Classic Tales ·
Into the Woods ·
Sir Orfeo is a magical confection,
a medieval resetting of the classic tale of Orpheus and Euridyce as the
quest of King Orfeo to reclaim his wife Lady Heurodis from the realm of the
King of Faery.
The story is preserved in three Middle English manuscripts of the fourteenth and
fifteenth centuries, based on a lost Breton lyric lay, and in the Shetlandic folk-ballad King Orfeo.
The Twisting of the Tale
The Englishing of Romance: Familiarising Sir Orfeo,
an essay by Robert Sanderson, traces the historical path of the Orpheus myth from
antiquity to the Middle Ages and explores Breton lyric lays and the interlacing of the classical story with the
Celtic theme of the fairy-realm under the hill.
an edition in Middle English by Anne Laskaya and Eve Salisbury at TEAMS (originally Published in
The Middle English Breton Lays Kalamazoo, Michigan: Medieval Institute Publications, 1995).
Sir Orfeo in the Auchinleck Manuscript at
the National Library of Scotland offers online access to scans of the
manuscript. [Large images and slow to load, but worth the wait.]
a verse translation by Jessie L. Weston, from The Chief Middle English Poets (1914).
retold by Linda Marie Zaerr in modern English based on the Auchinleck MS with harp
references added from MS Harley 3810/1 and MS Ashmole 61. [PDF]
a digital edition by Ulrich Harsch at the Bibliotheca Augustana in Augsburg.
J.R.R. Tolkien's edition of Sir Orfeo in Middle English was published in 1944; his translation
was published in
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Sir Orfeo (1975).
DER lived a king inta da aste,
Child Ballad 19a, collected in the Shetland Islands. The ballad's archaic language
is a combination of verses in the Shetlandic dialect or Shaelta and
a refrain in Norn, the Norse dialect spoken in Shetland and its neighbouring
islands into the eighteenth century.
Scowan ürla grün
Der lived a lady in da wast.
Whar giorten han grün oarlac.
King Orfeo, A Shetland Ballad, from
the Oxford Book of Ballads, edited by Arthur Quiller-Couch, 1910.
The Music of Faery
by Terri Windling uses a prose retelling of King Orfeo as the stepping-off point for a journey through
the world of the English, Celtic, and Northern ballad tradition; at the
Endicott Studio. New !
Notes on the Illustrations ·
26 December 2005