August 25, 2023

#08-339: The Legend of Tristan and Isolde

Tristan and Isolde by John Duncan (1912) (Wikipedia)

Note: This is one of the great love stories of all time, with traces of Guinevere and Lancelot--and Romeo and Juliet.

Get Ready: Can we ever blame our actions on an external influence (like a "love potion"), or ought we to take responsibility for everything we do?

There are many versions of the medieval legend of Tristan and Isolde. This is one.

Tristan--nephew and champion of the King Mark of Cornwall--defeats in mortal combat an Irish champion sent to demand tribute, but is also injured, and can only be healed by the Irish princess, Isolde.

So he sails to Ireland in disguise, where they meet and she heals him. Back in Cornwall, he tells his uncle about the girl's charms, and Mark resolves to marry her. He sends Tristan to seek her hand and bring her back to Cornwall.

While there, Tristan kills a dragon that has been terrorizing the Irish countryside. For this Isolde agrees to marry King Mark and sets off for Cornwall with Tristan.

Fearing that her daughter may not have feelings for King Mark and vice versa, Isolde's mother creates a love potion for her. As fate would have it, Tristan and Isolde--not knowing what it is--drink the potion during the rough sea crossing, and fall deeply in love.

Honor bound, Isolde marries Mark, but her passion is all for Tristan, though he still loves and honors Mark, who has been like a father to him. They try to keep their feelings secret, but when they fail, the king condemns Isolde to live in a leper colony. Tristan frees her and they escape to live in a forest apart from the court, but Mark catches them, and Tristan flees Cornwall in shame.

He settles on the French coast and marries another Isolde, known as Isolde of the White Hands, but his passion for the Irish princess Isolde still burns brightly. Again wounded in battle, he sends for his old flame, hoping she can heal him once more. He tells the captain of the ship: fly white sails if Isolde returns with you, and black if she does not.

On his sickbed, he asks Isolde of the White Hands to watch the window for the ship's return. Jealous of the other Isolde, as the ship approaches she reports that the white sails are in fact black. Tristan dies from despair. When his great love Isolde arrives and learns of his death, she, too, dies of grief.

They are buried together in Cornwall, where a rose tree grows from Isolde's grave. A vine from Tristan's grave wraps itself around the tree, growing back again any time it is cut as a sign of their eternal love.


Practice: Match the term to its definition:

Term Definition
  1. condemns
  2. despair
  3. grief
  4. honor bound
  5. medieval
  6. mortal combat
  7. on one's sickbed
  8. resolves
  9. tribute
  10. vice versa
  1. hopelessness
  2. sentences, like a judge
  3. the opposite
  4. a fight to the death
  5. decides
  6. under obligation
  7. where an ill person rests
  8. of the Middle Ages
  9. extreme sadness
  10. a forced payment

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for August 25, 2023

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. b; 2. a; 3. i; 4. f; 5. h; 6. d; 7. g; 8. e; 9. j; 10. c