Introduction to The Story of Orpheus and Eurydice
by David Latham
“The Story of Orpheus and Eurydice” is a complete tale for which there are four manuscripts. The first extant manuscript (c1) was rejected after Morris began a fair copy (c2) of its first 146 lines. Like the revised manuscripts (c3, c4), the rejected manuscript begins just before the death of Eurydice. But, in keeping with its quicker pace, it focuses on the lovers’ brief, passionate encounter before the surprise snake-bite, and then rushes through the events of the myth. The revised draft begins in an elegiac tone as the pathetic events are pondered from the storyteller’s retrospective view. If May Morris is correct in concluding that her father considered the revised draft “too weighty” for inclusion in The Earthly Paradise (CW, 24:xxx), then this earlier draft may have been considered too slight.
The six folios of c1 are written in ink on recto and verso, except for the first folio which bears only the title “Orpheus.” The folios are paginated 1-5, are on blue paper with 34 horizontal aqua lines, and are watermarked “J Allen & Sons Superfine 1869” and (the last folio) “E Towgood 1868.” There are several floral drawings on the folios.
The five folios of c2 are written in ink on recto only. They are on blue paper with 34 horizontal lines and are unwatermarked. Both c1 and c2 are located in the British Library, London, from the May Morris Bequest, Add. MS. 45308.
All but one of the 15 folios of the third manuscript (c3) are written in ink on recto and verso on blue paper with 34 horizontal aqua lines. Folio 5 is on 34 horizontal aqua-lined white paper, unwatermarked. Folios 1-4 and 6-9 are watermarked “J Allen & Sons Superfine 1869”, while folios 10-15 are watermarked “E Towgood 1868.” A rectangular scrap of paper from a wrapper bearing the title “Rough of Orpheus” is pasted on the first folio. The c3 manuscript is located in the British Library, the May Morris Bequest, Add. MS. 45307.
The fourth manuscript (c4) is a fair copy of c3 with revisions. Its 45 folios are written in ink on recto only. The folios are paginated 1-47, are on white paper with 34 horizontal aqua-lines, and are unwatermarked. The manuscript concludes with a folio that is a fragment from an alternative ending, one in which the head of Orpheus, severed by the slighted Thracian women, reproaches his mutilators with the tale’s moral.
The c4 manuscript is located in the British Library, from the May Morris Bequest, Add. MS. 45308.
The source for this tale is Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Book X).
The copy-text for this edition is c4. It is collated with c3 and May Morris’s edition (CW). c1 and c2 are collated in an appendix following c4 and the alternative ending for c4. c2 is the copy-text for this appendix until it ends with line 146; c1 is then the copy-text for the remainder of the appendix.The versions in the appendix have not been published before. Two songs from the revised tale were published in works overseen by Morris: “A Book of Verse” in 1870 (BV) and two editions of Poems by the Way in 1891: Kelmscott (K) and Reeves & Turner (RT).
For commentary on this tale, see Florence Boos’s “‘The Story of Orpheus and Eurydice’: An Omitted Earthly Paradise Tale.” Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies, 4 (November 1983): 59-86.