Rediscovered Medieval Manuscript Offers New Twist on Arthurian Legend

Thirteenth-century manuscript fragments discovered by chance at a library in Bristol, England, have revealed an alternative version of the story of Merlin, the famed wizard of Arthurian legend. A team of scholars translated the writings, known as the Bristol Merlin, from Old French to English and traced the pages’ medieval origins, reports Alison Flood for the Guardian.

The manuscript is part of a group of texts called the Vulgate Cycle, or the Lancelot-Grail Cycle. Using handwriting analysis, the researchers determined that someone in northern or northeastern France wrote the text between 1250 and 1275. That means it was committed to parchment shortly after the Vulgate Cycle was first composed, between 1220 and 1225.

“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,” Laura Chuhan Campbell, a medieval language scholar at Durham University, tells Gizmodo’s Isaac Schultz. “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.”

King Arthur first appeared in a history of Britain written in 829 or 830, notes the British Library. That text describes him as a warlord or Christian soldier. Later accounts from the 12th century added new elements to the legend, such as Merlin’s mentorship of Arthur. English writer Thomas Malory compiled one of the best-known collections of the stories, Le Morte d’Arthurin the 15th century.

Read more: Smithsonian