has inspired further writers such as Tolkien into crafting wizards with similar backgrounds. Gandalf, much like Merlin and Christ, is revived, chose intellect over strength and crowned a king.[4]

And, in the books written by Karen Chance - the Cassie Palmer series - is said that John Pritkin is Merlin. He claims being the son of a demon lord and is currently protecting Cassie since she is the Pythia.

Film and television

Merlin is a main character in the 1963 animated Disney film The Sword in the Stone, based on T. H. White's novel of the same name. Disney's (and White's) version of the character aides and educates King Arthur about various things. He was voiced by Karl Swenson and animated by several of Disney's Nine Old Men, including Milt Kahl, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, and John Lounsbery. Kahl also designed the character, refining the storyboard sketches of Bill Peet. Merlin later appeared in a number of Disney productions, where he has been voiced by several different actors. Merlin, played by Nicol Williamson, has a large role in the 1981 film Excalibur, which is roughly based on Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur. Laurence Naismith appears as Merlyn in the film version of the musical play Camelot, (based on T. H. White's The Once and Future King). In the 1998 miniseries Merlin, the protagonist Merlin (played by actor Sam Neill) battled the pagan goddess Queen Mab.

In 2006 and 2007, the television series Stargate SG1 used Merlin and Arthurian legend as major plot points in both Season 9 and 10. Specifically, Merlin is portrayed as an Ancient whose superior knowledge of the universe is the source of many components of the legends. Also in 2007, the film The Last Legion portrayed Merlin (initially called Ambrosinus) as a druid and tutor of both the last Roman Emperor Romulus Augustus Caesar, as well as of his son Arthur. In 2008, the BBC created a television series, also called Merlin, which deviated significantly from more traditional versions of the myth, portraying Merlin as the same age as Arthur, and Nimueh as an evil sorceress dedicated to his death. Merlin, portrayed by Simon Lloyd Roberts, was the protagonist of the 2008 fantasy film Merlin and the War of the Dragons, which was based loosely on the legends of King Arthur.


  1. ^ Katharine Mary Briggs (1976). An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Boogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures, p.440. New York: Pantheon Books. ISBN 0-394-73467-X
  2. ^ a b c Geoffrey of Monmouth (1977). Lewis Thorpe. ed. The History of the Kings of Britain. Penguin Classics. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-140-44170-0. 
  3. ^ a b c Robert de Boron (1994). James J. Wilhelm. ed. Suite du Merlin. Garland Reference Library. 
  4. ^ Michel Mony, Myrddin Immortalis: From Fool to Icon, Folklore & Litterature: A Collective, Laval University, Quebec, 2007.


  • Arbrois De Jubainville, H., Merlin est-il un personnage historique?, Revue des questions historiques 5, 1868.
  • Breton-Guay, Neomie, Merlin l'Enchanteur dans les images de la renaissance arthurienne, 2006.
  • Cadieux-Larochelle, Josee, Pour forger un mythe: les avatars de Merlin, 1996.
  • Castleden, Rodney, King Arthur: The Truth behind the legend, London, New-York, G. Routhledge, 2000.
  • Donnard, Ana, Merlin, L'intermediaire des mondes. Minas Gerais federal University.
  • Dumezil, Georges, Mythes et Dieux des Indo-europeens Flammarion, 1992.
  • Gaster, M, The Legend of Merlin: A Postscript, Folklore, 2905
  • Gill, N.S., Who was Merlin and was Merlin Real? Ancient/Classical History, 2007.
  • Heather, P.J., Divination, Folklore, 1954.
  • Hersart, Theodore, Myrdhin ou l'enchanteur Merlin: son histoire, ses oeuvres, son influence, Paris, Terre de Brume, 1989.
  • Holdstock, Robert, Le graal de fer, Paris, Pocket, 2006.
  • La Croix, Arnaud de, Arthur, Merlin et le Graal, un mythe revisite, Monaco, Editions du Rocher, 2001.
  • Lacy, Norris J. (Ed.) (1991). The New Arthurian Encyclopedia. New York: Garland. ISBN 0-8240-4377-4.
  • Loomis, Roger Sherman (1927). Celtic Myth and Arthurian Romance. Columbia University Press.
  • Monmouth, Geoffrey. The History of the Kings of Britain. The Romance of Arthur. Ed. James J. Wilhelm. New York: Garland Publishing, 1994. 63-93.
  • Rider, Jeff, The fictional margin: The Merlin of the Brut, Modern Philology, 1989, University of Chicago Press.
  • Joe, Jimmy, Timeless Myths: The Many Faces of Merlin, 2007.

