Monday, 4 May 2009

Merlin



merlin
One of the most fascinating figures in the Welsh mythology and the Arthurian legend is Merlin, the great wizard, prophet and adviser to several kings, including King Arthur.
Name Merlin.Myrddin (Welsh).Merlinus (Latin).
Emrys (Welsh), Ambrosius (Latin);
Merlin Ambrosius.Merlin Calidonius.
Sources

Historia regum Britanniae ("History of the Kings of Britain", c. 1137) andthe Vita Merlini ("Life of Merlin", c. 1152) were written by Geoffrey of Monmouth.
Roman de Brut ("Story of Brutus") was written by Wace, c. 1155.
Brut was written by Layamon, c. 1200.
Merlin was written by Robert de Boron, c. 1200.
Vulgate Merlin or Prose Merlin was adaptation of Boron's Merlin, c. 1210.
Suite de Merlin was part of Post Vulgate Cycle, c. 1240.
Le Morte d'Arthur was written by Thomas Malory, 1469.
Historia Brittonum was written by Nennius (9th century).


"In dark age Britain we have to recognize various adverse factor, such as the loss and destruction of manuscripts by invading armies; the character of the early material, oral rather than written; the decline of learning and even literacy among the Welsh monks who might have kept reliable records. The whole period is plunged in obscurity from the same causes. People who were certainly real and important are no better attested."


Since we don't have the necessary fifth and sixth century records, it's impossible to say absolutely that Merlin did or did not exist.


- From Tennyson's "Idylls"

The pale blood of the wizard at her touch

Took gayer colours, like an opal warmed.

She blamed herself for telling hearsay tales:

She shook from fear, and for her fault she wept

Of petulancy; she called him lord and liege,

Her seer, her bard, her silver star of eve,

Her God, her Merlin, the one passionate love

Of her whole life; and ever overhead

Bellowed the tempest, and the rotten branch

Snapt in the rushing of the river-rain
Above them; and in change of glare and gloom

Her eyes and neck glittering went and came;

Till now the storm, its burst of passion spent,

Moaning and calling out of other lands,

Had left the ravaged woodland yet once more

To peace; and what should not have been had been,

For Merlin, overtalked and overworn,

Had yielded, told her all the charm, and slept.

Legendary Roots - Possible Merlins
Transformation of Celtic Mythology in Arthurian Legend
There may have been a real Merlin, such as the one Nikolai Tolstoy describes in Quest for Merlin: "...Merlin was indeed an historical figure, living in what are now the lowlands of Scotland at the end of the sixth century A.D...an authentic prophet, most likely a druid surviving in a pagan enclave of the north."The Merlin prototype may have been a Celtic druid named Lailoken who gained second sight after he went mad and escaped society to live in the forest.
A poem from A.D. 600 describes a Welsh prophet named Myrddin
Nennius
The 9th century monk Nennius, described as "inventive" in his history writing, wrote about Merlin, a fatherless Ambrosius, and prophesies. Despite Nennius' lack of reliability, he is a source for us today because Nennius used fifth century sources that are no longer extant.
In Math The Son of Mathonwy, from the classic collection of Welsh tales known as the Mabinogion, Gwydion, a bard and magician, performs love spells and uses cunning to protect and help an infant boy. While some see this Gwydion trickster as Arthur, others see in him as Merlin. Passages from Nennius' History(www.britannia.com/history/docs/nennius.html)
Sections on Vortigern include the following prophecy referred to in Part I of the Merlin television mini-series: "You must find a child born without a father, put him to death, and sprinkle with his blood the ground on which the citadel is to be built, or you will never accomplish your purpose." The child was Ambrose.ORB -- Sub-Roman Britain: An Introduction Following barbarian raids, troop withdrawals from Britain ordered by Magnus Maximus in A.D. 383, Stilicho in 402, and Constantine III in 407, the Roman administration elected three tyrants: Marcus, Gratian, and Constantine. However, we have little information from the actual time period -- three dates and the writing of Gildas and St. Patrick, who rarely writes about Britain.
Gildas
In A.D. 540, Gildas wrote De Excidio Britanniae ("The Ruin of Britain") which includes an historical explanation. This site's translated passages mention Vortigern and Ambrosius Aurelianus.
Geoffrey of Monmouth
In 1138, combining Nennius' history and Welsh tradition about a bard named Myrddin, Geoffrey of Monmouth completed his Historia Regum Britanniae, which traces the British kings to the great-grandson of Aeneas, Trojan hero and legendary founder of Rome. In about A.D. 1150, Geoffrey also wrote a Vita Merlini. Merlin: Texts, Images, Basic Information(Merlin) Apparently worried that the Anglo-Norman audience would take offense at the similarity between the name Merdinus and merde, Geoffrey changed the prophet's name. Geoffrey's Merlin helps Uther Pendragon and moves the stones to Stonehenge from Ireland. Geoffrey also wrote a Prophecies of Merlin which he later incorporated into his History.

