All of us know the well-known myth, tragedy about Orpheus and his wife Eurydice. A musician from God, he couldn’t bare his wife’s death (Eurydice was bitten by snake). He even decided to go after his beloved in the kingdom of dead. The king and his queen of hell (in myth hell was called Hades) were charmed with Orpheus’s music talent. They allowed them both to leave Hades, but before they’d reach the world of alive, Orpheus shouldn’t stop and look back at his wife. The tragedy of this myth was that Orpheus did look back and suddenly his wife disappeared forever.
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In the Middle Ages mythology tales were very popular as well as antique ones. Some part of this myth was mentioned, for example, in Metamorphoses by Ovid. Even though in Sir Orfeo the plot is a bit changed, still problems in these both tales are almost the same. The ancient Celtic poem written by unknown author is not a tragedy, otherwise it has its happy ending. Moreover, some of the elements, usually used in myths, were changed to more common elements, to the style of Middle Ages. For example, Hades became the land of supernatural king named Faerie. Furthermore, Sir Orfeo’s wife wasn’t killed like in myth, but abducted by the Faerie’s king, who wanted her to become a queen of Faerie. Sir Orfeo poem is a piece of ‘Breton lays’ (stories which were told by bards). The interesting thing is that the action of this poem takes place in England, when most scholars think that the poem itself comes from Old French literature. Sir Orfeo is considered to be one of best-written lays, which had introduced to society main themes for all times – devotion, love and loyalty. The poem has its special magic; it’s enchanted you from first lines. Here comes the next main theme or better to say the main symbol of this poem as well as of myth – the beauty of music. In both tales both Sir Orfeo and Orpheus along with the King of Hades and the King of Fairie were in love with harp music. Moreover, it was music that helped both main characters to return their wives. Orfeo even had to explain to supernatural king the beauty of his music and what is so special in musical entertainment, because as it seems King of Fairie is too strange with this issue. After all, supernatural king was defeated exactly with music and he gave Orfeo’s wife back. The theme of harp music beauty can be felt through the whole text of the poem.
What about devotion and loyalty then, you would ask? Well, first, in Sir Orfeo there was a moment, when Orfeo addressed to his people, his nation, he told them that after his death only they could choose a new honest king for their country. Moreover, besides devotion to his people, Sir Orfeo was extremely devoted and loyal to his wife.
Next theme that is highly developed in Sir Orfeo is the theme of love, a devoted, pure love. In the Middle Ages literature the theme of love was very popular (for example in Tristan and Isold), but exactly Sir Orfeo was a typical romantic character. Orfeo was wandering with his harp from land to land, looking for his wife, playing the unbelievably beautiful music that even King of Fairie was sorry for him. Supernatural king took mercy on Orfeo then. He took the harp and gave Orfeo his wife. After all, love conquers all.
Sir Orfeo is not just an ordinary tale of Middle Ages, it’s a great masterpiece in world’s literature that with main symbols and themes will live and stay famous for many more generations.
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