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OF THE PROPHECIES OF MERLIN
I had not come so far as this place of my history, when by reason of the much talk that was made about Merlin my contemporaries did on every side press me to make public an edition of his prophecies, and more especially Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln, a man of the highest piety and wisdom. Nor was there none other, whether he were cleric or layman, that did retain so many knights or nobles in his household, whom his gentle holiness of life and bountiful kindliness did allure into his service. Wherefore, for that he it was whom I did most earnestly desire to please above all other, I did translate the prophecies and did send them unto him along with a letter unto this effect.
‘The affection I bear unto thy nobility, Alexander, Prelate of Lincoln, hath compelled me to translate the Prophecies of Merlin out of the British into Latin before I had made an end of the History I had begun as concerning the acts of the British Kings; for my purpose was to have finished that first, and afterward to have published this present work, for fear lest, both labours hanging on my hands at once, my wit should scarce be sufficient for either. Howbeit, sithence that I am well assured aforehand of pardon being granted unto me according to the discretion of thine own subtile wit, I have set my rustic reed to the writing of these little books, and have interpreted for thee this unknown language. Greatly, natheless, do I marvel that thou hast deigned to commit this task unto my poor pen, seeing that the wand of thy power might have commanded the services of so many more learned and more wealthy than am I to charm the ears of thy Minerva with the delight of a sublimer song. And, to say nothing of all the philosophers of the whole island of Britain, this I blush not to confess, that thou art the one man who hast it in thee to chant more excellently than they all unto this adventurous lyre. Howbeit, sith it so pleaseth thee that Geoffrey of Monmouth should sound his pipe in these vaticinations, eschew thou not to show favour unto his minstrelsies, and if so be that he carol out of time or tune do thou with the ferule of thine own muses chastise him back into keeping true harmony and measure.’
Accordingly, while Vortigern, King of the Britons, was yet seated upon the bank of the pool that had been drained, forth issued the two dragons, whereof the one was white and the other red. And when the one had drawn anigh unto the other, they grappled together in baleful combat and breathed forth fire as they panted. But presently the white dragon did prevail, and drave the red dragon unto the verge of the lake. But he, grieving to be thus driven forth, fell fiercely again upon the white one, and forced him to draw back. And whilst that they were fighting on this wise, the King bade Ambrosius Merlin declare what this battle of the dragons did portend. Thereupon he straightway burst into tears, and drawing in the breath of prophecy, spake, saying;
‘Woe unto the Red Dragon, for his extermination draweth nigh; and his caverns shall be occupied of the White Dragon that betokeneth the Saxons whom thou hast invited hither. But the Red signifieth the race of Britain that shall be oppressed of the White. Therefore shall the mountains and the valleys thereof be made level plain and the streams of the valleys shall flow with blood. The rites of religion shall be done away and the ruin of the churches be made manifest. At the last, she that is oppressed shall prevail and resist the cruelty of them that come from without. For the Boar of Cornwall shall bring succour and shall trample their necks beneath his feet. The islands of the Ocean shall be subdued unto his power, and the forests of Gaul shall he possess. The house of Romulus shall dread the fierceness of his prowess and doubtful shall be his end. Renowned shall he be in the mouth of the peoples, and his deeds shall be as meat unto them that tell thereof. Six of his descendants shall follow his sceptre, but after them shall rise up the German Worm. The Wolf of the sea shall exalt him, unto whom the woods of Africa shall bear company. Again shall religion be done away, and the Sees of the Primates shall be transmuted. The dignity of London shall adorn Dorobernia and men shall resort unto the seventh shepherd of York in the realm of Armorica. Menevia shall be robed in the pall of the City of Legions and a preacher of Ireland shall be stricken dumb on account of an infant in the womb. It shall rain a shower of blood, and a baleful famine shall prey upon mortal men. When these things befall, then shall the Red one grieve, yet when he hath