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Morgan le Fay

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For other uses, see Morgan le Fay (disambiguation).
Sandys, Frederick - Morgan le Fay.JPG
Morgan le Fay by Frederick Sandys (1864)
First appearance Vita Merlini (as Morgen, the Queen of Avalon)
Created by Geoffrey of Monmouth
Occupation Enchantress
Title Princess, Queen
Spouse(s) King Urien
Significant other(s) Accolon, others
Children Ywain
Relatives Igraine, Gorlois, Morgause, Elaine of Garlot, King Arthur

Morgan le Fay /ˈmɔrɡən lə ˈf/, alternatively known as Morgan le Faye, Morgen, Morgaine, Morgain, Morgana, Morganna, Morgant, Morgane, Morgne, Morge, Morgue, and other names, is a powerful enchantress in the Arthurian legend. Early works featuring Morgan do not elaborate her character beyond her role as a fay or sorceress. She became both more prominent and morally ambivalent in later texts, in particular in cyclical prose works such as the Lancelot-Grail and the Post-Vulgate Cycle, in which she turns into a dangerous arch-enemy of King Arthur and an antagonist of some tales.

The earliest accounts of Geoffrey of Monmouth in Vita Merlini and Gerald of Wales refer to Morgan in conjunction with the Isle of Apples (Avalon) to which the fatally wounded Arthur was carried off after the Battle of Camlann. To the former, she was a healer and an enchantress, the eldest of nine sisters. In early chivalric romances by Chrétien de Troyes, she also figures as a healer. Her character may be partially derived from that of the Welsh goddess Modron and other myths.

In later medieval stories, depictions of Morgan change dramatically. She is often said to be the daughter of Arthur's mother Lady Igraine and her first husband Gorlois, so that Arthur, the son of Igraine and Uther Pendragon, is her half-brother. She becomes an apprentice of Merlin and a vindictive adversary of Arthur and the knights of the Round Table, with a special hatred for his wife Queen Guinevere. In Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur and elsewhere, she is unhappily married to King Urien, with whom she has the son Ywain, and her sisters include Morgause. She is also wanton and sexually aggressive, with many lovers including Merlin and Accolon, and an unrequited love for Lancelot. Morgan is an indirect instrument of Arthur's death, though she eventually reconciles with him and retains her original role, serving as one of the sorcerous queens who take him on his final journey to Avalon.

Etymology and origins[edit]

Voyage of King Arthur and Morgan le Fay to the Isle of Avalon by Frank William Warwick (1888)

The earliest spelling of the name (found in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Vita Merlini) is Morgen, which is likely derived from Old Welsh or Old Breton Morgen, meaning "Sea-born" (from Common Brittonic *Mori-genā, the masculine form of which, *Mori-genos, survived in Middle Welsh as Moryen or Morien; a cognate form in Old Irish is Muirgein, the name of a Christian, shape-shifting female saint who was associated with the sea). The name is not to be confused with the Modern Welsh masculine name Morgan (spelled Morcant in the Old Welsh period).[1][2] As her epithet "le Fay" (from the French la fée, "the fairy") and some traits indicates, the figure of Morgan appears to have been a remnant of supernatural female figures from Celtic mythology, and her main name could be connected to the myths of Morgens (or Morgans) which are Welsh and Breton water spirits. While later works make her specifically human, she retains her magical powers.[3]

Inspiration for her character likely came from earlier Welsh mythology and literature. Additional speculation sometimes connects Morgan with the Irish goddess Morrígan,[4] though there are few similarities between the two beyond the spelling of their names. Morgan has been more substantially linked with the goddess Modron,[5] a figure derived from the continental Dea Matrona and featured with some frequency in medieval Welsh literature. Modron appears in Welsh Triad 70, in which her children by Urien, Owain and Morfydd, are called the "Three Blessed Womb-Burdens of the Island of Britain,"[6] and a later folktale preserved in the manuscript known as Peniarth 147 records the story behind these conceptions more fully.[7] Arthurian legend's version of Urien is Morgan le Fay's husband in the continental romances, while Owain mab Urien is the historical figure behind their son Ywain. The hystorical Urien had a treacherous ally named Morcant Bulc who plotted to assassinate him, similar to how Morgan attempts to kill Urien in the later version of Arthurian myth.[8] Additionally, Modron is called "daughter of Avallach," a Welsh ancestor deity whose name can also be interpreted as a noun meaning "a place of apples";[9] in fact, in the tale of Owain and Morfydd's conception in Peniarth 147, Modron is called the "daughter of the king of Avallach". This is similar to Avalon, the "Isle of Apples" with which Morgan le Fay has been associated since her earliest appearances. According to the chronicler Gerald of Wales, Morganis was a noblewoman cousin of King Arthur who carried him to her island of Avalon (identified by him as Glastonbury), where Arthur was buried. Writing about 1216 in De instructione principis,[10] Gerald claimed that "as a result, the credulous Britons and their bards invented the legend that a fantastic sorceress had removed Arthur's body to the Isle of Avalon, so that she might cure his wounds there," for the purpose of creating the possibility of King Arthur's messianic return.[11] Writing in his Latin encyclopedic work Otia Imperialia, around the same time and with similar derision for this belief, Gervase of Tilbury calls that mythical enchantress Morgan the Fairy (Morganda Fatata).[12]

In medieval literature[edit]

Early appearances[edit]

Morgan first appears by name in Vita Merlini, written by Norman-Welsh cleric Geoffrey of Monmouth about 1150. Purportedly an account of the wizard Merlin's later adventures, it elaborates some episodes from Geoffrey's more famous earlier work, Historia Regum Britanniae (1136). In Historia, Geoffrey relates how King Arthur, seriously wounded by Mordred at the Battle of Camlann, is taken off to the blessed Isle of Apple Trees (Latin Insula Pomorum), Avalon, to be healed. In Vita Merlini, he describes this island in more detail and names Morgen as the chief of nine magical queen sisters who dwell there, capable of shapeshifting and flying,[13] and using their powers only for good.[14] Her sisters' names are Moronoe, Mazoe, Gliten, Glitonea, Gliton, Tyronoe, Thiten and Thiton.[15][16][17] Morgan retains this role as Arthur's other-worldly healer in much later literature, and Geoffrey might have been inspired by the 1st-century Roman cartographer Pomponius Mela, who described an oracle at the Île de Sein off the coast of Brittany and its nine virgin priestesses believed by the Gauls to have the powers of curing disease and performing various other marvelous magic, such as controlling the sea through incantations, foretelling future, and changing themselves into any animal.[18] In Layamon's The Chronicle of Britain, written about 1215, Arthur was taken to Avalon to be healed there by its most beautiful elfen queen named Argante;[19] it is possible her name has been originally Margant(e) before it was changed in manuscript transmission.[20]

Morgan le Fay by Edward Burne-Jones (1862)

Prior to the cyclical Old French prose, the appearances of Morgan are few. The 12th-century French poet Chrétien de Troyes mentions her in his first romance Erec and Enide, completed around 1170. In it, a love of Morgan is Guinguemar, the Lord of the Isle of Avalon and a nephew of King Arthur, a derivative of the legendary Breton hero Guingamor.[21] Guingamor's own tale by Marie de France has him in relation to the beautiful magical entity known only as the "fairy mistress",[22] who was later identified by Thomas Chestre's Sir Launfal as Dame Tryamour, the daughter of the King of the Otherworld, and who shares many characteristics with Chrétien's Morgan.[23][24] It was noted that even Chrétien' earliest mention of Morgan already shows an enmity between her and Queen Guinevere, and althrough Morgan is represented only in benign role by Chrétien, she resides in a mysterious place known as the Vale Perilous (which some later authors say she has created as a place of punishment for unfaithful knights).[18][25] She is later mentioned in the same poem when Arthur provides the wounded hero Erec with a healing balm made by his sister Morgan. This episode both affirms her early role as a healer and provides the first mention of Morgan as Arthur's sister; healing is Morgan's chief ability, but Chrétien also hints at her potential to harm.[26] Chrétien again refers to Morgan as a great healer in his later romance Yvain, the Knight of the Lion, in an episode in which the Lady of Norison restores the maddened hero to his senses with a magical potion provided by Morgan the Wise. While Modron is the mother of Owain mab Urien in Welsh literature, and Morgan would be assigned this role in later French literature, this first continental association between Sir Ywain and Morgan does not imply they are son and mother; she is first mentioned as Ywain's mother in the early 13th-century Breton lai Tyolet.[19]

