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In Harry Potter, who is Merlin and what is his role in wizarding history?

His contribution to the wizarding history is apparently known from the fact that some special honors are named after him, such as the Order of Merlin (First Class, Second Class and so on...). Did he live around the time of the four founders of Hogwarts?

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Harry Potter Lexicon says, Merlin was:

A Charms specialist sometimes known as "The Prince of Enchanters;" Merlin is unquestionably the most famous wizard of all time. Merlin was part of the Court of King Arthur (King Arthur once ruled the land that is now part of England). He believed that wizards should help Muggles and therefore created the Order of Merlin to support laws protecting and benefiting Muggles.

Merlin is definitely a very renowned name in the wizarding world of Harry Potter. This is evident from the children's usage of "Merlin's Beard" as an exclamatory phrase every now and then.

Merlin's Chocolate Frog card read:

"Medieval, dates unknown. Most famous wizard of all time. Sometimes known as the Prince of Enchanters. Part of the Court of King Arthur."

It is also said that he studied at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and was sorted in the Slytherin House.

More on Merlin : http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Merlin

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    I don't recall the children ever using the phrase "Merlin's Beard"; I remember it mostly from Professor Slughorn. – Keith Thompson Apr 6 '14 at 1:06
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    @KeithThompson Mr Weasley uses it frequently too. It seems to be a slightly dated expression—minced oaths seem to be as much on the way out in the wizarding world as in the Muggle world, with generational differences abounding. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 22 '15 at 16:59
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Pottermore offers the following snippet of information; I'll put it below under spoiler tags:

From Pottermore's welcome letter to Slytherin:

Here’s a little-known fact that the other three houses don’t bring up much: Merlin was a Slytherin. Yes, Merlin himself, the most famous wizard in history! He learned all he knew in this very house! Do you want to follow in the footsteps of Merlin? Or would you rather sit at the old desk of that illustrious ex-Hufflepuff, Eglantine Puffett, inventor of the Self-Soaping Dishcloth?

Hogwarts dates back to around the year 900. Merlin seems to have been around in the 15th century (so the 1400s or so) which is compatible with the existence of Hogwarts.

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    In the real literary tradition, King Arthur's legends (and therefore Merlin) took place in the early 500s, the earliest mention of Merlin was in the 9th century, 100-200 years before Hogwarts was founded, around 990. (JKR obviously didn't look this up when she wrote about him) – Kevin Jan 24 '12 at 15:36
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    Or Merlin lived in a slightly different period in the Harry Potter world than in our's? :) – dlanod Jan 24 '12 at 19:51
  • @Kevin -- That was my mistake, actually. Just a math error on my part. Yes, 900 is correct. :) – Slytherincess Jan 26 '12 at 16:55
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    @Slytherincess Just a note, 13th century would be 1200s, 1400s would be 15th century. Not sure which you meant. – Izkata Feb 5 '12 at 1:59
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    Is there a source that Merlin in Potterverse would be ~15th century (as opposed to - having been taught by Salazar Slytherin - around 10th century right after Hogwarts opened)? – DVK-on-Ahch-To Apr 1 '13 at 21:04
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According to canon, Merlin studied at Hogwarts. He eventually joined the court of King Arthur and used his tremendous magical skills to help build the kingdom of Camelot where muggles and wizards could work and live together helping each other.

That being said, I think Rowling's version of Merlin must be based on Geoffrey of Monmouth's work, which is why she would say Merlin was a student at Hogwarts. The way I see see it, it could have been the other way around. Merlin's legend goes back as far as the 6th century, several centuries before Hogwarts was built.

Merlin could have been the teacher of one or several of the founders. Though it would be a paradox given that Merlin defended muggles, I think he could have been Slytherin's teacher: There is a little known version in which Merlin is born from the union of a woman and a Sylph, destined to be the saviour of the old way and the protector of pagan gods against the spread of Christianity in Great Britain. He was first an expert in dark magic before he "saw the light" and became the benevolent character most people know. We know the Hogwarts four met and build Hogwarts as they were already very experienced in the magical arts. We also know wizards can live considerably longer than muggles; Slytherin was a very old man and could have prolonged his life by magical means, perhaps even with the help of the dark arts.

My point is, considering the above mentioned, though not canon, it's not far-fetched to think that Merlin being born around 600 AD, could have met young Slytherin around 750 AD (decades after the destruction of Camelot and the death of King Arthur) took him as a student, eventually died (or not!) around 900, and left Slytherin with a treasure trove of magical knowledge and skills he would want to share with young wizards associating first with Gryffindor, impressed by his transfiguration skills, and eventually meeting Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw to create this magical haven we now know as Hogwarts.

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