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having exacted from him an oath never to visit her
during her lying-in. She gave birth to three little
girls at once, Melusina, Melior, and Plantina. A
son of Helmas by a former wife hurried to his
father with the joyful news, and the king, oblivious
of his promise, rushed to his wife and found her
bathing her three children. Pressina, on seeing him,
exclaimed against his forgetfulness, and, taking her
babes in her arms, vanished. She brought up the
daughters until they were fifteen, when she unfolded
to them the story of their father's breach of promise,
and Melusina, the youngest, determined on revenge.
She, in concert with her sisters, caught King Helmas
and chained him in the heart of a mountain called
Avalon, or, in the German books, Brunbelois, in
Northubelon, i.e. Northumberland. At this unfilial

I i



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482 Melusina

act, the mother was so indignant, that she sentenced
her daughter Melusina to spend the sabbath in a
semi-fish form, till she should marry one who
would never inquire into what became of her on
that day. Jean d' Arras relates that Serville, who
defended Lusignan for the English against the
Duke de Berry, swore to that prince upon his faith
and honour, "that three days before the surrender
of the castle, there entered into his chamber, though
the doors were shut, a large serpent, enamelled blue
and white, which struck its tail several times against
the foot of the bed whereon he was lying with his
wife, who was not at all frightened at it, though
he was very considerably so ; and that when he
seized his sword, the serpent changed all at once
into a woman, and said to him : ' How, Serville,
you, who have been in so many battles and sieges,
are you afraid ? Know that I am the mistress of this
castle, which I erected, and that soon you will have
to surrender it P When she had ended these words,
she resumed her serpent-shape, and glided away
so swiftly that he could not perceive her."

Stephan, a Dominican, of the house of Lusignan,
developed the work of Jean d' Arras, and made the
story so famous, that the families of Luxembourg,
Rohan, and Sassenaye altered their pedigrees so as



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Melusina 483

to be able to claim descent from the illustrious
Melusina •; and the Emperor Henry VII. felt no
little pride in being able to number the beautiful
and mysterious lady among his ancestors. "It
does not escape me," writes the chronicler Conrad
Vecerius, in his life of that emperor, "to report
what is related in a little work in the vernacular,
concerning the acts of a woman, Melyssina, on one
day of the week becoming a serpent from her
middle downwards, whom they reckon among the

ancestors of Henry VII But, as authors

relate, that in a certain island of the ocean, there
are nine Sirens endowed with various arts, such,
for instance, as changing themselves into any shape
they like, it is no absurd conjecture to suppose that
Melyssina came thence V

The story became immensely popular in France,
in Germany, and in Spain, and was printed and
reprinted. The following are some of the principal
early editions of it

Jean d'Arras, " Le liure de Melusine en fracoys ;"
Geneva, 1478. The same, Lyons and Paris, with-
out date ; Lyons, 4to, 1500, and again 1544 ;

s Bullet, Dissertat sur la Mythologie Fran$aise. Paris,
I77i,pp. 1— 33.
9 Urstisius, Scriptores Germanise. Frankfort, 1670.

I i 2



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484 Metustna

Troyes, 4to, no date. " L'histoire de Melusine fillc
du roy d'Albanie et de dame Pressine, revue et
mise en meilleur langage que par cy devant;"
Lyons, 1597. " Le roman de Melusine, princesse de
Lusignan, avec l'histoire de Geoffry, surnomm£ k
la Grand Dent/' par Nodot ; Paris, 1 700. An outline
of the story in the " Bibliothdque des Romans,"
1775, T. il A Spanish version, "Historia de la
linda Melosyna ;" Tolosa, 1489. " La hystoria de
la linda Melosina ;" Sevilla, 1526. A Dutch trans-
lation, " Een san sonderlingke schone ende wonder-
like historie, die men warachtich kout te syne
ende autentick sprekende van eenre vrouwen
gheheeten Melusine ;" Tantwerpen, 1500. A Bohe-
mian version, probably translated from the German,
" Kronyke Kratochwilne, o ctn£ a slech netn£ PannS
MeluzijnS;" Prag, 1760, 17(54, 1805. A Danish ver-
sion, made about 1579, " Melusine ;" Copenhagen,
1667, 170a, 1729. One in Swedish, without date.
The original of these three last was the " History
of Melusina," by Thiiring von Ringoltingen, pub-
lished in 1456 ; Augsburg, 1474 ; Strasburg, 1478.
" Melosine-Geschicht," illustrated with woodcuts;
Heidelberg, 1491. "Die Historia von Melusina;"
Strasburg, 1506. "Die Histori oder Geschir.ht
von der edle und schonen Melusina;" Augsburg,



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Melusina 485

*547 I Strasburg, 1577, 1624. " Wunderbare Ge-
schichte von der edeln und schonen Melusina, welche
eine Tochter des Konigs Helmus und ein Meer-
wunder gewesen ist ;" Ntirnbcrg, without date ; re-
printed in Marbach's " Volksbticher." Leipzig, 1838.

