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Part 2: Motifs, themes, structures

Echoes of ‘Nemi’? Patterns of Challenge, Sexual Violence and Substitution in Sir Orfeo and Sir Degaré

Sharon Rowley

Résumé

This essay examines patterns involving challenge, single combat, substitutions, paternity, sovereignty, tree symbolism and raptus in the Middle English Breton lays Sir Orfeo and Sir Degaré through the lens of Frazer’s The Golden Bough, and specifically his account of the cult of Diana Nemorensis. Re-examining these much-studied motifs in the context of the ‘rite of Nemi’, this paper sheds new light on some lingering puzzles such as the ympe-tre, Heurodis’ name and abduction, along with the king’s exile and restoration in Sir Orfeo, and the forest grove(s), challenges, violence and substitutions in Sir Degaré. In these poems, elements of the paradigm repeat and vary in compelling ways, suggesting that this symbolic web of literary and narrative elements was symbolically meaningful and structurally effective for Middle English poets exploring themes of identity, sovereignty, sexuality, and death.

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  • 1 J. G. Frazer, The Golden Bough, New York and London, Macmillan and Co., 1894, p. 2-4.
  • 2 Ibid., p. 2.

1At the beginning of The Golden Bough, Sir James Frazer recounts his version of the rite of Diana Nemorensis and the king who serves and protects her.1 After setting a ‘sylvan scene’, Frazer introduces ‘a priest and a murder’ who protects the sacred grove of Diana, goddess of female fertility and childbirth. This transgressive holy-man is the Rex Nemorensis, the King of the Woods, and consort to the goddess. A ‘strange figure’, Frazer tells us, he could be seen prowling around the grove day and night, sword in hand, ‘peering warily about him as if every instant he expected to be set upon by an enemy’.2 The enemy he fears is the only person who can challenge him for his position of sovereignty and servitude: any fugitive slave who plucks the bough of a certain tree in the grove as a challenge to single combat. Should the challenger win, he becomes the Rex Nemorensis until defeated by someone stronger or craftier. This combination of otherness, challenge, combat, substitution and possession in the grove of the goddess of fertility and childbirth becomes a touchstone for much of Frazer’s ‘Study in Comparative Religion’; it also articulates a literary paradigm that has been transmitted in varying forms across a wide range of literary sources.

  • 3 John Darrah, Paganism in Arthurian Romance, Cambridge, The Boydell Press, 1994, p. 38, 45, 53-54. A (...)
  • 4 For overviews of these poems and updated bibliography, see Claire Vial, ‘There and Back Again’: The (...)
  • 5 Stith Thompson, Motif-Index of Folk-Literature; A Classification of Narrative Elements in Folk-Tale (...)

2Although John Darrah has studied the ‘rite of Nemi’ in relation to Arthurian romance especially Chrétien’s Yvain, this literary paradigm seems to have been largely overlooked in scholarship concerning a related genre, the Middle English Breton lay.3 Patterns involving challenge, single combat, substitutions, paternity, sovereignty, tree symbolism and raptus abound in Middle English Breton lays, including Sir Orfeo, Sir Degaré, Lay Le Freine and others.4 These conventional motifs have all been indexed and studied individually,5 but the cluster of symbolism articulated by Frazer resonates with symbolic combinations found in Sir Orfeo and Sir Degaré – combinations that correspond to some of the famously difficult elements of these poems. Re-examining these in the context of the ‘rite of Nemi’ may shed new light on some lingering puzzles such as the ympe-tre, Heurodis’ name and abduction, along with the king’s exile and restoration in Sir Orfeo, and the forest grove(s), challenges, violence and substitutions in Sir Degaré. In these poems, elements of the paradigm repeat and vary in compelling ways, suggesting that this symbolic web of literary and narrative elements was symbolically meaningful and structurally effective for Middle English poets exploring themes of identity, sovereignty, sexuality, and death. The anxiety of the Rex Nemorensis as described by Frazer, along with his transformation from fugitive slave to King of the Wood – a position in which he remains, paradoxically, both in a position of servitude to the goddess and vulnerable to challengers – reflect tensions that push and pull between the structures of patriarchal societies and the economics of human reproduction. In some Middle English Breton lays, these tensions translate into paradoxical combinations of exile (or errare) and sovereignty, sexual violence (including rape and abduction) and romantic love, and the intertwining of all of these with fertility and death, often by fairy characters and sometimes in their Otherworld.

  • 6 Mary Beard, ‘Frazer, Leach, and Virgil: The Popularity (and Unpopularity) of the Golden Bough’, Com (...)
  • 7 Ibid., p. 222.
  • 8 Rane Willerslev, ‘Frazer Strikes Back from the Armchair: A New Search for the Animist Soul’, Journa (...)
  • 9 Ibid., p. 506 and 509.

3Although Frazer’s work was extremely popular in the early 20th century, his methodology and conclusions have been rejected by anthropologists and religious historians in the second half of the 20th century as imperialistic armchair ethnography; however, as Mary Beard points out, not all of the criticisms leveled against it have been entirely objective.6 Beard suggests that the continuing appeal of The Golden Bough, despite its outdated ethnography, relates to the exploration of the Other: ‘[l]ike the Virgilian Bough, Frazer’s Golden Bough took the reader into the Other and then brought him or her safely back out again’.7 In his 2010 Malinowski Memorial Lecture, Rane Willerslev argues that Frazer’s comparative method and creativity should be reconsidered because the ‘distinctive imaginative power in the comparative moment itself’ may shed light on what constitutes the real.8 Willerslev discusses Frazer’s comparative use of stories to access notions of the animist soul in a way free of Judeo-Christian notions. More importantly to this discussion, he asserts that the ‘speculative methodology’ whereby Frazer theorizes about the origins of religion ‘illuminates that “civilized man” has within him the same myth-making tendencies as “primitive” man, which is by any standards a synchronic and not an evolutionary posture’.9 For Willerslev, Frazer’s storytelling participates in a myth-making dynamic at a specific point in time, which in turn allows for an analysis of Frazer’s moment as a point of transmission.

  • 10 J. Frazer, op. cit., p. 4.
  • 11 See Julia T. Dyson, The King of the Wood. The Sacrificial Victor in Virgil’s Aeneid, Norman, Okla, (...)

4Frazer presents his version as the standard version of the story, as he tells his readers that ‘[t]radition averred that the fateful branch was that Golden Bough’ that granted Aeneas access to the underworld.10 That is, he connects the plucking of the bough in Diana’s grove to Aeneas’ plucking of the golden bough to enter the underworld. As Julia Dyson points out, only one source recounts this version of the story that connects the ‘rite of Nemi’ with the mystical rites of Proserpina: Servius’ fourth-century commentary on Aeneid VI.11 By drawing on Servius’ version, Frazer not only connects Diana’s grove to the land of the dead, but he also popularizes a myth of origin connecting Orestes’ regicide and flight with Aeneas’ journey to the underworld – two stories rife with concerns about paternity and mortality. Although Frazer emphasizes the perspective and experience of the Rex Nemorensis, the specifics of his account also heightens the extent to which his description of the cult of Diana Nemorensis encapsulates the cycle of challenge, marriage, birth and death. Dyson also observes that Frazer (despite his inaccuracy), taps into a rich vein of tree imagery that runs throughout the Aeneid.

5While Frazer may have been too selective regarding his sources for twentieth-century scholarly comfort, his selection is felicitous for medievalists. As Martin Irvine points out, Servius’ commentary on Vergil, In Vergilii carmina commentarii, ‘is without question the most important and influential commentary on a classical work known in the Middle Ages’.12 Although Frazer may have been engaging in speculative mythopoesis, additional literary sources provide a means of tracing elements of the Nemi paradigm into the Middle Ages. A recent collaborative project entitled Hidden Collections: From Archive to Asset, for example, has helped to reframe our knowledge about the cult of Diana Nemorensis, because a part of this project was an exhibition ‘From Nemi to Nottingham’ at Nottingham Castle in fall 2013. It showcased artifacts from the excavations at Nemi by Lord Savile, the British Ambassador, in 1885.13 Research in support of the exhibition updates the scholarship on the cult of Diana Nemorensis and groves, sacred or otherwise, across Europe. Kelly Kilpatrick traces a wide range of groves and nemeton place names to remind us that ‘Diana Nemorensis, one of the best documented grove goddesses, was venerated at Nemorensus Lacus and her cult affords comparison with Romano-Celtic deities worshiped at nemeton sites’ (This is a point to which I will return).14 Tom Oberst’s work on this project reiterates the fact that Frazer’s account of the ‘rite of Nemi’ is a literary phenomenon, with no basis in archaeological evidence (that is, there is evidence for the cult, but not the practices as Frazer describes them). But Oberst publishes an extensive list of references to the site and its practices, including Cato, Ovid, Philostratus, Pliny, Statius, Strabo, Suetonius, Tacitus, Valerius Flaccus, and Vitruvius, among others. Kilpatrick also adds Venantius Fortunatus, Lucan and Dio Cassius to the list of classical references to the cult of Diana at Nemi.15 These authorities may have played a role, in conjunction with Servius, in transmitting awareness of Diana Nemorensis and some part of her story into the Middle Ages. Poems like Chrétien’s Yvain and Perceval also transmitted similar literary patterns.16

  • 17 J. Darrah, op. cit.
  • 18 Ibid., p. 64.
  • 19 Ibid., p. 61.
  • 20 Elizabeth Ann Robertson and Christine M. Rose, Representing Rape in Medieval and Early Modern Liter (...)

6Although Diana and the Rex Nemorensis are coming into better focus as bookish phenomena, literary scholars have tended to follow anthropologists and historians of religion in rejecting Frazer’s work in the latter part of the 20th century – though the University of Indiana, Bloomington is hosting a conference exploring medieval magic through the lens of Frazer’s work in March 2014. Another exception is John Darrah, who draws on Frazer’s account of the ‘rite of Nemi’ in his book Paganism in Arthurian Romance.17 Darrah discusses the prominence of the motifs of the challenge at a special site with a tree or fountain, the substitution of the challenger for the defender, and the reward of the lady and her lands in early Arthurian romance. Tracing the pagan ‘residue’ across a variety of texts, Darrah provides a series of useful lists and summaries of plot elements. According to Darrah, ‘in the system described in the romances the women, far from being chattels, are the originators and beneficiaries, in that [the system] provides them with spirited and vigorous mates, at whatever cost to the losers’.18 While several aspects of this claim require qualification, for Darrah, the goddess is always right behind the ‘available real woman’.19 This allows him to emphasize the positive aspects of the system. However, the extent to which he also emphasizes the erosion of mythic components across the romances highlights at least one of the methodological problems with reading these poems from the perspective of their theoretically mythological origins: the eliding of contemporary contexts. A wide range of studies read these issues productively in relation to medieval concerns about lineage and paternity, along with (by the 14th century) the highly complex legal and literary contexts surrounding raptus, sexual violence and female agency (or the lack thereof).20

  • 21 Angela L. Gibson, ‘Fictions of Abduction in the Auchinleck Manuscript, the Pearl Poet, Chaucer, and (...)

7That being said, Darrah nevertheless draws attention to one of the key paradoxes of the gender politics of courtly combat and love: the contradictory status of the lady as the prize. Highly valued as the object of the challenger’s goals and desires, the lady also becomes, from a modern perspective, problematically objectified as a ‘thing’ to be possessed, given to the victor whether she wants him or not. This dynamic is especially clear in abduction narratives, as Angela Gibson demonstrates in Fictions of Abduction in the Auchinleck Manuscript, the Pearl Poet, Chaucer, and Malory. According to Gibson, ‘when captives are marginal members of society, they paradoxically gain symbolic importance once taken (the king Orfeo cannot, for example, continue to reign without his queen; his sovereignty is tied to her). The act of stealing another person carries with it a social and cultural weight that takes on a life of its own in narrative form.’21 Gibson’s phrasing is useful, because several of the elements I have been discussing take on a life of their own in Middle English poetry. Rewriting mythological elements may be read as ‘erosion’ from the perspective of origins, but the fact that multiple versions of Sir Orfeo and of Sir Degaré survive from the 14th and 15th centuries suggest that these poems were part of a living, active tradition. My interest in sounding out the echoes of Nemi relates to the ways in which these Middle English poems engage and redeploy multivalent images from a variety of traditions using variations of this paradigm – and they do so in a way that demonstrates how literary conventions, no matter how typical, can take on new meaning in new contexts.

8If possession of the woman by craft equates to defeat of the protector, then both Sir Orfeo and Sir Degaré contain multiple elements of the Nemi paradigm, though the poems deploy them differently. In Sir Orfeo, Heurodis’ abduction from under the orchard ympe-tre, Orfeo’s loss of sovereignty, exile in the woods, his crafty musical challenge to the fairy king and subsequent reclaiming of queen and kingdom fit the pattern of the challenge with variations. In Sir Degaré, there are multiple verses with a repetition of a Nemi-like refrain. The rape in the grove defeats the king’s enclosure of his daughter, and Degaré’s role as knight errant and challenger leads him to offers of marriage and lands from multiple ladies, one of which he returns to after completing the quest to find his father. While these elements have all been studied individually or in some combination, the literary paradigm articulated in Frazer’s story of Diana’s grove allows us to better understand the tensions and conflicts surrounding issues of sovereignty, sexuality, marriage and death in the 14th century.

  • 22 For an overview of fairy lore and abduction, see Andrea G. Pisani Babich, ‘The Power of the Kingdom (...)

9While recognizing that Heurodis’ abduction from beneath the ympe-tre is conventional fairy lore has become a scholarly commonplace, the nature of the tree, her name, the motivation for her abduction(s) and her connection to Orfeo’s sovereignty all remain topics of scholarly debate.22 The Nemi paradigm offers a coherent reading of several difficult elements of Heurodis’ story, beginning with the ympe-tre. In the poem, Heurodis’ first abduction takes place while she is sleeping:

Dame Heurodis
Tok to maidens of priis,
And went in an undrentide
To play bi an orchardside,
To se the floures sprede and spring
And to here the foules sing.
Thai sett hem doun al thre
Under a fair ympe-tre,
And wel sone this fair quene
Fel on slepe opon the grene (63-72).