The Arthurian tale Geraint son of Erbin, based on Chrétien's Erec and Enide, mentions King Arthur's chief physician, Morgan Tud; it is believed that this character, though considered a male in Gereint, may be derived from Morgan le Fay, though this has been a matter of debate among Arthurian scholars since the 19th century (the epithet Tud may be a Welsh or Breton cognate or borrowing of Old Irish tuath, "north, left", "sinister, wicked", also "fairy (fay), elf").[27][28] In his version of Erec, the 12th-century German knight and poet Hartmann von Aue describes the sorceress Famurgan (Feimurgan, Fairy Murgan) as a deceased mistress of dark magic who has lived her life "in defiance of God" and was capable of raising the dead and turning people to animals at will, commanding wild beasts, evil spirits and dragons, and having the devil in Hell as a trusted companion.[29] Hartmann has Erec healed by Guinevere with a special plaster that Famurgan gave to her brother Arthur before she died and all of her wondrous knowledge was lost with her. In the 13th-century romance Parzival, another German knight-poet Wolfram von Eschenbach inverted her name to create that of Arthur's fairy ancestor named Terdelaschoye de Feimurgan, the wife of Mazadan, where the part "Terdelaschoye" comes from Terre de la Joie, or Land of Joy.[19] A great sorceress Morgaine also appears in the few surviving verses of Robert de Boron's poem Merlin, described therein as an illegitimate daughter of Lady Igraine and an unnamed Duke of Tintagel, married to King Neutres (Nentres) of Garlot.[30] It is the first known appearance linking Morgan to Igraine and mentioning her learning sorcery after having been sent away for an education. She masters seven arts and goes on to specialize in astronomie (astronomy and astrology) and healing.[31][32]

A recently discovered moralistic manuscript written in Anglo-Norman French is the only text in medieval Arthurian literature presented as being composed by Morgan herself. This late 12th-century text is purportedly addressed to Morgan's court official and tells of the story of a knight Piers the Fierce (it is likely that the author's motive was to draw a satirical moral from the downfall of the English knight Piers Gaveston, 1st Earl of Cornwall); Morgan (Morgayne) is tituled in it as "empress of the wilderness, queen of the damsels, lady of the isles, and governor of the waves of the great sea."[31] She is also mentioned in the Draco Normannicus, a Latin chronicle written by Stephen of Rouen, which contains a letter from King Arthur to Henry II of England, written around the same time for political propaganda purposes, in which Arthur criticizes Henry for invading Brittany and claims that he has been healed of his wounds and made immortal by his "deathless nymph" sister Morgan on Avalon.[31]

Cyclical Old French prose and Le Morte d'Arthur[edit]

Morgan Le Fay by John R. Spencer Stanhope (1880)

Morgan's role was greatly expanded in the 13th-century Old French romances of Lancelot-Grail (the Vulgate Cycle) and the subsequent works inspired by it (the Post-Vulgate Cycle) that make her ways and deeds much more sinister than she was presented by Geoffrey and Chrétien, as she becomes an antiheroine in many texts.[33] Morgan is now an ambitious nemesis of Arthur and Guinevere, a malicious and cruel sorceress and temptress, causing subversive mischief at the royal courts of both Arthur and Mark of Cornwall and having few positive values. She has at least two elder sisters, Elaine of Garlot and Morgause, the latter of whom is the mother of Arthur's knights Gawain, Gaheris, Gareth, and Agravain by King Lot, and the traitor Sir Mordred by Arthur. The youngest of Duke of Cornwall Gorlois and Igraine's daughters, Morgan is sent to a nun convent when Arthur's father Uther Pendragon, aided by Merlin, kills Gorlois and rapes and marries her mother. There she begins her study of magic arts, which she later continues under Merlin, but is interrupted when Uther betroths her to his ally King Urien of Gore (possibly Rheged). Unhappy with her husband, she takes a string of lovers until she is caught by the young Queen Guinevere, to whom Morgan serves as a lady-in-waiting, with Guiomar (Chrétien's Guinguemar), and Guinevere intervenes to break their relationship to prevent the loss of honor. This incident begins a feud between Guinevere and Morgan, who leaves the court of Camelot to seek out Merlin and greater powers.

