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Anglo-Norman Verse 'Prophecies of Merlin'.

Anglo-Norman Verse 'Prophecies of Merlin'. Ed. and trans. by JEAN BLACKER. Dallas: Scriptorium Press. 2005. 125 pp. $18. ISBN 978-0-9651877-2-5.

The two poetic prophecies in this edition--one in decasyllabic rhymed couplets, the other in monorhymed alexandrine laisses--are translations into Anglo-Norman of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Latin text of Prophetia Merlini ('Prophecies of Merlin'). The prophecies were inserted by thirteenth-century redactors into copies of Wace's Roman de Brut. In translating Geoffrey 'Historia regum Britanniae, Wace had chosen to omit the Merlin prophecies, a decision possibly related to the 'scholarly clerical community' (p. II) to which Wace's text was intended to appeal.

As well as fine texts of the two edited poems, Jean Blacker's edition includes a useful introduction, a translation into modern English of the decasyllabic version, a list of manuscript variants, a selective glossary, and indexes of proper names. In terms of editorial method, Blacker has edited the 'base manuscripts' more or less in their entirety, with variants from other manuscripts listed separately. This means that she has avoided the problem of 'patchwork' texts which are made up of bits and pieces from several manuscripts, resulting in a text which does not appear in any manuscript but is entirely a compilation of the editor's. Blacker's method is to be preferred, though the selected variants might be more select: some of those listed are so tiny as to be hardly worth noting (see, for example, line 544 in the Durham text and its variants).

Some of the editorial choices reduce the user-friendliness of the edition. Readers may have difficulty understanding the system of referencing, which is not adequately explained: for example, the use of bracketed line numbers in italics first occurs on page 4 but is not explained until page 17. With regard to the critical apparatus, the variants and notes would have been better placed after each text, rather than grouped together right at the end. More could have been said about the differences between the two versions of the prophecies, which are greater than Blacker indicates in the introduction (pp. 9-10). She suggests separate origins for the two versions, based on different redactions of the Historia, and this is certainly plausible but merits a more detailed discussion.

Nevertheless, this is an impressive work of scholarship from a highly experienced scholar who is a leader in her field. The edition makes a strong contribution to Arthurian studies and is highly recommended, not just to Old French scholars, but to anyone interested in the Brut tradition and the role of prophecy in medieval literature.

HELEN FULTON

SWANSEA UNIVERSITY

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Author:Fulton, Helen
Publication:The Modern Language Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2008
Words:426
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