10After giving Heurodis a tour of his kingdom, the fairy king warns her to be at the ympe-tre the following day, where he will take her for good. Despite the presence of Orfeo and a troop of his men, Heurodis’ second abduction takes place under the same ympe-tre:

And Orfeo hath his armes y-nome,
And wele ten hundred knightes with him,
Ich y-armed, stout and grim;
And with the quen wenten he
Right unto that ympe-tre.
Thai made scheltrom in ich a side
And sayd thai wold there abide
And dye ther everichon,
Er the quen schuld fram hem gon.
Ac yete amiddes hem ful right
The quen was oway y-twight,
With fairi forth y-nome.
Men wist never wher sche was bicome (183-194).

  • 23 Marie-Thérèse Brouland, Le Substrat celtique du lai breton anglais, Sir Orfeo, Paris, Didier Érud (...)
  • 24 John Block Friedman, ‘Eurydice, Heurodis, and the Noon-Day Demon’, Speculum, 41.1, 1966, p. 22-29; (...)
  • 25 Constance Bullock-Davies, ‘“Ympe-tre” and “Nemeton”’, Notes and Queries, n.s. 9, 1962, p. 6-9. See (...)
  • 26 C. Bullock-Davies, art. cit., p. 7.
  • 27 Ibid.
  • 28 Ibid., p. 9.

11The poem is specific that both experiences occur not merely in the orchard, but under the ympe-tre, which Marie-Thérèse Brouland connects to a variety of cosmic trees, including the tree of life in Eden, Yggdrasil and grafted trees from Celtic mythology.23 Penelope Doob and John Block Friedman read the tree in terms of Christian mythology,24 but in ‘“Ympe-tre” and “Nemeton”’, Constance Bullock-Davies connects the grafted tree in Sir Orfeo with grafted trees in Tydorel and The Seuen Sages, which is an earlier poem in one of the same manuscripts as Sir Orfeo, the Auchinleck Manuscript.25 According to Bullock-Davies, the ‘ympe’ in The Seuen Sages is ‘a tree which had grown up as a sucker from the root of another tree and usurped its place’.26 She argues that the terms ympe in ME and enté in OF can be traced etymologically to nemeton, mentioned above, the Celtic place-name element for ‘a clearing in the wood, sacred to the worship of a god’, via the forms nympe and nante, respectively.27 Though she cautions that the literary connection needs to be confirmed, she suggests that the situation ‘particularly of Heurodis in Orfeo would be more intelligible if we were to substitute in our minds a sacred fairy grove for a garden with its ordinary ympe. The enté or ympe-tre, if it represents an older nante, would then symbolize the means whereby Heurodis came under the power of the fairy king.’28

  • 29 Ardis Butterfield, ‘Enté: A Survey and Reassessment of the Term in Thirteenth- and Fourteenth-Centu (...)
  • 30 Ibid.
  • 31 D. Vance Smith, Arts of Possession: The Middle English Household Imaginary, Minneapolis, University (...)
  • 32 Ibid.

12Bullock-Davies’ essay has become a cornerstone in discussions of the danger of the ympe-tre in relation to fairy lore, but the ympe may not be quite so ‘ordinary’ as she imagined. As Ardis Butterfield points out, ympe and enté can be read as multivalent terms referring to musical and arboreal graftings. For Butterfield, the ympe-tre in Sir Orfeo is but one of many references to grafted trees in medieval literature and music that ‘give witness to a larger cultural fascination with the transitional and the hybrid’.29 She goes on to discuss how, ‘the idea of grafting articulates a medieval obsession with the key creative practices of splicing new material into old, or of reworking the fragmentary into new structures’.30 In a metapoetic sense, then, the ympe-tre can be read as symbolic of the poem itself, especially in its combination of multiple literary traditions. D. Vance Smith adds that: ‘A grafted tree in medieval England was literally an imposition of alien growth onto native stock [...] necessary to produce most kinds of edible fruit’.31 She reads the tree not only as a sign of Orfeo’s wealth and the luxuriousness of his household, but as a link between Winchester and the Otherworld. It becomes a figure for the many different modes of grafting that appear throughout the poem, including, in Smith’s phrasing: ‘wedlock itself, wedlock and death (Orfeo is the son both of Juno, goddess of marriage and Pluto, god of the underworld), past and present, local and exotic (Traciens and Winchester), and above all, the otherworld and the household’.32 While Smith eschews any mention of the fairy elements and elides the poet’s problematic reference to ‘King Juno’, his observation of the value of the ympe-tre and its role in producing edible fruit by imposing ‘alien growth onto native stock’ underlines the ympe’s hybrid nature, which resonates with the otherness of the fairy world and the graft-like image of the golden bough that permits access to the Otherworld.

  • 33 C. Bullock-Davies, art. cit., p. 7.
  • 34 Miranda J. Aldhouse-Green, Seeing the Wood for the Trees: The Symbolism of Trees and Wood in Ancien (...)
  • 35 ‘Gaulish (νεμητον) nemeton / beside nimidas; Old Welsh niuet (nimet/nimed), Middle Welsh nyfed, Old (...)
  • 36 M. Aldhouse-Green, op. cit., p. 9.
  • 37 Ibid., p. 15 and 10.
  • 38 Ibid., p. 9.

13The ympe-tre’s function as a nexus between two worlds forms a crucial part of the literary paradigm as deployed in this poem. The cultural combinations grafted together in the poem, however, may be richer than either Smith or Bullock-Davies realizes, because medieval religious discourse allows us to read Heurodis’ name as an allusion to Diana Nemorensis – an allusion which also shores up the connection between ympe, enté and nemeton. Taking the Nemorensis element first: as Bullock-Davies points out, the Celtic place-name element nemeton is cognate with Latin nemus (wood, grove). Although she does not connect nemeton with the sacred grove at Lake Nemi, the two are linguistically related.33 Miranda Aldhouse-Green and Kelly Kilpatrick independently trace the place-name element across ancient and medieval sources.34 While cautious about assuming that all such places were sacred groves because place-name elements evolve in different contexts, Kilpatrick shows that the place-name element ranges ‘from Hellenistic Asia Minor to contemporary Ireland’.35 Aldhouse-Green expands on place-name study by tracing a range of tree and wood symbolism in Gaul and Britain, along with the religious ceremonies and divinities associated with different nemeta.36 Although Aldhouse-Green acknowledges that ‘wood does not generally survive in the archeological record’, she combines surviving archaeological, epigraphic and literary evidence to demonstrate that ‘the symbolism of trees was deeply embedded within the Gallo-British consciousness’.37 She also points out that ‘Aquae Arnemetiae (the waters of Arnemetia) was the Romano-British name for Buxton’, and that ‘Vernemeton (a settlement in Nottinghamshire) probably means “great grove”’. The goddess Arnemetia is linked with the former, and another goddess, Nemetona was worshipped at Bath.38 These are just a few examples, but the persistence of the place-name elements in Christian Britain may explain why Diana Nemorensis becomes associated with fairies and witches in medieval Christian sources in England.

  • 39 Carlo Ginzburg, Ecstasies, New York, Pantheon Books, 1991, p. 90.
  • 40 Ibid., p. 104.
  • 41 Ibid., p. 105.