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Merlin (1998 film) article)

From Wikiquote

Merlin is a 1998 film that was run as a 3 hour made-for-television special about the life of the wizard Merlin from the famous legend of King Arthur.

Directed by Steve Barron. Written by Edward Khmara with teleplay written by David Stevens and Peter Barnes.
The most magical adventure of all time. (taglines)



  • I knew I would never see her again.
  • I had won. I was trying to smile but it was the smile of desolution. Inside, I felt only the pity and the terror and the waste of it all. Everyone I had ever loved, and who ever loved me — all gone... all gone down...
  • They say that when you're unhappy, time slows to a crawl. On the other hand, when your happy ... my childhood must have been very happy, for it was over in a flash.
  • Things fall apart, they say. Uther had betrayed me, killed Cornwall. But then, I'd betrayed Igraine by helping Uther seduce her. So the wheel of life turns - one betrayal leads to another and another. The innocent die. It haunted me for the rest of my life.
  • A reputation is like glass, once cracked it can never be repaired.
  • I was his tutor. I didn't teach him magic. I taught him ethics and morals. It is much more difficult, believe me.


  • And you can tell Her Royal High and Mighty Queen Mab that magic or no magic, if she harms you in any way, I'll have her guts for my boot laces.
  • Magic has no power over the human heart.
  • You've been sliding down the ladder of success so quickly these last few years you must have got splinters in your backside.
  • [to Queen Mab] You are so cold! If I would punch you in the heart I'd break my fist.


  • Father Abbot: Faith is Supreme, of course. But love is even better.
  • Frik: Handsome is as handsome does. What does that mean? I never really understood the phrase.
  • Lady of the Lake: Good king. Bad king. You judge too easily Merlin. You will learn.
  • Lady of the Lake: It’s human to make mistakes Merlin, and part of you is human, the best part.
  • Lady of the Lake: My sister was right about one thing. When we are forgotten, we cease to exist.
  • Vortigern: That is a mistake many of my enemies make. They think before they act. I act before I think.


Merlin: You killed her.
Queen Mab: No, I didn't.
Merline: You killed her like you killed my real mother.
Queen Mab: No, I only let her die.

King Arthur Pendragon: Merlin, what should I do?
Merlin: In the end, you must uphold the law.

Merlin: I'm thinking of the future here, Morgan.
Morgan Le Fay: Oh, you would think of the future, Merlin. Because the past is too painful

King Arthur Pendragon: I made a mistake that night with Morgan. But I can't believe that I'll be condemned for all eternity for one mistake.
Merlin: No, not by me. I'll never condemn you, Arthur.

Morgan Le Fay: I like the old ways. The old ways gave me a son, and they made me beautiful.
Merlin: But beauty is only an illusion.
Morgan Le Fay: Beauty is always only an illusion, didn't you know that?

Mordred: Why didn't you kill him, Auntie Mab?
Queen Mab: Because that's what he wanted me to do.

Uther: You tricked me, Merlin!
Merlin: Come come, Uther. I'm a wizard, that's my business.


