Open main menu

The New International Encyclopædia/Morgan, the Fay

MOR'GAN, the Fay. An important figure in mediæval romance, whose origin is probably to be traced to Celtic mythology. In the Vita Merlini, ascribed to Geoffrey of Monmouth, she is mentioned as the eldest of nine sisters who inhabit the fortunate ‘Insula Pomorum.’ She is said to be very learned in the art of healing, and to be endowed besides with the mysterious powers of changing shape and of flying like a bird. To her, according to the same account, the wounded Arthur was borne after the battle of Camlan. Morgan played a similar part in romances of other cycles. Thus, in the story of “Ogier le Danois,” she receives the aged Ogier in the island of Avalon and restores him to youth; and in the “Orlando Innamorato” of Boiardo there is a long account of her splendid abode at the bottom of a lake. In Italy, her name has been popularly applied to a form of mirage. (See Fata Morgana.) In the Celtic romances she is said to be a sister of King Arthur. The origin of her name and character is uncertain. It has been proposed to identify the nine sisters of the ‘Insula Pomorum’ with the nine priestesses of Sena described in the ancient account of Poniponius Mela. From a different point of view Morgan has been connected with the Irish Muirgen, better known by the name Liban. Morgan, like Muirgen, may mean ‘sea-born,’ and both persons have something to do with the world beneath the waves. But this theory (proposed by Professor Rhys) will not account for all the features of the story. The whole subject has recently been investigated in an elaborate study by Dr. L. A. Paton, who holds that Morgan's name and part, at least, of her characteristics are derived from the Irish Morrigu, a kind of battle-goddess. Consult Miss Paton's dissertation, Studies in the Fairy Mythology of Arthurian Romance, a Radcliffe College monograph (Boston, 1903). For Rhys's view consult his Arthurian Legend (London, 1887).