Saturday, 26 July 2008


1. The Island of Apples

Writing around 1150 in the Vita Merlini, Geoffrey of Monmouth introduces the Island of Apples as the place where Arthur is taken to be healed of his wounds after the battle of Camlann.

"The island of apples, which is called the Fortunate island has its name because it produces all things for itself. There is no work for the farmers in plowing the fields, all cultivation is absent except for what nature manages by herself. On its own the island produces fertile crops and grapes and native apples by means of its own trees in the cropped pastures. On its own the overflowing soil puts forth all things in addition to the grass, and in that place one lives for one hundred years or more. There nine sisters give pleasant laws to those who come from our parts to them, and of those sisters, she who is higher becomes a doctor in the art of healing and exceeds her sisters in excellent form. Morgen is her name, and she has learned what usefulness all the herbs bear so that she may cure sick bodies. Also that art is known to her by which she can change shape and cut the air on new wings in the manner of Dedalus. When she wishes, she is in Brist, Carnot, or Papie; when she wishes, she glides out of the air onto your lands. They say that this lady has taught mathematics to her sisters Moronoe, Mazoe, Gliten, Glitonea, Gliton, Tyronoe, and Thiten the most noteworthy on the cither. To that place after the battle of Camblan we brought Arthur, hurt by wounds, with Barinthus leading us, to whom the waters and the stars of the sky were known. With this guide for our raft we came to that place with our leader, and with what was fitting Morgen did honor to us, and in her rooms she placed the king upon a golden couch and with her own honorable hand she uncovered his wound and inspected it for a long time, and at last she said that health could return to him...." - excerpt from Vita Merlini by Geoffrey of Monmouth

Geoffrey's Island of Apples is clearly based of The Fortunate Island account by St. Isidore of Seville a 7th Century Bishop:

"... the western limit of the world is furnished by the Fortunate Isles, so named because 'they are blessed with abundance of produce; their woods yield apples naturally, their ranges of hills are clad with unplanted vines and everywhere there are crops and vegetables in place of pasture. Hence the false opinions of pagans, and the poems of secular poets, claiming that these islands were Paradise".

Isidore may in turn have been influenced by The Garden of Hesperides in Greek mythology.
The Hesperides were a group of nymphs who tended a garden in a far western corner of the world, located on a distant blessed island at the edge of the world Ocean.


Geoffrey introduces Morgen as an enchantress of the Island of Apples, capable of healing Arthur after his final battle. Geoffrey's Morgen is based on Circe and Medea, sorceresses from Greek Mythology with a Celtic twist in her name, probably from the Morrigan.
Morgen, before she became the dark witch Morgan le Fey and tales of incest by the Grail Romancers, was respected by Geoffrey as the head of the nine maidens on the Island.

‘It is Morgan le Fay,’ he said. ‘It is difficult to explain her.’
‘I should not try.’ …
The Wart thought it was time to ask a tactful question, so he made a polite cough and said: ‘Please, who is Morgan the Fay?
All three answered at once.
‘She’m a bad ‘un,’ said Little John.
‘She is a fairy,’ said Robin.
‘No, she is not,’ said Marian. ‘She is an enchantress.’

Morgan the Enchantress - Skilled in the arts of healing and changing shape, she ruled Avalon. (painting by Frederick Sandys, 1864)

................To be continued

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