External links

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

MERLIN (Welsh, Myrddhin), the famous bard of Welsh tradition, and enchanter of Arthurian romance. His history as related in this latter may be summarized as follows. The infernal powers, aghast at the blow to their influence dealt by the 'Incarnation, determine to counteract it, if possible, by the birth of an Antichrist, the offspring of a woman and a devil. As in the book of Job, a special family is singled out as subjects of the diabolic experiment, their property is destroyed, one after the other perishes miserably, till one daughter, who has placed herself under the special protection of the Church, is left alone. The demon takes advantage of an unguarded moment of despair, and Merlin is engendered. Thanks, however, to the prompt action of the mother's confessor, Blayse, in at once baptizing the child of this abnormal birth, the mother truly protesting that she has had intercourse with no man, Merlin is claimed for Christianity, but remains dowered with demoniac powers of insight and prophecy. An infant in arms, he saves his mother's life and confounds her accusers by his knowledge of their family secrets. Meanwhile Vortigern, king of the Britons, is in despair at the failure of his efforts to build a tower in a certain spot; however high it may be reared in a day, it falls again during the night. He consults his diviners, who tell him that the foundations must be watered with the blood of a child who has never had a father; the king accordingly sends messengers through the land in search of such a prodigy. They come to the city where Merlin and his mother dwell at the moment when the boy is cast out from the companionship of the other lads on the ground that he has had no father. The messengers take him to the king, and on the way he astonishes them by certain prophecies which are fulfilled to their knowledge. Arrived in Vortigern's presence, he at once announces that he is aware alike of the fate destined for him and of the reason, hidden from the magicians, of the fall of the tower. It is built over a lake, and beneath the waters of the lake in a subterranean cavern lie two dragons, a white and a red; when they turn over the tower falls. The lake is drained, the correctness of the statement proved, and Merlin's position as court prophet assured. Henceforward he acts as adviser to Vortigern's successors, the princes Ambrosius and Uther (subsequently Uther-Pendragon). As a monument to the Britons fallen on Salisbury Plain he brings from Ireland, by magic means, the stones now forming Stonehenge. He aids Uther in his passion for Yguerne, wife to the duke of Cornwall, by Merlin's spells Uther assumes the form of the husband, and on the night of the duke's death Arthur is engendered. At his birth the child is committed to Merlin's care, and by him given to Antor, who brings him up as his own son. On Arthur's successful achievement of the test of the sword in the "perron," Merlin reveals the truth of his parentage and the fact that he is by hereditary right, as well as by divine selection, king of the Britons. During the earlier part of Arthur's reign Merlin acts as counsellor; then he disappears mysteriously from the scene. According to one account he is betrayed by a maiden, Nimue or Niniane (a king's daughter, or a water-fairy, both figure in different versions), of whom he is enamoured, and who having beguiled from him a knowledge of magic spells, casts him into a slumber and imprisons him living in a rocky tomb. This version, with the great cry, or Brait, which the magician uttered before his death, appears to have been the most popular. Another represents his prison as one of air; he is invisible to all, but can see and hear, and occasionally speak to passers by; thus he holds converse with Gawain. In the prose Perceval he retires voluntarily to an "Esplumeor" erected by himself, and is seen no more of man.

The curious personality of Merlin is now generally recognized as being very largely due to the prolific invention of Geoffrey of Monmouth. Nennius, upon whose Historia Geoffrey enlarged and "improved," gives indeed the story of Vortigern and the tower, but the boy's name is Ambrosius. Geoffrey calls him Merlin-Ambrosius, a clear proof that he was adapting Nennius' story. He represents the sage in his role of court diviner, his "Prophecies" being incorporated in later manuscripts of the Historia. Subsequently Geoffrey enlarged on the theme, composing a Vita Merlini in which we find the magician in the role of a "possessed" wood-abider, fleeing the haunts of men, and consorting with beasts. This gave rise to the idea that there had originally been two Merlins, Merlin-Ambrosius and Merlin-Sylvester, a view now discarded by the leading scholars. The Vita was so successful that Geoffrey obtained as reward the bishopric of St Asaph.

Welsh vernacular literature has preserved a small but interesting group of poems, strongly national and patriotic in character, which are attributed to Merlin (Myrddhin).

