Elainne, Helaine, Heleyne, Nimane, Nimiane, Niniane, Ninienue, Nymenche, Suniane, Vivian, Viviana, Vivien, Vivienne
The chief French Lady of the Lake.
Viviane’s father, Dyonas, was a vavasour of high lineage who long served the Duke of Burgoyne (Burgundy) and married the Duke’s daughter. The goddess Diane of the Woods, who used to visit Dyonas, promised him that his first child would be coveted by one of the wisest of men. Merlin met Dyonas’ daughter Viviane at a fountain when she was twelve years old, and she promised to give him her love when he had taught her his crafts. According to this Vulgate account, Viviane was the woman who imprisoned Merlin in a fortress in the forest of Broceliande, where she visited him frequently.
When Queen Elaine of Benwick left her tiny son Galahad on a hill in sight of their conquered city, in order to rush to her dying husband, Viviane seized the opportunity to take the child. She renamed him Lancelot and raised him in her own rich city, disguised to mundane eyes beneath the appearance of a lake – hence “Lancelot of the Lake”. Later, Viviane sent one of her chief damsels, Seraide, to rescue Lancelot’s cousins Lionel and Bors from King Claudas and bring them, also, to the Lake.
When Lancelot was eighteen, Viviane yielded to his request, coached him in the requirements of knighthood, equipped him, and brought him and his cousins to Arthur’s court. Viviane continued to act as Lancelot’s guardian, through personal visits to Britain and through subordinate damsels whom she sent in her place.
She came to La Roche while Arthur was Camille’s prisoner there and completed the matchmaking between Lancelot and Guenevere, counseling the Queen to love Lancelot with all her heart. Viviane then returned home, remarking,
I am anxious not to displease him who loves me, well knowing that a lover can only be happy when the object of his love is near.
According to the Vulgate, the Damsels of the Lake owed their knowledge of magic – apparently all of it – to Merlin.
Tennyson makes Vivien a votary of the old pagan sun worship. He also makes her definitely evil, but this accords ill with the roles both of Nimue in Malory and Viviane in the Vulgate – moreover, in order to do it, he divorces Viviane from the beneficent Lady of the Lake and makes them two separate characthers. Embittered by her father’s death of Arthur’s hands, she predicts with glee the death of Arthur and the Round Table. She encourages Balin and Balan to kill each other. Once the lover of King Mark of Cornwall, she sets her sights on Merlin after a failed attempt to vamp Arthur. Merlin sees through her wiles but, as he is old and starved for affection, wearily allows her to seduce him. As in Merlin, he teaches her a spell that imprisons, and she traps him in a tree. Later, she informs Mordred of the affair between Lancelot and Guenevere, prompting Mordred’s accusation and the eventual downfall of Arthur’s kingdom.
Though Viviane has against her imprisonment of Merlin, the kidnaping of Lancelot (though it may be said to have had good results), and the promotion of the affair between Lancelot and Guenevere (but she was not the only go-between in the case), she still seems to be shown in a good light, as a generally beneficent enchantress.
Viviane’s Family and Retainers
Lionel, Bors de Ganis
Viviane and Merlin in a Forest | Artist: Gustave Dore