14Heurodis’ name can be read as an allusion to Diana via the name Herodias, who was Diana’s double in medieval religious discourse. Carlo Ginzburg traces the development of this association, and at least part of the process of the euhemerization of Diana in Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches Sabbath. According to Ginzburg, around 906 CE, Regino of Prüm associated Diana with the night revels of wicked women and a nightly cavalcade, which develops into an association with witches and fairies. About a hundred years after Regino, Burchard of Worms’ Decretum ‘add[ed] to the name of Diana that of Herodias’.39 Herodias is a biblical figure associated with Herod and the death of John the Baptist. Tracing the accounts of Herodias and her association with Diana and women’s rituals, which transformed into stories of a nightly cavalcade of women following ‘Diana goddess of the pagans’, Ginzburg concludes that these tales reflect neither a Roman or Greek tradition, but that ‘the Roman rind enclosed a Celtic pulp’.40 According to Ginzburg, multiple divinities ‘fed into the beliefs which later merged in the stereotyped description of Diana’s cavalcade’ as they ‘dissolv[ed] under the offensive of Christianity’.41

  • 42 Mortimer J. Donovan, ‘Herodis in the Auchinleck Sir Orfeo’, Medium Ævum, 27, 1958, p. 162-165, here(...)

15References to Diana and Herodias in the Middle Ages were clearly composite and ideological in nature, which complicates reading any connection between Heurodis, Herodias and Diana. As a result, this possible connection between Heurodis and Herodias has been treated as a kind of cipher by the few scholars who discuss the question. The connection begins with the multiple manuscript spellings of Heurodis’ name. As Mortimer Donovan points out, ‘the spelling of the queen’s name in the Middle English poem Sir Orfeo appears inconsistently as Herodis (Auchinleck M.S.), Meroudys (Ashmole 61) and Erodys / Erodysse (Harleian 3810). If Meroudys is scribal only, Herodis also is remarkably unlike the expected Eurydice’.42

  • 43 Sir Orfeo, ed. A. J. Bliss, 1954; 2nd ed, Oxford, The Clarendon Press, 1966, p. 52, n. 52.
  • 44 M. T. Brouland, op cit., p. 189. In the manuscript the letter ‘H’ at the start of ‘Herodis’ is not (...)
  • 45 Ibid., p. 190.
  • 46 Patrick Joseph Schwieterman, ‘Fairies, Kingship, and the British Past in Walter Map’s De Nugis Curi (...)
  • 47 M. J. Donovan, art. cit, p. 162-165. Oren Falk reads the poem as being related to the problems of E (...)

16Editor A. J. Bliss saw Heurodis’ name, and the lapsus calami (i.e. the slip of the pen), at line 52 in the Auchinleck manuscript as errors.43 Brouland, however, sees them as a rebus, and a ‘jeu intellectuel fort dangereux’, because of the possible connection with Herodias.44 Brouland connects a string of names associated with the night cavalcade: Diana-Meridiana-Herodias, then connects them all with Étain from Irish mythology (as the archetype for the abduction / marriage narrative). Brouland sees the name Heurodis as a ‘mot-clé’, whereby the play of one letter associates her with ‘des grandes héroïnes de la tradition médiévale païenne et antique’.45 Patrick Schwieterman, in turn, traces the Diana connection into the 14th century in ‘Fairies, Kingship, and the British Past in Walter Map’s De Nugis Curialium and Sir Orfeo’. He points out that both Walter Map’s De Nugis Curialium (a late 12th century miscellany) and the Fasciculus Morum, a preacher’s handbook from around 1300, connect Diana and the fairies, but he does not connect her with Herodias.46 Donovan, however, connects Orfeo and ‘Herodis’ with two texts from post-Conquest England: the Winchester Chronicle (Corpus Christi College MS 339) which describes King Edwig (d. 959) as a follower of Orpheus, and Richard of Cirencester’s 14th century Speculum Historiale de gestis regum Angliae, which refers to Edwig’s wife as ‘another Herodias’.47 The part of the CCCC 339 referring to Edwig dates to the 12th or early 13th century, and Richard of Cirencester’s reference to the second half of the 14th century, bringing, as Donovan points out, references to Orpheus and Herodias into the era of the Middle English Breton lay. While the Speculum Historiale is too late to have been a source for Sir Orfeo, Herodias and her association with Diana were clearly known in 14th century England.

  • 48 Ibid., p. 165; M. T. Brouland op. cit., p. 190-192. See also, Waldemar Kloss, ‘Herodias the Wild Hu (...)
  • 49 J. B. Friedman, art. cit., p. 26; P. Doob, op. cit., p. 164-207.
  • 50 See Anne Marie D’Arcy, ‘The Faerie King’s Kunstkammer: Imperial Discourse and the Wondrous in “Sir (...)

17Despite the many possibilities and resonances, the idea of connecting Heurodis and Herodias does not seem to have gained scholarly acceptance. This may be because Heurodis of the poem Sir Orfeo is not evil. Brouland and Donovan also associate the fairy king’s hunt with the nightly cavalcade, though as Donovan points out, the poem does not suggest that the queen has ‘been the occasion of any wrong-doing’.48 While Doob suggests that Heurodis’ noon-tide slumber is not suitable for a Christian woman and reads her as a figure for Eve, Friedman (who also explores the poem in relation to the Boethian version) asserts that ‘the conduct of Heurodis, however, is blameless, and the poet does not depict her as having an over-sensuous nature’.49 So the problem of the Herodias allusion remains that Heurodis does not tempt her husband – or demand anybody’s head, for that matter. Rather, in Sir Orfeo, Heurodis remains most clearly a victim of a double abduction to the fairy realm. In this poem, perhaps because the Otherworld of fairy remains not merely benign, but almost paradisiacal (with the exception of the fairy king’s gallery of horrors50), allusions to fairies via Herodias and Diana may also shed their negative connotations, so that they predominantly elicit the notion of ‘fairy’ and the otherworld. Like Frazer, the Orfeo poet seems more interested in the king’s experience as he blends a variety of motifs from different traditions into his poem. It remains plausible, then, that by substituting a name compounded with Diana’s and familiar from a variety of possible sources, the Orfeo-poet grafts a reference to Diana into his poem, and, more specifically, into Orfeo’s orchard.

  • 51 Ellen M. Caldwell, ‘The Heroism of Heurodis: Self-Mutilation and Restoration in “Sir Orfeo”’, Paper (...)
  • 52 Proinsias Mac Cana, ‘Aspects of the Theme of King and Goddess in Irish Literature’, Études Celtique (...)

18This connection between Herodias and Diana of the Wood, created by the aural resonance between Herodias and Heurodis, emphasizes tree symbolism, the otherworldly nature of the abduction, and the theme of sovereignty in the poem. It therefore lends credence to Bullock-Davies’ connection between the ympe and nemeton, and allows ympe to be multivalent as nympe-nemeton, as both grafted tree and as usurping tree. In this reading, the connotation of usurper resonates with the fairy king’s defeat of Orfeo. Reading the episode in relation to the Nemi paradigm, then, we need not attribute evil to Heurodis. Nor need we associate her with the Loathly Lady, as Ellen Caldwell does, to connect her to Orfeo’s sovereignty.51 As Proinsias Mac Cana points out, there are multiple versions of the sovereignty motif even in the oldest Irish sources.52 Heurodis is not Diana, but, like Laudine in Yvain and a wide range of ladies diffused across medieval romances and Breton lays, she occupies an analogous position in the literary paradigm, which contains a challenge and victor taking possession of the lady and her lands. In Sir Orfeo, we see the variations of Orfeo’s loss of lands through exile rather than death, and his successful recovery of lady and lands.

