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Merlin and Vortigern, in Geoffrey of Monmouth's 'Prophecies of Merlin', with commentary

Merlin and Vortigern, in Geoffrey of Monmouth's 'Prophecies of Merlin', with commentary

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1250

Shelfmark: Cotton MS Claudius B VII

Item number: f.224r

Length: 28.8

Width: 19.5

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated manuscript

Chronicles and histories were important to medieval monasteries for at least two reasons. First, chronicles and annals could be important in supporting claims to lands granted them in the past. Also, history meant the story of the world since the beginning, in other words the creation as told in Genesis, and it was the story of the Fall and salvation through Christianity, in which the monasteries were believed to be playing a role. This collection probably was from Lichfield. The 'Prophecies of Merlin Ambrosus' is accurately billed in its title (upper left) as a romance. Written by Geoffrey of Monmouth about 1138, it was first to use the name Merlin. A picture of King Vortigern consulting the magician sets the scene. Vortigern, an early British king, was in trouble: Saxons were attacking and his new castle kept falling down. Below them lurk the real and symbolic trouble: the white dragon (Saxon) trying to swallow the red dragon (Wales / Britain). Geoffrey's goal was to write the pre-Christian history of Britain, but it was seen as prophecy of poor government. The 'Merlin' text is in the left column, while an anonymous 12th-century commentary occupies the right.

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