In 2019, a librarian at the Central Library in Bristol, England, uncovered a mystery. Pasted to the bindings of four Renaissance books were scraps of parchment from a medieval manuscript. And on these scraps, written in old French, were two names that have captivated readers for almost a millennium: Merlin and Arthur.
In this week’s episode, Eve and Julie talk about the origins and the enduring power of the Arthurian legends with Dr. Laura Chuhan Campbell, part of an interdisciplinary team of scholars who worked for two years to decipher the scraps and determine their provenance. What exactly did the scraps say? How did they make their way from a 13th century bookshop in France, where they were written, to inside the bindings of four Renaissance books in England? And could the fragments of this Arthurian legend manuscript–written less than 50 years after the original King Arthur story–change our understanding of Merlin and King Arthur? Laura describes in detail the extensive expertise employed by the team, and she shares why the “British national myth” of King Arthur has endured today. Eve also gets to finally put to use her “teeny tiny sliver” of knowledge of early modern demonic texts.
Dr. Laura Chuhan Campbell is an Assistant Professor in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at Durham University and a member of the Institute of Medieval and Modern Studies. Her research interests include medieval French and Italian literature, particularly the area of cultural adaptations of literary texts. Her first book, The Medieval Merlin Tradition in France and Italy: Prophecy, Paradox, and Translation, examines vernacular translations of the story of Merlin in French and Italian medieval literature. Now, along with Professor Leah Tether and Dr. Benjamin Pohl, Laura is a co-author of The Bristol Merlin: Revealing the Secrets of a Medieval Fragment.