  • 53 Babich, op cit., p. 481.
  • 54 Although Heurodis does not seem to suffer rape according to modern definitions despite her abductio (...)

19The challenge in Sir Orfeo appears here as a variation on the theme. After all, as Andrea Babich observes, the fairy king has no apparent reason for abducting Heurodis twice. Babich reads the double abduction as a test for Orfeo, who responds improperly (and uselessly) with military might.53 But one can also read the first abduction from under the ympe-tre as the challenge itself, which Heurodis reports to her husband. Because Orfeo fails to defend his wife against the crafty challenger, he loses his wife and his kingdom. If the ympe-tre is also a grafted tree, then every bough has already been broken – as well as restored to life anew as part of the ympe-tre, so it may symbolize both the challenge and Heurodis’ successful return. The compounding of Heurodis with Diana helps clarify why Orfeo’s sovereignty remains contingent upon his ability to protect his wife on his own lands and in his enclosed orchard.54

  • 55 Kenneth R. R. Gros Louis, ‘The Significance of Sir Orfeo’s Self-Exile’, Review of English Studies, (...)

20During his exile, Orfeo may not literally be a fugitive slave, but his disenfranchisement and ten-years of living in the woods transform him to such an extent that they disguise his appearance and royal status.55 The fairy king emphasizes the poverty of Orfeo’s appearance when he first reneges on his rash boon because he sees Orfeo the minstrel as a loathly, unsuitable partner for the gorgeous Heurodis:

  • 56 Note that the description of Heurodis as the lady sleeping under the ‘ympe-tree’ emphasizes the sig (...)

‘Menstrel, me liketh wel thi gle.
Now aske of me what it be,
Largelich ichil the pay;
Now speke, and tow might asay.’
‘Sir’, he seyd, ‘ich biseche the
Thatow woldest give me
That ich levedi, bright on ble,
That slepeth under the ympe-tree.’
‘Nay!’ quath the king, ‘that nought nere!
A sori couple of you it were,
For thou art lene, rowe and blac,
And sche is lovesum, withouten lac;
A lothlich thing it were, forthi,
To sen hir in thi compayni’(449-462). 56

  • 57 Orfeo’s physical transformations may be read as gendered inversions on the theme of the transformat (...)

21Orfeo, however loathly, reminds the king of his promise, thereby regaining his queen and his sovereignty by craft of both music and cunning.57 By adapting the Orpheus story in a way that corresponds to key elements of the literary paradigm surrounding the Rex Nemorensis, Sir Orfeo reworks a variety of fragments into a creative whole that expresses not merely anxiety about the vulnerability of one’s wife, but about the male vulnerability generated by having a wife and sovereignty, as well as about the limits of martial power.

  • 58 See also L. Carruthers, op. cit., p. 95-96; and Henry Kozicki, ‘Critical Methods in the Literary Ev (...)

22Sir Degaré engages elements of the Nemi paradigm to a different effect, though the poems seem to share an anxiety about the violation of an enclosed, or at least theoretically protected, female.58 The first iteration of the paradigm here is another version of the challenge: the refusal of the king of Little Brittany to wed his daughter unless a challenger can defeat him in combat:

Kynges sones to him speke,
Emperours and Dukes eke,
To haven his doughter in mariage,
For love of here heritage;
Ac the Kyng answered ever
That no man sschal here halden ever
But yif he mai in turneying
Him out of his sadel bring,
And maken him lesen hise stiropes bayne (27-35).

  • 59 Although as Laskaya and Salisbury note on this line, ‘[t]he poet considers “nature’s call” to be a (...)

23Ironically, the king believes that he successfully defeats all challengers and retains control of his daughter, who seems to have neither voice nor choice, but remains a prisoner of her father’s love for her dead mother. However, unbeknownst to the father, he is bested by ‘here nedes and hire righte’ (54), a richly suggestive combination of words, and the fairy knight in the grove.59 Many scholars have pointed out the dangers of the grove and the magical power of the chestnut tree, under which all of the women but one fall asleep, leaving the daughter alone and vulnerable:

The wode was rough and thikke, iwis,
And thai token the wai amys.
Thai moste souht and riden west
Into the thikke of the forest.
Into a launde hii ben icome,
And habbeth wel undernome
That thai were amis igon.
Thai light adoun everichon
And cleped and criede al ifere,
Ac no man aright hem ihere.
Thai nist what hem was best to don;

  • 60 See Laskaya and Salisbury, op cit., p. 131, notes 74-75. On the symbolism of the forest more genera (...)

The weder was hot bifor the non;
Hii leien hem doun upon a grene,
Under a chastein tre, ich wene,
And fillen aslepe everichone
Bote the damaisele alone (71-76).60

  • 61 Ibid.
  • 62 See above, Robertson op. cit., sqq.

24The combination of the dense grove and chestnut tree, which Laskaya and Salisbury note ‘constitute[s] a liminal area between the Celtic Otherworld and fictional reality’ heighten the relevance of the Nemi paradigm to this scene.61 The violation in the grove as the daughter picks flowers is also reminiscent of Proserpine in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and the narrator is rather famously blasé about the rape. The work of Kathryn Gravdal, and more recently Suzanne Edwards has added nuance to our understanding of the term raptus, which could mean abduction, rape, or both, or being carried away by divine emotion. These layers are further complicated by the historical documentation of women arranging to be carried off by their lovers, either because of an unhappy marriage or unconsenting parents.62

25In Sir Degaré, however, the daughter is lost in the woods when she encounters the fairy-knight who rapes her, despite her protests. He then assures her she will have a son, and gives her his sword, whereby he will be able to recognize their son:

Siker ich wot hit worht a knave;
Forthi mi swerd thou sschalt have,
And whenne that he is of elde
That he mai himself biwelde,
Tak him the swerd, and bidde him fonde
To sechen his fader in eche londe.
The swerd his god and avenaunt:
Lo, as I faugt with a geaunt,
I brak the point in his hed;
And siththen, when that he was ded,
I tok hit out and have hit er,
Redi in min aumener.
Yit paraventure time bith
That mi sone mete me with:
Be mi swerd I mai him kenne (117-131).

26The fairy knight secretly sends her a gift of magical gloves by which their son will not only be able to recognize his mother, but avoid being forced to marry women he champions (as per the chivalric convention) until he resolves the question of his parentage. Why she accepts the gifts and follows his instructions also remains a puzzle. After being raped she seems most concerned that people will think that the child belongs to her overbearing father:

  • 63 On the theme of incest, see Cheryl Colopy, ‘Sir Degaré: A Fairy Tale Oedipus’, Pacific Coast Philol (...)

