The Vita Merlini
Geoffrey of Monmouth
Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 84
Publication Date: This edition, 1925
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The Vita Merlini, or The Life of Merlin, is a work by the Norman-Welsh author Geoffrey of Monmouth, composed in Latin around AD 1150. It retells incidents from the life of the Brythonic seer Merlin, and is based on traditional material about him. Merlin is described as a prophet in the text. There are a number of episodes in which he loses his mind and lives in the wilderness like a wild animal, like Nebuchadnezzar in the Book of Daniel, or the Welsh wild man of the woods. It is also the first work to describe the Arthurian sorceress Morgan le Fay, as Morgen.
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I am preparing to sing the madness of the prophetic bard, and a humorous poem on Merlin; pray correct the song, Robert , glory of bishops, by restraining my pen. For we know that Philosophy has poured over you its divine nectar, and has made you famous in all things, that you might serve as an example, a leader and a teacher in the world. Therefore may you favour my attempt, and see fit to look upon the poet with better auspices than you did that other whom you have just succeeded, promoted to an honour that you deserve. For indeed you habits, and your approved life, and your birth, and your usefulness to the position, and the clergy and the people all were seeking it for you, and from this circumstance happy Lincoln is just now exalted to the stars. On this account I might wish you to be embraced in a fitting song, but I am not equal to the task, even though Orpheus, and Camerinus , and Macer, and Marius, and mighty-voiced Rabirius were all to sing with my mouth and all the Muses were to accompany me. But now, Sisters, accustomed to sing with me, let us sing the work proposed, and strike the cithara.
Well then, after many years had passed under many kings, Merlin the Briton was held famous in the world. He was a king and prophet; to the proud people of the South Welsh he gave laws, and to the chieftains he prophesied the future. Meanwhile it happened that a strife arose between several of the chiefs of the kingdom, and throughout the cities they wasted the innocent people with fierce war. Peredur, king of the North Welsh, made war on Gwenddoleu, who ruled the realm of Scotland; and already the day fixed for the battle was at hand, and the leaders were ready in the field, and the troops were fighting, falling on both sides in a miserable slaughter. Merlin had come to the war with Peredur and so had Rhydderch, king of the Cumbrians, both savage men. They slew the opposing enemy with their hateful swords, and three brothers of the prince who had followed him through his wars, always fighting, cut down and broke the battle lines. Thence they rushed fiercely through the crowded ranks with such an attack that they soon fell killed. At this sight, Merlin, you grieved and poured out sad complaints throughout the army, and cried out in these words, “Could injurious fate be so harmful as to take from me so many and such great companions, whom recently so many kings and so many remote kingdoms feared? O dubious lot of mankind! O death ever near, which has them always in its power, and strikes its hidden goad and drives out the wretched life from the body! O glorious youths, who now will stand by my side in arms, and with me will repel the chieftains coming to harm me, and the hosts rushing in upon me? Bold young men your audacity has taken from you your pleasant years and pleasant youth! You who so recently were rushing in arms through the troops, cutting down on every side those who resisted you, now are beating the ground and are red with red blood!” So among the hosts he lamented with flowing tears, and mourned for the men, and the savage battle was unceasing. The lines rushed together, enemies were slain by enemies, blood flowed everywhere, and people died on both sides. But at length the Britons assembled their troops from all quarters and all together rushing in arms they fell upon the Scots and wounded them and cut them down, nor did they rest until the hostile battalions turned their backs and fled through unfrequented ways.
Merlin called his companions out from the battle and bade them bury the brothers in a richly coloured chapel; and he bewailed the men and did not cease to pour out laments, and he strewed dust on his hair and rent his garments, and prostrate on the ground rolled now hither and now thither. Peredur strove to console him and so did the nobles and princes, but he would not be comforted nor put up with their beseeching words. He had now lamented for three whole days and had refused food, so great was the grief that consumed him. Then when he had filled the air with so many and so great complaints, new fury seized him and he departed secretly, and fled to the woods not wishing to be seen as he fled. He entered the wood and rejoiced to lie hidden under the ash trees; he marvelled at the wild beasts feeding on the grass of the glades; now he chased after them and again he flew past them; he lived on the roots of grasses and on the grass, on the fruit of the trees and on the mulberries of the thicket. He became a silvan man just as though devoted to the woods. For a whole summer after this, hidden like a wild animal, he remained buried in the woods, found by no one and forgetful of himself and of his kindred. But when the winter came and took away all the grass and the fruit of the trees and he had nothing to live on, he poured out the following lament in a wretched voice.
“Christ, God of heaven, what shall I do? In what part of the world can I stay, since I see nothing here I can live on, neither grass on the ground nor acorns on the trees? Here once there stood nineteen apple trees bearing apples every year; now they are not standing. Who has taken them away from me? Whither have they gone all of a sudden? Now I see them - now I do not! Thus the fates fight against me and for me, since they both permit and forbid me to see. Now I lack the apples and everything else. The trees stand without leaves, without fruit; I am afflicted by both circumstances since I cannot cover myself with the leaves or eat the fruit. Winter and the south wind with its falling rain have taken them all away. If by chance I find some navews [turnips] deep in the ground the hungry swine and the voracious boars rush up and snatch them away from me as I dig them up from the turf. You, O wolf, dear companion, accustomed to roam with me through the secluded paths of the woods and meadows, now can scarcely get across fields; hard hunger has weakened both you and me.
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