« Mennas Merlinus Mesrobes »

Merlinus

Merlinus. The prophecies of Merlin, which had great influence in the middle ages, represented the enduring hate of the Welsh for the English conquerors, and were probably the composition of Merddin, son of Morvryn, whose patron, Gwenddolew, a prince in Strathclyde, and an upholder of the ancient faith, perished a.d. 577 at the battle of Arderydd, fighting against Rhydderch Hael, who had been converted by St. Columba to Christianity. When the northern Kymry were driven into Wales, Cornwall, and Brittany, they relocalized the story of Merlin in their new abodes. Merddin is now represented as a Christian, and said to be buried in Bardsey, the island of the Welsh saints; but much of his career is passed in Cornwall, which was long under the same dynasty as South Wales, even after the English got possession of the coast at Bristol, and broke the connexion by land between the two districts. As the mass of tradition grew into the shape in which we find it in Nennius, and later on in Geoffrey, Merlin becomes a wholly mythical character, the prophet of his race. It is not till Geoffrey of Monmouth that we find the boy called Merlin and made the confidant of Utherpendragon and of Arthur, and able to bring the stones of Stonehenge from Ireland. Nennius does not mention Merlin among the early bards, and the poems attributed to him were really composed in the 12th cent., when there was a great outburst of Welsh poetry (Stephens, Literature of the Kymry, § 4). Among these poems there is a dialogue between Merddin and his sister Gwenddydd ("The Dawn"), which contains 724prophecies as to a series of Welsh rulers. The story of Merlin made an impression abroad as well as in England. Layamon alludes to several of his prophecies and they soon gained popular fame. A Vita Merlini in Latin hexameters, also attributed, though wrongly, to Geoffrey of Monmouth, was printed by the Roxburghe Club, 1830; the later English forms of the story by the Early English Text Society. The one fact embodied in the legend is the long continued enmity of the Kymry to the English invaders; but even this almost disappeared when the story became part of the great romance of Arthur.

[C.W.B.]

« Mennas Merlinus Mesrobes »





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