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  • The Medieval Merlin Tradition in France and Italy: Prophecy, Paradox, and 'Translatio' by Laura Chuhan Campbell
  • Maria Teresa Rachetta
The Medieval Merlin Tradition in France and Italy: Prophecy, Paradox, and 'Translatio'. By Laura Chuhan Campbell. (Gallica, 42.) Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2017. viii + 211 pp.

In this monograph, Laura Chuhan Campbell presents the results of her interdisciplinary research, which lies at the intersection of two of the most thriving fields of research in contemporary medieval studies: the history of French literature outside of France and the theory of translation between non-standardized vernaculars. The corpus comprises a significant number of texts from the Arthurian tradition: the lives and the prophecies of Merlin, from their first appearance in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia regum Britanniae up to the fifteenth-century Venetian and Parisian incunabula, with works such as Robert de Boron's Merlin, the prose Estoire de Merlin and Suite du Merlin, the Franco-Italian Les [End Page 591] Prophecies de Merlin, and the Storia di Merlino by the fourteenth-century Florentine chronicler Paulino Pieri in between. This enquiry departs from the model of translatio studii et imperii evoked by medieval authors (namely by Chrétien in the prologue to Cligès) and largely adopted by modern scholarship, as, for example, in the assessment of translation into French in Translations médiévales: cinq siècles de traductions en français au Moyen Âge (XIe-XVe siècles). Étude et répertoire (ed. by Claudio Galderisi, 2 vols (Turnhout: Brepols, 2011)). Chuhan Campbell challenges and refines this traditional definition by adopting a methodology informed by Charles Sanders Peirce's and Umberto Eco's semiotic theories, with the aim of discerning how the texts themselves conceive of the transfer of knowledge between different languages. Merlin is remarkable for being at once a character, a supernatural figure, an omniscient prophet, and an author. His textual representation therefore offers a valuable case study for the analysis of the transmission and interpretation of knowledge across cultures and through narrative. This book explores different facets of Merlin's evolution and semiotic modification: the moral connotations of the different accounts in light of their biblical and philosophical subtexts; the exploration of the limits of language, and particularly the vernacular, while dealing with the narrative representation of the infinite nature of knowledge; the construction of diegetic reality and of the extradiegetic reader through the transversal element of prophecy; the loss and the creation of meaning in the chain of textual transmission and rewriting. This book establishes a valuable theoretical framework for a new consideration of medieval translation from a hermeneutic perspective and contributes to the debate on the French of medieval Italy. A promising avenue for future research would be to situate Chuhan Campbell's analysis of the Merlin tradition in the wider historical context of these individual texts. A granular approach to readership, taking each text on a case-by-case basis, would give us a better understanding of the choices and the constraints of authors operating in radically different contexts, such as the thirteenth-century Venetian milieu (an integral part of Mediterranean francophonie), and fourteenth-century Florence, where Tuscan had been the dominant vernacular for almost a century.

Maria Teresa Rachetta
King's College London


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pp. 591-592
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