10 thoughts on “Feb 2: Sir Orfeo

  1. When comparing the text from Sir Orfeo to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, it looks at least slightly different and sounds different as well when reading it. From my perspective, Sir Orfeo is easier to read than the original text from SGGK because in Sir Orfeo, the words are spelled phonetically and when you read it that way, it sounds pretty much like how we pronounce words now whereas in SGGK I think it sounds more like a different language (maybe German?). I definitely think that Sir Orfeo being written in this way made me read it more carefully and closely, and so I think that I may have picked up on more things than I would have if it was written in modern English.

  2. Sir Orfeo is very different from the other texts we’ve read recently, if anything because there is no modern translation to help readers with comprehension. Before, scholars had relayed the entire tale in modern English so we wouldn’t need to worry about translating the original material for ourselves, but Sir Orfeo doesn’t give us that crutch, which can act both as a hindrance and a blessing. At first, the language seems very foreign, like the original author had no idea how to spell, and your brain has to work to adjust to the strange spelling and words that the story was written in. There are small translations for about 75% of the unknown words, but some of them are just left for us to figure out ourselves. However, this also helps because, beyond giving our brains a mental workout, we get to appreciate the text as it was originally read hundreds and hundreds of years ago. Translations have a way of losing a lot of the poetic resonance to it, and once we get over the language hurdle, reading is relatively easy and we can understand the full text without having to read a cluster of footnotes explaining the merit that was lost in translation.

  3. At once, I found that “Sir Orfeo” was much more difficult than reading “The Dream of the Rood”. The literal words were very different than the interpretations showed what they were in modern English. In “Sire Orfeo”, you have the example of line 79 that means “She chafed her hands and her feet”. What’s actually written is this: “She froted hir honden and hir fete”. I recognize both “she” and “hir” as she and her respectively. But the other words are incomprehensible to me.

    With “Dream of the Rood” the meaning of each line is not always immediately clear and that the poem uses figurative language. But the language that is used in the poem is much easier to answer. For example, take lines 49 to 51: “Much have I endured on that hill/ of hostile fates: I saw the God of hosts/ cruelly stretched out.” I can parcel out the meaning much easier because the language used is so close to modern English.

  4. The vocabulary and vernacular of “Sir Orfeo” certainly wasn’t impossible, but it did give us the extra task of translating the older English into a modern English, which had already been done for us in “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” or “Beowulf.” Old, Anglo-Saxon English is almost unrecognizable to Modern English, but to translate the Middle English of “Sir Orfeo” into Modern English would be minimally different, and, frankly, unnecessary. For example, take the sentence, “No hye to me, o word speke. / Allas! Whi nil min hert breke!” (ll. 337-338). Taken as a whole, the sentence may seem confusing, but if you were to divide the sentence into clauses, translate specific words, and subsequently add context, it’s much simpler to translate. The sentence then becomes: “No hy to me” = “She didn’t say hello”; “O word speke” = “She didn’t say a word”; “Allas! Whi nil min hert breke!” = “Why, she is breaking my heart.” Moreover, although some vocabulary words (i.e. “nil”) may become lost in translation, the plot and the overall themes remain intact. When I read, “He toke his harp to him wel right / And harped at his owhen wille,” I know that Sir Orfeo is proving his love to his Queen by playing the harp, for which he is rewarded when the fairy King says, “‘Sethen it is so, / Take hir bi the hond and go'” (ll. 270-470). The text is close to Modern English, so much so that it can be read vernacular and the themes are still prevalent and clear.

  5. Something interesting to consider while interpreting the text is why (if at all) the author knowingly choose to alter the ending of the classical version of Orpheus. Despite the altered ending, I believe the shift from an ending of tragedy and loss to reunion and “happily ever after” doesn’t change the overall themes. If the author did make this choice intentionally, I think he/she may have done so to reflect the culture of the time. Not having read Orpheus, I can’t speak specifically to the differences between the two, but I think one example of how the new version is appropriated within a cultural context is with the incorporation of fairies, who have their roots in Celtic spirituality.

    Reading this text in Middle English was challenging at times, but I did not find the overall themes to be lost in translation. I can understand how this text might have been used as a frame for a musical performance, as the introduction from our textbook mentioned. Its poetic sounds were prevalent and much more noticeable then in translated readings we have read before.

  6. Perhaps the most notable difference between reading in Middle English versus a modern English translation is the sound and rhythm. When reading Middle English, one really starts to get a sense of what the poem is supposed to sound like. The very English style of using alliterative sounds becomes abundantly clear when the text is presented in its native form. “The riche stones light gonne / As bright as doth at none the sonne” (lines 371-2). Translate those lines into more modern English and you lose the original rhyme scheme and a lot of the feeling of the poem.

  7. At first, it was pretty weird reading Middle English after adjusting to having modern translations laid out for me. Eventually though, after I focused in more and read the Middle English, I began to appreciate what I was reading more, and it felt the way it should– not from our time, but in a good way. It wasn’t hard to start figuring out the differences. I also felt as if it helped with my mental pictures of the different characters, in situations such as “This king sufferd ten yere and more? His here of his berd, black and rowe, To his girdelstede was growe”.

  8. The most obvious difference about Sir Orfeo is that it is written in Middle English, as opposed to our other texts, which have been translated into Modern English for us. This does present some challenges when reading, especially considering that our brains are wired to read Modern English, not Middle English. Reading it out loud helped some, as the phonetics were similar enough to figure it out. However, what I found most interesting was the heritage of Germanic language and Romantic language mixed into the verses. (I took German in high school and switched to Latin in college.) Take, for instance, line 425, “Sethen that ich here regni gan.” “Ich,” which crops up frequently, means “I” in German, as it evidently does in Middle English. “Regni,” however, takes its roots from Latin “regere,” meaning “to rule.” Throughout the rest of the lay, evidence of the mix of languages can be picked up nearly anywhere, and is proof of the cultural blend that occurred after the Anglo-Norman period.

  9. Sir Orfeo is without a doubt a different read compared to Beowulf and the other readings. Old english has different letters that are used. In Old English, words tended to have inflectional endings that described their role in the sentence. Middle English ha s no “silents.” On page 153 it states, ” he toke his harp to him well right and harped at his when wille.” ( lines 270-272) There is no translation to help the readers comprehend what is trying to be said.

  10. This text differs in the context of how the sounds of words are formed when reading aloud. The Middle English language is slightly easier to read. For example, words such as “and” & “findeth” can either mean the same thing or directly translate to similar words in our modern english reading/writing style.
    When reading this text aloud it may help to grasp a better understanding of the story compared to beowulf.
    Compared to the style of Beowulf you are more likely to need a translation guide to understand what is going on in the story if you are not already trained to read in this form.
    Though I did still have a difficult time understanding how the story follows, I believe it was a little less challenging.

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