Merlin is best known as the wizard featured in Arthurian legend. The standard depiction of the character first appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, and is based on an amalgamation of previous historical and legendary figures. Geoffrey combined existing stories of Myrddin Wyllt (Merlinus Caledonensis), a northern madman with no connection to King Arthur, with tales of Aurelius Ambrosius to form the composite figure he called Merlin Ambrosius.
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 born of mortal woman, sired by an incubus, the non-human wellspring from whom he inherits his supernatural powers and abilities. Merlin matures to an ascendant sagehood and engineers the birth of Arthur through magic and intrigue. Later, Merlin serves as the king's advisor until he is bewitched and imprisoned by the Lady of the Lake.)
Reference
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
(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

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 wildman of the woods 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. Medievalist Gaston Paris suggested he altered the name to "Merlinus" rather than the standard romanization "Merdinus" to avoid a resemblance to the vulgar French word merde, meaning "excrement".
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 timeframe 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.
Merlinus Caledonensis, or Myrddin Wyllt
The earliest (pre-12th century) Welsh poems concerning the Myrddin legend present him as a madman living a wretched existence in the Caledonian Forest, ruminating on his former existence and the disaster that brought him low: the death of his lord Gwenddoleu, whom he served as bard. The allusions in these poems serve to sketch out the events of the Battle of Arfderydd, where Riderch Hael, King of Alt Clut (Strathclyde) slaughtered the forces of Gwenddoleu, and Myrddin went mad watching this defeat. The Annales Cambriae date this battle to AD 573 and name Gwenddoleu's adversaries as the sons of Eliffer, presumably Gwrgi and Peredur.
Some early references name the madman as "Lailoken"; this name especially used in the hagiography of Saint Kentigern. A version of this legend is preserved in a late 15th century manuscript, in a story called Lailoken and Kentigern. In this narrative, Kentigern meets in a deserted place with the naked, hairy madman Lailoken, also called Merlynum or "Merlin", who declares that he has been condemned for his sins to wander in the company of beasts. He adds that he had been the cause for the deaths of all of the persons killed in the battle fought "on the plain between Liddel and Carwannok." Having told his story, the madman leaps up and flees from the presence of the saint back into the wilderness. He appears several times more in the narrative until at last he asks Kentigern for the sacrament, prophesying that he was about to die a triple death. After some hesitation, the saint grants the madman's wish, and later that day the shepherds of King Meldred capture him, beat him with clubs, then cast him into the River Tweed where his body is pierced by a stake, thus fulfilling his prophecy.
Welsh literature has many examples of a prophetic literature, predicting the military victory of all of the Brythonic peoples of Great Britain who will join together and drive the English – and later the Normans – back into the sea. Some of these works were claimed to be the prophecies of Myrddin; some were not, as for example the Armes Prydein. This wild prophetic Merlin was also treated by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his Vita Merlini which looks like a close adaptation of a number of Myrddin poems.
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 (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 on his enemy's wife, Igraine. These episodes appear in many later adaptations of Geoffrey's account.
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, and eventually recovered by Arthur's knight Percival. The Prose Merlin was detached from that shorter cycle 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 described 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. 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. For example, 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 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 Merlin as a wizard and elder advisor to Arthur. On the other hand in 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 woman named Nimue (or Ninive, in some versions of the legend), one of the maidens serving the Lady of the Lake, who coaxed his magical secrets from him before turning her new powers against her master and trapping him in an enchanted prison (variously described as a cave, a large rock, an invisible tower, etc.) This is unfortunate for Arthur, who has lost his greatest counselor.
http://www.geocities.com/branwaedd/merlini.html