Monday 11 February 2013

February Lovers 1: Tristan & Iseult (Isolde)

This week's tale stems from a Arthurian legend.  It's the tale of Tristan & Iseult.  It's another cautionary tale of course and a fascinating one. I heard first when I was little and I haven't stopped loving it since.  It's the Celtic Romeo & Juliet before Shakespeare was even a thought.
Herbert Draper 1863-1920
Isolde was a golden haired  Irish Princess, who healed the orphan Tristan of a serious side wound, a lingering ailment similar ot the one affecting the "Maimed King" in the story of the Grail.  In these times a maimed man could not rule as King, so when Tristan was to be named his heir by his uncle King Mark of Cornwall, his advisers protested.  King Mark gave in, and decided he would marry the woman whose hair had fallen from the swallow's beak.

Sire Tristan recognizing the hair as belonging to Isolde, decided to champion his Uncles' cause for her hand.  When he reached Ireland he discovered her home being terrorized by a dragon.  Knowing the best way to get her hand for his uncle was to get rid of the beast, Tristan tracked it home & fought it. It was a hard battle and Tristan was greatly wounded, being knocked out by the beast's poisonous breath as it died.

While he was out another man attempted to claim the victory but Isolde & her mother sensed that there was something wrong with his story & went seeking the true hero & found Tristan   While nursing him back to health Isolde realized that Tristan's sword was missing a piece, a piece that matched exactly the metal found in the head of Morholt, Ireland's champion. Furious, Isolde attempted to kill him, but found that her heart wouldn't let her kill him.  It came as a shock, when recovered Sir Tristan asked for her hand on his Uncle Mark's behalf & her father agreed as a way to heal the wound between Ireland & Cornwall. Iseult however was still upset at this. Knowing her daughter would need a happy marriage, her mother made a love philtre meant for Iseult & King Mark to drink & gave it to her maid Brangaine.  If the potion was drank on their wedding night it would make the couple love each other forever.  All would have been well if Tristan hadn't accidentally drank some & shared the goblet with Iseult on the journey to Cornwall.
John Duncan's Tristan & Isolde canvas, 1912
Although Iseult married the King, on the wedding night, under the cover of darkness Brangaine took her place in the royal bed so the he would suspect nothing.  For a while the lovers managed to maintain their affair before they were discovered.  King Mark found the lovers asleep with Tristian's sword lying between them, he decided not to slay them then & there, but exchanged his sword for Tristian's.

When Tristan woke he was stunned & overcome by the mercy shown by his uncle, Tristan persuaded Isolde to return to her husband & he volunteered himself for exile in Brittany.  There in Brittany, he married but it was not a happy marriage, because the bride Iseult of the White Hands, loved her husband more than he could love her.  Several times in secret he would sneak back to Cornwall and met with Isolde in secret, but the war in Brittany kept him too busy to return often. During a battle Tristan was severely wounded & sent for Isolde.  He asked his friend & fellow Knight to sail back with her under a specific set of sails.

Their code was for Isolde to sail under a white flag when she was close. If the Knight was returning without Isolde to sail beneath a black sail.  Jealous & angry at the imminent reunion of the lovers, Tristian's Bretton wife Iseult of the White Hands, told him that the ship was sailing beneath a black flag.  Losing his will to live, Tristan threw himself on his sword & died before Isolde could reach him.  Heartbroken, Isolde followed him into death not much later.

When they were buried, a hazel tree and a honeysuckle bush sprung up & grew together.  Three times King Mark had the branches cut back to separate them and each time they grew back together. Eventually he left them alone.

The End.
@Britannia Travel website
The Tristan stone: on the Britannia travel site gives a great tourist guide to the stone & places from the legend.
"The Tristan Stone (from Wikipedia)  Known as The Tristan Stone, or The Longstone (Cornish: Menhir, meaninglong stone), is a 2.7 m tall granite pillar near Fowey in Cornwall. The stone has a mid 6th century AD two line inscription which has been interpreted as reading DRVSTANVS HIC IACIT CVNOWORI FILIV’S (‘Drustan lies here, of Cunomorus the son’). A now missing third line was described by the 16th century antiquarian John Leland as reading CVM DOMINA OUSILLA (‘with the lady Ousilla’). Ousilla is a Latinisation of the Cornish female name Eselt, otherwise known as Isolde. The disappearance of this third line may be as a result of the stone being moved several times over the past three centuries."
A bittersweet romance. Have you heard the tale before?? I personally didn't like the Hollywood remake, what did you think?? They changed way too much for me, adding in people and taking out many others, It wasn't close to the legend at all. Have any favorite stories? Share in the comments please.
 Happy Monday

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