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Sir Orfeo

Rich merchants and fine ladies all stared at him, but none could recognise their king!

He travelled for so long that he came to Winchester, that ancient capital and his own city. But when he got there nobody recognised him. In order to keep himself to himself, Sir Orfeo dared go no further than the edge of the city, and took lodgings with a skinny beggar and his wife. He told them that he was a poor minstrel, asked news of the land and who was in power now. The beggar told Sir Orfeo everything he wanted to know; how their queen had been stolen away to the Otherworld ten years ago and how their king had then disappeared into the forest and nobody knew where he was, and how the steward now wielded power over all the land, and many other things besides.

The next morning, as it approached noon, Sir Orfeo told Eurydice to remain in the cottage; then borrowing the beggar's clothes, he slung his harp on his back and went into the city so that men could see him. Earls and barons, rich merchants and fine ladies all stared at him, but none could recognise their king! 'Lo!' they cried, 'look at that dreadful man! Look at his hair! His beard hangs down to his knees! His skin is like the bark of a tree!'

As he walked down a street, he met his steward and shouted loudly at him: 'Sir steward! he said. 'Have pity, I am a minstrel. A harper. Help me to earn a meal!'

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So long he hath the way y-nome
To Winchester he is y-come,
That was his owhen cité;
Ac no man knewe that it was he.

The tale of Sir Orfeo - or Sir Orpheus - occurs in a manuscript written in about 1330-1340 and known famously as the Auchinleck Manuscript, a volume that now lies in the National Library of Scotland as Manuscript Advocates 19-2-1 and is thought by some to have been owned once by Geoffrey Chaucer.
(read the full story in Modern English)


Sir Orfeo – TEAMS Middle English text with an introduction

Breton Lays – Wikipedia

Sir Orfeo – Wikipedia

Orpheus – Wikipedia

Medieval Institute Publications – ShopWMU – Anne Laskaya and Eve Salisbury (Eds), 1995. The Middle English Breton Lays. TEAMS Middle English texts


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