The pregnant Morgan later gives a birth to Guiomar's son, who is said to grow up to become a great knight but is not named.[34] She then continues her studies of magic under Merlin, whom she enamours and later scorns, all the while plotting her venegance against the hated Guinevere and King Arthur. Her attempts to bring about the Arthur's demise after being banished from Camelot by Guinevere in the Suite du Merlin are repeatedly frustrated by the king's new sorcerous advisor Nimue (the Lady of the Lake), such as when Morgan sends Arthur a supposed offering of peace in the form of a rich mantle cloak (Morgan's messenger maiden is made put on the gift first and its curse burns her to cinders); it is possible that this motif was inspired by Greek mythology motifs such as how Medea killed her rival for Jason's affection,[35] or how Deianira sent a poisoned tunic to Hercules.[36] In the aftermath of one of her treacherous schemes, Merlin saves her from Arthur's wrath and enables her to escape.[37] Morgan uses her skills to foil the Knights of the Round Table, especially Sir Lancelot, whom she alternately tries to seduce and to expose as Guinevere's adulterous lover. Some sources have Nentres as a suitor of young Morgan before marrying her sister Elaine. Her many lovers include Corrant, Gui of Carmelide (Cameliard), Guyanor, Helians of Gomeret, and Kaz of Gomeret,[18][19] as well as one Sir Hemison (also known as Huneson the Bald or Onesun). Huneson is mortally wounded when he attacks Tristan out of his jealously for Morgan's attention and dies after returning to her, and the anguishing Morgan buries him in a tomb. In one version, she then takes possession of the lance that was used to kill Huneson, enchants it, and sends it Mark, who years later uses it to slay Tristan.[19] In one of her castles, Tugan in Garlot, Morgan hid a magic book given to her by Merlin and which prophesied the deaths of Arthur and Gawain and who would kill them, but no one could read this passage without dying instantly.[19][37] In the Prose Tristan, Morgan delivers by Sir Lamorak to Arthur's court a magical drinking horn from which no unfaithful lady can drink without spilling, hoping to reveal the infidelity and disgrace Guinevere. With same intent, she also gives Sir Tristan a shield depicting Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot.[38]

Queen Morgana Appears unto Sir Launcelot, Howard Pyle's illustration from The Story of the Champions of the Round Table (1905)

Lancelot is Morgan's prime object of sexual desire but he consistently refuses her obsessive advances due to his great love of Guinevere, even as Morgan either courts, drugs, enchants and imprisons the knight on several occasions. One tale has Lancelot captured in Cart Castle (Charyot) by her and two other lustful enchantress, Queen Sebile (Sedile) and the unnamed Queen of Sorestan, each of whom wants to make him her lover, but he refuses to choose and escapes with a help of one of their maidservants, Rocedon.[19] Sebile and Morgan are close companions, working their magic together, but they tend to fall into petty squabbles due to their rivalries and bad tempers, including a conflict between them when they both seduce Lancelot's brother Sir Hector de Maris in the late 13th-century Prophesies de Merlin; a resulting contest between them is won by Nimue with a help from Merlin. Their friendship is further tested when a quarrel over a handsome widower named Berengier (captured by Sebile after Morgan kidnapped his child) ends in a violent attack by Sebile which leaves Morgan half-dead; Morgan swears revenge, but their relationship is later restored as usual.[30] Morgan's other allies in Prophecies include the opponents of chivalry such as Mark and Claudas, and she enlists the help of the latter in her failed to eliminate the Lady.[39] Sometimes she is successful, such as when she sends Lucifer in the guise of a dragon against Sir Segurant.[40] Her realm becomes known as the Val sans Retour (the Vale of No Return). Morgan's fancied good knights besides Lancelot include the rescued-but-abducted young Sir Alexander the Orphan (Alisaunder le Orphelin, a cousin of Tristan and Mark's enemy), whom she promises to heal but he vows to rather castrate himself than to pleasure her, but promises her to defenfd the castle of Fair Guard (Belle Garde) where he has been held for a year, and continues to do so even after it is burned down.[19][41] In the Val sans Retour, Lancelot frees about 250 knights entrapped by Morgan from her power, including Morgan's son Uwain and her former lover Guiomars who has been turned to stone by her for his unfaithfulness.[19] Morgan captures Lancelot under her spell and keeps him prisoner in the hope Guinevere would go mad or die of sorrow, and otherwise torments the queen, causing her a great distress and making her miserable until Lady of the Lake gives her a ring of protection from any power of Morgan.[38] On one occasion, she lets the captive Lancelot go to rescue Sir Gawain if he comes back, and he does; she eventually releases him when his health falters and he is near death.[42]

