Online Encyclopedia

MELUN

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V18, Page 101 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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MELUN, a town of northern France, capital of the department of Seine-et-Marne, situated north of the forest of Fontainebleau, 28 in. S.S.E. of Paris by rail. Pop. (1906), 11,219. The town is divided into three parts by the Seine. The principal portion lies on the slope of a hill on the right bank; on the left bank is the most modern quarter, while the old Roman town occupies a.n island in the river. On the island stands the Romanesque church of Notre-Dame (11th and 12th centuries), formerly part of a nunnery, the site of which is occupied by a prison. The other public buildings are on the right bank of the river. Of these, the most striking is the church of St Aspais, an irregularly shaped structure of the 15th and ,6th centuries, on the apse of which may be seen a modern medallion in bronze, the work of the sculptor H. Chapu, representing Joan of Arc as the liberator of Melun. The hotel-de-ville (1847)—in the construction of which an old mansion and turret have been utilized—and the tower of St Bartholomew of the 16th and ,8th centuries are also of interest. In the courtyard of the former there is a monument to Jacques Amyot, the translator of Plutarch, who was born at Melun in 1513. Among the rich estates in the neighbourhood the most remarkable is the magnificent chateau of Vaux-le-Vicomte, which belonged to Nicholas Fouquet, intendant of finances under Louis XIV. Melun is a market for grain and farm produce, and its industries include brewing, tanning, distilling, sawing and the manufacture of agricultural implements, clogs, fur garments, lime, cement and plaster. In Caesar's Gallic wars Melun (Melodunum) was taken by his lieutenant Labienus, in order to facilitate the attack of Lutetia by the right bank of the Seine. It was pillaged by the Normans, and afterwards became the favourite residence of the first kings of the race of Capet ; Robert and Philip I. both died here. In 1359 Melun was given up by Jeanne of Navarre to her brother, Charles the Bad, but was retaken by the dauphin Charles and Bertrand Duguesclin. In 1420 it made an heroic defence against Henry V. of England and his ally the duke of Burgundy. Ten years later the people of Melun, with the help of Joan of Arc, drove out the English. It was occupied by the League in 1589, and retaken by Henry IV. in the following year. M$LUSINE, the tutelary fairy of the house of Lusignan, was the eldest daughter of the fairy Pressine, to avenge whose wrongs she shut up her father in a mountain in Northumberland. For this she was condemned to be metamorphosed every Saturday into a woman-serpent—that is, to be a serpent from the hips downwards. She might, however, be eventually saved from this punishment if she could find a husband who would never see her on a Saturday. Such a husband was found in Raymond, nephew of the count of Poitiers, who became rich and powerful through the machinations of his wife. She built the castle of Lusignan and many other of the family fortresses. When at length her husband gave way to his curiosity, and saw her taking the bath of purification on a Saturday she flew from the castle in the form of a serpent. Thenceforward the death of a member of the house of Lusignan was heralded by the cries of the fairy serpent. " Pousser des Cris de Melusine " is still a popular saying. This history is related at length, with the adventures ofMelusine's numerous progeny, by Jean d'Arras, in his Chronique de la princesse, written in 1387 at the desire of John, duke of Berry, for the amusement of the duke and of his sister Marie of France, duchess of Bar. It is one of the most charming of the old prose romances in manner and style, and is natural in spite of the free use of the marvellous. An attempt has been made by Jules Baudot in Les Princesses Yolande et les discs de Bar i Paris, 1900) to make it a roman d de and to identify the personages. Melusine, Mellusine or Merlusine is, however, simply the spirit of the fountain of Lusignan, and the local Poitevin myth is attached to the origin of the noble house. The etymology of the word has been variously and fancifully given. Some writers have supposed Merlusine to be a corruption of mere Lucine (mater Lucina), the deity invoked in child-birth. She has been identified with Melisende, widow of a king of Jerusalem, and with Mervant, wife of Geoffroi de Lusignan. The Melusine of Jean d'Arras was printed by Adam Steinschaber at Geneva in 1478, and was reprinted many times in the 15th and 16th centuries. It has been translated into Spanish, English, German and Flemish. Modern editions are by J. C. Brunet (Paris, 1854), and by E. Lecesne for the Academy of Arras (Arras, 1888). The English translation was edited from a unique MS. in the British Museum by A. K. Donald for the E.E.T.S. (1895). The tale was versified in the 14th century by a poet called Couldrette, whose poem was published in 1854 by Francisque Michel. See further J. C. Dunlop, Hist. of Fiction, H. 491-493 (new ed., 1888); S. Baring-Gould, Curious Myths of the Middle Ages, pp. 47o seq. (new ed., 1881) ; and J. C. Brunet, Manuel du libraire (vol. iii., 1862, s.v. Jean d'Arras).
End of Article: MELUN
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