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Merlin: Magic, Miracles, and Marvels

Merlin: Magic, Miracles, and Marvels

(p.60) Two Merlin: Magic, Miracles, and Marvels
The Danger of Romance
Karen Sullivan
University of Chicago Press

In the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, medieval thinkers disagreed about what they called “marvels,” that is, phenomena in the natural world that cannot be understood according to the laws of Nature, and about Merlin, the preeminent performer of marvels. Rationalists denied the existence of marvels because they denied that anything natural was beyond human comprehension. They argued that, because Merlin was not a saint, enacting miracles with divine aid, he must have been a limb of the devil, enacting magic with demonic assistance. Contemplatives affirmed the existence of marvels because they affirmed the irreducible mysteriousness of God’s existence. They maintained that Merlin possessed a natural power, neither divine nor demonic, to predict the future. In Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Life of Merlin and History of the Kings of Britain and Robert de Boron’s Merlin, Merlin demonstrates that time is not a linear sequence of points but a web of correspondences, where marvelous portents (like dragons) anticipate the future and marvelous memorials (like Stonehenge) recall the past. One should respond to a marvel, these texts suggest, not by trying to understand it, but by delighting in it, as one responds to romance.

Keywords:   Merlin, marvels, magic, Stonehenge, dragons, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Life of Merlin, History of the Kings of Britain, Robert de Boron

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