Assignment Outcomes
  • Students will be able to read the course texts, particularly "Sir Orfeo," more productively.
Relevant Course Outcomes
  • Students will be able to identify and analyze the textual, historical, and cultural contexts of works of literature.
  • Students will be able to read works of literature closely and thoroughly.

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"Sir Orfeo" Translation

Other Resources:
Introduction Material to Sir Orfeo
Auchinleck Manuscript (with images) and Manuscripts Online Written Culture 1000 to 1500
Original Orpheus Myth
Grafted Trees (Crossing the Pond, Spring 2013)
Grafted Tree Grows 40 Different Kinds of Fruit

Our reading lenses (from How to Read/Take Notes):
  • Character motivation - why a character did what he/she did
  • Character relationships - how the characters relate to and interact with each other
  • Societal influence - the values or mores (religious, political, etc.) that influenced the text and/or what the text can tell us about the society in which it was written
  • Societal connections - comparing and contrasting the society of the text with other societies (contemporary or otherwise)
  • Historical significance - the environment (religious, political, artistic, quotidian, etc.) in which the text was written and its effects and/or what the text can tell us about this environment
  • Author intent - what the writer intended
  • Reader response - what the reader can take from the text (whether or not this is the same as author intent)
  • Allegorical possibilities - the symbolic or metaphoric meanings
  • Etymology - the language (words, phrases, translation, etc.)
  • Style - how the text is written
  • Moral - the message of the text
  • Textual connections - how the text connects to other readings

We often read and find it written,
    And scholars know of this well,
    Verses that are set to music
    The content of which are marvelous things:
    Some concern war and some concern woe
    Some concern joy and mirth also,
    And some concern treachery and guile
    Of old adventures once upon a time,
    Some concern jokes and ribaldry
    And many are set in the lands of fairies.
    Of all things that men relate,
    Most of them, in truth, concern love.
    In Brittany were these songs first wrought,
    Set to music and then forth brought.
    They concern adventures set in the olden days
    Whereof ancient Bretons made their lays.
    Kings, at times, might hear a tale
    Concerning marvelous things,
    Then take up the harp and minstrelsy
    And write a lay and give it a name.
    Of these adventures that have taken place,
    I can tell you some but not all.
    Now listen, lords and ladies true,
    I shall tell you the tale of `Sir Orfeo.'

In the beginning of May it so befell
    On a pleasant and hot day,
    That was away from the winters showers
    And every field was full of flowers
    And blossoms beamed on every bough
    And beautiful plants everywhere did grow,
    That this very queen, Dame Eurydice,
    Took two of her most excellent maidens
    During the late morning hour
    To enjoy the pleasantries of her orchard;
    To see flowers spread across the field
    And to hear the morning birds sing.
    All three set themselves down
    Under a beautiful impe-tree[1]
    And very quickly this fair queen
    Fell fast asleep upon the green.
    The maidens dared not disturb her or wake her up
    But let her lay there in her sleep.
    So she slept till the morning passed
    And the day slipped into the afternoon,
    But as soon as she began to wake
    She cried, oh a most loathsome cry.
    She rubbed her hands and also her feet
    And scratched her face till it was wet with blood,
    She tore her rich robes into tiny bits
    And was driven out of her wits.
    The two maidens who were beside her
    Dared not stay with her any longer
    But rather immediately ran to the palace
    And told both squires and knights
    That the queen had gone raving mad
    And bade them to go and retrieve the queen.
    Over sixty knights, and ladies too,
    Went out to retrieve the queen.
    They quickly came to the orchard and the queen,
    Took her by the arms, raised her up
    And, at last, brought her back to her home
    And fastened her safely to her bed.
    But she persisted in her cries
    And wished to get up and run away.

`No, no sir, that cannot be.
    I shall tell you all why that cannot be:
    This morning as I lay
    And slept in our orchard
    There came to me two well armed
    And handsome knights.
    They came in haste and bade me
    To speak with their lord the king.
    And I boldly answered that
    I dared not do so, nor did I want to.
    Then they rode off as fast as they could
    And returned, just as quickly, with their king.
    More than one hundred knights,
    And also one hundred damsels,
    All riding on snow white steeds;
    And their garments too were as white as milk.
    I had never yet seen
    Creatures as exquisite as these before.
    The king wore a crown upon his head;
    It was not made of silver not of red gold
    But rather of a precious stone'
    And as bright as the sun it shone!
    And as soon as he came to me
    He took me, whether I wished it or not,
    And made me ride with him
    Upon a palfrey that stood by his side.
    He brought me to his palace.
    It was well adorned in every way
    He showed me castles and towers
    Rivers, forests filled with flowers
    And every single one of his gorgeous steeds.
    Afterwards he brought me home,
    Back into our very own orchard
    And then said this to me,
    `Listen, lady, tomorrow you shall be
    Back right here under this impe-tree
    And then you shall go with us
    And live with us evermore.
    If you hinder this command
    Know that I'll find you wherever you go,
    And I shall tear you limb from limb
    And no one will be able to help you.
    Although you will be this dismembered
    You will nonetheless be carried back with us.'

Then he began to look about him
    And saw that the walls were lined
    With people who were to brought to this place
    And seemed dead, but in truth were not.
    Some stood with no head,
    And some had no arms,
    And some had impaling wounds,
    And some lay mad and bound,
    And some were armed and sat on horses,
    And some were choking as they ate,
    And some were drowned in water,
    And some were shriveled due to burning fire.
    Women lay in children's beds,
    Some were dead, some had gone mad,
    And a great many fell and lay there
    Just as if they were asleep in the evening.
    Each was thus taken from their world
    And through enchantment were brought there.
    There he saw his own wife,
    Dame Eurydice, his dear life,
    Asleep under an impe-tree'
    By her clothes he knew it was she.

He rode the long path he had taken
    And came back to Winchester,
    Which was his own city,
    But no man knew that is was he.
    He went no further
    Than the town's end,
    For he did not wish to be recognized,
    And took up lodging
    For him and his wife
    Inside a beggar's tiny house
    Just like a poor minstrel would
    And asked for passage into the land
    And asked who the ruler was.
    The poor beggar of the cottage
    Told him everything he knew:
    How their queen was stolen away
    Ten years ago by the fairies,
    And how their king had gone into exile
    But no one knew to which country.
    And how the steward was now in charge;
    These were among the things he told.
    The next morning, around noon,
    He made his wife stay with the beggar.

King Orfeo knew well by then
    That his steward was a loyal man
    And loved him as he aught to
    And stood up and said, `Look here,
    Steward, hear now this thing:
    If I were Orfeo the king
    And had suffered so long ago
    Such sorrows in the woods
    And had won my queen out of
    The land of the fairies
    And had brought the gracious lady
    Right here to the town's end
    And had placed her with a beggar
    And came here myself
    In impoverished dress
    In order to test your good will
    And learned that you were true,
    You would have no reason to rue.
    Surely, for love or fear,
    You shall be king after I die
    And if you had regaled at my death
    You would have been banished without delay.