A first draft of RL's translation of the story of Orpheus as translated and allegorized from Ovid's Metamorphoses Book X by the unknown author of the early fourteenth-century Ovide moralisée, a 70,000-line poem in Middle French octosyllabic couplets, whose range, absurdity, and subtlety represent the furthest limits to which Ovid's Metamporphoses might drive a medieval poet. Beryl Smalley accepts the date of the poem as 1316-28, in English Friars and Antiquity in the Early 14th Century, New York, 1960, pp. 247-248. The translation is based on the 1966 reprint of the edition by C. De Boer, Amsterdam, 1915-1938, 5 volumes. See also: Paule Demats, Fabula: trois etudes de mythographie antique et medievale, Geneva, 1973 (pp. 61 ff. are devoted specifically to the French poem); R. Levine, "Exploiting Ovid: Medieval Allegorizations of the Metamorphoses," Medioevo Romanzo XIV (1989), pp. 197-213.


You have just heard the story of how Yphis' daughter became a son and married. Hymen, the god of marriage, joyously attended the wedding. From there he departed swiftly through the air, in a yellow covering, for Ciconie, where he was invited to a strange marriage: He had been invited by Orpheus, who was about to marry a new wife, noble, young and beautiful, Euridice, the young woman. Hymen came to the marriage which augured ill, and was performed sadly, showing signs and evidence of grief and the bad luck that would come from the marriage. But what happened was even worse than the portents had indicated. The new bride, in the spring, was taking a pleasant walk in bare feet through the fields filled with sweet-smelling vegetation. A handsome and pleasant shepherd, the praiseworthy Aristeus saw the lovely young woman, and asked for her love, but she refused to grant him her love and favor, for she did not wish to give herself to him. In order to avoid granting him his wish she fled and he followed her. As the lovely woman was fleeing, a snake bit her in the heel, and the lovely woman died. Orpheus suffered greatly when, by sudden misfortune, he lost his wife. He lamented greatly and was very unhappy. When he had wept mightily throughout the world, he decided to descend into the land below to find out whether he could have his wife again, if he could move the powers below to give her to him. He carried his harp and his bow. While playing his harp he sang: "Oh you, God of the dark house to which all human beings come and descend later or sooner, so that nothing can take them from you, if I may and if I dare, I have not come to visit this realm to see you, or to participate in your torments, for I have no interest in all this. I have come here for something else. Euridice, whom I took as my wife, is the cause of my journey. I seek nothing else. A serpent wounded her in the foot; she died of the wound. Now, in this dark place, certainly, I thought that I could easily endure her mortal misfortune. I can never be blamed for not trying as hard as I could to bear her death calmly, but I could never do that, for love assaults me and wars against me and has conquered me, truly. This god is held to be of great power and sovereignty. I think that it was love who compelled the rape and marriage of you two. If the story is not false, Pluto raped Proserpina out of love, as soon as he saw her. By the fear, by the darkness, by the great unhappiness, by the fires and by the coldness in this dark place, I ask you to give me back my wife and my beloved, and bring her back to life. You will lose nothing by it: when she has lived the course of her life you will again have her in this place. You cannot lose her at all, since every mortal man comes here sooner or later. It is their last resting place, which you hold by inherited right, and shall hold permanently. I ask only for temporary permission in regard to my wife, and nothing else." Thus Orpheus made his song. The souls in the sad palace wept because his song was so sweet, and they forgot their pains. Tantalus forgot his thirst and Ixion let his wheel rest at his side, and Sysiphus dreamt that the rock which wearied him so stood still. Prometheus did not offer himself to the vultures who gnawed his liver, and Belus' daughters laid aside their sieves and sleeves. And, if the story is true, and it is understandable and believable to me, the Eumenides, hearing the sweetness of the song, wept, something which had never happened before. The queen was unable to prevent her eyes from weeping, nor could the king of hell deny Orpheus what he asked for. The queen and the king ordered that Euridice, who was in the shadowy valley of those who had recently been damned, be summoned. Euridice limped from the wound in the foot that she had received. When he saw her coming, Orpheus rejoiced. Euridice was returned to him, on condition that he would lose her forever if he turned around and looked at her before they had entirely left hell. He went in front, and she behind -- otherwise she could not get out. They traveled along a rough, narrow path, filled with silence and difficulty and with baffling darkness, with one in front, the other behind, and they were already almost outside of hell's precincts when he, overcome by love, wanting to see his beloved, afraid that she would never return, turned to look at her, and instantly, without delay, she was returned to hell and vanished from his eyes. He held his hands out and thought to hold her, but grasped only empty air. She who died a second death left her husband, but was unable to blame him unless for loving too much. She said her last farewell to him, which he could scarcely hear. Orpheus was in great anguish about her double death and wanted to return to seek death, but he found the gate shut, with a porter guarding it, preventing him from carrying out his task. It was painful that he could never get her out. When he saw that he could not get in, he spent seven days on the shore of hell, bewailing her wretched death. He lived without drinking or eating, thinking only of his grief. His tears and grief were his sustenance. He thought that the gods of hell were criminals, and he went to Rhodope. Three years he was without a woman, without a wife or concubine, fleeing all female love. He refused all women. I don't know why this was: either because of a promise he had made to her who had been his beloved, or because he had become sick and hated all women forever. In any event, many women loved him, but they made no conquests of him, and had no joy of him, for he did not deign to listen to them, and they were very unhappy about this state of affairs. It was he who first taught the Thracians to withdraw their love from women and take pleasure in young men.