In the fable of Melusina, there are several points
deserving of consideration, as — the framework of
the story, the half-serpent or fish-shape of Melu-
sina, and her appearances as warnings of impend-
ing misfortune or death. The minor details, as, for
instance, the trick with the hide, which is taken
from the story of Dido, shall not detain us.

The framework of the myth is the story-radical
corresponding with that of Lohengrin. The skeleton
of the romance is this —

j. A man falls in love with a woman of super-
natural race.

2. She consents to live with him, subject to one
condition.

3. He breaks the condition and loses her.

4. He seeks her, and — a. recovers her ; 0. never
recovers her.

In the story before us, the last item has dropped
out, but it exists in many other stories which have
sprung from the same root The beautiful legend
of Undine is but another version of the same



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486 Melusina

story. A young knight marries a water-sprite;
and promises never to be false to her, and never
to bring her near a river. He breaks his engage-
ment, and loses hen Then she comes to, him on
the eve of his second marriage and kisses him to
death. Fouqu£s inimitable romance is founded
on the story as told by Theophrastus Paracelsus in
his " Treatise on Elemental Sprites ;" but the bare
bones of the myth related by the philosopher have
been quickened into life and beauty by the heaven-
drawn spark of poetry wherewith Fouqug has
endowed them.

In the French tale, Melusina seeks union with
a mortal solely that she may escape from her
enchantment; but in the German more earnest
tale. Undine desires to become a bride that she
may obtain an immortal soul. The corresponding
Danish story is told by Hans Christian Andersen.
A little mermaid sees a prince as she floats on the
surface of the sea, and saves him in her arms from
drowning when the ship is wrecked. But from that
hour her heart is filled with yearning love for the
youth whose life she has preserved. She seeks
earth of her own free will, leaving her native
element, although the consequence is pain at every
step she takes.



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Melusina 487

She becomes the constant attendant of the
prince, till he marries a princess, when her heart
breaks and she becomes a Light-Elf, with prospect
of immortality.

Belonging to the same family is the pretty
Indian tale of Urva^ Urva^ was an "apsaras,"
or heavenly maiden ; she loved Puravaras, a martial
king, and became his wife, only, however, on con*
ditiom that she should never behold him without
his clothes. For some years they were together,
till the heavenly companions of Urva^ determined
to secure her return to her proper sphere. They
accordingly beguiled Puravaras into leaving his
bed in the darkness of night, and then, with a
lightning-flash, they disclosed him in his nudity
to the wife,, who was thereupon constrained to
leave him. A somewhat similar story is told, in
the Katha Sarit Sagara (Book iii. c 18), of VidA-
shaka, who loves and marries a beautiful BhadrA,
but after 2 while she vanishes, leaving behind her
a ring. The inconsolable husband wanders in
search of her, and reaching the heavenly land, drops
the ring in a goblet of water, which is taken to
her. By this she recognizes him, and they are
re-united

The legend of Melusina, as it comes to us, is by



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488 Melusina

no means in its original condition. Jean cf Arras,
or other romancers, have considerably altered the
simple tale, so as to make it assume the propor-
tions of a romance. All that story of the fay
Pressina, and her marriage with King Helmas, is
but another version of the same story as Melusina.
Helmas finds Pressina near a fountain, and asks
her to be his; she consents on condition that he
does not visit her during her lying-in ; he breaks
the condition and loses her. This is the same as
Raymond discovering Melusina near a spring, and
obtaining her hand subject to the condition that he
will not visit her one day of the week. Like
Helmas, he breaks his promise and loses his wife.
That both Pressina and Melusina are water-sprites,
or nymphs, is unquestionable ; both haunt a foun-
tain, and the transformation of the lady of
Lusignan indicates her aquatic origin. As Grimm
has observed 4 , this is a Gallic, and therefore a
Keltic myth, an opinion confirmed by the Banshee
part played by the unfortunate nymph. For the
Banshee superstition has no corresponding feature
in Scandinavian, Teutonic, or Classic mythology,
and belongs entirely to the Kelts. Among others

4 Deutsche Mythologie, i. 405*



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Melusina 489

there are death portents, but not, that I am aware
of, spirits of women attached to families, by their
bitter cries at night announcing the approach of
the king of terrors.

The Irish Banshee is thus described : "We saw
the figure of a tall, thin woman with uncovered
head, and long hair that floated round her shoul-
ders, attired in something which seemed either a
loose white cloak or a sheet thrown hastily about
her, uttering piercing cries.

"The most remarkable instance (of the Banshee)
occurs in the MS memoirs of Lady Fanshawe, so
exemplary for her conjugal affection. Her husband,
Sir Richard, and she chanced, during their abode
in Ireland, to visit a friend, the head of a sept,
who resided in an ancient baronial castle sur-
rounded with a moat At midnight she was
awakened by a ghastly and supernatural scream,
and looking out of bed, beheld in the moonlight
a female face and part of the form hovering at the
window. The face was that of a young and rather
handsome woman, but pale, and the hair, which
was reddish, loose and dishevelled. The dress,
which Lady Fanshawe's terror did not prevent her
remarking accurately, was that of the ancient
Irish. This apparition continued to exhibit itself



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490 Mclusina

for some time, and then vanished, with two shrieks
similar to that which had first excited Lady
Fanshawe's attention. In the morning, with infinite
terror, she communicated to her host what she
had witnessed, and found him prepared, not only
to credit, but to account for the apparition : —

" 'A near relation of my family/ said he, ' expired
last night in this castle. We disguised our certain
expectations of the event from you, lest it should
throw a cloud over the cheerful reception which
was your due 1 . Now, before such an event
happens in this family and castle, the female
spectre whom ye have seen always is visible : she
.is believed to be the spirit of a woman of inferior
rank, whom one of my ancestors degraded himself
by marrying, and whom afterwards, to expiate the
dishonour done to his family, he caused to be
drowned in the castle moat' "

A very remarkable story of the Banshee is given
by Mr. Crofton Croker. The Rev. Charles Bun-
worth was rector of Buttevant, in the county Cork,
about the middle of last century. He was famous
for his performance on the national instrument, the

1 Like Admetus in the Alcestis of Euripides. This story
of Lady Fanshawe is from a note to "The Lady of the
Lake."



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Melusina 491

Irish harp, and for his hospitable reception and
entertainment of the poor harpers who travelled
from house to house about the country; and in
his granary were deposited fifteen harps, be-
queathed to him by the last members of a race
which has now ceased to exist.

The circumstances attending the death of Mr.
Bunworth were remarkable ; but, says Mr. Crofton
Croker, there are still living credible witnesses who
declare their authenticity, and who can be produced
to attest most, if not all, of the following particulars.
Shortly before his decease, a shepherd heard the
Banshee keening and clapping her hands under a
lightning-struck tree near the house. On the eve of his
death the night was serene $md moonlit, and nothing
broke the stillness of the melancholy watch kept by
the bedside of the sick man, who lay in the drawing-
room, by his two daughters. The little party were
suddenly roused by a sound at the window near
the bed : a rose-tree grew outside the window, so
closely as to touch the glass ; this was forced aside
with some noise, and a low moaning was heard, ac-
companied by clapping of hands, as if of some
female in deep affliction. It seemed as if the
sound proceeded from a person holding her
mouth close to the window. The lady who



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492 Melusina

sat by the bedside of Mr. Bunworth went into
the adjoining room, where sat some male rela-
tives, and asked, in a tone of alarm, if they had
heard the Banshee. Sceptical of supernatural
appearances, two of them rose hastily, and went
out to discover the cause of these sounds, which
they also distinctly heard. They walked all round
the house, examining every spot of ground,
particularly near the window from whence the
voice had proceeded ; the bed of earth beneath,
in which the rose-tree was planted, had been
recently dug, and the print of a footstep — if the
tree had been forced aside by mortal hand — would
have inevitably remained ; but they could perceive
no such impression, and an unbroken stillness
reigned without Hoping to dispel the mystery,
they continued their search anxiously along the
road, from the straightness of which, and the light-
ness of the night, they were enabled to see some dis-
tance around them ; but all was silent and deserted,
and they returned surprised and disappointed.
How much more then were they astonished at
learning that, the whole time of their absence, those
who remained within the house had heard the
moaning and clapping of hands even louder and
more distinct than before they had gone out ; and



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Melusina 49&

no sooner was the door of the room closed on
them, than they again heard the same mournful
sounds. Every succeeding hour the sick man be-
came worse, and when the first glimpse of the
morning appeared, Mr. Bunworth expired.