Lo, now ich am with quike schilde!
Yif ani man hit underyete,
Men wolde sai bi sti and strete
That mi fader the King hit wan
And I ne was never aqueint with man! (166-170)63

27After all, everyone knew that the father had refused to wed his daughter to anyone. Afraid of her father and the shame, she leaves the baby at a hermitage with gold, silver, the gloves and a letter of explanation, after which she returns home and resumes her previous role as the object of her father’s challenge.

  • 64 Edwards, op. cit., p. 17-21. She discusses the question of consent p. 33-86.
  • 65 Saunders and Gibson, op. cit.; Christopher Cannon, ‘Chaucer and Rape: Uncertainty’s Certainties’, i (...)

28The daughter’s behavior is hard to interpret here. As Suzanne Edwards points out, there are no positive models for the loss of female virginity in 14th century literature.64 Along with Edwards, Corinne Saunders, Christopher Cannon and Angela Gibson all discuss the profusion of laws and court cases in 14th century England, as well as the difficulty of interpreting the evidence, whether legal or literary.65 Is the daughter being punished for the father’s inappropriate behavior? Is ‘rape’ some kind of ‘solution’ to the problem that it is simply impossible for the daughter to remain a sympathetic character as a sexually active human female? Does her place in the grove (as enclosure) reflect her place in the world of Sir Degaré, where she must (or must not) marry according to the dictates of her father? Or, to be more precise, does it reflect the dilemma of a woman who will be forced to marry whatever man defeats her father, whether she consents or not? What does consent mean in relation to 14th century women?

29The challenge pattern seems to perpetuate itself in Sir Degaré, so that the daughter / mother remains in the same relation to her father when Degaré himself becomes the challenger. The repetition of the contests for marriage and sovereignty call attention to the convention itself, in a way that seems to offer a potential critique, especially in combination with the danger of incest. Tree symbolism intensifies this possibility, by linking Degaré and several of the challenges to trees and wood, and thereby to the groves in which he is conceived and in which he battles his father. This symbolic thread comes into focus when Degaré, weaponless, chooses an oaken club to be his weapon:

He hew adoun, bothe gret and grim,
To beren in his hond with him,
A god sapling of an ok; (325-328)

30Not only does Degaré break this club off an oak tree himself, he kills a dragon (that has defeated knights with swords and chased an earl from ‘tre to tre’) with it:

Ac Degarre was ful strong;
[…] He tok his bat, gret and long,
And in the forehefd he him batereth
That al the forehefd he tospatereth (363; 373-376).

  • 66 See M. Aldhouse-Green, op. cit., p. 6, 8, and 20ff.
  • 67 The Electronic Middle English Dictionary, ‘2.a.(f): a staff; a cudgel; the shaft of a spear or an a (...)
  • 68 Chrétien, op. cit.
  • 69 The Legend of Pope Gregory’, The Auchinleck Manuscript, eds. David Burnley and Alison Wiggins, htt (...)

31The oak tree (like the chestnut) has special significance in Britain, because of its association with druids and sacred groves.66 Furthermore, the king, his grandfather, chooses a ‘gretter tre’ (i.e. a bigger lance, 525) when fighting with his grandson (whom he does not recognize). The poet’s use of the term ‘tre’ for spear here is striking and unusual, though not unprecedented.67 Although this battle takes place in an arena, the diction of the poet introduces tree symbolism into the equation. Degaré defeats his grandfather and marries his mother – but is saved from committing incest by the magical gloves which fit his mother and allow them to recognize each other. The threat of incest resonates with episodes in Chrétien’s story of the Grail, in which neither Perceval nor Gawain recognize female members of their families.68 The threat of incest in Sir Degaré also resonates with another text from the Auchinleck MS. In ‘The Legend of Pope Gregory’, Gregory wins his mother and her lands, but they fail to recognize each other and commit incest.69 The structural problem of winning a lady and her lands as prizes for knightly prowess often carries hidden dangers for everyone involved. This challenge scene and its aftermath not only invoke the challenge and tree symbolism, but call special attention to the marriage and fertility elements, albeit from a perspective of danger. If Sir Orfeo emphasizes ways in which the defending king is vulnerable to defeat and loss of his wife and power, Sir Degaré explores the vulnerabilities of women and offspring, as well as the dangers of disguise.

32Degaré’s encounter with his father in another forest grove also plays with elements of the Nemi paradigm:

Forht wente Sire Degarre
Thurh mani a divers cuntré;
Ever mor he rod west.
So in a dale of o forest
He mette with a doughti knight
Upon a steed (990-996).

  • 70 See L. Carruthers, op. cit., p. 139-140.

33Riding ever more westward, which is the direction of the Celtic Otherworld in traditional accounts,70 Degaré encounters this knight, who only recognizes Degaré as his son after Degaré draws his sword (i.e. the sword of the father given to him by his mother). Having married his mother (but stopping short of consummation), Degaré’s battle with his father in a forest grove reminiscent of the grove in which his mother was raped compounds the poem’s potential critique of the constraints of the chivalric system by playing on the themes of disguise and mistaken identity so prevalent in chivalric romance, adding the threat of patricide and filicide to the threat of incest.

  • 71 Erich Auerbach, Mimesis, The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, trans. Willard. R. Tr (...)

34The cluster of symbolism and literary pattern described in Frazer’s account of the ‘rite of Nemi’ involves not only a special site or grove, the challenge, and the granting of the lady and sovereignty – but also the articulation of the vulnerability of the king, along with the threat of patricide implicit in the Orestes origin myth. Exploring this particular cluster of conventions in Sir Orfeo and Sir Degaré suggests that these poets used such conventions to explore and possibly critique the constraints, contingencies and anxieties created by another cultural system: marriage. In Sir Orfeo, we see the vulnerabilities created when a happily married couple are forced to ‘delen ato’, because of a threat by the Other, the fairy king. The pattern of challenge, loss, and recovery here explores the ways in which marriage creates vulnerabilities because of the very powers it grants. In contrast, the marriages in Sir Degaré are almost endlessly deferred while the challenges are repeated and marriage delayed because of the need to ascertain family relationships of a character born of a violent, anonymous encounter in a wood. Although Erich Auerbach saw the ‘matière de Bretagne’ as the source of mystery in medieval romance, ‘something sprung from the soil, concealing its roots, and inaccessible to rational explanation’,71 by exploring these Breton lays in relation to the rite of Nemi and corresponding tree symbolism, we can see beyond convention to discover the relevance of these lays to their 14th century contexts, and the ways in which they self-consciously critique both literary and social conventions.

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Notes

1 J. G. Frazer, The Golden Bough, New York and London, Macmillan and Co., 1894, p. 2-4.

2 Ibid., p. 2.

3 John Darrah, Paganism in Arthurian Romance, Cambridge, The Boydell Press, 1994, p. 38, 45, 53-54. As Darrah points out, the challenge by the spring and tree, which is repeated several times in Yvain, initiates a Nemi-like pattern in which the lady and hers are the reward. In Perceval, we also see versions of the challenge and reward, mostly involving Gawain. See Chrétien de Troyes, Œuvres complètes, ed. Anne Berthelot and Daniel Poirion, Paris, Gallimard, coll. ‘La Pléiade’, 1994.