A few years after Geoffrey's death Merlin's adventures were amplified into a romance, the first draft of which is attributed to Robert de Borron, and which eventually took the form of a lengthy introduction to the prose Lancelot and cyclic redaction of the Arthurian legend.

The romantic, as distinguished from legendary or historical Merlin, exists in the following forms: (a) a fragmentary poem preserved in a unique manuscript of the Bibl. nat. (this gives no more than the introduction to the story); (b) a prose rendering of the above, of which a fair number of copies exist, generally found, as in the original poem, coupled with a version of the early history of the Grail, known as Joseph of Arimathea, and in two cases followed by a Perceval and Mort Artus, thus forming a small cycle; (c) the Ordinary or Vulgate Merlin, a very lengthy romance, of which numerous copies exist (see Dr Sommer's edition); (d) and (e) two continuations to the above, each represented by a single manuscript - (d) the "Huth" Merlin, which was utilized by Malory for his translation, and also formed a part of the compilation used by the Spanish and Portuguese translators, and (e) a very curious manuscript, 337, Bibl. nat. (fonds Francais), which Paulin Paris calls the Livre Artus, containing much matter not found elsewhere.

M. La Villemarque's "critical study" (Myrdhinn, ou l'enchanteur Merlin, 1861) cannot be regarded as much more trustworthy than Geoffrey himself. The story of the tower, and the Boy without a Father, has been critically examined by Dr Gaster, in a paper read before the Folk-lore Society and subsequently published in Folk-lore (vol. xvi.). Dr Gaster cites numerous Oriental parallels to the tale, and sees in it the germ of the whole Merlin legend. Alfred Nutt (Revue celtique, vol. xxvii.) has since shown that Aengus, the magician of the Irish Tuatha de Danaan, was also of unknown parentage, and it seems more probable that the Boy without a Father theme was generally associated with the Celtic magicians, and is the property of no one in particular. Some years ago the late Mr Ward of the British Museum drew attention to certain passages in the life of St Kentigern, relating his dealings with a "possessed" being, a dweller in the woods, named Lailoken, and pointed out the practical identity of the adventures of that personage and those assigned by Geoffrey to Merlin in the Vita; the text given by Mr Ward states that some. people identified Lailoken with Merlin (see Romania, vol. xxvii.). Ferd. Lot, in an examination of the sources of the Vita Merlini (Annales de Bretagne, vol. xv.), has pointed out the more original character of the "Lailoken" fragments, and decides that Geoffrey knew the Scottish tradition and utilized it for his Vita. He also comes to the conclusion that the Welsh Merlin poems, with the possible exception of the Dialogue between Merlin and Taliessin, are posterior to, and inspired by, Geoffrey's work. So far the researches of scholars appear to point to the result that the legend of Merlin, as we know it, is of complex growth, combined from traditions of independent and widely differing origin. Most probably there is a certain substratum of fact beneath all; there may have been, there very probably was, a bard and soothsayer of that name, and it is by no means improbable that curious stories were told of his origin. It is worth noting that Layamon, whose translation of Wace's Brut is of so much interest, on account of the variants he introduces into the text, gives a much more favourable form of the "Birth" story; the father is a glorious and supernatural being, who appears to the mother in her dreams. Layamon lived on the Welsh border, and the possibility of his variants being drawn from genuine British tradition is generally recognized. The poem relating a dialogue between Merlin and his brother bard, Taliessin, may also derive from genuine tradition. Further than this we can hardly venture to go; the probability is that anything more told of the character and career of Merlin rests upon the imaginative powers and faculty of combination of Geoffrey of Monmouth.

See also G. Paris and Ulrich (Societe des anciens textes francais, 1886); Merlin, ed. Wheatley (Early English Text Society, 1899) Arthour and Merlin, ed. Kolbing. (J. L. W.)

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also merlin


Proper noun




  1. A wizard in the Arthurian legend.


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