undergone his travail shall he wax strong. Then shall the calamity of the White be hastened and that which is builded in his little gardens shall be overthrown. Seven sceptre-bearers shall be slain, and one thereof shall be canonised a saint. Children shall perish in the wombs of their mothers, and dread shall be the torments of men that thereby may they that were born in the land be restored unto their own. He that shall do these things shall clothe him in the brazen man, and throughout many ages shall keep guard over the gates of London sitting upon a brazen horse. Thereafter shall the Red Dragon turn him back into his own ways, and labour to wreak is wrath upon himself. Wherefore the vengeance of the Thunderer shall overtake him, for that every field shall fail the tiller of the soil. Death shall snatch away the people and all nations shall be made void. The remnant that are left shall forsake their native soil and sow seed in plantations of foreign lands. The Blessed King shall fit forth a navy and shall be reckoned twelfth in the court amongst the saints. A grievous desolation of the land shall there be, and the threshing-floors of harvests shall return unto the forests fruitful in mast and acorn. Then again shall the White Dragon arise and invite hither the daughter of Germany. Again shall our little gardens be filled of foreign seed, the Red one shall pine away at the furthest end of the pool. Thereafter shall the German Worm be crowned and the Brazen Prince be buried. A term hath been assigned unto him that he shall not be able to overpass. A hundred and fifty years shall he remain in disquiet and subjection, but three hundred shall he be seated therein. Then shall the North wind rise against him and snatch from him the flowers that the West wind had brought forth. There shall be gilding in the temples and the edge of the sword shall not cease. Scarce shall the German Worm find refuge in his caves for the vengeance of his treason that shall overtake him. Yet at the last for a little while shall he wax strong albeit that the decimation of Neustria shall do him a hurt. For a people in wood and jerkins of iron shall come upon him and take vengeance upon him for his wickedness. He shall restore their dwelling-places unto them that did inhabit them aforetime, and the ruin of the foreigner shall be made manifest. The seed of the White Dragon shall be rooted out of our little gardens and the remnant of his generation shall be decimated. The yoke of bondage shall they bear and their mother shall they wound with spades and ploughs. Two dragons shall succeed, whereof the one shall be slain by the arrow of envy, but he other shall return under the shadow of a name. The Lion of Justice shall succeed, at whose warning the towers of Gaul and the dragons of the island shall tremble. In those days shall gold be wrung forth from the lily and the nettle, and silver shall flow from the hooves of them that low. They that go crisped and curled shall be clad in fleeces of many colours, and the garment without shall betoken that which is within. The feet of them that bark shall be cropped short. The wild deer shall have peace, but humanity shall suffer dole. The shape of commerce shall be cloven in twain; the half shall be round. The ravening of kites shall perish and the teeth of wolves be blunted. The Lion’s whelps shall be transformed into fishes of the sea, and his Eagle build her nest upon Mount Aravius. Venedotia shall be red with mother’s blood and six brethren shall the house of Corineus slay. The island shall be drenched in nightly tears, whence all men shall be provoked unto all things. Woe unto thee, Neustria, for the brain of the Lion shall be poured forth upon thee; and with mangled limbs shall he be thrust forth of his native soil. They that come after shall strive to outsoar the highest, but the favour of the newcomers shall be exalted. Piety shall do hurt unto him that doth possess through impiety until he shall have clad him in his father. Wherefore, girdled about with the teeth of wolves, shall he climb over the heights of the mountains and the shadow of him that weareth a helmet. Albany shall be moved unto wrath, and calling unto them that are at her side shall busy her only in the shedding of blood. A bridle-bit shall be set in her jaws that shall be forged in the Bay of Armorica. This shall the Eagle of the broken covenant gild over, and the Eagle shall rejoice in her third nesting. The roaring whelps shall keep vigil, and forsaking the forests shall follow the chase within the walls of cities. No small slaughter shall they make of them that withstand them, and the tongues of bulls shall they cut out. They shall load with chains the necks of them