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Character Name Variants: Vivian, Nineve, Nyneve, Nimue, NinianeBackground Essay Author: Alan Lupack

Vivien, sometimes called Nineve, Nimue, Niniane, etc., is best known as the woman who seals Merlin in a cave or a tree. Despite foreseeing his fate, Merlin is unable to prevent being captivated and captured by the woman Richard Wilbur has called "a creature to bewitch a sorcerer." Vivien is an ambiguous character. In Malory, for example, even though Nyneve, who is one of the Ladies of the Lake, deprives Arthur of Merlin's service, she rescues him twice, first by saving him from Accolon who has been given Excalibur by Morgan le Fay to use against Arthur, and then by preventing him from donning the destructive cloak sent to him by Morgan. She also uses her enchantments to punish Ettarde for her mistreatment of Pelleas. In the end she and Pelleas "lovede togedyrs duryng their lyfe." The character is ambiguous even in her earliest appearances. In the French Vulgate Estoire de Merlin, she loves the enchanter and seals him in a beautiful tower, magically constructed, so that she can keep him always for herself. She visits him regularly and grants her love to him. In the continuation to the Vulgate Merlin, known as the Suite du Merlin, the relationship is very different. When Merlin shows her a tomb of two lovers, magically sealed, she enchants him and has him cast into the tomb on top of the two lovers, whereupon she reseals the tomb and Merlin dies a slow death. Tennyson turns Vivien into the epitome of evil. Though borrowing much from Tennyson, Edwin Arlington Robinson, in the poem, Merlin, makes Merlin's "captivity" voluntary, and his Vivian is less of an enchantress than an interesting woman whom Merlin truly loves.


Berthelot, Anne. “From Niniane to Nimüe: Demonizing the Lady of the Lake.” In On Arthurian Women: Essays in Memory of Maureen Fries. Ed. Bonnie Wheeler and Fiona Tolhurst. Dallas, TX: Scriptorium Press, 2001. Pp. 89-101.

Nitze, William. "An Arthurian Crux: Viviane or Niniane?" Romance Philology 7 (1953-54): 326-30.

Paton, LucyAllen. Studies in the Fairy Mythology of Arthurian Romance. 2d ed., Enlarged by a Survey of Scholarship on the Fairy Mythology since 1903 and a Bibliography by Roger Sherman Loomis. 1903; 2d ed. New York: Burt Franklin, 1960.

Adams, Oscar Fay (1855 - 1919)
Thomas and Vivien - 1886 (Author)

To Nimue - 1914 (Author)

Bridges, Sallie (1830 - 1910)
Merlin's Grave - 1864 (Author)

Buchanan, Robert (1785 - 1873)
Merlin's Tomb - 1859 (Author)

Cawein, Madison J. (1865 - 1914)
Her Vivien Eyes - 1898 (Author)

Collins, Mortimer (1827 - 1876)
Merlin - 1871 (Author)

Colum, Padraic (1881 - 1972)
The Story of Nimue - 1926 (Author)

Fawcett, Edgar (1847 - 1904)
Hovey, Richard (1864 - 1900)
Taliesin: A Masque - 1900 (Author)

The Naming of the Lost - 1989 (Author)

Pyle, Howard (1853 - 1911)
The Story of Merlin - 1903 (Author)

Sir Tarquin - 1829 (Author)

Seeger, Alan (1886 - 1916)
Vivien - 1917 (Author)

Vivian and Merlin - 1929 (Author)

Idylls of the King - 1859-1885 (Author)
Merlin and Vivien - 1859-1885 (Author)

Elaine: A Poetic Drama - 1923 (Author)

Merlin and Vivien - December 1894 (Author)

Time and the Witch Vivien - 1889 (Author)

Aubrey Beardsley (1872 - 1898)
Jemima Blackburn (1823 - 1909)
W. Otway Cannell (1883 - 1969)
Arthur Dixon (1872 - 1959)
Gustave Doré (1832 - 1883)
H. J. Ford (1860 - 1941)
Albert Herter (1871 - 1950)
W. H. Margetson (1861 - 1940)
Howard Pyle (1853 - 1911)
Arthur Rackham (1867 - 1939)
Louis Rhead (1857 - 1926)
John Moyr Smith (1839 - 1912)
Lancelot Speed (1860 - 1931)
G.H. Thomas (1824 - 1868)