Merlin

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Last updated: 16 October 2009

Myrddin Wyllt - Myrddin the Wild

Myrddin Wyllt is believed to have been a historical man who lived in the sixth century.

The tradition of Merlin grew from around the basic historical facts that he was believed to have fought in the battle of Arfderydd (in around the year 575) against the ultimately victorious side of the Brythonic king Rhydderch Hael.

According to the legend, Myrddin had fought for the losing king Gwendodolau but after the battle experienced madness and retreated to a forest, where he found the gift of prophecy. Similar stories are present in Scottish and Irish literature, concerning Lailoken and Suibhne respectively.

Though Myrddin may have been a poet in his own right in the sixth century, no poetry from his own hand now exists. Poetry that is attributed to him is written by other poets. Myrddin appears in The Presage of Britain (in the Book of Taliesin) and in the Black Book of Carmarthen in series of stanzas.

His name also features briefly in prophetic poems The Colloquy of Myrddin and Gwenddydd his Sister and The Song of Myrddin in his Grave, though both references are small and are used for the sake of prophesying the future and to predict the names of future kings.

Geoffrey of Monmouth adapted the legend of Myrddin Wyllt, changing his name to Merlin and making him a central figure in his three Latin works: Prophetiae Merlini, Historiae Regum Britanniae and Vita Merlini. In doing so, Geoffrey forged the still popular image of Merlin, and King Arthur, that remains so prominent in folklore today.


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