that roar, and the days of their grandsire shall they renew. Thenceforward from the first unto the fourth, from the fourth unto the third, from the third unto the second the thumb shall be rolled in oil. The sixth shall overthrow the walls of Hibernia and change the forests into a plain. He shall unite the divers shares into one, and with the head of the Lion shall he be crowned. His beginning shall be subject unto roving affection, but his end shall soar up to those above. For the seats of the blessed shall he renew throughout the lands, and shepherds shall he set in places befitting. Two cities shall he robe in two palls, and virgin bounties shall he bestow upon virgins. Thereby shall he merit the favour of the Thunderer, and his place shall be amongst the blessed. Of him shall issue forth the Lynx that seeth through all things, and shall keep watch to bring about the downfall of his own race, for through him shall Neustria lose both islands and be despoiled of her ancient dignity. Then shall the men of the country be turned back into the island for that strife shall be kindled amongst the foreigners. An old man, moreover, snowy white, hat sitteth upon a snow-white horse, shall turn side the river of Pereiron and with a white wand hall measure out a mill thereon. Cadwallader shall call unto Conan, and shall receive Albany to his fellowship. Then shall there be slaughter of the foreigners: then shall the rivers run blood: then shall gush forth the fountains of Armorica and shall be crowned with the diadem of Brutus. Cambria shall be filled with gladness and the oaks of Cornwall shall wax green. The island shall be called by the name of Brutus and the name given by foreigners shall be done away. From Conan shall issue forth the warlike Boar that shall try the sharpness of his tushes within the forests of Gaul. For the greater oaks shall he stub short each one, but unto the smaller shall he grant protection. The Arab and the African shall be adread of him, for even into furthest Spain shall sweep the swiftness of his career. The He-goat of the Castle of Venus shall succeed, having horns of gold and a beard of silver, and a cloud shall he breathe forth of his nostrils so dark as that the face of the island shall be wholly overshadowed. There shall be peace in his time, and the harvests shall be multiplied by the bounty of the soil. Women shall become serpents in their gait, and all their steps be full of pride. The castles of Venus shall be builded new, nor shall Cupid’s arrows cease to wound. Every fountain shall be turned into blood, and two Kings shall encounter in nigh combat for the Lioness of the ford of the staff. Every soil shall riot in luxury, neither shall mankind cease to follow after lust. All these things shall three ages see, until the buried Kings be brought to light in the city of London. Again shall famine return; again mortality return; and the citizens shall mourn over the desolation of their cities. Then shall the Boar of commerce arrive in the land, who shall recall the scattered flocks unto the pastures they have lost. His breast shall be meat unto the hungry and his tongue as drink unto them that thirst. From his mouth shall issue forth rivers that shall slake the parching gullets of men. Thereafter shall a tree rise up above the Tower of London, that thrusting forth three branches only shall overshadow all the face of the whole island with the spreading breadth of the leaves thereof. Against it shall come the Northwind as an adversary, and an evil blast thereof shall tear away the third branch, but the two that shall remain shall occupy his place until the one shall bring to nought the other by the multitude of his leaves. But when this shall be, then shall he himself hold the places of the twain, and offer sustenance unto birds from the lands that are without. And it shall be accounted hurtful unto native fowl, for they shall lose the freedom of their flight by reason of their dread of the shadow thereof. The Ass of wickedness shall succeed, swift to fall upon the workers of gold but slow against the ravening of wolves. In those days the oaks of the forest shall burn, and acorns shall grow upon the boughs of the linden tree. The Severn sea shall flow forth by seven mouths, and the river of Usk shall seethe for seven months. The fishes thereof shall die for the heat, and of the fishes shall serpents be engendered. The baths of the city of Bath shall wax cold, and the wholesome waters thereof shall breed death. London shall mourn the slaughter of twenty thousand, and the Thames river shall be turned into blood. They that wear the cowl shall be provoked unto marriage, and their outcry shall be heard in the mountains of the Alps.
