Merlin is the archetypal wizard from Arthurian lore. Merlin is a Latinized version of the Welsh Myrddin. His exact origins are lost in myth and there is no concrete evidence, but there was possibly several individuals who were guardians to kings, prophets and bards existed toward in the late fifth century. What we have today has become the basis for the Arthurian lore about Merlin.
Merlin’s first appearances in the Latin works of Geoffrey of Monmouth, a 12th-century Welsh cleric. The Prophecies of Merlin written in the early 1130s and are verses apparently made by the fifth century prophet, Merlin. Monmouth did invent many of the prophecies himself which stretched beyond the 12th century. In the History of the Kings of Britain, Monmouth formed the foundations for the Arthurian legends where Merlin becomes a key character. Monmouth confuses the chronology placing Merlín in both the fifth and sixth centuries. He is allegedly a magical child born from a union between a mortal woman and a spirit (a daemon, which later Christian writers interpreted as the Devil) but he has great magical abilities with prophecy and matures quickly like many demi-gods from Classical mythology.
Accordingly, Merlin moves great stones from Ireland to the Salisbury Plain to construct Stonehenge (which actually much older than the fifth or sixth centuries CE). It is Merlín who organises for king Uther Pendragon to seduce Igraine. From the union is a son – the infant Arthur. Here, Monmouth’s story leaves Arthur and he doesn’t reappear until a third poetic work where The Life of Merlin continues the tale of Artur but instead focuses on Merlin sister- Ganieda. Vita Merlini written by Monmouth in about 1150, is a biography of sorts about the adult Merlin but it a written account of twelfth century oral lore, mythology, cosmography, cosmology and natural history.
In Vita Merlini, Merlin fights at the Battle of Camlann. Unlike many Arthurian stories and romantic poems, instead of glorifying war, the horrifying effects of trauma on individuals and their families are made plain. Merlin rules South Wales. Peredur of North Wales argues with Gwenddoleu, the King of Scotland and Merlin and King Rhydderch of Cumbria join with Peredur against the Scots in a savage battle. Arthur is wounded and taken from the battlefield to Avalon for healing.
The Britons finally rally their troops and force the Scots to retreat. Seeing victory ahead, Merlin instructs on the correct burial rites for all the dead before the trauma of war overwhelms him and he flees into the forest. There he exists as a hermit – naked and mad, he hunts animals and harvested nuts and wild fruit. He observes the animals and birds learning their ways and studying all the natural world around him.
After the Battle of Camlann and Merlín has fled to the woods, Queen Ganeida, Merlin’s sister and the wife of King Rhydderc worries for her brother’s well-being. She sends searchers into the woods to look for Merlin in hope of bringing him out of his madness. One of the searchers comes to a fountain hidden by hazel thickets. There he finds Merlin, naked and unkempt, talking to himself. The searcher doesn’t want to alarm Merlin with his presence so instead he softly plays the lyre and sings about the mourning of Guendoloena for her beloved husband, Metlin and of the worry of Ganieda for her brother.
The music was enough to sooth Merlin’s soul and he remembered who he was, and what he had been, and everyone he had set aside in his madness. He asks the searcher to take him to the court of his old friend King Rhydderch. There, Metlin walks through the city gates, and his sister Ganieda and wife Guenedolena run to meet him. In their love and joy at his return, they lead him to the royal court where King Rhydderch receives him with great honour. Suddenly surrounded by the vast crowd which he’s been unaccustomed to such human company, his madness returns and desperately, he tries to escape to the sanctuary of the woods.
Rhydderch refused to let his old friend go, fearing for his safety in the wild, he has Merlin chained whereupon he falls silent and morose, refusing to speak or acknowledge anyone.
Merlin bowed his head for a moment as if softening, but then the madness in him spoke, “I will be free of her, free of you, free of love and its binding chains, therefore it is right that she be allowed her chance of happiness and marry a man of her own choosing, but beware should that man ever come near! On her wedding day, I will come to her and give her my gifts.”
Metlin explained King Rhydderch’s wife – Merlín’s own sister- is having an affair. He prophecies three different deaths for the son. The king laughs at so many different prophesied deaths for the same boy and apologies for doubting his wife’s fidelity. Queen Ganieda is greatly relieved to have her secret affair kept hidden as a jest.
Merlin is granted freedom but neither his sister Ganieda or his wife can entreat him to stay in the city. Merlin’s sister and wife watch him leave for the solitude of the forest. Both were convinced his derangement had no truth to the three different predicted for the death of the queen’s son.
The boy in question grew into a young man, and one during a hunting expedition with friends and his horse throws him over the cliff but his boot snags a tree the branch suspending his body in the air while his head is submerged beneath the water and he drowns. This fulfils the three deaths for the son according to Merlin’s prophecy.
Merlin was freed and made his way the gates. His sister caught up with him there, telling of her love and begged him to at least see out the winter in comfort with her.
Merlin left and Ganieda built a lodge for him, where she brought him food and drink. Merlin thanked her for that and for her company. On one occasion, Merlín forts the death of the king she must to return quickly to court. He asks that when she return to him, she must bring Taliesin, who lord recently arrived after visiting Gildas in Brittany.
Ganieda returns to Merlín with Taliesin. Merlin explains how they’d taken the badly wounded King Arthur to the Avalon after the battle of Camlann, leaving him in the healing care of Morgan le Fay. He explains events from Vortigern to King Arthur and long period of Saxon domination which would eventually lead to a return to British ruler after a prolonged and bloody conflict.
Perhaps the best-known portrayal of Merlin comes from Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur written in 1485. This is romanticised tale of how the infant Arthur was raised in a stewardship until after on the death of his father, Uther Pendragon, Merlin presents the youth, Arthur to the knights of the land. Merlin sets a task to prove Arthur is Uthet’s true heir by if he can withdraw the sword Excalibur from the stone in which Merlín has embedded, he is the rightful ruler of Britain. Here, Merlin acts as Arthur’s adviser but disappears from the story early in Arthur’s reign. An unrequited passion for Nimue (or Viviane) the lady of the lake tricks Merlín into revealing how to construct a magical tower of hidden by mist which she then uses to imprison him.