Unless you know your mythology, you might be thinking, “Who or what is Melusine? A medication? A monster from Harry Potter?”
Melusine is a mythical creature that everyone has seen hundreds of times and yet few people have known what they were looking at or have given it a second thought.
The next time you see the Starbucks logo, take a closer look. See the mermaid with two tails? THAT is a representation of Melusine. Why is she on that logo? As you will quickly learn, her story is richer and deeper than anything on the Starbucks menu and reminds us that tales of the supernatural remain part of the human experience to this very day.
The Origins of the Legend
Melusine is a water sprite (or faerie) from antiquity. The earliest written accounts seem to be some French writings of the 14th and 15th centuries. But the legends may go back much farther.
The French stories, translated into German and English in around the 15th century, told of Elynas, King of Albany (another name for Scotland at the time), who went hunting and met a beautiful woman, Pressyne, in the forest. Pressyne married the King and gave birth to triplets, three daughters named Melusine, Melior, and Palatyne. However, the King broke a pact (it seems like an early pre-nuptial agreement) of not entering the chamber where the children were born and bathed. Pressyne took the girls and traveled to Avalon, an island from the Arthur legend. On Melusine’s fifteenth birthday, she asked why they had traveled to Avalon. When she was told of her father’s broken promise, Melusine wanted revenge and convinced her sisters they should capture him and lock him up. Pressyne punished them. As the instigator, Melusine received more severe punishment and was condemned every Saturday to take the form of a serpent from the waist down. In some stories, her form was that of a two-tailed mermaid.
After this point, the stories become harder to assimilate. Legend has it that a Duke married Melusine and she forbade him to see her in her chamber on Saturdays, but he also broke the promise. Before then, some tales say she bore him ten sons (several of whom became kings) and the land prospered. After discovering that her husband knew her Saturday secret, Melusine turned into a mermaid/serpent for life.
Thus the Melusine stories were blurred into ruling customs of feudal life to provide a supernatural element to wielding power. The ruling houses of northern France and Luxembourg took to the stories particularly, with some claiming to be direct descendants of Melusine.
Even the Arthur legend ties in. The Lady of the Lake, who produced the sword from the water and also raised the young Lancelot, is said to be a water nymph like Melusine.
There are more references and tributes to Melusine still around today than you may be aware of – aside from the Starbucks logo.
In Czech and Slovak languages, there is a word meluzina. It means a wailing wind and links to the idea of Melusine searching for her children.
Over the centuries, Melusine’s story has been in books, poetry, a Dvorak opera (Rusalka), plays, paintings and sculptures. She was the inspiration for the character Mélisande in a play, later adapted into a Debussy opera. Even some songs of the 21st century have been written or named for her. See here, here and here.
The founders of Starbucks wanted to link their product to Seattle’s proximity to the ocean and the spirit of adventure connected with seafaring. From there they studied Moby Dick and tales of sirens. They came across Melusine and a logo was born.
So, next time you down a Venti Latte, you can see a connection to one of the great mermaid tales of history.
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