Literary Researchers Translate A Rare, Early Version Of King Arthur’s Legend

The manuscript was nicknamed the “Bristol Merlin”

A team of researchers from Durham University has just published a full English translation of an 800-year-old passage from the story of King Arthur.

The manuscript was nicknamed the “Bristol Merlin,” and the same team also analyzed its handwriting and linguistic style. This was done so that they can discover its origin and history, using an imaging technique called Raman spectroscopy to better make out faded parts of the text.

As Gizmodo explains, tucked away in the bindings of four books from the turn of the 15th century, the “Bristol Merlin” is made up of seven parchment fragments that comprise a passage from the Arthur legend. Dated between 1250 and 1275, the manuscript was likely penned in northern France, the researchers said, based on the writing style and its language (Old French).

The manuscript is not the first document to contain its particular story, which is called the Suite Vulgate du Merlin. Researchers believe the text was initially written around 1225, which means the “Bristol Merlin” was a fairly contemporary retelling of the story.

Laura Chuhan Campbell, a scholar in medieval literature with a specialty in Old French Merlin texts at Durham University, told Gizmodo that “the medieval Arthurian legends were a bit like the Marvel Universe, in that they constituted a coherent fictional world that had certain rules and a set of well-known characters who appeared and interacted with each other in multiple different stories… This fragment comes from the second volume, which documents the rise of Merlin as Arthur’s advisor, and Arthur’s turbulent early years as king.”

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