Merlin: I've... I've never studied magic or been taught.
Gaius: Are you lying to me, boy?
Merlin: What do you want me to say?
Gaius: The truth!
Merlin: I was born like this.
Gaius: That's impossible!
(Merlin - The Dragons Call)
If you had not already guessed, I am going to be blogging about Merlin again today.
Last time I was talking about Monmouth and all the wonderful things he did for Merlin. Today, I am going to have a look and see where this fascinating wizard went next.
Robert de Boron was one of those amazing French poets of the 12th Century. He wrote a poem called Merlin. Boron is credited with the great works Prose Merlin as well.
Let us see how he portrayed Merlin in Prose Merlin.
It is said that in between Christ’s horrific crucifixion and joyful resurrection he spent some time in Hell, bringing salvation to all who had died (excluding the damned).
“Full wrothe and angry was the Devell, whan that oure Lorde hadde ben in helle and had take oute Adam and Eve and other at his plesier” Prose Merlin
Christ's Descent into Limbo Andrea Mantegna c.1470
Boron starts the story of Merlin just after Christ’s resurrection. The Council of devils was called in to order. They were angry, enraged by Christ’s Harrowing of Hell and they wanted revenge. Christ and his God would not be allowed to get away with this. They would rue the day they thought to enter into a domain that was never theirs.
They came up with a plan.
They would create a being that would undo everything that Christ had done. They would create an antichrist, who would follow their orders, who would do their bidding and there would be nothing that God or his son could do about it.
Their plan was deceptively simple. If God could beget a child with a virgin maid, then so could they. They found such a woman and begot her with child.
But they did not understand love, or virtue, faith...hope. The woman they had chosen had a close advisor, a holy man called Blaise and she confided in him what had happened. She begged for his help
Blaise tries to reassure the woman. He tells her that they will baptize the child as soon as it is born and they pray with all their might that the demon will be chased away from the babies body.
The baby, a boy, is born and Blaise immediately baptizes him and they pray that the demon will not plague the child. It seems that they were successful. They have snatched the child away from Satan’s clutches.
The woman names the child Merlin after her father.
But Merlin is no ordinary child. He may not be under the influence of Satan anymore, but the demon has left him a legacy. He can see things – the past – the present. He can predict future events. He is, in short, a prophet. But he is no ordinary prophet; he has other skills as well. He can shapeshift.
Last time I spoke about Nennius and his story of Vortigern and his struggle building a tower that kept on collapsing? If you missed that post you can check it out here.
In Nennius’s story, the fatherless boy who is brought before Vortigern is Ambrosius.
In Boron’s story the boy is Merlin.
Like Ambrosius in Nennius story, Merlin blames the destruction of the tower on two fighting dragons, but here the story take a sharp turn and veers off on its own course. Instead of the dragons represent the Saxon’s and the Briton’s, Merlin states that the dragons represent Vortigern and two brothers, Pendragon and Uther. Merlin also prophesies Vortigern’s death.
On Vortigern’s death, Pendragon take the throne. Merlin becomes an adviser to this new royal dynasty. He helps them with their struggles with the Saxons.
Merlin foresees a great battle at Salisbury where Pendragon will meet his fate. All that he predicts comes true and the younger of the brothers, Uther, takes the throne as well as his brothers name. He becomes known as Uther Pendragon.
The battle was fierce and many Britons died. Merlin decides that a permanent memorial is needed so this battle would be remembered forever. The memorial still stands – Stonehenge.
Uther needs to be a strong king and Merlin advices that he needs a symbol of the Christian religion. He recommends a replica of the table that was used at the Last Supper and was pinnacle in the story of the Holy Grail - It is said that Joseph of Arimethea used the Grail (A cup) - from the Last Supper - to catch the blood from Jesus's body as he hung from the cross - They did not have the Grail, but they could recreate at least part of the story. What they needed was....
A Round Table.
A glorious Round Table was commissioned and it came to represent not only the Grail and the last supper, but also chivalry and the knightly code of honour.
But not everything Merlin does is for the good. When Uther is overcome with lust for the Duke of Cornwall’s wife. Merlin casts a spell, so Uther’s appearance is changed to that of the Duke. Igrain, the Dukes wife, is deceived into thinking that she is sharing her body with her husband. That night, Arthur is conceived.
The Duke dies that night in battle and Uther and Igrain marry soon after.
When Arthur is born he is fostered and is raised by Antor (Ector). Arthur grows up and as we all know he draws a sword from a stone.
University of Rochester - Middle English Text Series
If you would like to read Prose Merlin, then check out this link.