‘Three fountains shall well forth in the city of Winchester, whereof the streams shall dispart the island into three portions. Whosoever shall drink of the one shall rejoice in the length of his days, neither shall he be overtaken nor afflicted of any malady. He that shall drink of the second shall perish of hunger unappeasable, and wanness and dread shall sit manifest in his face. He that shall drink of the third shall be slain by hazard of sudden death, neither shall his body be a corpse that men may bury. They that would fain escape so deadly a swallow-pit will strive to hide it with divers coverings. But whatsoever bulk be cast thereon shall take the shape of other substance. For if stones be heaped thereupon, the stones shall be turned into wood, wood into ashes, ashes into water. Moreover, a damsel shall be sent forth of the City of Canute’s Forest to work healing by leechcraft, and when she shall have put forth all her arts, by her breath only shall she dry up the hurtful fountains. Thereafter, when she shall have refreshed her with the wholesome water, in her right hand shall she carry the forest of Caledon and in her left the bulwarks of the walls of London. Whithersoever she shall walk, her footsteps shall smoke of brimstone that shall burn with a twofold flame, and the smoke thereof shall arouse the Ruteni, and make meat for them that be under the sea. She herself shall overflow with tears of compassion, and shall fill the island with the shrieks of her lamenting. He that shall slay her shall be a Stag of ten branches, whereof four shall wear crowns of gold, but the remaining six shall be turned into horns of wild oxen that shall arouse the three islands of Britain with their accursed bellowing. The Daneian forest shall waken, and bursting forth into human speech shall cry aloud:
‘Hither, thou Cambria, and bringing Cornwall with thee at thy side, say unto Winchester: ‘The earth shall swallow thee: transfer the see of the shepherd thither where ships do come to haven, and let the rest of the members follow the head.’ For the day is at hand wherein thy citizens shall perish for their crimes of perjury. The whiteness of wools hath done thee hurt, and the diversity of the dyes thereof. Woe unto the perjured race, for by reason of them shall the renowned city fall into ruin.” The ships shall be glad at the greatness of increase, and out of two shall one be made. The Hedgehog that is loaden with apples shall rebuild her, and unto the smell of the apples the fowls of many forests shall fly together. He shall add thereunto a mighty palace, and wall it around with six hundred towers. London shall behold it with envy and trebly increase her walls. The Thames river shall compass her round on every side, and the report of that work shall pass beyond the Alps. Within her shall the Hedgehog hide his apples and shall devise ways under ground. In that day shall stones speak, and the sea whereby men sail into Gaul shall be narrowed into a straiter channel. Upon each bank thereof shall one man be heard of another, and the soil of the island shall be made broad. The hidden things of them that are beneath the sea shall be revealed, and Gaul shall tremble for dread. Thereafter shall a Heron issue forth of the forest Calaterium, and shall fly around the island for a space of two years. By her cries at night shall she call the fowls of the air together and all winged things shall she assemble in her company. They shall fall upon the tillage of mortal men and every grain of the harvests shall they devour. A famine shall follow the people, and a baleful mortality the famine. And when this sore calamity hath come to an end, then shall the accursed fowl go unto the Valley Galabes, and uplift it so that it shall be a high mountain. Upon the top thereof, moreover, shall she plant an oak and build her nest in the branches thereof. Three eggs shall be laid in the nest, wherefrom shall issue forth a fox, a wolf and a bear. The Fox shall devour her mother, and an ass’s head shall she wear. In this guise shall she affright her brethren and make them flee into Neustria. But they shall awaken the tusky Boar, and borne back together in a boat, shall do battle with the Fox. And when the fight hath begun, she shall feign her dead and move the Boar to pity her. Presently he shall go unto her corpse, and standing over her shall breathe upon her eyes and her face. But she, not forgetful of her ancient cunning, shall bite his left foot and rend it away utterly from his body. Leaping, moreover, upon him, she shall snatch away from him his right ear and his tail, and slink away into the caverns of the mountains. Thus befooled, the Boar shall demand of the Wolf and the Bear that they restore unto him the members he hath lost. The twain accordingly, when they shall have entered into his cause, shall promise him two feet of the Fox, both her ears and her tail, the which they will compound into hog’s flesh wherewith to make him whole. Hereunto shall the Boar agree, and shall await his promised restoration. In the meantime shall the Fox come down from the mountains and change herself into a Wolf, and making believe that she is fain to speak with the Boar, shall come unto him and craftily eat all of him up. Thereafter shall she turn herself into the Boar, and feigning that she hath lost the missing members shall abide the coming of her twain brethren. But after that they shall come unto her, them also with sudden-snapping tooth shall she slay, and shall be crowned with the head of a lion.