In the Post-Vulgate Queste, Morgan concentrates on witchcraft to such degree that she goes to live in seclusion in the exile of far-away forests. She learns more spells than any other woman, gains an ability to transform herself into any animal, and people begin to call her Morgan the Goddess.[39] Lancelot has a vision of Hell where Morgan still will be able to control demons even in afterlife as they torture Guinevere.[43] After Mordred spots the images of Lancelot's passionate love for Guinevere that Lancelot painted on her castle's walls while he was imprisoned there, Morgan shows them to Gawain and his brothers, encouraging them to take action in the name of loyalty to their king, but they do not do this.[44] In the chapter Mort Artu (Death of Arthur), Morgan vanishes for a long time and stops troubling Arthur, who assumes her to be dead. One day, he wanders into Morgan's remote castle while on a hunting trip, and they instantly reconcile with each other. Morgan welcomes him warmly and the king is overjoyed of their reunion and allows her to return to Camelot, but she refuses and declares her plan to move to the Isle of Avalon to live there with other sorceresses. However, the sight of Lancelot's frescoes and Morgan's confession finally convinces Arthur about the truth to the rumours of two's secret love affair (about which he has been already warned by his nephew Sir Agravain). This leads to a great conflict between Arthur and Lancelot which brings down the fellowship of the Round Table. The goddess Fortune, who appears to Arthur to foretell his death towards the end the Vulgate Cycle, is regarded by some as a double for Morgan.[45] At the end of Mort Artu, Morgan is the first among the black-hooded ladies who take the dying Arthur to his final rest in Avalon.

Queen Morgana Loses Excalibur His Sheath, Howard Pyle's illustration from The Story of King Arthur and His Knights (1903)
The Death of King Arthur by James Archer (1860)

English writer Thomas Malory follows much of that portrayal of Morgan in his seminal 1485 compilation book Le Morte d'Arthur (The Death of Arthur), though he expands her role in some cases. Malory's Morgan too has studied astrology as well as nigromancy nigremancie (meaning black magic, sometimes mistaken with "necromancy") in the nunnery where she was raised, before being married to Urien as a young teenager.[8][46] Through magic and mortal means, Morgan tries to undermine virtue, destroy Arthur's rule and achieve Guinevere's downfall whenever she can, most famously in the Post-Vulgate Suite du Merlin where she arranges (in conspiracy with Sir Damas) for her devoted lover Sir Accolon of Gaul to obtain the enchanted sword Excalibur and use it against Arthur in single combat. Failing in this, Morgan steals Excalibur's protective scabbard (which has been previously confided to Morgan by Arthur himself as he had trusted her most, even more than his wife) from the sleeping Arthur and, pursued by him, throws it into a lake, before escaping by temporarily turning herself and her entourage to stone. This action ultimately causes the death of Arthur, who would otherwise be protected in his final battle. Morgan also attempts to murder her sleeping husband Urien with his own sword, but is stopped in act by their son Ywain (Uwayne), who pardons her when she protests she has been under the devil's power and promises to abandon her wicked ways.[34] Later, Morgan saves Arthur's knight named Manassen (Manessen, Manasses) from a certain death, and enables him to kill his captor, when she learns Manessen's cousin was Accolon. Failing to avenge Accolon's death, Morgan retires to her lands in Gore and then to her castle near the stronghold of Tauroc (possibly in North Wales), and Malory mentions Arthur's attempts to conquer at least one of her castles which was originally his gift to her. She also plots an elaborate ambush to kill Lancelot in "The Book of Sir Tristrams de Lyons", after learning that he has slain one of her favourites in a tournament, but Tristan ends up killing or routing thirty of her knights when the ambush ends in a disaster. In Malory's version, Morgan is the leader of the four (not three) witch queens who capture Lancelot (the others being the Queen of the Northgales, and the Queen of Eastland, and the Queen of the Outer Isles), who also rescues the young Elaine of Corbenic (Galahad's mother) when she is trapped in an enchanted boiling bath by Morgan and the Queen of the Northgales, both jealous of Elaine's beauty. Despite all of their prior hostility towards each other and her numerous designs to destroy Arthur, Morgan eventually redempts and ends up being one of the four grieving enchantress queens (the others being Nimue and two of Morgan's allies, the Queen of the Northgales and the Queen of the Wasteland) who arrive in a black boat to transport the wounded king to Avalon. Arthur is last seen in Morgan's lap, with her lament of sorrow referring to him as her "dear brother" (dere brothir).

