Merlin the Magician has remained an enthralling and curious individual since he was first introduced in the twelfth century though the pages of Geoffrey of Monmouth's "Historia Regum Britanniae." But although the Merlin of literature and Arthurian myth is well known, Merlin the "historical" figure and his relation to medieval magic are less familiar.Read more...
Merlin the Magician has remained an enthralling and curious individual since he was first introduced in the twelfth century though the pages of Geoffrey of Monmouth's "Historia Regum Britanniae." But although the Merlin of literature and Arthurian myth is well known, Merlin the "historical" figure and his relation to medieval magic are less familiar. In this book Anne Lawrence-Mathers explores just who he was and what he has meant to Britain.
The historical Merlin was no rough magician: he was a learned figure from the cutting edge of medieval science and adept in astrology, cosmology, prophecy, and natural magic, as well as being a seer and a proto-alchemist. His powers were convincingly real--and useful, for they helped to add credibility to the "long-lost" history of Britain which first revealed them to a European public. Merlin's prophecies reassuringly foretold Britain's path, establishing an ancient ancestral line and linking biblical prophecy with more recent times. Merlin helped to put British history into world history.
Lawrence-Mathers also explores the meaning of Merlin's magic across the centuries, arguing that he embodied ancient Christian and pagan magical traditions, recreated for a medieval court and shaped to fit a new moral framework. Linking Merlin's reality and power with the culture of the Middle Ages, this remarkable book reveals the true impact of the most famous magician of all time.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-09-10
- Reviewer: Staff
Merlin has intrigued people the world over since he was first introduced in the 12th century, through the pages of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae. The powerful but doomed magician of King Arthur’s mythical court became a fixture in medieval romances and is still well- known eight centuries later. Less familiar is the original concept of Merlin as a historical personage who had a profound influence on the volatile political landscape of Europe during the Middle Ages. British medievalist Lawrence-Mathers explores the evolving literary representations of Merlin against their historical backdrops in this densely written monograph. According to Lawrence-Mathers, Merlin was a “political prophet” whose magical powers and prophecies served as a “possible source of guidance and insight” during times of instability and upheaval, from the 12th to the 16th centuries, and even into the English civil war of the mid-17th century. Merlin’s impact on the political landscape was all the more lasting because he was regarded as a genuine historical rather than a legendary or fictional figure. But as popular belief in the reality of magic declined in the 18th century, so did Merlin’s impact. Despite Merlin’s lingering fascination, this study is recommended for scholars well-versed in the history and literature of medieval Europe. (Nov.)