Ideas of translation and adaptation in the middle ages investigated through the lens of the Merlin tradition.
The medieval figure of Merlin is intriguing, enigmatic, and riddled with contradictions. Half human, half devil, he possesses a supernatural knowledge that allows him to prophesy the future. This book examines the reinterpretation of Merlin's character in French and Italian Arthurian literature, in which chivalric romance and political prophecy become increasingly intertwined. As the Merlin story crosses the fluid cultural and linguistic boundaries between vernacular dialects on either side of the Alps, the protagonist accumulates histories, futures, and discourses from multiple texts within his omniscient knowledge. From his first appearance in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, through thirteenth-century French romance, to fifteenth-century Venice, Merlin is the voice of political and spiritual truths that originate beyond the sphere of human comprehension. The study also shows how the conversion of Merlin's prophetic speech from his omniscient mind into human languages parallels the work of the medieval translator. At the same time, the transmission of the Merlin story between vernacular French and Italian dialects presents an alternative model of translation, one that relies not on the displacement of previous texts, but instead on the accretion of information from text to text. Laura Chuhan Campbell is Assistant Professor of French at Durham University.
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