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Posts Tagged ‘Pressyne’

Today, I am honored to be a guest blogger at my friend Nicole Alexander’s blog, “The Mists of Time.” She asked me to write about my trip to Turkey and the connections between Turkey and the Arthurian legend. You can read my guest post at: http://nicoleevelina.com/2012/04/11/guest-post-searching-for-king-arthur-in-turkey/

I have blogged several times here also about the French fairy, Melusine of Lusignan, whom I consider a marginal part of Arthuriana since Melusine was raised on the Isle of Avalon.

Image of Medusa in Ephesus, Turkey, which closely resembles depictions of Melusine.

While I was visiting in Turkey the ruins of Ephesus (best known for St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and because the Apostle John and Virgin Mary settled there after Jesus’ ascension), I was stunned to see a depiction of Medusa. We all known Medusa as the woman in the story of Perseus who has a head of snakes, and if you look upon her, you would be turned to stone. Perseus uses his shield so he only has to look at her reflection and can cut off her head.

At Ephesus, the image of Medusa closely resembles many images of Melusine. Medusa is depicted with what look like two fish (possibly serpent or snake) tails. This image is close to that well-known image of the mermaid in the Starbucks logo and many other depictions of Melusine.

Melusine is herself believed to be based in earlier mythologies of water spirits or goddesses and Medusa is probably one of her literary or religious grandmothers. Their stories have similarities. According to Wikipedia: “Medusa was originally a ravishingly beautiful maiden, “the jealous aspiration of many suitors,” priestess in Athena’s temple, but when she was caught being raped by the “Lord of the Sea” Poseidon by Athena‘s temple, the enraged Athena transformed Medusa’s beautiful hair to serpents and made her face so terrible to behold that the mere sight of it would turn onlookers to stone. In Ovid’s telling, Perseus describes Medusa’s punishment by Minerva (Athena) as just and well earned.” Well-earned is questionable. Does being raped deserve such punishment? Melusine also acquires her serpent form at the rage of another–her mother Pressyne, who curses her after Melusine and her sisters lock up their father in a cave where he dies.

A typical depiction of Melusine.

I’m not the first to note the similarities between Melusine and Medusa. An interesting book that discusses Melusine’s connection to more classical myths is Gillian Alban’s Melusine the Serpent Goddess in A. S. Byatt’s Possession and Mythology.

Anyone interested in ancient goddesses and the Turkey connection might enjoy a tour of Turkey with Rashid Ergener, who was my own tour guide of Turkey, and the most knowledgeable tour guide I have ever known. He even leads tours in search of the Ancient Mother Goddess. Find out more at: http://rashidsturkey.com/?nav=g&dir=&g=

Turkey is a beautiful country and well worth a visit, whether or not you are in quest of ancient myths and legends.

Julius Hubner's 1844 painting of Melusine.

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I’ve long been interested in the story of Melusine, the fairy with a serpent’s tale. However, it is very difficult to find any scholarly works in English about her – most are in French, so I was delighted to discover Gareth Knight’s recently published “Melusine of Lusignan & The Cult of the Faery Woman.”

Gareth Knight is well-known in esoteric circles and for his work on myths and legends. His previous book on European faery tradition was “The Faery Gates of Avalon,” which I have not read but now am curious to.

“Melusine of Lusignan” is a relatively short book – 124 pages, and I wouldn’t consider it an academic work but rather an attempt just to shed light upon the tale of Melusine. In fact, Knight retells the story at length blending together various versions without specificying which piece he got from where so that I wish he had been more academic about it since bits of the legend that he cites I have not seen elsewhere. That said, I admit I have only read what I could find online about Melusine and a translation of Coudrette’s “The Romans of Partenay” and Lainez’s “The Wandering Unicorn,” which I previously reviewed here. I am no expert but rather an enthusiast on the subject.

What I most valued about Knight’s book is how he retells the story, then breaks it into pieces and offers commentary on each section, including what was added later to the legend and what might be the earlier versions. For example, Melusine’s ten children, excepting Geoffrey, seem to be mostly fictional and added as ways to link the genealogy of several European houses as descendants of Melusine. It’s also interesting that Pressyne’s curse on her daughters for how they punished their father is probably an addition to the story made by chroniclers to explain her serpent’s tale. I think Knight is probably correct that in reality Melusine needed each Saturday alone because it was the Sabbath day, a day of rest, a day for her to reenergize after a week of masquerading as a human.

Knight also offers a lot of historical commentary to the other children of Melusine and the sources for the tales of her sisters which do not appear to be original.

Finally, he speculates that Melusine’s mother Pressyne could be the sister of Morgan le Fay, which links her to Arthurian literature, although I don’t think this connection will ever be fully clarified.

I wish I could find more scholarly works in English about Melusine and also how the Arthurian legends influenced the French romances of Melusine and Charlemagne, since Avalon is connected to both.

Anyone interested in Melusine will want to read Gareth Knight’s book. Much remains to be said on this subject, but Knight has provided a good start for English audiences interested in what is probably France’s most famous fairy tale or legend. Like King Arthur, we will probably never know just who the historical Melusine or who her real descendants are, but it’s always fun to speculate.

Gareth Knight’s “Melusine of Lusignan & The Cult of the Faery Woman” is available at Amazon and at http://rjstewart.net/

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Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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