4 For overviews of these poems and updated bibliography, see Claire Vial, ‘There and Back Again’: The Middle English Breton Lays, A Journey through Uncertainties, Paris, Presses universitaires de France, 2013; Leo Carruthers, Reading the Middle English Breton Lays and Chaucer's Franklin’s Tale, Neuilly, Atlande, 2013.

5 Stith Thompson, Motif-Index of Folk-Literature; A Classification of Narrative Elements in Folk-Tales, Ballads, Myths, Fables, Mediaeval Romances, Exempla, Fabliaux, Jest-Books, and Local Legends, Bloomington, IN, Indiana University Press, 1932.

6 Mary Beard, ‘Frazer, Leach, and Virgil: The Popularity (and Unpopularity) of the Golden Bough’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 34. 2, 1992, p. 203-224.

7 Ibid., p. 222.

8 Rane Willerslev, ‘Frazer Strikes Back from the Armchair: A New Search for the Animist Soul’, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, n.s. 17, 2011, p. 504-526, here p. 505-506.

9 Ibid., p. 506 and 509.

10 J. Frazer, op. cit., p. 4.

11 See Julia T. Dyson, The King of the Wood. The Sacrificial Victor in Virgil’s Aeneid, Norman, Okla, University of Oklahoma Press, 2001. See also, Eleanor Hull, ‘The Silver Bough in Irish Legend’, Folklore 12.4, 1901, p. 431-445 and Tom Oberst, ‘The Rex Nemorensis’, http://nemitonottingham.wordpress.com/2013/09/19/the-rex-nemorensis/, last accessed 2 June 2014.

12 Martin Irvine, The Making of Textual Culture, Grammatica and Literary Theory 350-1100, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1994, p. 126.

13 http://nemitonottingham.wordpress.com/, last accessed 2 June 2014; this is also part of an ARHC-funded research project, ‘Hidden Collections: From Archive to Asset’.

14 Kelly Kilpatrick, ‘Nemorensis Lacus’, http://nemitonottingham.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/nemorensis-lacus/, last accessed 2 June 2014.

15 T. Oberst, ‘The Rex Nemorensis’.

16 See Rachel Bromwich, ‘Celtic Dynastic Themes and The Breton Lays’, Études Celtiques 9, 1961, p. 439-474.

17 J. Darrah, op. cit.

18 Ibid., p. 64.

19 Ibid., p. 61.

20 Elizabeth Ann Robertson and Christine M. Rose, Representing Rape in Medieval and Early Modern Literature, New York, Palgrave, 2001; Kathryn Gravdal, Ravishing Maidens: Writing Rape in Medieval French Literature and Law, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991, and ‘Chrétien de Troyes, Gratian, and the Medieval Romance of Sexual Violence’, Signs, 7.3, 1992, p. 558-585; Corinne J. Saunders, Rape and Ravishment in the Literature of Medieval England, Cambridge, D. S. Brewer, 2001; Peggy McCracken, ‘The Poetics of Sacrifice: Allegory and Myth in the Grail Quest’, in Rereading Allegory: Essays in Memory of Daniel Poirion, Yale French Studies, 95, 1999, p. 152-168; and Suzanne M. Edwards, ‘Beyond Raptus: Pedagogies and Fantasies of Sexual Violence in Late-Medieval England’, unpublished Ph. D. Thesis, University of Chicago, 2006, ProQuest Theses Online.

21 Angela L. Gibson, ‘Fictions of Abduction in the Auchinleck Manuscript, the Pearl Poet, Chaucer, and Malory’, unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, University of Rochester, 2007, ProQuest Theses Online, p. 44.

22 For an overview of fairy lore and abduction, see Andrea G. Pisani Babich, ‘The Power of the Kingdom and the Ties that Bind in Sir Orfeo’, Neophilologus, 82, 1998, p. 477-488; see also Corinne J. Saunders, The Forest of Medieval Romance: Avernus, Broceliande, Arden, Cambridge, D. S. Brewer, 1993, p. 134ff. and Laskaya and Salisbury, op. cit.

23 Marie-Thérèse Brouland, Le Substrat celtique du lai breton anglais, Sir Orfeo, Paris, Didier Érudition, 1977.

24 John Block Friedman, ‘Eurydice, Heurodis, and the Noon-Day Demon’, Speculum, 41.1, 1966, p. 22-29; Constance Bullock-Davies, ‘Classical Threads in “Orfeo”’, Modern Language Review, 56.2, 1961, p. 161-166; Penelope B. R. Doob, Nebuchadnezzar's Children: Conventions of Madness in Middle English Literature, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1974, p. 164-207.

25 Constance Bullock-Davies, ‘“Ympe-tre” and “Nemeton”’, Notes and Queries, n.s. 9, 1962, p. 6-9. See also, Sharon Ann Coolidge, ‘The Grafted Tree in Sir Orfeo: A Study in the Iconography of Redemption’, Ball State University Forum, 23, 1982, p. 62-68; Curtis R. H. Jirsa, ‘In the Shadow of the Ympe-tre: Arboreal Folklore in Sir Orfeo’, English Studies, 89.2, 2008, p. 141-151.

26 C. Bullock-Davies, art. cit., p. 7.

27 Ibid.

28 Ibid., p. 9.

29 Ardis Butterfield, ‘Enté: A Survey and Reassessment of the Term in Thirteenth- and Fourteenth-Century Music and Poetry’, Early Music History, 22, 2003, p. 67-101, here p. 72.

30 Ibid.

31 D. Vance Smith, Arts of Possession: The Middle English Household Imaginary, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2003, p. 242, n. 56.

32 Ibid.

33 C. Bullock-Davies, art. cit., p. 7.

34 Miranda J. Aldhouse-Green, Seeing the Wood for the Trees: The Symbolism of Trees and Wood in Ancient Gaul and Britain, Aberystwyth, Canolfan Uwchefrydiau Cymreig a Cheltaidd Prifysgol Cymru, 2000 and Kelly A. Kilpatrick, ‘A Case-Study of Nemeton Place-Names’, Ollodagos : Actes de la Société belge d’études celtiques, 25, 2010, p. 3-110.

35 ‘Gaulish (νεμητον) nemeton / beside nimidas; Old Welsh niuet (nimet/nimed), Middle Welsh nyfed, Old Cornish *neved, Modern Cornish neves, Breton nemet besides niuet/nyuet; Old Irish (n. o-stem) nemed, Modern Irish neimed, and Scots Gaelic neimheadh’, Kilpatrick, op. cit., http://nemitonottingham.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/nemorensis-lacus/, last accessed 2 June 2014.

36 M. Aldhouse-Green, op. cit., p. 9.

37 Ibid., p. 15 and 10.

38 Ibid., p. 9.

39 Carlo Ginzburg, Ecstasies, New York, Pantheon Books, 1991, p. 90.

40 Ibid., p. 104.

41 Ibid., p. 105.

42 Mortimer J. Donovan, ‘Herodis in the Auchinleck Sir Orfeo’, Medium Ævum, 27, 1958, p. 162-165, here p. 162.

43 Sir Orfeo, ed. A. J. Bliss, 1954; 2nd ed, Oxford, The Clarendon Press, 1966, p. 52, n. 52.

44 M. T. Brouland, op cit., p. 189. In the manuscript the letter ‘H’ at the start of ‘Herodis’ is not complete; rather it consists of a diagonal stroke upward from the ‘e’ of ‘dame’ and one full vertical stroke.

