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The Greybeards, an ancient and honored order of monks, live in silence at the ancient monastery High Hrothgar near the summit of the Throat of the World. They are the most famous of the Tongues, or masters of the Voice. Jurgen Windcaller founded the order in response to the Nord army's defeat after battling at Red Mountain. After the battle, he meditated for approximately seven years, and arrived at the conclusion that the power of the Voice should be used primarily as a means of attaining enlightenment, rather than a tool of war. Jurgen called his new philosophy the Way of the Voice, and preached a lifestyle of meditative study of the Voice which the Greybeards carry on to this day.
Contrary to popular misconceptions, the Greybeards are not, strictly speaking, pacifists; the Way of the Voice teaches only that violence is the least of the Voice's uses, and it should be used for that purpose only in times of "True Need". The coming of a Dragonborn is considered such a time, and so the violent use of the Voice by a Dragonborn can be "overlooked", though the other followers of the Way are expected to remain peaceful. While the Greybeards apparently accept almost all who show a talent for the Voice, few can handle the demands of their lifestyle; renowned figures such as Dragonguard member Grundwulf and eventual Jarl Ulfric Stormcloak have either failed to develop their skills or failed to live by the ascetic lifestyle of the Way. Paarthurnax, the Grand Master of the order, made his home alone above High Hrothgar, at the summit of the Throat of the World.
As implied by their title, the Greybeards are usually quite elderly, as it takes them years of study to harness their power, and thanks to their lifestyles, they often live to ripe old ages. They have always been a small group, consisting of only a handful of members at any given time, and they have no real place in the political structure of Skyrim. Nevertheless, they are highly respected by all Nords, and on those rare occasions when they give blessings, advice, or counsel, they need no color of law to be heeded. They have even commanded respect from the most jaded and misanthropic of elves.
The combined voice of the Greybeards is a thing of legend. One says that their shout once blasted Ysmir Wulfharth into ash. According to another legend, Tiber Septim led the invasion of Old Hrol'dan and used the power of his Voice for the first time while reclaiming the town from the Witchmen of High Rock. Storms brewed as, far away, the Greybeards prepared to speak, summoning Tiber to the mountain. As the nearby citizens evacuated, Talos approached the Greybeards' home. When the Greybeards spoke Talos' name, it is said that the world shook. They called him Ysmir, Dragon of the North, and told him that he would rule Tamriel, but he needed to go south, to Cyrodiil, to do so.
Over six centuries later, in 4E 201, the Last Dragonborn used the Voice for the first time after defeating a dragon which threatened Whiterun. Like they had done for Talos, the Greybeards called the hero to High Hrothgar. After much instruction, testing, and guidance, they spoke together to once again formally recognize Ysmir, Dragon of the North. They continued to guide and assist the Last Dragonborn in the quest to defeat Alduin.
Despite this intervention, they were criticized by some for not becoming more involved in Skyrim's affairs. They have been bitter enemies of the Blades since the Blades first came to Tamriel as the Akaviri Dragonguard. The Blades despise the Greybeards for their inaction and for protecting the Blades' enemy. The Greybeards, for their part, distrust and fear the Blades, viewing them as genocidal meddlers, a cabal of bloodthirsty Akaviri barbarians, who have always sought to turn the Dragonborn away from the path of wisdom. The two groups vied for influence over the Last Dragonborn, but who the champion favored is unclear.
- The Greybeards viewed the Elder Scrolls as "blasphemies" with which followers of the Way should not concern themselves.
- During the late Third Era, the Greybeards spoke of the "end of all times", possibly referencing the future events that took place during the Oblivion Crisis and the return of Alduin.
- Pocket Guide to the Empire, 1st Edition: Skyrim — Imperial Geographical Society, 2E 864
- Pocket Guide to the Empire, 1st Edition: Cyrodiil — Imperial Geographical Society, 2E 864
- Pocket Guide to the Empire, 3rd Edition: All the Eras of Man, A Comprehensive History of our History — Imperial Geographical Society, 3E 432
- Five Songs of King Wulfharth
- A stone etching in Windhelm placing the date of Ysmir Wulfharth's death in 1E 533
- Loading screens in Skyrim
- The Etched Tablets of High Hrothgar
- Arngeir's dialogue in Skyrim
- Chevalier Renald's dialogue in ESO
- Events of Skyrim
- The Arcturian Heresy — The Underking, Ysmir Kingmaker
- The Blades in Skyrim
- Atlas of Dragons — Brother Mathnan
- Dialogue in Oblivion