The Banshee is represented in Wales by the
Gwr&ch y Rhibyn, who is said to come after dusk,
and flap her leathern wings against the window,
giving warning of death, in a broken, howl-
ing tone, and calling on the one who is to quit
mortality by his or her name several times. In
Brittany, similar spirits are called Bandrhudes, and
are attached to several of the ancient families. In
other parts of France, they pass as Dames
Blanches, who, however, are not to be confused with
the Teutonic white ladies, which are spirits of a
different order.

But, putting the Banshee part of the story of
Melusina on one side, let us turn to the semi-fish or
serpent form of Melusina. Jean d' Arras attributes
this to a curse pronounced on her by. the fay
Fressina, but this is an invention of his own ; the
true conception of Melusina he did not grasp, and
was therefore obliged to forge a legend which should
account for her peculiar appearance. Melusina was
a mermaid. Her presence beside the fountain, as



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494 Melusina

well as her fishy tail, indicate her nature ; she was
not, perhaps, a native of the sea, but a stream-
dweller, and therefore as closely related to the true
mermaid of the briny deep as are the fresh-water
fish to those of the salt sea.

The superstitious belief in mermaids is universal,
and I frankly confess my inability to account
for its origin in every case. • In some particular
cases the origin of the myth is clear, in others it is
not so. Let me take one which can be explained
— the Oannes of the Chaldaeans, the Philistine
Dagon.

Oannes and Dag-on (the fish On) are identical.
According to an ancient fable preserved by Berosus,
a creature half man and half fish came out of " that
part of the Erythraean sea which borders upon
Babylonia," where he taught men the arts of life,
" to construct cities, to found temples, to compile
laws, and, in short, instructed them in all things
that tend to soften manners and humanize their
lives ;" and he adds that a representation of this
animal Oannes was preserved in his day. A figure
of him sporting in the waves, and apparently bless-
ing a fleet of vessels, was discovered in a marine
piece of sculpture, by M. Botta, in the excavations
DfKhorsabad.



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Melusina i95



Ombn, from KborMbad.



At Nimroud, a gigantic image was found by
Mr. Layard, representing him with the fish's head
as a cap and the body of the fish depending
over his shoulders, his legs those of a man, in
his left hand holding a richly decorated bag,
and his right hand upraised, as if in the act of pre-
senting the mystic Assyrian fir-cone (British
Museum, Nos. 29 and 30).

This Oannes is the Mizraimite On, and the
Hebrew Aon, with a Greek case-termination, derived
from a root signifying " to illumine." Aon was the
original name of the god reverenced in the temple
of Heliopolis, which in Scripture is called Beth- Aon,
the house of On, as well as by its translation Beth-
Shemesh, the house of the Sun. Not only does his
name indicate his solar origin, but his representa-
tion with horned head-dress testifies to his nature.
Ammon, Apis, Dionysos are sun-gods; Isis, Io,



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496 Melusina

Artemis are moon-goddesses, and are all horned.
Indeed, in ancient iconography horns invariably
connect the gods represented with the two great
sources of light Apparent exceptions, such as the
Fauns, are not so in reality, when subjected to
close scrutiny. Civilizing gods, who diffuse intelli-
gence and instruct barbarians, are also solar deities,
as the Egyptian Osiris, the Nabathaean Tammuz,
the Greek Apollo, and the Mexican Quetzalcoatl ;
beside these Oannes takes his place, as the sun-god,
giving knowledge and civilization. According to




A BftbTknUb m*1 in th« Brftfch MuMoa. from MuoUr** Babjloolw.

the fable related by Berosus, he came on earth each
morning, and at evening plunged into the sea ;
this is a mythical description of the rising and
setting of the sun. His semi-piscine form was an
expression of the idea that half his time was spent
above ground, and half below the waves.



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Melusina 497

In precisely similar manner the Semitic moon*
goddess, who followed the course of the sun, at
times manifesting herself to the eyes of men, at
others seeking concealment in the western flood
was represented as half woman, half fish, with
characteristics which make her lunar origin in-
disputable. Her name was Derceto or Atergatis.
On the coins of Ascalon, where she was held in
great honour, is figured a goddess above whose
head is a half-moon, and at her feet a woman with
her lower extremities like a fish. This is Semi-
ramis, who, according to a popular legend, was the
child of Derceto. At Joppa she appears as a
mermaid. The story was, that she fled from
Typhon, and plunged into the sea, -concealing
herself under the form of a fish. According to
Plutarch, the Syrian Tirgata, the Derceto of
Palestine, was the goddess of moisture * ; and
Lucan (De dea Syra, c. 14) declares that she was
represented as a woman with a fish-tail from her
hips downward.

