Nightbringer | The Arthurian Online Encyclopedia

Myrddin Emrys

Llallawc, Llallogan Vyrdin

The Welsh bard and enchanter who was the probable source of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Merlin. He is identified also with Lailoken. There are actually two characters in Welsh legend who bears this name. One was a mad prophet, and the other was the son of Morfran and a bard at Arthur’s court.

Myrddin’s story is related through a series of early Welsh verses, collectively called the Myrddin Poems, which seems to have had only fragmentary influence on later Arthurian writers. Myrddin fought at the battle of Arthuret (Arfderydd), where his lord Gwenddoleu (Gwenddalou), in a war against King Rhydderch of Cumbria, was killed.

He went insane after he accidentally slew the son of his sister, Gwendydd. Thereafter, he spent the rest of his life as a hermit living wild in the forest of Celyddon (Caledon), lamenting Gwenddoleu’s death. In his frenzy he acquired the gift of prophecy, which at the historical time of the Arthurian cycle would have been seen as magic of the most potent kind. He had mysterious prophecies of Britain’s future and his own death.

This story relates Myrddin to the Irish King Suibhne Geilt, from whose legend the tale may be derived, although Myrddin is first referred to in the tenth-century poem Armes Prydein, while the Buile Suibhne, which recounts the Irish legend, is probably two centuries older. It is hard to tell which tale influenced the other, or if both derive from independent sources. It has been suggested that Myrddin derives from a mistaken analysis of Caerfyrddin (Carmarthen). In other early Welsh poems he is called Llallawc and Llallogan Vyrdin.

As to his name, one theory argues that it began with the Roman stronghold of Maridunum in Wales, which means “sea fortress”. In time, Maridunum was altered and corrupted into “Merddin” or “Myrddin”. With it’s original name lost, a Caer (“city”) was placed in front of the name. Since Caer Myrddin would have signified “City of Myrddin”, people assumed that “Myrddin” was a personal name, and the Welsh began telling stories of a certain prophetic bard named Myrddin who roamed the forests of northern England and southern Scotland.

See also
Madog Morfryn | The Legend of King Arthur
Morgan Frych | The Legend of King Arthur
Myrddin Wyllt | The Legend of King Arthur

Various; all Myrddin poems | 12th century to 15th century
Annales Cambriae | c. 960-980
Triads of the Island of Britain (Welsh ”Triads”) | 11th century to 14th century