‘In her days shall be born a serpent that shall be bent wholly upon the destruction of mankind. He shall encompass London with his length, and all them that pass by shall he devour. The Mountain Ox shall take upon him the head of a wolf and shall whiten his teeth in the workshop of the Severn. He shall gather unto his company the flocks of them of Albany and Cambria that shall drink dry the river Thames. The Ass shall unto the Goat of the long beard and shall change shapes with him. Thereupon shall the Mountain Ox wax wroth, and calling unto him the Wolf, shall become a horned Bull against them. And when he shall let loose his cruelty upon them, flesh and bones shall he devour them, yet shall he burned upon the top of Urian. The ashes of his funeral pyre shall be turned into swans that shall swim upon the dry as it had been a river. They shall devour fishes in fishes, and men in men shall they swallow up. But when they shall be stricken with eld, they shall become wolves of the sea, and within the depths of the sea shall they devise their treacheries. They shall swamp out the dockyards, and no little silver shall they gather together thereby. Again the Thames shall flow, and calling his streams together shall overpass the limits of his bed. The neighbouring cities shall he hide out of his sight and overwhelm the mountains that seek to oppose him. Fulfilled of guile and wickedness, he shall make recourse unto the fountain of Galabes, and from thence shall seditions arise that shall provoke the Venedotians to battle. The oaks of the forest shall come together and engage in conflict with the rocks of the Gewissi. The raven shall be there with the kite and shall devour the carcases of the slain. The owl shall build her nest upon the walls of Gloucester, and in the nest thereof shall an ass be brought forth. The serpent of Malvern shall nurture him, and many deceits shall he urge him to contrive. When he hath taken the crown, he shall transcend the highest and shall affright the folk of the land with the hoarseness of his bray. In his days shall the mountains of Panchaia totter, and the provinces shall despoiled of their forests. For a Worm the breath whereof is fire shall come upon then and burn up the trees with the vapour he shall breathe forth. Out of him shall issue forth seven lions disfigured by heads of goats. With the stench of their nostrils shall they corrupt women, and their own wives shall they cause to be as harlots. The father shall not know his own son, for that they shall live in common, even as brute beasts. But a Giant of iniquity shall arise that shall daunt all by the keenness of his eyes. Against him shall rise up the Dragon of Worcester, and shall strive to bring him unto nought. And in the battle shall he prevail against the Dragon, who shall suffer oppression under the wickedness of the conqueror. For he shall mount upon the Dragon, and putting off his garment shall sit upon him naked. The Dragon shall bear him aloft, and swingeing his tail shall beat him upon his naked body. Then shall the Giant, again renewing his strength, pierce his gullet with his sword, and at last shall the Dragon die poisoned, entangled within the coils of his tail. After him shall succeed the Boar of Totnes, and with baleful tyranny shall he oppress the people. Gloucester shall send forth a Lion that in divers battles shall harass him even as he rageth. He shall trample him under his feet, and affright him with his yawning jaws. At last the Lion shall wrangle with the realm, and climb above the backs of the nobles. A Bull shall appear in the midst of the conflict, and shall smite the Lion with his right foot. He shall drive him forth through all the taverns of the kingdom, but his horns shall he break against the walls of Oxford. The Fox of Kaerdubali shall wreak revenge upon the Lion, and shall wholly devour him with her teeth. But the Adder of Lincoln shall coil about her, and betoken his presence unto many dragons by his dreadful hissing. Then shall the dragons encounter, and one shall tear other into pieces. He that hath wings shall oppress him that hath none, and fix his poisonous claws in his cheeks. Others shall gather together to the battle and one shall slay other therein. A fifth shall succeed unto them that are slain, and by various devices shall break the residue in pieces. Upon the back of one shall he climb with a sword and sever his head from his body. Then, putting off his garment, shall he climb upon another and grasp his tail in his right hand and his left, for naked shall he vanquish him against whom when clad he might nought prevail. The rest shall he torment and drive them all the kingdom round. Thereafter shall a roaring Lion come forth and dread shall be the cruel fellness thereof. Thrice five portions shall he bring into one, and he only shall possess the people. A Giant shall glitter in white array and spread him abroad over the white people as a tree. Luxury shall waste the strength of princes and of a sudden shall they be turned into