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Who Was Merlin?

Possible Men Who May Have Been Merlin

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Merlin

Merlin

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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.

Math The Son of Mathonwy

(www.cyberphile.co.uk/~taff/taffnet/mabinogion/math.html)
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 Merlin.

Historical Foundations

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. (Another site for translated passages.)

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.

The Prophecy of Merlin

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