The Many Faces of Merlin
Merlin is one of the most fascinating figures in the Welsh literature and the Arthurian legend. Merlin is a man of mystery and magic; contradiction and controversy surrounded his life.
Merlin wore many hats: he was a wizard or sorcerer, a prophet, a bard, an adviser and a tutor. He appeared as a young boy with no father. He appeared as an old, wise man, freely giving his wisdom to four successive British kings. He was dotting old fool, who couldn't control his lust over beautiful women, who hold him in fear and contempt. He had even appeared as a madman after bloody battle, and had fled into the forest and learned how to talk to the animals, where he became known as the Wild Man of the Woods. Merlin was the last of the druid, the Celtic shaman, priest of nature, and keeper of knowledge, particularly of the arcane secrets.
According to the Welsh historian, Nennius, Merlin appeared as a young boy, but under the name of Emrys or as Ambrosius in Latin, with the British king, Vortigern. In a similar account with Vortigern, it was Geoffrey of Monmouth, who had named this boy â€“ Merlinus Ambrosius (Merlin Emrys in Welsh).
In the work, titled Historia regum Britanniae ("History of the Kings of Britain", c. 1137), Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote that he was a son of a nun and grandson of the King of Demetia in southern Wales. As to his father, he was either a devil or an incubus. Merlin is a paradox, he was the son of the devil, yet he was the servant of God.
Merlin had being identified to the Welsh fictional bard named Myrddin of the late 6th century, in the Welsh poem called Afallenau and several other poems, preserved in the manuscript known as the Black Book of Carmarthen, c. 1250. These rather old Welsh poems appeared rather obscure and gibberish.
Geoffrey of Monmouth composed a similar tale of Merlin's madness, written in Latin, known as Vita Merlin or the "Life of Merlin", in 1150. In this version, he was known as Merlin Calidonius. Here, he has a sister and a wife, but there's no mention of his parents. It is the only text that mentioned Merlin having a wife.
Many scholars were puzzled over his birth, his magical power, his prophetic gifts and his mysterious yet often conflicting fate.
First of all, Geoffrey of Monmouth wasn't the first writer who recorded event about Merlin in his Historia regum Britanniae ("History of the Kings of Britain", c. 1137). In fact, how Merlin had gain his power in the Historia regum Britanniae was different to Geoffrey's later work called Vita Merlini ("Life of Merlin", c. 1152). These two contradictory works had led many scholars to believe that there are two different people with the same name, Merlin.
It should be understood that the early known work on Merlin has nothing to do with King Arthur or his knights. So before you read about Merlin, the friend and adviser of Arthur, we need to look where he had come from.