Other appearances[edit]

Morgan turns up throughout the High and Late Middle Ages in a variety of roles, generally in works related to the cycles of Arthur or Charlemagne. They often feature Morgan as a lover and benefactor of various heroes, sometimes also introducing her additional offspring or alternate siblings. At the end of the 14th-century Middle English romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, one of the best known Arthurian tales, it is revealed that the entire Green Knight plot has been instigated by Gawain's aunt, the goddess[47] Morgan (Morgue la Faye[48]), who takes and appearance of an elderly woman (contrasting from her beautiful form as Lady Bertilak in the role evoking the loathly lady tradition[49]), as a test for Arthur and his knights and to frighten Guinevere to death. Morgan's importance to this particular narrative has been disputed and called a deus ex machina[50] and simply an artistic device to further connect Gawain's episode to the Arthurian legend. The Middle English romance Arthour and Merlin, written in 1270, casts Morgan in the role of the Lady of the Lake and residing near Ninniane, and introduces Morganor as an illegitimate son of King Urien.[19] In the 14th-century Middle English Stanzaic Morte Arthur, the Bishop of London receives Arthur's dead body from Morgan and buries it at Glastonbury.[19] In the Catalan poem La Faula, Guillem de Torroella claims to have visited the Enchanted Isle and met Arthur who has been brought back to life by Morgan and they both of them are now forever young, sustained by the Holy Grail. In the 15th-century Spanish romance Tirant lo Blanch, the noble Queen Morgan searches the world for her missing brother and finds him as an entranced prisoner in Constantinople; Morgan brings Arthur back to his senses by removing Excalibur from his hands, and after great celebrations they depart together back to Avalon. In such texts, Avalon is often described as an other-worldy place ruled by Morgan. In the legends of Charlemagne, she is most famous for her association with the Danish legendary hero Ogier the Dane, whom she takes to her mystical island palace in Avalon (where Arthur and Gawain are also still alive) to be her lover for 200 years, and later protects him during his adventures in the mortal world as he defends France from Muslim invasion before his return to Avalon.[51] In some accounts, Ogier begets her two sons, including Marlyn.[19] In the 13th-century chanson de geste of Huon of Bordeaux, she is a protector of the eponymous hero and the mother of the fairy king Oberon (Tronc) by none other than Julius Caesar,[52] while Ogier le Danois calls Oberon a brother of Morgan. In another chanson de geste, La Bataille Loquifer, Morgan and her sister Marsion (Marrion) bring the hero Renoart to Avalon, where Arthur is the king, and Renoart and Morgan's union gives him an illegitimate son named Corbon (Corbans).[19] The 14th-century Italian novella La Tavola Ritonda (The Round Table) makes Morgan a daughter of Uther Pendragon and a sister of the Lady of the Lake.

