Our Snowdonia hotel (and convenient accommodation near Zip World!) is embracing The Year of Legends campaign this year, and part of scheme is learning all about the legends of Welsh folklore. One tale in particular involves a wizard whose name is well-known among many, even to this day.
Many of us have heard of a wizard named Merlin, whether it has been through television programmes, films or books. However, it may surprise you to learn that Merlin was traditionally a legendary figure in Wales before becoming a popular figure in both literature and film today.
The first depiction of Merlin appeared in a book called Historia Regum Britanniae, written all the way back in 1136 by Geoffrey of Monmouth.
Historia Regum Britanniae was a pseudo historical account of British history, and so therefore the tales within the book must be taken with a rather large pinch of salt, but they certainly make for a good story anyway.
It’s said that the character of Merlin, or Myrddin in the Welsh language was based upon two existing people. The first being Myrddin Wyllt, a madman and prophet who lived alone in the woods, and the second being a Romano-British war leader named Ambrosius Aurelianus.
It was from these two influences that the character of Merlin received the official name of Merlin Ambrosius (or Myrddin Emrys). The original character of Merlin became popular within Wales, especially during the medieval period, with later writers expanding his backstory and personality.
In the Arthurian legends, Merlin is best known for his role as King Arthur’s advisor and wizard. The Welsh version of Merlin tells of how he lost his mind after the Battle of Arfderydd and escaped alone into the forest.
He then lived as a wild man, with nothing but the forest animals to keep him company. During this time, Merlin became a prophet, and his prophecies were recorded in ‘The Black Book of Carmarthen’.
Merlin’s first and famed prophecy was that Wales was not going to be defeated by the Anglo-Saxons. His prophecy vision involved a battle between two dragons, a red one representing Wales and a white dragon representing the opposing Anglo-Saxons.
The red dragon is undoubtedly one of the most significant symbols within Welsh culture, and likely the most recognisable. The first reference to a red dragon in Welsh culture was around the year of 820, in a book called Historia Brittonum.
This book was purportedly released a few hundred years before Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote the original tales of Merlin. So, it’s likely he drew his inspiration for Merlin’s prophecy from the early writing of Historia Brittonum.
For more information on Merlin and other Welsh legends, visit our official Year of Legends 2017 page.