Sunday, July 22, 2012

Melusina, Melusine

Jessie Bayes, The Marriage of La Belle Melusine

Before 2011 I had never heard the names Melusine or Melusina before, which is weird since Starbucks is so popular and the legend is more well known and widespread than I could have guessed. Maybe it's because I'm American, the the legend is more well known abroad? I've found that these legends are usually specific to Northern Europe. Anyway, Melusine is the mermaid featured on the logo of Starbucks, although sometimes the Starbucks mermaid is simply referred to as the twin-tailed siren or alchemical siren, and the image has been altered a few times from its original form (see this). She is a fresh water spirit, including rivers and springs, sometimes half fish and sometimes half serpent, occasionally with wings, and occasionally considered a fairy. She appears on many Coats of Arms because she was supposedly the water spirit from the Vistula River in Poland who identified the place to build for Boreslaus (Boleslaw) in Masovia in the 13th century.

Jean d'Arras wrote an extensive literary musing of Melusine around 1382 based on oral tales. In these stories her mother was Pressyne, discovered by a Scottish king, and they were married. When the king disobeyed her marriage condition - not to view her giving birth or bathing their three female triplets, she left the kingdom for Avalon. Melusine and her sisters Melior and Palatyne grew up in Avalon, later taking revenge on their father (who would be mad that they grew up in Avalon???) but their mother punished them, and this is how Melusine took on the shape of a mermaid (half serpent or half fish). Later, similar to her mother's tale, Melusine is discovered by a man named Raymond of Poitou and he proposes marriage. Melusine agrees upon the same condition her mother laid out, and she builds them a castle overnight with her magic. Raymond (of course) breaks his promise and sees her true form (on a Saturday), but she forgives him until he insults her in court. She takes the shape of a dragon, leaves him two magic rings, and flees. Melusine was considered the Queen of Columbiers. In Sir Walter Scott's version, Melusine's husband is named Guy de Lusignon, Count of Poitou. In all version mentioned thus far, Melusine and her mother seem very family oriented, and Sir Walter Scott even mentions that Melusine protects her descendants. In some versions she would act like an Irish banshee, warning her descendants that their death was near.

This tale is very similar to that of Lamia and makes me wonder if every European culture had their own version of this tale. Other notable mentions: Martin Luther called her a succubus, and meluzina in Czech refers to a gust of wind heard through the chimney, said to be the wailing of Melusina looking for her children.

Julius Hubner - Melusine

The legend above was so influential that it became connected to Luxembourg through Guy de Lusignon, and in 1997 Luxembourg issued a postage stamp for her. (A few very powerful royals have tried to claim Melusine was their ancestor, including Eleanor of Aquitaine, being that she descended from Raymond of Poitou's line.) In fact, the name Melusine may come from mere lusigne, meaning "mother of the Lusignans," although some believe it came from the Latin mal lucina, meaning "dark light," possibly in reference to Juno, which would make the siren-fairy-mermaid older than medieval times or at least connect Melusine to similar Greek and Roman myths, perhaps Lamia or the sirens.

Additionally, there is the Tour Melusine in Vouvant, the keep of a former castle of the Lords of Lusignan, that locals believed was truly built by Melusine. Other than that, there have been various sculptures and engravings of twin-tailed sirens internationally, including the exterior of the Lapidary Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and one in my hometown at a restaurant (The B.O.B.).

Other than the myths, there was Countess Petronilla Melusina von der Schulenburg of Walsingham, the illegitimate daughter of Ehrengard Melusine, Baroness von der Schulenburg, Duchess of Kendal and Munster, Princess of Eberstein (among other titles), mistress of King George I of Great Britain. It is widely believed her middle name of Melusine was given in reference to the Melusine legends. Petronilla was named for her grandmother Petronelle Oddie de Schwenken. Besides Petronilla Melusina, Ehrengard Melusine also had two other daughters, Anna Luise Sophie and Margaret Gertrude. King George did have a wife, Sophia, whom he had two daughters with, but they both preferred the attention of others. After Sophia's lover was murdered for fear of scandal, their marriage was dissolved, Sophia was imprisoned for more than thirty years until she died. It is unfortunate to know he merely died of a stroke at 67.

There is also a main belt asteroid named 373 Melusina (as almost all things in space are named after mythological figures or Shakespearean characters), a Belgian comic book, a song called Melusine by a metal band called Leaves' Eyes, an animation company called Melusine Productions, and quite a few literary references, including Melusine by Sarah Monette, Lady of the Rivers by Phillipa Gregory, The Fair Melusina by Felix Mendelssohn, The New Melusine by Goethe, The Wandering Unicorn by Manuel Mujica Lainez, and Possession by A.S. Byatt. Many stories told of Melusine can be seen as the medieval opinion on female sexuality and the duality of women.

Melusine by Maxine Gadd

This might have been my longest post so far, so I'll end it by suggesting that spelling the name Melusine or Melusina is a personal choice and that there would be little difference in getting your point across - the connection to the legends would still be obviously recognizable, and both have been used countless times without too much favor falling on one or the other. There were no babies born in 2010 or 2011 named Melusine or Melusina. Also, there's a little more information and pictures if you hunt for it.

No comments:

Post a Comment