Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Morgan le Fay
In the mythology of King Arthur, Morgan le Fay, alternatively known as Morgaine, Morgain or Morgana and a slew of related name variants, is an important female figure and sometime antagonist of Arthur and enemy of Guinevere. In the 12th century Latin Life of Merlin (Vita Merlini) "Morgen" is said to be the first of nine sisters who rule Avalon, The Fortunate Isle or the Isle of Apples (cf. Garden of the Hesperides), where in fact she is the sole sister with a definite presence. Morgan is presented by Geoffrey of Monmouth as a healer and even a shapeshifter. Following Geoffrey of Monmouth, later writers like Chretien de Troyes enlarge on the theme that in time Morgana will heal and cure Arthur on the island of Avalon, reverting to her benevolent role.
Morgan was the daughter of Arthur's mother, the Lady Igraine and her first husband, Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall; thus Arthur was her half-brother, the child of Uther Pendragon and Lady Igraine. As a Celtic woman, Morgana has inherited through her mother a share of the earth magic that Arthur lacks. Morgana had two older sisters, Elaine and Morgause; thus she is a member of a triplet, a familiar formula in Celtic myth. In Le Morte d'Arthur and elsewhere, she is married, unhappily, to King Urien of Gore and Owain is her son.
Modern interpretations of the Arthurian myth often assign to Morgan the role of seducing Arthur and giving birth to the wicked Mordred, though originally (as in Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur) it was Morgause who did this. (According to the legend, Mordred grew to manhood away from Arthur's court, and eventually killed his father, bringing an end to the Arthurian age.)
"Medieval Christianity had a difficult time assimilating a benevolent enchantress," Brian Rise points out .The Vulgate Cycle of Arthurian tales finds Morgan still on good terms with Arthur but angry at Guinevere for breaking a romance with one of her lovers. She tries alternately to seduce Lancelot and to expose his affair with the queen, presumably both through magical means. In the Prose Tristan, she has delivered to Arthur's court a magic drinking horn from which no unfaithful lady can drink without spilling.
Following the Vulgate Cycle, Sir Thomas Malory gave as a motivation for Morgan's anger with Arthur that he had killed one of her lovers. Through magic and mortal means, she tried to arrange his downfall, most famously when she arranged for her lover Accolon to have the sword Excalibur and try to kill Arthur with it in single combat. Failing in this, Morgan threw Excalibur's protective scabbard into a lake.
At the end of the tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, it is revealed that the entire supernatural episode has been instigated by Morgan, as a test of Arthur and his knights.
Morgana's competition with her mentor, Merlin, assumes a new prominence in John Boorman's film Excalibur, 1981. Morgan is the protagonist of Marion Zimmer Bradley's tale The Mists of Avalon, and in recent years has been increasingly seen by feminist revisionists as the human representation of the archetypical goddess element in Celtic mythology.
- Morgan le Fey at the Camelot project, University of Rochester: brief text and images
- Brian Edward Rise, "Morgan le Fay" 2001
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