Bristol manuscript pieces outline the legendary Merlin legend, paving the way for a King Arthur breakthrough.


Bristol manuscript pieces outline the legendary Merlin legend, paving the way for a King Arthur breakthrough.

RESEARCHERS at the University of Bristol have discovered some of the oldest known manuscripts documenting the mythical magician Merlin, shedding new insight on the Arthurian legend.

The finding comes three years after seven medieval parchment fragments were discovered by happenstance in a Bristol library. A group of scholars from the Universities of Bristol and Durham has now utilized cutting-edge technology to resurrect sections of the text that appeared to have been lost to the passage of time. The researchers were able to read through previously unseen areas and even determine what type of ink was utilized thanks to multi-spectral imaging technology.

The manuscript fragments contain a section from the Lancelot-Grail Cycle, an early 13th-century Old French book.

Sir Thomas Malory’s famous Le Morte Darthur, originally published in 1485 – the main source of the contemporary Arthurian mythology – was likely based on parts of this manuscript.

However, there are several significant variations in this recently discovered story of Merlin, King Arthur’s court wizard.

The manuscripts were examined by Bristol’s Professor Leah Tether of the International Arthurian Society and her husband, medieval historian Dr Benjamin Pohl, with assistance from Durham’s Old French expert Dr Laura Chuhan Campbell after their discovery in 2019.

The Bristol Merlin: Revealing the Secrets of a Medieval Fragment, which includes a full transcript and translation of the passages, is the result of their research.

“Through palaeographic (handwriting) examination, we were able to date the manuscript from which the fragments were removed to 1250 to 1275, and we were able to localize it to northern, possibly north-eastern, France through a linguistic study,” Professor Tether added.

“The text (the Suite Vulgate du Merlin) was produced between 1220 and 1225, putting the Bristol copy within a generation of the original writer of the narrative.”

“Thanks to an annotation in the margin, we were able to date the handwriting and identify it as an English hand, we were also able to put the manuscript in England between 1300 and 1350.”

The majority of known medieval English manuscripts of this poem appear to have been produced after 1275, making this a “exceptionally early exemplar.”

The documents were also penned by two scribes using carbon-based ink, according to the researchers, who worked with Professor Andy Beeby of Durham University. “Brinkwire News in Condensed Form.”


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