Snake Women: Crafting Power in Medieval Origin Stories

Think of a medieval romance, and you might imagine brave courtly knights dashing to the rescue of women held captive by monstrous beasts and dragons. But think again. Olivia Colquitt introduces us to the 14th-century Mélusine story, in which the beautiful woman is not all that she seems and it is the man who ends up in need of a rescuer.

The Mélusine narratives trace the ancestry of the House of Lusignan to its serpent-tailed founding mother, Mélusine. Yet in addition to establishing the dynasty’s fantastical origins, Mélusine is said to return to her lands to herald death within her line until it diminishes entirely, thus evoking contemporaneous anxieties of succession. By evaluating the significance of supernatural genealogy in the Middle Ages, Olivia reveals how the patrons of the Mélusineromances appropriated this foundation myth to serve socio-political purposes.

From snake women to Islamic mythology, the beginnings of sound film to the burning of Shakespeare’s globe, Late Summer Lectures 2018 explored the theme of ‘Beginnings and Endings’ in literature.