Fata Morgana; Nude Study by John Macallan Swan (1905)

Her enchanted realm would be placed elsewhere in the mythological landscape of medieval Europe. Morgan le Fay, or Fata Morgana in Italian, has been associated with Sicily at least since the Norman conquest of southern Italy,[53] and European folklore describes her as living in a magical castle located at or floating over Mount Etna.[19] As such she gave her name to the form of mirage common off the shores of Sicily, the Fata Morgana.[53] References linking Avalon to Sicily can be found in Gervase's Ottia Imperialia (c. 1211) and in Torroella's La Faula, as well as in Breton and Provençal literature, for example in Jaufre (an Occitan language Arthurian romance from c. 1180), in La Bataille Loquifer (c. 1170) and in "Parzifal" (Wolfram von Eschenbach ca. 1210). The 13th-century romance Floriant et Florete places Morgan's secret mountain castle of Mongibel (Montgibel, Montegibel; derived from the Arabic name for Etna), where, in the role of a fairy godmother, she spirites away and raises Floriant, the son of a murdered Sicilian king and the hero of the story; Floriant, with the help of her magic ship, eventually reunites with Morgan at her castle when he returns there with his wife Florete.[19] The 14th-century Italian romance La Pulzella Gaia (Merry Maiden) features the beautiful young daughter of Morgan by Hemison, who is kidnapped by the knight Burletta of the Desert (Burletta della Diserta) and rescued by Lancelot, and later defeats Gawain (Galvan) in her giant serpent form before becoming his lover; she and her fairy army save Gawain from the jealous Guinevere (who wants Gawain dead after having been rejected by him) but she gets herself captured in her mother's castle Palaus (as Morgan wants to marry her to Tristan), until Gawain in turn frees her from a cursed dungeon. The 15th-century French romance La Chevalier du Papegau (The Knight of the Parrot) gives Morgaine the Fairy of Montgibel (Morgaine, la fée de Montgibel, as she is also known in Floriant et Florete)[54] a sister known as the Lady Without Pride (la Dame sans Orgueil), whom Arthur rescues from the Knight of the Wasteland.

In modern culture[edit]

M'el Dowd as Morgan le Fay in the musical Camelot (1960)
Morgana Le Fay, Anikó Salamon's art for the video game King Arthur II (2012)

Morgan le Fay has been featured in many works of popular culture, spanning fantasy and historical fiction across various mediums including literature, comics, film, television, and video games. As Elizabeth S. Sklar of Wayne State University noted in 1992: "Currently a cornerstone of the new Arthurian mythos, [she] occupies a secure position in the contemporary Arthurian pantheon, as familiar a figure to modern enthusiasts as Merlin, Lancelot, or King Arthur himself."[55] Prior to her early-to-mid-20th century resurgence, however, Morgan has been largely absent in post-medieval Arthurian writings. The few exceptions include The Earthly Paradise (1870), William Morris' poem retelling of the story of Morgan and Ogier the Dane,[56] and the satirical novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889), where Mark Twain casts her as Arthur's antagonistic sister, a deceptively charmful sorceress who is also capable of the most vicious behavior. Most modern works feature Morgan as a sorceress or priestess, and usually a half-sister of Arthur and sometimes a femme fatale, but some also have her in other roles, including being a fairy or an otherwise non-human character. Many authors also effectively merge Morgan with Morgause (traditionally a sister o Morgan and the mother of both Mordred and Gawain) and combine her with the less savory aspects of the Lady of the Lake (this is further positioning a modern Morgan as a nemesis for Merlin, who has never been her foe in the Arthurian lore).[55][57] Such a composite character is often turned into Mordred's mother, even as none of medieval writers had them directly associated in any way. Additionally, she has become an archetype serving as a source of tropes for many characters in various other modern works, some of them borrowing her name in the modernized English form Morgana.

Modern authors' versions of Morgan have her usually appear in conventionally villainous roles of an evil witch and an irreconcilable enemy of Arthur, recurrently in league with Arthur's bastard son Mordred, be it in the time of the legend or still continuing her feud in the modern era, where she also may be just ruthlessly questing for power or even represent motiveless malevolence. Such Morgan is often merely a one-dimensional caricature,[58] examples of which include the portrayals of her in several television films such as Arthur the King (played by Candice Bergen), A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (played by Theresa Russell) and Arthur's Quest (played by Catherine Oxenberg).[59] Sklar described a modern stereotype of Morgan as "the very embodiment of evil dedicated to the subversion of all forms of governance, express[ing] the fears that inevitably accompany the sort of radical cultural change represented by the social realities and ideological imperatives of escalating female empowerment during this (20th) century...a composite of all the patriarchal nightmare-women of literary tradition: Eve, Circe, Medea and Lady Macbeth compressed into a single, infinitely menacing package," and whose "sexuality exceeds even that of her prototype and serves as the chief vehicle for her manipulation of others."[55] Notable examples of this pattern are two comic book supervillainesses, Morgan le Fay (created by Stan Lee and Joe Maneely in 1955) in the Marvel Universe and Morgaine le Fey (created by Jack Kirby in 1972) in the DC Universe. A modern Morgan is often an antagonist character for Arthur, Merlin and their followers to overcome and save Camelot, Avalon, or even the world. Even in Excalibur (1981), John Boorman's film adaptation of Le Morte d'Arthur, the evil Morgana le Fay (played by Helen Mirren) meets her end at the hands of Mordred, her son in the film, instead of accompanying Arthur to Avalon as she did in the source material.

