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Merlin

Merlin

A legendary British enchanter who lived at the court of King Arthur. He emerged as a character in Geoffrey of Manmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae (completed around 1135 C.E.). Geoffrey later wrote a complete book on Merlin, Vita Merlini (ca. 1150). According to Geoffrey, Merlin's mother was a nun, and he was borne of his mother's intercourse with an incubus. He lived in the sixth century in north Britain. By the end of the century, he was the subject of poems in Wales, where Geoffrey's character was merged with the folklore image of a Wildman in the Wood.

Merlin seems to have been associated with King Arthur in the poem "Merlin" by Robert de Boron. In Boron's account, Merlin is the product of a demon's mating with a young girl. She confesses the incident to her confessor, who puts the sign of the cross on her. The son, Merlin, is born without the demon's evil nature, but with supernatural abilities. He assists Pendragon, the British king who was slain in a battle with the Saxons. Merlin then assists the king's brother, Uterpendragon. He directs the new king's construction of a roundtable, a replica of the one believed to have been used by Jesus at the Last Supper.

Uterpendragon (with Merlin's magical help) seduces the wife of one of the noblemen. From that union, Arthur is born. Though the king married the woman, who was widowed soon after conceiving Arthur, Merlin advises that Arthur be given to foster parents for his own protection. That action set up Arthur's later claiming the throne based upon his pulling a sword from the stone.

From Boron's basic story, Merlin's story grew and developed. By the nineteenth century, he had become the quinessential magician, and in the twentieth century the number of appearances in fantasy novels soared.

Sources:

Lacy, Norris J., ed. The Arthurian Encyclopedia. New York: Garland Publishing, 1986.

Loomis, Roger Sherman, ed. Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959.

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"Merlin." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Merlin

Merlin

In the legends about King Arthur, the king had the help and advice of a powerful wizard named Merlin. Indeed this magician, who arranged for Arthur's birth and for many aspects of his life, can be seen as the guiding force behind the Arthurian legends*. Many stories about Merlin circulated in medieval times.


medieval relating to the Middle Ages ¡n Europe, a period from about a.d. 500 to 1500

Origins and Sources. The figure of Merlin seems to be based on a magician named Myrddin, who appeared in the pre-Christian mythology of the Celtic* peoples. The writings of Nennius, a Welsh storyteller of about a.d. 800, include tales of a young magician named Ambrosius who became an adviser to Vortigern, a legendary king of early Britain.

* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.

Some 300 years later, the British chronicler Geoffrey of Monmouth told a more elaborate story about the magician in his History of the Kings of Britain (1136). In this account, a sorcerer known as Merlin Ambrosius served as adviser to British king Uther Pendragon and, later, to his son Arthur. Geoffrey of Monmouth also wrote a work about Merlin that drew on old Celtic legends about a "wild man of the woods" with magical and fortune-telling powers.

Related Entries

Other entries related to Merlin are listed at the end of this article.

Some early legends claimed that Merlin was the son of a demon and of a human woman. Only half human, Merlin was mysterious and unpredictable, sometimes helping the human race but sometimes changing his shape and passing long periods as a bird, a cloud, or something else. He also desired and seduced women. By the 1200s, however, the influence of Christianity was reshaping the Arthurian legends, and Merlin became a more respectable figurea wise old man who supplied moral guidance as well as magic.

Merlin's Life and Works. In the legend of Vortigern, the king was trying to build a temple on Salisbury Plain, but it kept falling down. The boy Ambrosius told the king of a vision in which he had seen a red dragon and a white dragon fighting in a pool under the temple's foundation. From this, he predicted that the red dragon of Wales (King Vortigern) would be defeated by the white dragon of Britain (King Uther Pendragon), which later happened. The magician then built the temple himself, using his magic to bring standing stones from Ireland and to arrange them on the plain on a single night. That, according to legend, was how Stonehenge was built.

Merlin Ambrosius became the ally of Uther and used his magic to enable Uther to spend a night with another king's wife. The child born of that union was Arthur. Merlin predicted that he would be a great king who would one day unite all of Britain.

Entrusted with Arthur's upbringing, Merlin prepared the boy for kingship. Some accounts say that the wizard fashioned the magical sword Excalibur that proved that Arthur was the rightful king. According to other stories, Merlin also created the Round Table around which Arthur's knights sat. He was Arthur's helper and adviser in many things. Yet even Merlin could not prevent the final crumbling of the knights' fellowship and the fall of Arthur, as recounted in every version of the Arthurian legends.

As for Merlin's own fate, accounts vary. Some say that he lost his wits after Arthur's defeat and wandered into the woods. Most versions of the magician's story, however, end with his being tricked by a witch named Nimuë (or in some accounts by the Lady of the Lake), with whom he had fallen in love. Nimuë did not really care for Merlin but simply wanted to learn his secrets. When she had learned enough, she trapped him in an underground cave from which he could never escape.

See also Arthur, King; Arthurian Legends.

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"Merlin." Myths and Legends of the World. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Merlin

Merlin was famous in myth and tradition as the soothsayer and magician at King Arthur's court. Fragmentary evidence of early oral traditions suggests Merlin's earliest incarnation was as the mythical Welsh poet-madman Myrddin. This figure's transformation into Merlin was probably the work of Geoffrey of Monmouth (c.1100–54), who welded Merlin onto the Arthurian myth. This process was consolidated in Malory's Morte Darthur (published 1485), and revived with the Victorian reinvention of the Arthurian legend. In the interim, Merlin was regarded as the prototype magician, and his ‘prophecies’ were frequently reworked and republished in the 16th and 17th cents.

J. A. Sharpe

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"Merlin." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Merlin." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/merlin

"Merlin." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Retrieved July 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/merlin

Merlin

Merlin, in Arthurian legend, magician, seer, and teacher at the court of King Vortigern and later at the court of King Arthur. He was a bard and culture hero in early Celtic folklore. In Arthurian legend he is famous as a magician and as the counselor of King Arthur. In Tennyson's Idylls of the King Merlin is imprisoned eternally in an old oak tree by the treacherous Vivien (or Nimue), when he reveals the secrets of his knowledge to her.

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"Merlin." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Merlin." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved July 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/merlin

Merlin

Merlin Legendary magician. His origins may be traced to early Celtic folklore, although his name is usually associated with the Arthurian legends as the mentor of King Arthur.

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Merlin

Merlin in Arthurian legend, the powerful magician who protected Arthur in childhood and was later his chief counsellor; he was eventually entrapped by the enchantress Vivien.

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"Merlin." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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MERLIN

MERLIN (ˈmʔːɑn) Astronomy Multi-Element Radio-linked Interferometer Network (UK)

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