Okay. So everyone knows that I studied Medieval and Renaissance studies at OSU, right? Well, for nearly three years, I have basically spent all of my research time devoted to one late 14th century romance that has captured me, heart, mind, and soul. The romance is called “Le Roman de Mélusine,” and I’m bringing this up today because my Mélusine has found herself newsworthy due to Starbucks’ new logo change. So, since I am SO EXCITED about this, I thought it’d be a good time to explain to everyone the story behind Melusine and give you a peek into my research.
(Side note: I have wanted to do this for SO LONG. SO LONG. AHH. THANK YOU STARBUCKS!)
For those of you who don’t know (and I’m pretty sure that’s 99% of you), romance in the medieval context doesn’t mean love story, though it absolutely included love stories, it simply means any sort of tale written down in the vernacular – that is, written in something other than Latin. We consider the first “real” romance to be the Romance of the Rose, by Jean de Muen and Guillame de Loris (which I was reading to Eric before we went to bed last night. Yes. I am that geeky), but the genre includes works such as the Canterbury Tales and Chrétien de Troye’s Arthurian cycle, to give you a tiny glimpse into what I’m taking about. (Please excuse the extreme generalizations!) There are two versions of the romance – one by Jean d’Arras, circa 1396, and one by Coudrette, in verse, written about 20 years later. I’ve read them both, in French and in English, and I like Jean d’Arras’ version better, so that’s really the one I’ve been concentrating on.
Okay. Back to Mélusine, now, and why that ABC article isn’t exactly right. You see, Mélusine isn’t really a mermaid, she’s a fée. A fairy. And only half, technically. Her mother was the fée Persine, and her father was king Elnias of Albany (Scotland), who supposedly is a descendent of Alexander the Great. But I digress. Being half-fée, Melusine is raised in Avalon with her sisters, away from her father, who betrayed their mother when the girls were born. Her fée nature isn’t readily apparent until she convinces her sisters that her father has to be punished for what he did, so the girls lock him in a mountain with all of his gold and let him starve to death. Persine freaks out about this, understandably, and condemns Mélusine to a terrible fate: every Saturday, she will turn into a serpent from the waist down, for the rest of time. That is, unless she can find a man, make him fall in love with her and marry her, and make him promise never to look at her on Saturdays when she’s in her half-serpent, mermaidesque form. If he can keep his promise and not betray her, she will be able to die a normal, mortal, human woman. If he betrays her, she’ll have to walk the Earth until Judgment day.
You all know where this is going. She finds the man (Raymond) in a forest, next to an enchanted fountain. They get married, and she makes him rich and powerful beyond his wildest dreams. She has ten sons, who are strong and heroic and grotesquely deformed. The sons are my favorite part, because the author, Jean d’Arras, made them so fantastic and full of imagery from the bestiaries, heraldries, and contemporary allegory. I recently gave a paper on the symbolism of her sons, you can read it here, if you’re so inclined. Long story short, after a long time, Raymondin’s brother convinces him that Mélusine is having an affair, so he looks at her on a Saturday, and sees her in the tub:
Stuff happens, her one son murders another one, Raymond gets mad, and calls her a “vile serpent” in the middle of their court. She knows he betrayed her, and she has to leave, so they have an incredibly long goodbye where they profess their undying love for each other, before she turns into a dragon and flies out the window:
After that, she becomes the protecter of the town of Lusignan and the Château de Lusignan, as well as of her family. She is often seen flying above them in battle, and according to legend, will circle her tower of the Chateau when it is about to change hands, signifiying her approval of the next ruler of Lusignan. She apparently does this in the 1390s, when Jean, Duc de Berri, the brother of the King of France and the man who comissioned Le Roman de Melusine, takes control of the region:
ANYWAY, you can check out the wikipedia page on Mélusine (I like the French one better, though) to get a better idea the whole story, or you can read an old (and not really accurate or scholarly translation) of the romance, which is on Google Books in it’s entirety, but it’s kind of hard to read since it’s in Old English. I’d say you should get in in the library and read it, but OSU only had one copy of it, and the one that I bought myself cost me about $150, but you can look it up on WorldCat if you’re so inclined.
Anyway, what’s really cool about Mélusine is the fact that she pops up all over the place. She’s attributed to the founding of the Lusignan family in Poitiers, France, (Lusignan = of Mélusine), and parts of her castle are still standing. Like her sons in the story, the Lusignans really were kings of Jerusalem and Cyprus (if you’ve ever seen the movie Kingdom of Heaven, that’s my boy Guy de Lusignan portrayed in a not-so-flattering light). She’s also considered the mythical ancestress of Luxembourg (where one of her fictional sons rules). If you’ve ever seen the coat of arms of Luxembourg (wait, you haven’t? What’s the matter with you?), you’ll notice that it’s chock full of double-tailed lions:
PEOPLE THIS IS WHERE IT GETS INTERESTING. You see, her son, Antoine, who goes on to become the count of Luxembourg, has a LION’S PAW SHAPED BIRTHMARK ON HIS CHEEK. It’s so realistic, that, by the time he was seven, it grew claws and fur. See, that’s what happens to you when your mom is a fairy and you’re born a dude, you end up with a physical marking of your mom’s otherworldly blood. Girls just inherit their powers.
And I know, right now you’re asking me, “Jenny, what does this have to do with the Starbucks logo?”, and I’m saying “EVERYTHING.” Because, for some reason, throughout history, Mélusine has been portrayed as HAVING A SPLIT TAIL when she’s in her cursed form, as shown by this capital in Southern France, which pre-dates the 1396 romance:
This is also apparent in a manuscript illumination dating to around 1420:
NEXT, you can see this split-tail evolve into the woodcuts made for early printed books. Now, while there are lots of sirens out there, I only know one who can wear a crown – Mélusine, the mother of kings:
Eventually, someone at Starbucks sees this and thinks, “YES. Mélusine, the MOST BADASS FAIRY OF ALL TIME, she will be our mascot! SHE WILL OVERSEE AND PROTECT OUR BRAND, AS SHE DID SO MANY YEARS AGO WITH THE LUSIGNANS!!!!!!!!”
No? Well, that’s what they should have said. Either way, they decide to adopt Mélusine as their mascot, as seen in the AP photo below:
So. As you can see, Starbucks has dropped their name completely from their cups, leaving us just with Mélusine. Which made my freaking day, because not only will I get to see my favorite fée in better detail when I go to get my Grande Skim Chai Latte, BUT I was able to finally blog about my research, and show you all just how much of a geek I am over medieval things. Hehe.