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22 AUGUST 2019



2019-07-04 22.08.31.jpg

Lady Heurodis is walking through the orchard of her castle. She's been following something since she first stepped outside. But she can't see it anymore.  And she can't rememeber what it was.

    She knows only that she must find it. The trees around her are in their most beuatiful stage of blossom. She cannot pause to admire them. The creature before her has gone on ahead, and she can't lose it now...


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The Tale of Sir Orfeo is an adaption of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice into a medieval romance poem set in England. Orpheus has become the English King Sir Orfeo, and the Greek god of the dead, Hades, is instead the King of Elfland. In this version of the tale, Orfeo’s queen is Heurodis, who has a dream of the King of Elfland and is subsequently kidnapped, in spite of the thousand knights which Orfeo sets as guard around the orchard where she sleeps.  There are three primary manuscript sources for the Sir Orfeo romance, dating from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

The tales of King Orfeo is notable for several motifs. The forest and woods act as a boundary between the human and fairy world. Lost between the two, King Orfeo takes on the figure of a wild man cut off from civilisation and civility. As well as Orfeo’s kingly power and refinement, it is suggested that his sanity is stripped away. The elf king and his court are often depicted hunting, with Orfeo’s wife Huerodis the apparent target of the hunt. Orpheo is able to gain access to elf-land through knowledge of secret music or chords, just as Rowland was given magic words by the hen wife on his quest into Elf land. Orfeo’s occult music is based on the knowledge of divine music possessed by the Greek poet Orpheus, who was given the lyre of Hermes by Apollo, and taught to perfect the art of song, to charm all living things and compose hymns to the gods. Finally, Orfeo returns to his former home and seat of power in the disguise of a vagrant or beggar, as Odysseus does in the Odyssey.



Sir Orfeo was also adopted into a popular folk ballad. The ballad features fragments of the tale. Many contemporary performers have adapted or restored the ballad from the narrative of the poem. You can listen to versions by Fay Hield and Frankie Armstrong on Spotify.











A significant element in Orfeo is that Heurodis is apparently haunted and later stolen away by the Elf King in her dreams. When she awakes from her first dream, Orfeo remarks upon her sickly complexion. There was a common belief that being hit by an ‘elf-shot’ or ‘elf arrow’ would cause the victim to sicken, and this condition was described in several anglo-saxon medical texts. These arrows were not fasioned by the fairies, but fell from the sky and were collected by them. In several of the ballad versions of King Orfeo, the Elf King is said to pierce Orfeo’s lady with his dart. This makes King Orfeo one of the few folk-lore stories we have found that feature this element of folklore. Another example is the Scandinavian folk tale 'Erlskud' (the Danish word for 'elf-shot'), in which the Elf King’s daughter uses an elf-shot as a dagger that causes the wounded protagonist to waste away and die. This ballad was the inspiration for a famous poem by Goethe called Erlskonig. Together, these tales associate the phenomena of elf-shot with the dangerous illusions and seductions of the fairies, and the wasting or sickening disease caused by their lethal darts.





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