Each country has its well-known and loved literary characters whose essence is deeply connected to the identity of a nation or region. This exhibition is about those characters, introducing the fictional world, authors and cultural surrounding of smaller European states. Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary and Luxembourg are represented with their literary characters. Learn about the project



Woman Animal

In the Luxembourgish version of the Melusina-legend the story about the fate of the mermaid runs thus. Count Siegfried gets lost in the Alzette-valley where he falls in love with Melusina, whose chant and beauty bewitch him. The Mermaid accepts to marry him on two conditions: first that she will never have to leave her rocky dwelling, a place called “Bock”, and second that the Count shall never see her on a Saturday, a day she wishes to spend on her own.

Siegfried agrees to her terms and buys land around the “Bock”, but pushed for money he has to agree to make a deal with the devil and to sell his soul in return for a stately castle. The young couple and their seven children live happy days, until Siegfried, moved by doubt, can’t resist peeping through the keyhole of Melusina’s bathroom. Terror-stricken he discovers that the bathing Melusina’s lower body is a huge fishtail. The same moment, the mermaid disappears into the deeps of the “Bock”. She is bound to reappear on the rock every seven years in the form of a fiery serpent. The brave man who will succeed to deliver her from her spell will have to snatch the key with his own lips from her mouth and throw it into the river Alzette. This is a feat no one ever succeeded accomplishing yet. If the day comes she finishes working on the shirt she is making one stitch for every seven years, she will be delivered from her spell, but the town of Luxembourg will be lying in ruins.


Various authors

As is the case with many legends, the Melusina-topos has always been subject to reception, to various historical, geographical or social adaptations, and to the reinterpretation of many authors. The Melusina-legend has old French origins and the Luxembourgish version traces back to the French texts of Couldrette and Jean d’Arras from the beginning of the 15th century. About 1850, the subject of Melusina was presently adapted by a few important Luxembourgish writers: amongst others Antoine Meyer (1853), Nikolaus Steffen (1853) and Peter Klein (1855). At the end of the 19th century, Nicolas Gredt (1834-1909) and Edmond de la Fontaine (1823-1891), better known under his pen name Dicks. With only minor differences, they fixed the Luxembourgish version of Melusina’s fate in their collections of myths and legends entitled Sagenschatz des Luxemburger Landes (1883), respectively Luxemburger Sagen und Legenden (1882). Subsequently, many other authors referred to the works of Gredt and Dicks. About 1900, Nik Welter (1871-1951) dealt with the legend of Melusina. A rich array of literary adaptations extends up to the present. Amongst others Roger Manderscheid (1983 and 1991), Nico Helminger (1995) and Jhemp Hoscheit (1999) dealt with the figure of Melusina.


In the Middle Ages, the writing about Melusina had a threefold function: it served aristocratic dynasties to nourish their family-myths and to legitimate and glorify their own ancestry; this is the case for the Luxembourgish dynasty. The alliance of Melusina and Count Siegfried, the founder of the city of Luxembourg, stylises the mermaid to the first female ancestor and progenitor of the Luxembourgers and the protectress of the city. In this regard, Melusina gains in importance during the 19th century, when she plays a role in the shaping of the budding national identity and contributes to the delimitation towards the neighbouring countries Germany, France and Belgium. In World War I and especially World War II, Melusina becomes a symbol of Luxembourgish identity, unity and independence, concepts that needed to be defended against the German aggressor. At the end of the 20th century, some writers use the Melusina-figure as a spearhead of social criticism, and they often do so in a satirical vein. Due to her hybrid nature – half man, half beast – the figure lends itself also to the literary examination of Luxembourg’s multicultural and multilingual society. In recent years, increasing feminist texts draw the picture of a nonconformist Melusina, who focuses in the conflictual area of gender discourse on subjects such as the construction and the shaping of female identity and personality. Last but not least, there are humoristic adaptations of the Melusina-legend as well as texts in the literature for young people.

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