45 Ibid., p. 190.

46 Patrick Joseph Schwieterman, ‘Fairies, Kingship, and the British Past in Walter Map’s De Nugis Curialium and Sir Orfeo’, unpublished PhD thesis, University of California, Berkeley, 2010, p. 100, 146. See also, Diana Purkiss, At the Bottom of the Garden, New York, New York University Press, 2000, p. 142-145.

47 M. J. Donovan, art. cit, p. 162-165. Oren Falk reads the poem as being related to the problems of Edward II and his expulsion by Parliament in 1327. See Oren Falk, ‘The son of Orfeo: Kingship and compromise in a Middle English romance’, Journal of Medieval & Early Modern Studies, 30.2, 2000, p. 247-274.

48 Ibid., p. 165; M. T. Brouland op. cit., p. 190-192. See also, Waldemar Kloss, ‘Herodias the Wild Huntress in the Legend of the Middle Ages’, Modern Language Notes 23.3, 1908, p. 82-85 and ‘Herodias the Wild Huntress in the Legend of the Middle Ages II’, Modern Language Notes, 23.4, 1908, p. 100-102 and Sabina Magliocco, ‘Who was Aradia? The History and Development of a Legend’, The Pomegranate, 18, 2002, p. 5-22.

49 J. B. Friedman, art. cit., p. 26; P. Doob, op. cit., p. 164-207.

50 See Anne Marie D’Arcy, ‘The Faerie King’s Kunstkammer: Imperial Discourse and the Wondrous in “Sir Orfeo”’, Review of English Studies, n.s, 58.233, 2007, p. 10-33.

51 Ellen M. Caldwell, ‘The Heroism of Heurodis: Self-Mutilation and Restoration in “Sir Orfeo”’, Papers On Language & Literature, 43.3, 2007, p. 291-310, here p. 292.

52 Proinsias Mac Cana, ‘Aspects of the Theme of King and Goddess in Irish Literature’, Études Celtiques, 7, 1955, p. 76-114 and Amy C. Eichhorn-Mulligan, ‘The Anatomy of Power and the Miracle of Kingship: The Female Body of Sovereignty in Medieval Irish Kingship Tale’, Speculum, 81.4, 2006, p. 1014-1054.

53 Babich, op cit., p. 481.

54 Although Heurodis does not seem to suffer rape according to modern definitions despite her abduction, violation of an enclosure could be a metaphor for sexual violation in the 14th century. As Suzanne Edwards points out, Chaucer’s Parson reads breaking into an enclosed space in just this way. According to the Parson, ‘right as he somtyme is cause of alle damages that beestes don in the feeld, that breketh the hegge or the closure, thurgh which he destroyeth that may nat been restoored’; Edwards, op. cit., p. 16; Geoffrey Chaucer, The Riverside Chaucer, ed. F. N. Robinson and Larry Dean Benson, 3rd ed., Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1987, 1. 867-869.

55 Kenneth R. R. Gros Louis, ‘The Significance of Sir Orfeo’s Self-Exile’, Review of English Studies, n.s., 18.71, 1967, p. 245-252; Roy Michael Liuzza, ‘Sir Orfeo: Sources, Traditions, and the Poetics of Performance’, Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 21, 1991, p. 269-284; Seth Lerer, ‘Artifice and Artistry in Sir Orfeo’, Speculum 60, 1985, p. 92-109; see also K. M. Briggs, ‘The Fairies and the Realms of the Dead’, Folklore, 81, 1970, p. 81-96.

56 Note that the description of Heurodis as the lady sleeping under the ‘ympe-tree’ emphasizes the significance of the tree at this crucial moment in the poem.

57 Orfeo’s physical transformations may be read as gendered inversions on the theme of the transformation of the loathly lady. See P. Mac Cana, art. cit.

58 See also L. Carruthers, op. cit., p. 95-96; and Henry Kozicki, ‘Critical Methods in the Literary Evaluation of Sir Degaré’, Modern Language Quarterly, 29.1, 1968, p. 3-14.

59 Although as Laskaya and Salisbury note on this line, ‘[t]he poet considers “nature’s call” to be a natural right whereby the woman can stop the entourage according to her will and privilege’, one can read a pun on a woman’s righte and rite in a forest grove, potentially linking this grove to a grove wherein women’s rites of fertility and childbirth were observed.

60 See Laskaya and Salisbury, op cit., p. 131, notes 74-75. On the symbolism of the forest more generally, see C. J. Saunders, Forest of Medieval Romance, especially p. 135-136.

61 Ibid.

62 See above, Robertson op. cit., sqq.

63 On the theme of incest, see Cheryl Colopy, ‘Sir Degaré: A Fairy Tale Oedipus’, Pacific Coast Philology, 17.1/2, 1982, p. 31-39.

64 Edwards, op. cit., p. 17-21. She discusses the question of consent p. 33-86.

65 Saunders and Gibson, op. cit.; Christopher Cannon, ‘Chaucer and Rape: Uncertainty’s Certainties’, in Robertson and Rose, op. cit., p. 255-279.

66 See M. Aldhouse-Green, op. cit., p. 6, 8, and 20ff.

67 The Electronic Middle English Dictionary, ‘2.a.(f): a staff; a cudgel; the shaft of a spear or an arrow’. The usage in Sir Degaré seems to be one of the only references where ‘tre’ means specifically ‘lance’, http://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/med/, last accessed 2 June 2014.

68 Chrétien, op. cit.

69 The Legend of Pope Gregory’, The Auchinleck Manuscript, eds. David Burnley and Alison Wiggins, http://auchinleck.nls.uk/mss/gregory.html, last accessed 2 June 2014, especially l. 554-557 and 674-813.

70 See L. Carruthers, op. cit., p. 139-140.

71 Erich Auerbach, Mimesis, The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, trans. Willard. R. Trask, Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1953, p. 131.

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Sharon Rowley, « Echoes of ‘Nemi’? Patterns of Challenge, Sexual Violence and Substitution in Sir Orfeo and Sir Degaré », Études Épistémè [En ligne], 25 | 2014, mis en ligne le 01 avril 2014, consulté le 20 septembre 2017. URL : http://episteme.revues.org/212 ; DOI : 10.4000/episteme.212

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Auteur

Sharon Rowley

Sharon M. Rowley (PhD University of Chicago, 1996) is currently Associate Professor of English at Christopher Newport University in Virginia. Her scholarly interests include the reception and transmission of Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica in the Middle Ages, Old and Middle English manuscripts and textuality, Old English prose, anonymous homilies and otherworldly visions. She has published articles on all of these topics, including ‘Textual Studies, Gender and Performance in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, in The Chaucer Review, 38.2, 2003, and ‘Bede and the Northern Kingdoms’, in Clare Lees (ed.), The Cambridge History of Early Medieval English Literature (2012). Her book, The Old English Version of Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica, was published by D.S. Brewer in 2011. She is currently working on a new critical edition of the Old English version of Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica with Greg Waite (Otago, New Zealand), with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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