Merlin Ambrosius (Welsh: Myrddin Emrys) is a seer-like wizard who played a large role in the Arthurian legend.

Myths & Legends

Merlin was said to be born from an Incubus and a human maiden named Adhan, making him a Cambion (Half-demon, half-human) which is why he has magical powers.

For much of his life, he lived in the wilderness as a "wild man" despite interacting with and assisting at least three different kings: Vortigern, Uther, and Arthur. The enchanted forest of Brocéliande is noted specifically, which later becomes the place of his imprisonment and/or burial.

The Tower and Dragons

The British king Vortigern was trying to erect a tower, but right before it was completed the tower would always collapse. The king's advisors (wise men) told him that the only solution was to sprinkle the foundation with the blood of a child born without a father.

As Merlin would be considered a child without a father (being born from an Incubus), he was brought before the king. However, he revealed the true reason behind the tower's collapse via prophesy: below the foundation of the tower was a lake containing a white dragon and a red dragon that were fighting. The two dragons represented the coming war between the invading Saxons and the native Celtic Britons.

Impressed by the young Merlin, the British king decided to hear more of his prophesies.

Aurelianus, Uther, and Stonehenge

As King Vortigern had usurped the throne from the previous king by killing him, the younger brothers (Uther and Aurelianus) of the original King Constans returned to take back the kingdom some years later. Killing Vortigern, Aurelianus takes the throne.

After Aurelius Ambrosius becomes king, Merlin and Uther assist him, but Britain remains in a state of war. When Aurelius falls ill, Uther leaves the castle to lead the army, which unfortunately allows an assasin to poison and kill the king. As Aurelius dies, a comet taking the form of a dragon's head (pendragon) appears in the night sky, which Merlin interprets. He says it is a sign that Ambrosius is dead and that Uther will be victorious in this battle and return to succeed his brother as king. Uther returns home victorious and is crowned king, adding "Pendragon" to his name.

In honor of Aurelianus, Merlin builds stonehenge as a monument and gravestone for the late king, with the help of giants.

Arthurian Legend

Birth of Arthur

When another enemy attacks Britain, Uther must go to war again. He is not as successful this time and was only able to obtain victory with the help of Duke Gorlois of Cornwall. During the following celebration, Uther falls in love with the Duke's wife, Igraine. This causes discord and then war between the two.

Merlin intervenes and assists Uther, using his magic to disguise Uther as Gorlois. While in disguise, Uther sneaks into the Duke's castle, and sleeps with Igraine, which is when Arthur was conceived. Later, Gorlois is killed and Uther marries Igraine. Once Igraine gives birth to Arthur, Merlin takes the child and puts him in the care of Sir Ector.

King Uther dies from drinking spring water poisoned by the Saxons.

The Sword in the Stone

The legendary sword Caliburnus is the symbol of inheritance and right to rule Britain, and which was sealed by Merlin within a great stone (or anvil, in some versions). It was sealed in a way so that only the rightful heir to the throne was able to remove the sword.

  • In some stories, this is said to be the mythical sword Excalibur. In most cases, however, Excalibur is given to Arthur from the Lady of the Lake, rather than obtaining it from the stone, and the sword in the stone is named Caliburn.

Once Arthur withdrew the sword and became the king of England, Merlin served as the king's advisor.

Imprisonment

Later authors have Merlin as King Arthur's advisor till The Lady of the Lake imprisons him in the enchanted forest of Brocéliande. Merlin was entranced by her magic, which was what caused him to be entrapped by her. In some stories, he peacefully remains there with Nimue for many years, while in others she buries him there and he dies. In either case, this forest is his final destination.

Origin

Most likely the name "Merlin" is derived from the Welsh Myrddin, the name of a bard who was said to have gone mad from the horrors of war. Additionally, Merlin has ties to a legendary war leader named Ambrosius Aurelianus, who was also his predecessor in many ways. Ambrosius Aurelianus who appeared in Historia Regum Britanniae was not only someone who won a significant battle, but was also known for his prophecies (originally including the dragons fighting under the tower), which were later attributed to Merlin instead.

Merlin may also be based off of the historical druids, which share similarities in lore and of living in the wilderness.

Writers of Traditional Merlin Legend

  • Geoffrey of Monmouth - wrote Historia Regum Britanniae
  • Robert de Boron - wrote the Old French poem Merlin, which was later turned into prose.

Gallery

Image gallery of Merlin

Modern Depictions

Literature

  • Merlyn appears in the novel "The Sword and the Stone" by T.H. White

Film & Animation

  • In Disney's The Sword in the Stone, Merlin makes an appearance as an old shapeshifting wizard.
  • The TV series Merlin is based off of him, but in a more youthful form.
  • Merlin is the creator of the Amulet of Daylight in TV series Trollhunters.
  • In Sidus Animation's Red Shoes And The Seven Dwarfs, Merlin is one of the 7 princes that turn into a dwarf and is one of the main protagonists.

Comics

  • Merlyn appears in the Marvel Universe

Video games

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