Nature's musa jocosa: An ecocritical reading of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Vita Merlin

Michael Diaz de la Portilla, Fordham University


Postcolonial critics of Geoffrey of Monmouth's literary project have argued that the Vita Merlini in particular hijacks native Insular discourses about Merlin to convert them into propaganda for Anglo-Norman colonialism in Wales. Without the evidence of extant manuscripts, this account of the text's exploitative relationship to native Insular discourses depends upon the assumption that a corpus of Welsh literature about Merlin existed before Geoffrey's writing in 1150, and it ignores a major thematic concern in the VM, that is, the inherently political relationship between humanity and the environment. To analyze this ecological theme, I will adapt an ecocritical perspective to consider medieval concepts of nature and affectivity, and I will argue that through its playful representation of Merlin's non-appropriative desire for the wilderness, the VM disrupts the ontological distinctions of human and nonhuman, subject and object, and permits medieval readers to enjoy intersubjectivity with the phenomenal world. This ecological discourse undermines postcolonial critiques of Geoffrey's work, which depend upon his participation in a colonialist politics toward peoples and lands that is rooted in the anthropocentric order of medieval society.

Subject Area

Medieval literature|Environmental philosophy

Recommended Citation

Diaz de la Portilla, Michael, "Nature's musa jocosa: An ecocritical reading of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Vita Merlin" (2014). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI1561148.