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Sir Orfeo is a romance poem composed by an anonymous Celtic author and adapted from the story of Eurydice and Orpheus; the classic Greek story. Sir Orfeo poem retells the story of King Orpheus who rescued his wife from the fairy king. King Orpheus’s mother was from the race of King Juno and his father from King Pluto. It represents a mixture of folklore and Celtic mythology concerning fairies. The action of Sir Orfeo takes place in medieval England and not in classical Greece. The chief version of the poem consists of 602 short lines. The main resolution of the poem occurs in Fairyland.
The main characters of the poem are Orfeo, Heurodis, the Steward and the fairy King while the main themes are loss and beauty. Orfeo loved playing the harp, and, in the entire world then, there was no better Harper. The name ‘Heurodis’ means loss or vulnerability to captivity. The classic tale of Euridyce and Orpheus is preserved in Middle English manuscripts of the 15th century. Sir Orfeo is a tale of devotion and loyalty and it involves magic. The poem is brief yet vivid.
This essay will discuss one of the scenes of loss/horror in the Sir Orfeo poem and determine specific features (represented events, sounds and specific words) that make the loss horrifying. It will also explain how the horror contributes to a larger pattern of significance in the poem.
Brief Overview of Sir Orfeo Poem
In the poem, Sir Orfeo, the fairy king abducts Heurodis, wife of Orfeo, king of Thrace. The fairy king steals the queen while she is under aympe-tre; a tree propagated by grafting. The tree may have been a cherry or an apple tree. The previous day before her abduction by the fairy king, Heurodis had visited the tree so as to have a nap beneath the shades of its branches and was accompanied by her two maidens. In her nap, she had met with the king of the Fairyland. When she had awoken from her nap, she was so frustrated that the two maidens had to call knights so that they may restrain her. She claimed that the fairy king had intentions of taking her to the fairy kingdom. While she was under the tree again, she vanished. Orfeo was distraught that he left his kingdom and went to the forest where he lived for ten years. He left his kingship to a steward. While Orfeo was in the forest, he saw her wife and followed her to the fairy kingdom. Orfeo played his harp to the fairy king who has so glad that he promised Orfeo that he would give him whatever he would chose. Orfeo chose Heurodis, and, they went back to his kingdom where he received his kingship back and in which his steward was to inherit after his death.
The Loss of Orfeo’s Kingship
Orfeo dwelled in Traciens, a city nobly defended. He lived with his gentle wife/queen by the name Heurodis. The queen was full of goodness and love and had a beauty that no man could tell; she was indeed the fairest lady of those times. It was beginning of May after the winter rains, and, the days were hot and merry. The fields were full of flowers and everybody was full of joy. One morning, when the sun was high in the sky, Heurodis, wanted to have a walk to look at the flowers and listen to the singing birds. She took two maidens with her and they briskly walked along the path. The path was full of beautiful flowers and the bees were searching for nectar and the birds were singing melodiously.
After a while, she found an apple tree where she sat beneath to avoid the sun. Not long after sitting beneath the apple shade that she fell asleep. She lied there as long as she wanted since they the two maidens did not bother or dare to wake her. In her midday nap, she was visited by the fairy king who had intentions of taking her to the fairyland. The fairy king instructed her that they meet the following day at the same tree, and, he would take her to the fairy land. When she awoke from her nap, she started doing some strange terrible things as she screamed. She behaved as if she has become mad. For example, she tore her clothes and scratched her body with her fingernails and blood oozed from her body. The two maidens were confused, and frightened; they quickly went to the palace and asked the knights to go restrain her from further injuring herself.
Orfeo was informed of her wife’s scenario and was so distraught. He saw the dire state of her wife, and, he cried: ‘My love! Darling! What is wrong? You are usually calm, and, now you are like a mad thing, you fingers have blood all over! My love, I plead with you that you may stop this screaming and shouting and tell me the matter with you.’ Later, the queen was still and was back to her normal self. The following day as instructed by the fairy king she went to the apple tree and even though she had been accompanied by knights, she vanished. She believed that she had to obey the fairy king’s instructions because failure to obey she would be torn apart.
When the Orfeo was informed that her wife had vanished, he wiped, cried and was uncontrollably sad. He even fainted through grief and shock. He was so much in lamentation and moaning that his life seemed to be in danger. He asked for advice, but, nobody seemed to offer him the help that he required. He called upon his earls, barons and his noblemen, and when they were all gathered he told them: ‘lords, before you I will nominate a steward who will rule in my absence. I have lost my wife/queen, the fairest lady on earth, therefore, the steward that I will chose shall govern on my behalf. Since I have lost the queen, I do not have another opportunity to court another woman since I intend to take myself to the forest and live there with wild animals in the forest, and when you will be aware of my death, you shall convene a parliament that shall choose a new king. Now, you steward that I have chosen, I ask that you govern this kingdom wisely and as best as you can.’ The gathered servants of the king were filled with sorrow and they cried. They were all upset, and, there was no one that spoke a word. They all begged king Orfeo not to live and instead change his mind, but he told them: ‘let be! it shall be so!.
King Orfeo abandoned his kingdom and wore a less sophisticated garment, carried his harp and left the gate while barefoot and he did not want to be accompanied by any of his servants. He passed over heaths and woods and at last he was into a wilderness. He faced discomfort and hardship in the wilderness for he had been used to comfortable beds and fashionable clothes. He now lied on hard ground and wrapped himself up with leaves and grass.
One day, after Orfeo had lived in the wilderness for more than ten years, he saw sixty ladies who were riding on horsebacks and no man had accompanied them. He was in surprise for he recognized one of the ladies to be his queen. He looked at Heurodis longingly and eagerly while she also stared at him with no less longingly and neither of them spoke to the other. The ladies passed by and he told himself: ‘But wait! Come what may, I will follow the ladies and pay no heed to death or life.’ He took his harp and eagerly followed the ladies. The ladies rode the horses till they came into a castle where they alighted from the horses. He followed the ladies to the castle and the fairy king was surprised to have seen him in the castle without invitation. Orfeo replied: ‘you know full well that am a poor minstrel and it is our habit to wander to wander in wide and far places in search of rich houses so that we might practice our skills and we are not sure whether we will be welcomed.’ The fairy king was so thrilled with Orfeo’s skill of playing the harp that he was promised to be granted what he wished. Orfeo chose Heurodis and he was therefore glad to have received his wife/queen back.