Nevertheless, other modern versions of Morgan's character can be more sympathic or ambiguous, or even present her as in an entirely positive light, and some also feature her as a protagonist of a story.[5] Alan Lupack of the University of Rochester noted in 2007 that a modern Morgan has evolved to become "a woman whose own values and concerns [have] become central in some retellings of the Arthurian story,"[60] and Fiona Tolhurst of the Florida Gulf Coast University pointed out how "some contemporary novelists sanitize or justify" Morgan's originas as "the oversexed counter-hero in most medieval Arthurian texts."[61] One notable example of this trend is Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon (1983), an influential novel that was later adapted into a television miniseries.[62] Other such positions in modern literature, sometimes told in first person from her point of view, include Welwyn Wilton Katz's The Third Magic (1988), Fay Sampson's Daughter of Tintagel (1992), Nancy Springer's I Am Morgan le Fay (2001), J. Robert King's Le Morte D'Avalon (2003), Alex Epstein's The Circle Cast: The Lost Years of Morgan le Fay (2011), and Felicity Pulman's I, Morgana (2014). California State Library consultant Cindy Mediavilla praised two still antagonistic but in her opinion non-stereotypical portrayals of Morgan in the 21st-century television series Merlin (2008) (played by Katie McGrath) and Camelot (2011) (played by Eva Green) "as being among the most fully realized versions of her character in any medium."[59]

Furthermore, since the late 20th century, some feminists have also adopted Morgan as a representation of female power or of a fading form of feminine spirituality supposedly practised by the Celts or earlier peoples.[63] These interpretations draw upon the original portrayal of Morgan as a benevolent figure with extraordinary healing powers.[63] According to Leila K. Norako of the University of Rochester, "in addition to her appearances in literature, television, and film, Morgan le Fay is also frequently mentioned in the context of neo-pagan religious groups. She is alternately worshipped as a goddess, hailed as a symbol of feminine power, and adopted as a spiritual name." This development was attributed to the influence of The Mists of Avalon, a revisionist retelling of the legend from a feminist and pro-pagan perspective.[18] Norako wrote: "Like many characters in the Arthurian legends, Morgan le Fay has been consistently transformed and interpreted by authors and artists for nearly a millennium. [S]he is alternately cast as a healer, villain, enchantress, seductress, or some combination thereof, depending on the needs of the work in question. This versatility has no doubt played a part in the continued cultural relevance that this character has enjoyed across the centuries and continues to hold in contemporary culture as well."[18]

See also[edit]


  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  • Bromwich, Rachel (1963). Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Triads of the Island of Britain. University of Wales Press. ISBN 0708313868.
  • Faedo, María José Alvarez (2007). Avalon Revisited: Reworkings of the Arthurian Myth. Literary Criticism. ISBN 3039112317.
  • Hebert, Jill Marie (2008). Shapeshifter: The Manifestations of Morgan le Fay. ISBN 0549756647.
  • Larrington, Carolyne (2006). King Arthur's Enchantresses: Morgan and Her Sisters in Arthurian Tradition. I.B.Tauri. ISBN 1784530417.
  • Pérez, Kristina (2014). The Myth of Morgan la Fey. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 1137332980.


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  2. ^ Koch, John, Celtic Culture, ABC-CLIO, 2006, p. 16; 458; 537; 702; 1602
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  6. ^ Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein, p. 195.
  7. ^ Preserved in Peniarth 147. See Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein, p. 449–451.
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