The Prose Merlin and the Suite du Merlin Episodes
The great seer of Western Europe is a creature of Celtic legend, to whom Geoffrey of Monmouth gave literary life in his Latin Historia regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain) and Vita Merlini (Life of Merlin). He then appeared in Wace’s Roman de Brut; but as a fully developed figure in vernacular literature he emerged only around 1200, in the poem Merlin, composed by the Burgundian cleric Robert de Boron. Robert had already written a lengthy verse narrative on Joseph of Arimathea and the origin of the Grail. His Merlin poem was intended as a continuation of the story, to be followed in its turn by a Grail romance built around the figure of Perceval. How far Robert actually succeeded in his endeavor is not quite clear, for the surviving Merlin is a mere fragment comprising the five hundred opening verses, and there is no remnant of the Perceval poem. In both instances, however, as in the case of the Joseph poem, we have prose “translations” that may have been prepared by Robert himself and seem, in any event, to constitute a realization of his great plan for a Grail trilogy.