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The Water Spirit Melusina

(The following is a post by Taru Spiegel, Reference Specialist, European Division.)

The 14th-century “Livre de Lusignan” (Book of Lusignan) by Couldrette reads like a soap opera, featuring interrelated characters who have the most unusual adventures. The work also advanced the claim by the important noble family of Lusignan from Poitou, western France, that they were descended from the water spirit of a like name, Melusine, or Melusina. Of Couldrette little is known other than that the author wrote in the Middle Ages.

Tales of humans interacting with water spirits go far back in time. Beginning in the Middle Ages, such stories were written in a number of languages. The Library of Congress’s 15th-century German translation from the French Book of Lusignan, “Von einer Frouwen genant Melusina” (About a lady called Melusina), contains lovely, watercolor-enhanced woodcut illustrations that highlight important events of the story of the beautiful Lady Melusina and the noble Raymond of Poitou.

Melusina agreed to marry Raymond on condition that he never enter her chamber on a Saturday. They were happily married and had a number of children, but one day Raymond broke his promise, and on a Saturday saw Melusina in her bath as part-woman, part-serpent. As a result she was forced to fly off, which she did while wailing sorrowfully.

The following images depict highlights from the marriage of Melusina and Raymond.

Raymond meets Melusina at a fountain and pledges to return. Image 29. Livre de Lusignan. German.

 

Raymond’s family shows Melusina great courtesy. Image 45. Livre de Lusignan. German.

 

Melusina and Raymond are married by a bishop. Image 47. Livre de Lusignan. German.

 

Raymond peeks at Melusina while she bathes. Image 116. Livre de Lusignan. German.

 

Melusina departs the castle in great sorrow. Image 145. Livre de Lusignan. German.

The book contains many more adventures and images, which may be seen either as page view or PDF.

 

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