“Morgen” in the Vita Merlini and Celtic Mythology

윤주옥 /Juok Yoon

2018, vol.28, no.1, pp. 1-26

This paper aims to investigate the indeterminate complexity of “Morgen” [i.e. Morgan] in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Vita Merlini in relation to relevant motifs of the Celtic mythology. Written in Latin in the mid twelfth-century (between 1148 and 1154), the Vita Merlini is a highly important piece of work in the study of Morgan, in that she made her debut as a literary character in this work, and that it is Geoffrey in this poem who is claimed to have first made the connection between Morgan and King Arthur, who, though, are not siblings as yet. Some Arthurian critics have insisted that Morgan was initially a good character of strong agency in the twelfth century, but she was besmirched from the thirteenth century on, mostly in vernaculars by male Arthurian authors who could not abide the positive image of a powerful, good woman. However, I concur with a more recent claim that even in the twelfth century Morgan is often portrayed as an ambiguous character who cannot be situated by the dichotomous good-evil line of interpretation and instead simultaneously embodies the contrasts of light and darkness, life and death, day and night, protection and destruction, etc. In this vein, Vita Merlini distinguishes itself again among the several twelfth-century Arthurian texts, in that this poem better captures the multivalence of Morgan, without sacrificing the dark side of hers, as some of the contemporary texts often do. To illuminate Morgan’s complexity in full scale, I draw on some motifs of the Celtic myth, including the hero’s journey into the land of fay women and the shape-shifting Morrigan who both loves and hates the hero Cuchulainn. Hopefully, this excursus will offer a more well-rounded approach to the character of Morgan.