1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Mélusine

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MÉLUSINE, the tutelary fairy of the house of Lusignan, was the eldest daughter of the fairy Pressine, to avenge whose wrongs she shut up her father in a mountain in Northumberland. For this she was condemned to be metamorphosed every Saturday into a woman-serpent—that is, to be a serpent from the hips downwards. She might, however, be eventually saved from this punishment if she could find a husband who would never see her on a Saturday. Such a husband was found in Raymond, nephew of the count of Poitiers, who became rich and powerful through the machinations of his wife. She built the castle of Lusignan and many other of the family fortresses. When at length her husband gave way to his curiosity, and saw her taking the bath of purification on a Saturday she flew from the castle in the form of a serpent. Thenceforward the death of a member of the house of Lusignan was heralded by the cries of the fairy serpent. “Pousser des cris de Mélusine” is still a popular saying.

This history is related at length, with the adventures of Mélusine's numerous progeny, by Jean d'Arras, in his Chronique de la princesse, written in 1387 at the desire of John, duke of Berry, for the amusement of the duke and of his sister Marie of France, duchess of Bar. It is one of the most charming of the old prose romances in manner and style, and is natural in spite of the free use of the marvellous. An attempt has been made by Jules Baudot in Les Princesses Yolande et les ducs de Bar (Paris, 1900) to make it a roman à clé and to identify the personages. Mélusine, Mellusine or Merlusine is, however, simply the spirit of the fountain of Lusignan, and the local Poitevin myth is attached to the origin of the noble house. The etymology of the word has been variously and fancifully given. Some writers have supposed Merlusine to be a corruption of mère Lucine (mater Lucina), the deity invoked in child-birth. She has been identified with Mélisende, widow of a king of Jerusalem, and with Mervant, wife of Geoffroi de Lusignan.

The Mélusine of Jean d'Arras was printed by Adam Steinschaber at Geneva in 1478, and was reprinted many times in the 15th and 16th centuries. It has been translated into Spanish, English, German and Flemish. Modern editions are by J. C. Brunet (Paris, 1854), and by E. Lecesne for the Academy of Arras (Arras, 1888). The English translation was edited from a unique MS. in the British Museum by A. K. Donald for the E.E.T.S. (1895). The tale was versified in the 14th century by a poet called Couldrette, whose poem was published in 1854 by Francisque Michel. See further J. C. Dunlop, Hist. of Fiction, ii. 491-493 (new ed., 1888); S. Baring-Gould, Curious Myths of the Middle Ages, pp. 470 seq. (new ed., 1881); and J. C. Brunet, Manuel du libraire (vol. iii., 1862, s.v. Jean d'Arras).