MERLIN, Arthur's adviser, prophet and magician, is basically the
creation of Geoffrey of Monmouth, who in his twelfth-century History of
the Kings of Britain combined the Welsh traditions about a bard and prophet
named Myrddin with the story that the ninth-century chronicler Nennius tells
about Ambrosius (that he had no human father and that he prophesied the
defeat of the British by the Saxons).
|Merlin falls victim to
the spells of his own apprentice, Vivien, who may have been the Lady
of the Lake.
Geoffrey gave his character the name Merlinus rather than Merdinus (the
normal Latinization of Myrddin) because the latter might have suggested
to his Anglo-Norman audience the vulgar word "merde." In Geoffrey's
book, Merlin assists Uther Pendragon and is responsible for transporting
the stones of Stonehenge from Ireland, but he is not associated with Arthur.
Geoffrey also wrote a book of "Prophecies of Merlin" before his
History. The Prophecies were then incorporated into the History as its seventh
book. These led to a tradition that is manifested in other medieval works,
in eighteenth-century almanac writers who made predictions under such names
as Merlinus Anglicus, and in the presentaion of Merlin in later literature.
Merlin became very popular in the Middle Ages. He is central to a major
text of the thirteenth-century French Vulgate cycle, and he figures in a
number of other French and English romances. Sir Thomas Malory, in the Le
Morte d'Arthur presents him as the adviser and guide to Arthur. In the
modern period Merlin's popularity has remained constant. He figures in works
from the Renaissance to the modern period. In The Idylls of the King,
Tennyson makes him the architect of Camelot. Mark Twain, parodying Tennyson's
Arthurian world, makes Merlin a villain, and in one of the illustrations
to the first edition of Twain's work illustrator Dan Beard's Merlin has
Tennyson's face. Numerous novels, poems and plays center around Merlin.
In American literature and popular culture, Merlin is perhaps the most frequently
portrayed Arthurian character.
© The Camelot Project, The University of Rochester