beasts. Amongst them shall arise a Lion, swollen with the blood of men. Under him shall be set a reaper with a sickle in the standing corn, and even as he toileth at his reaping shall he be oppressed of him. The charioteer of York shall appease them, and thrusting forth his lord, shall mount the chariot he driveth. With his drawn sword shall he threaten the East, and the rut of his chariot wheels shall he fill with blood. Then shall he become a fish of the sea that shall mate with a serpent that shall allure him by her hissing. Thence shall be born three thundering bulls, who, when they have eaten up their pastures, shall be turned into trees. The first shall carry a scourge of vipers, and shall turn his back upon the next-born, who shall strive to snatch away the scourge, but by the last shall it be seized and carried off. They shall turn away their faces the one from other until they shall have cast away the poisoned cup. Unto him shall succeed the Husbandman of Albany, at whose back shall a serpent overhang. He shall busy him in turning of the soil so that the land may be white unto harvest. The serpent shall weary him in spilling of his venom, that the green blade may never ripen to the full ear. The people shall be wasted by deadly slaughter, and the walls of cities shall be made desolate. Then shall the city of Claudius be given for healing, and she shall interpose the foster-daughter of the Scourger. For she shall hold the balance whereby the medicine of healing is meted out, and in a brief space shall the island be renewed. Then shall two follow the sceptre, unto whom shall the horned Dragon minister. The one shall come in iron, and upon a flying serpent shall he ride. With his body naked shall he sit upon his back, and with his right hand shall he lay hold upon his tail. The seas shall be troubled at the noise of his crying, and fear shall fall upon the other because of him. Therefore shall the second take the Lion into his company, but a strife shall arise betwixt them, and they shall fight together. With mutual wounds shall the one be stricken of the other, but the fellness of the beast shall prevail. Then shall one come with harp and tabor, and shall appease the fierceness of the Lion. Wherefore the nations of the realm shall be at peace, and shall call upon the Lion to be holder of the balance. In the seat assigned him he shall pay heed unto the weights, but his palms shall he stretch forth into Albany. They of the Northern province shall thereby be aggrieved and shall throw open the gates of the temples. The Wolf that beareth the ensign shall be captain of the companies, and Cornwall shall he encompass round about with his tail. A knight in a chariot shall withstand him, and that people shall he change into a boar. Wherefore the Boar shall lay waste the provinces, but his head shall he hide in the depths of the Severn sea. A man shall hug a lion in gold, and the dazzling of the gold shall blind the eyes of them that look thereon. Silver shall wax white in the circuit thereof, and shall be a vexation unto the wine-presses. Mortals shall be drunken with the wine that is set before them, and turning their back upon heaven, shall fix their eyes upon the earth. The stars shall turn their face away from them, and their wonted course shall be confounded. In the wrath of the stars shall the standing corn be withered and the dews of heaven shall be forbidden to fall. Root and branch shall change places, and the newness of the thing shall be as a miracle. The shining of the sun shall be dimmed by the amber of Mercury, and shall be a dread unto them that behold it. Stilbon of Arcady shall change his shield, and the helmet of Mars shall call unto Venus. The helmet of Mars shall cast a shadow, and the rage of Mercury shall overpass all bounds. Iron Orion shall bare his sword. Phœbus of the ocean shall torment his clouds. Jupiter shall trespass beyond his appointed bounds, and Venus forsake the way that hath been ordained unto her. The malignity of Saturn the star shall fall upon earth with the rain of heaven, and shall slay mankind as it were with a crooked sickle. The twice six houses of the stars shall mourn over the wayward wandering of their guests. The Twins shall surcease from their wonted embrace, and shall call the Urn unto the fountains. The scales of the Balance shall hang awry until the Ram shall set his crooked horns beneath them. The tail of the Scorpion shall breed lightnings, and the Crab fall at strife with the Sun. The Virgin shall forget her maiden shame, and climb up on the back of the Sagittary. The chariot of the Moon shall disturb the Zodiac, and the Pleiades shall burst into tears and lamentation. None hereafter shall return unto his wonted duty, but Ariadne shall lie hidden within the closed gateways of her sea-beaten headland. In the twinkling of an eye shall the seas lift them up, and the dust of them of old again begin to live. With a baleful blast shall the winds do battle together, and the sound thereof shall be heard amongst the stars.’