(196) This tale may have an historical sense, and may be true. As the tale says, this Orpheus took the above-mentioned Euridice in marriage, and the lady he married died from a serpent's bite, and he grieved beyond measure because of her death, so that he never cared for a woman, but fled from all women's love, and found all women repugnant. To relieve his grief he transferred his love to men, whom he used like women, losing body and soul, as you could hear in the tale, if someone told you the story before. Such love is excessively cruel, and against nature, making a woman of a man, with no hope of producing an heir. Cursed be the one who acts out of such love, who will come to a bad end.(220) Orpheus may be taken to mean governing understanding, and by Euridice his wife, sensuality of the soul. These two things are united by marriage in human lineage. The shepherd who wooed the wife and asked that she become his beloved may be taken to mean the power of living well, which often seduces the mind to follow, drawing it away from virtuous behavior. But when sensuality, which foolishly distances itself from rational understanding, is such that its power harms him and he refuses and flees from such love, then she goes running in the open, barefoot through the green grass, that is to say, the evils of earthly pleasures, of which she makes foolish use, and she steps willingly on the snake of mortal vice which lies below the surface of vain pleasure. This serpent spews deadly poison through the foot, and kills her with sin, for her consent. Then the soul falls sorrowfully into the shadowy darkness of profound unhappiness. This hell is within the self, because an evil heart is an abyss, full of torment and pain, which torment and torture the sinner painfully night and day. And, if Macrobius is right, in this evil and painful hell there are five ugly and horrible rivers. The first is the river of forgetfulness, because forgetfulness of all good flows in the perverse mind. An evil heart does not remember what is good or useful, nor what might lead to salvation, but is filled with great forgetfulness, which forgets itself and all the good that it had before it fell into hell and was placed there, it seems, in cold and forgetfulness, by God. Next flows the shameful Styx, the evil, bitter river, which creates for the soul agony and bitterness, and instills in it harsh hatred, so that it cannot love at all. This poisonous river, filled with bitterness, makes one despair of all good, and usefulness, and makes men hate their neighbors, so tightly does it hold the heart in great distress. Next flows the river of sadness, which permits the soul to drown, taking away spiritual joy. Then flows weeping Cocytus, which makes the heart sad and distraught, dissolving all in tears and weeping. Great is the rage and grief of the fifth river, which is filled with burning, with anguish and with evil events. This river breathes into the heart, inflaming it with anger and greed. The soul, intoxicated by this river, is delivered up to harm. In this river are many torments that torture the soul grievously. He who dies of thirst and hunger, Tantalus, who has in front of him bread and water, pressing up against him as far as the chin, near his mouth, and who cannot ease his thirst or hunger, which burns him with agony and bitterness, stands for burning greed, which burns and inflames the evil heart, and tortures and starves it so much that it derives no advantage from anything it has. The more it has, the less it is satisfied, and the greater the hunger to acquire more. Sisyphus, who carries the heavy rock on his neck up a steep mountain, and then lets the rock tumble down from the top of the mountain into the valley below, signifies anxious worrying, the anguish and bad luck that torments earthly tyrants as they acquire temporal honor. Many are tormented in this way, who have invested the heart, body, and will, all their thought, all their concern, and all their time, as long is it lasts, in acquiring titles, and worldly honor on earth. Thus they acquire high places, great honors, and nobility, but the higher they climb, the more suddenly they fall from the lofty mountain of prosperity into the valley of shame and vileness. Thus fortune mocks them. The torment of the infernal wheel that Sysiphus turns steadily signifies those who foolishly, senselessly, without taking advice or care, without foresight, without restraint, go wherever luck and fortune lead them, misleading them according to their mutability, full of deceit. And since they are without foresight, they often come to grief, and have bad luck, and their lives are worse than death. The vulture which gnaws and chews the heart, the liver, and the entrails, that Titius ceaselessly offers to them undoubtedly signifies the remorse of conscience(345), which always pierces, bites and gnaws at the man who destroys himself by wrong-doing, whose conscience upbraids him. It is the torment and anguish which tortures the heart of the sinner, so that he can have no rest. Evil makes his heart receive sin, which gnaws and bites the man who reduces himself to the level of an animal, so that his conscience does not permit him rest, or good thoughts, or good plans, or the desire to refrain from sin, or from the evil and malice for which grim death destroys him. (361) Those who think that they can empty the river in a bottomless vessel, and do not realize that, no matter what happens, only flowing, fleeing water passes through their bottomless vessels, signify the damnable sloth of