- 'Les Prophéties de Merlin' en prose: le roman arthurien en éclats
The Prophésies de Merlin [sic] dates from the late thirteenth century and is attributed within the text to a certain Richard d'Irlande, purportedly translating it from Latin. It is actually thought to be the work of a Venetian franciscan, disguising his identity because of the political implications of some of the material within it. Overall there exist nineteen manuscripts of the text, some of them fragmentary, but the best and most complete, according to Nathalie Koble, is the version contained in MS Genève-Cologny, Bodmer 116, of which she has also prepared an edition, due for publication in the 'Classiques français du Moyen Âge' series in 2009. A thirty-page summary of this version is helpfully appended to the present volume. This [End Page 472] undoubtedly assists the reader, as the narrative appears somewhat convoluted and seemingly lacking in focus, although Koble argues for its cohesion. In her view the text is a proper Arthurian romance, with the prophecies running as a thread through it. Merlin's principal prophecies occur at the beginning of the text, prior to his entombment. Then comes a series of interlaced adventures involving numerous knights, and there is even at one point a crusade episode. Throughout the adventures further prophecies from Merlin continue to be found or sought out by various knights. Koble demonstrates that the Prophésies draws on the earlier prose romances, but it rewrites episodes and reformulates characters: Perceval, for instance, loses the naivety that dogged him in earlier texts, and he becomes an important instrument in relaying further childhood prophecies by Merlin, left in a book with the hermit Helias. New characters are also invented, doubling for existing ones: Alixandre l'Orphelin doubles for the roles of Tristan and Lancelot, while Meliadus, the lover of the Dame du Lac and a fresh half-brother for Tristan, is given an identity that he did not previously have, doubling for Lancelot in being brought up by the Dame du Lac. Much of the action takes place during the Fausse Guenievre episode, when the knights desert Arthur's moribund court for Sorelois, which then becomes the centre of chivalric activity. There Galehot is an ideal prince, while Arthur succumbs to a form of madness, handing over the running of his court to his fool, Daguenet. The text is scrupulously examined from a variety of aspects, but arguably a disproportionate amount of space is devoted to the female characters, notably the Dame du Lac, Morgain, and a number of fées, all of whom had learned their enchantments from Merlin. Koble concludes that the overall rewriting of earlier material produces in effect a text that potentially could form the centre of a new prose cycle. This volume is not an easy read: Koble claims that it is based on her thesis, but it reads more like an unreconstructed version of it, with its detailed treatment, the use of subdivisions and headings throughout each chapter, its copious and discursive footnotes, and exhaustive bibliography. Nevertheless, one cannot but admire anyone prepared to wrestle with such a difficult text.