Legend, Magic And Myth - In Search Of King Arthur - Celtic Tales

By Penelope Parkin
Shows a photograph of Stephen Dillane dressed as Merlin flanked by soldiers in a scene from the film King Arthur. He has long hair and a beard and has an animal skin draped over his left shoulder. He is carrying what looks like a spear. The men behind him are carrying small circular shields.

Photo: Merlin (STEPHEN DILLANE) in a scene from KING ARTHUR. Photo: Jonathan Hession © Touchstone Pictures & Jerry Bruckheimer Films, Inc.

Merlin, a mystical figure whose legend is ever entwined with Arthur's, has possible connections in Dyfed, in Carmarthen.

Carmarthen

Carmarthen in Welsh is 'Myrddin’s town' or 'Merlin’s town', although it's more likely that the town takes its name from its earlier Roman incarnation as Moridunum. Nevertheless 'Merlin’s tree' used to stand in the centre of the town and today Bryn Myrddin or Merlin’s Wood still stands on its outskirts.

The Black Book of Carmarthen, a collection of Welsh folk tales, mentions Arthur. He is said to have been at the Battle of Llongborth which can be historically traced. He is also mentioned as having a dialogue with a castle guard named Glewlwyd Gafaelfawr.

Shows a picture of the Roman barracks at Caerleon. There are low walls in a regimental formation - the remains of what were Roman barracks.

Photo: Roman barracks at Caerleon © Wales Tourist Board

Caerleon

Caerleon is a small Welsh town beside the River Usk. It's name is Welsh for 'city' or 'Fort of the Legion'. Geoffrey of Monmouth calls it the City of Legions, detailing the lavish court that Arthur is said to have held there before the days of Camelot.

His supposition has some credence as the town is close to Carmarthern, said to be the home of Merlin.

However, the tale seems rather too convenient as Monmouth was just down the road from Caerleon and it is easy to conceive of Geoffrey of Monmouth connecting his hometown to the tale for narcissistic reasons.

Shows a photograph of the Roman amphitheatre at Caerleon. There are the remains of walls either side of some steps up to a flat piece of grass. In the distance the remains of other walls can be seen.

Photo: Caerleon amphitheatre © Wales Tourist Board

Another claim in local folklore is the idea that the round table could have been a Table Mound instead of a Tabyll Round as befits the round amphitheatre near Caerleon. Local legend also tells of an underground chamber in the woods where a thousand of Arthur's soldiers lie sleeping, awaiting the day when Wales will need them.

Excavations of the site certainly do little to corroborate Monmouth’s tales. Nevertheless, Caerleon remains present in Arthurian legend as a minor court even after the establishment of Camelot. It was also claimed to be the scene of Arthur's ninth battle in Nennius' Historia Brittonum.

Shows photograph of a battle scene from the film King Arthur. In the middle of the melee is Clive Owen dressed as King Arthur. He is wearing armour and a helmet.

Photo: Arthur (CLIVE OWEN, centre) during battle in a scene from KING ARTHUR, directed by Antoine Fuqua and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. Photo: Jonathan Hession © Tochstone Pictures & Jerry Bruckheimer Films, Inc

Dinas Emrys

Dinas Emrys means 'Fort of Ambrosius'. Following Merlin’s prophecies to Vortigern, the ruler of Powys who invited the English to fight the Picts, historians believe that the so-called Merlin’s tower was in Dinas Emrys.

The first of these prophecies foretells the death of Vortigern (who reigned prior to Arthur), the kingship and death of Uther Pendragon (Arthur’s father) and the success of Arthur in driving the Saxons from the shores of Britain.

Merlin's most famous utterance in this series of prophecies is the tale of the two dragons.

He predicted that in a pool beneath the fortress a red and a white dragon would fight to the death before the white dragon fled. The red dragon represented Vortigern’s kingdom and the white represented the Saxons.

The tale allowed Merlin to save himself from becoming a sacrifice as Vortigern had previously been advised by his seers to spill the blood of a boy without a father on the hill so that he might build a tower there - and Merlin fitted the bill. He became an advisor to Vortigern, then Ambrosius, Uther and Arthur.

Excavations at Dinas Emrys have uncovered a Roman building and near it a man-made pool.

INTRODUCTION/THE SOUTH/THE NORTH

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