gluttons and lechers, of drinkers anddrunkards, who, to fill their bellies, want to take and swallow all worldly goods, which are more fleeting, transitory and mutable than steadily running water. These gluttons devour everything in their path. They would like to stuff themselves always with wines and food to fill their bottomless vessels. They take great pains and accomplish nothing, since no matter how they stuff themselves they cannot fill up. No matter how much they drink in the evening, even if they are drunk (367),the next day they are even hungrier, and they begin all over. The man who struggles to fill his belly makes very little progress, and wastes his thoughts and efforts to fill his voracious paunch, since nothing remains in it. One should not eat too much to satiate his ravenous belly, but eat only enough to sustain life, and not to serve gluttony. I think that Orpheus descended into this painful hell to seek his wife Euridice, to draw the sinful soul out of sin, which held her fast. Rational understanding comes to the heart filled with evil to compel it to acknowledge its vice, its danger, and its harm, so that it may reject its sin when it hears the Apollinian harp, which is divine inspiration, that visits and inspires it, showing the heart its sins and compelling it to acknowledge them, and making it see the perils to which is it given over, if it does not save itself through penitence or confession, and abandon sensuality, its evilway of living, and force itself to follow reason, which leads and guides her. In this way the soul to which God gives grace must revive itself, but if it abandons itself to crime and lowness, and if sensuality, which should be last, and follow reason, is first, if reason is turned aside and deflected by foolish love to follow carnal pleasure and empty fragility, which is full of iniquity, then the soul again slips back in grief, shame, and harm, into the hell from which it has escaped,and the last error is worse than the first, because the rejected soul then can get no help, since she has shut out reason and has closed thedoor of her hardened heart, which is so dark and gloomy that it does not wish to be at all acquainted with truth. The literal level can be interpreted allegorically, in another way. When God married our humanity to divinity, to make mankind capable of glory and the heavenly kingdom, and mortal flesh was brought back, by love, from death to life, which made the Jews unhappy, he flew upwards through the air, clothed in yellow raiment, dyed in the color of blood, heavens, where all peace abides. The creator of the whole world joined the body to the soul in the marriage of man and woman, but this joining was not fine and pure enough to prevent many from going wrong, who then had much trouble. (464) By the first marriage one can know clearly that this is true. The serpent who ousted them was the devil, who tempted the first mother in pleasurable paradise, when, by his trickery, he made her agree wrongly to eat the apple of damnation, which she then made the man eat. It is the poisonous bite (sting, wound) which delivered every human being to infernal torment, which very much troubled God, who had predestined the soul to be the beloved and the spouse. To free her and bring her back, God wished to come down from heaven to earth and descend into the dark house of hell, to draw human nature out of the infernal prison and tocure her. Those whom he found immediately he drew out freely, and those who had to descend because of the illusion that they had had of the death of which the first died were freed by him, if they had truly preserved the love of their true beloved, and if they kept the true belief in God after they were freed, without turning back, until they were out of the pit of hell and had passed from the world. Ah God, today there are enough of those who, because of the mortal sins with which they are stained have incurred the hard sentence of this infernal misfortune that awaits mortal sinners, and they persevere until God, in his mercy, calls them and reconciles them to him and draws them out of this misery. Those who regress and are permanently lost because of the evils they grasp until the soul leaves the body are shut up in the dark tower, without hope of return, by the devil. For such men God would never have friendship, sympathy or pity; God never will draw any of them out after they have descended. Return is now forbidden for all those who have descended to that place. Let those who have erred, to whom God has given, by his grace, such rest and space because they came to repent their initial foolishness, be wary of the last imprisonment! They should think of the long imprisonment where the grieving people who died in mortal sin will remain. Those who have fallen again must be frightened, for evil men return to their filth, like dogs to their vomit (534). God will again take vengeance for the first error, and those who have fallen again, taken over by their original sins, will be condemned, along with the others, it seems to me, to remain in the infernal prison. If death takes them at this point, the soul carried off by the devil cannot be released, since she (it) has passed the gate which is quickly and firmly shut, and the soul remains there without every being ransomed. God will never, and this is true, enter hell for them, and will never take the soul out. The porter keeps the gate shut which holds the damned, and God has climbed the mountain of joy of the most pleasing joy. Cursed be women's nature, that is, all those who occupy their time with empty thoughts, and interest themselves in vile pleasures, in feminine softness, who ask for worldly pleasures, and do not wish to direct their hearts to perform good works. But young men, those who observe their marriage vows, who are pure and filled with innocence, and undertake from childhood to live virtuously, and agreeably offer their hearts, bodies, and desires to do what God desires, them he loves, in them he takes pleasure. They are his joy and pleasure who offer themselves to serve him, as long as they feel young and strong.