The Number System

While reading Pearl and Sir Orfeo, I focused on the pattern of numbers. I found it very interesting that the medieval number system could signify more than just a numerical digit but also a metaphysical reality, as it tells us in the introduction to Pearl. Knowing this, when I read Sir Orfeo, I pulled out some times that numbers were used, like the number ten. When Orfeo was trying to protect his wife from being kidnapped, he calls an army of “ten hundred knightes” which serves to express the extreme amount of effort and force Orfeo is asserting to protect his wife and the completeness of his army (183). It is only after ten years that Orfeo and Dame Heurodis return (492). According to the Pearl introduction, ten can symbolize fulfillment or completion. Suggesting, after ten years with the fairies and in exile, they have completed their time and return, as if it were planned that way.

In Pearl, the numbers one and two are used commonly, as well as ten. Pearl died at the age of two and later in the story during the dream vision, Pearl tells the story of the laborers who were paid the same but some worked fewer hours than others (only two hours). This story shares the lesson that God’s mercy is the same no matter how long one has worshipped him. She explains this because like the laborers who only worked two hours, she only lived two years but she is treated like a queen with God. The number two is also representative of “residus” meaning remaining. Jesus, the second part of the Trinity, goes out as a man and also remains in heaven. Although, I am not sure if this is a common interpretation, I think this “remaining” and “duality” of Jesus is similar to Pearl, who remains in heaven but through the dream reaches out to a man. I found the numbers and their various meanings very interesting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *