Materialism in the Otherworld

The introduction to Sir Orfeo touches upon the idea of the “otherworld” where the fairies reside, and how it parallels the Underworld as represented in many stories. All of the people subjected to living in the Otherworld are in miserable states of being; some forced to madness, some in pain and suffering, and others asleep in the state they were taken away in, like Herodis. However they are surrounded by a beautiful castle and lands, which Orfeo marvels at upon arrival. The beauty of the Otherworld in this context is a hard, cold kind of beauty represented by gems and stones rather than by warmth of character and emotion which the Otherworld lacks. When leaving his home in search of Herodis Orfeo sheds all of his material possessions, besides his harp. His harp signifies a means of bringing joy to others.

The lack of emotions in the Otherworld is contrasted sharply with the seemingly excessive emotions represented in the human world. Orfeo expresses his woe at his wife’s capture, as well as his torment when he sees her and she doesn’t speak to him. However when he sees her in the Otherworld, asleep against the tree, he expresses no emotion. Even his retrieval of her does not elicit an emotional response. This suggests that the Otherworld is not only connected with materialism, but also an absence of humanity, emotions being associated with humans.

3 thoughts on “Materialism in the Otherworld

  1. I also noticed the the contrast between the marvelous exterior of the Otherworld and the misery/suffering inside the walls. It seems that throughout the poem, material wealth and personal joy are at odds. The king throws away his material possessions and abandons his kingdom when he is deprived the one he loves. No material goods can fill the void left by love lost. Emotional wealth is valued over material wealth.
    The fact that animals, humans, and even those in the Otherworld are drawn to Sir Orfeo’s playing suggests that even shared experience through music bring about more joy than things ever could.

  2. I agree completely. In the Otherworld, is seems impossible for personal joy and excessive material possessions to coexist. Sir Orfeo must abandon everything he has to regain the joy of being with his wife. He wanders the forest for ten years, living on only the fruit and nuts he can find. The King of the Otherworld, however, has more material wealth than is unfathomable but, like Tamar said, he doesn’t seem truly happy.
    I thought the King was most interesting when Sir Orfeo entertained him with the harp. He was pleased with the music (and the joy he experienced) and offered a reward. Sir Orfeo then chose Heurodis, and although the King initially protests, he eventually relents because he gave his word. I was intrigued by this because he stole Heurodis once before with no regard for anyone. He likely could easily do it again. However, his own word held him back, proving its own importance. Perhaps it’s a reflection of a culture that places such significance on honor. Perhaps the King only had one thing of real value: his word.

  3. As I was reading this, Tamar, I was thinking about how most of what you say about Fairyland is also true of Heaven as represented in Pearl: static, hard, excessive in its beauty, free of emotion. We tend to have traditions for interpreting these features as appealing (or intended to be appealing) in the Christian tradition, whereas these features in Fairyland seem reminiscent of death alone, we noted in class.

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