In every mythology, the different attributes of

• Plutarch, Crass, c. 1 7. According to Greek mythology,
this goddess, under the name of Ceto, " with comely cheeks,*
is the daughter of Sea and Earth, and wife of Phorcys
(Hesiod, Theog. y. 235. 270).

K k



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498 Melusina

the deity in process of time became distinct gods,
yet with sufficient impress of their origin still upon
them to make that origin easy to be detected.

As On, the sun-god rising and setting in the sea,
was supplied with a corresponding moon-goddess,
Atergatis, and Bel or Baal, also a solar deity, had
his lunar Baalti, so the fiery Moloch, "the great
lord," was supplied with his Mylitta, "the birth-
producer." Moloch was the fierce flame-god, and
Mylitta the goddess of moisture. Their worship
was closely united. The priests of Moloch wore
female attire, the priestesses of Mylitta were
dressed like men. Human sacrifices characterized
the worship of the fire-god, prostitution that of
the goddess of water. From her came the names
of the hetarae Melitta, Meleto, Milto, Milesia
(Athenaeus, lib. xiii.). Among the Carthaginians,
this goddess was worshipped, as appears from their
giving the name of Magasmelita (the tent of
Mylitta) to one of the African provinces. Mylitta
was identical with Atergatis ; she was regarded as
a universal mother, a source of life.

In Greece, the priestesses of Demeter were
called Melissae, the high-priest of Apollo was
entitled xvpw r&p fuKKiaa&v. A fable was in-
vented to account for this name, and to connect



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Melusina 499

them with bees and honey ; but I have little doubt
that it was corrupted from the Semitic designation
of the servants of Mylitta. The Melissae are some-
times spoken of as nymphs, but are not to be
identified with the Meliadae, Dryads sprung from
the ash. Yet Melia, daughter of Oceanus, who
plunges into the Haliacmon, strongly resembles
the Syrian goddess. Selene, the moon, was also
known by the name Melissa. Kai tA? Jwupyx*
Upelaq, d>9 1% yOovlwi Oea? pvariSaz, iuKUr<ra$ ol
jrakcuoi ifcdXow, aimpr re rifv Kopqv fieXuxawSi},
SeXrfwjv re, ovcav yeviaew vpoarartZa fA&kiaaav
itcaXovv 7 .

When we remember the double character of
Mylitta, as a generative or all-mother, and as a
moon-goddess, we are able to account for her
name having passed into the Greek titles of
priestesses of their corresponding goddesses De-
meter and Selene.

The name Melissa was probably introduced into
Gaul by the Phocian colony at Massilia, the modern
Marseilles, and passed into the popular mythology
of the Gallic Kelts as the title of nymphs, till it was
finally appropriated by the Melusina of romance.

' SchoL Theocr. xv. 94. Porphyr. de Antro Nymph,
c. 18.

K k a



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500 Melusina

It may seem difficult at first sight to trace the
connexion between the moon, a water-goddess,
and a deity presiding over childbirth ; yet it is
certain that such a connexion does exist. The
classic Venus was born of the sea-foam, and was
unmistakably one with the moon. She was also
the goddess of love, and was resorted to by barren
women — as the Venus of Quimperle in Brittany
is, to this day, sought by those who have no
children.

On the Syrian coast, they told of their goddess
plunging into the sea, because they saw the moon
descend into the western waters ; but the Cretans,
who beheld her rise above the eastern horizon of
sea, fabled of a foam-born goddess.

In classic iconography the Tritons, and in
later art the Sirens, are represented half fish, half
human. Originally the Sirens were winged, but
after the fable had been accepted, which told of
their strife with the Muses, and their precipitation
into the sea, they were figured like mermaids ; the
fish-form was by them borrowed from Derceto. It
is curious how widely-spread is the belief in fish-
women. The prevalence of tales of mermaids
among Celtic populations indicates these water-
nymphs as having been originally deities of those



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Melusina 601

peoples ; and I cannot but believe that the circular
mirror they are usually represented as holding is
a reminiscence of the moon-disk. Bothe, in his
" Kronecke der Sassen," in 1491, described a god,
Krodo, worshipped in the Hartz, who was repre-
sented with his feet on a fish, a wheel to symbolize



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