Famous Lovers #
Tristan and Isolde #
Were principal characters of a famous medieval love-romance, based on a Celtic legend, an archetypal poem.
The young Tristan ventures to Ireland to ask the hand of the princess Isolde for his uncle, King Mark of Cornwall, and, having slain a dragon that is devastating the country, succeeds in his mission. On the homeward journey Tristan and Isolde, by misadventure, drink the love potion prepared by the queen for her daughter and King Mark. Henceforward, the two are bound to each other by an imperishable love.
One day Mark discovers them asleep with a naked sword between them. Soon afterward they make peace with Mark, and Tristan agrees to restore Isolde to Mark and leave the country.
When Tristan is dying Isolde agrees to come, the ship on which she embarks is to have a white sail; if she refuses, a black. His jealous wife, who has discovered his secret, seeing the ship approach on which Isolde is hastening to her lover’s aid, tells him that it carries a black sail. Tristan, turning his face to the wall, dies, and Isolde, arriving too late to save her love, yields up her life in a final embrace. A miracle follows their deaths: two trees grow out of their graves and intertwine their branches so that they can not be parted by any means.
Orpheus and Eurydice #
Orpheus had skill and respect for his music. At one such gathering of humans and beasts that his eyes fell on a wood nymph, called Eurydice, she was beautiful and shy. She had been drawn to Orpheus enamoured by his voice and such was the spell of beauty in music and appearance that neither could cast their eyes off each other.
When she dies of a snake-bite, Orpheus decided to go to Underworld and try to get his wife back.
Orpheus said why he was there, in a voice both mellifluous and disquieting. He played his lyre and sang out to King Hades and Queen Persephone that Eurydice was returned to him.
Hades openly wept, Persephone’s heart melted and even Cerberus, the gigantic three-headed hound guarding the entry to the underworld, covered his many ears with his paws and howled in despair.
Hades promised to this desperate man that Eurydice would follow him to the Upper World, as long as he did not look back while his wife was still in the dark, for that would undo everything he hoped for. He should wait for Eurydice to get into the light before he looked at her.
The moment he stepped on the world of the living, he turned his head to hug his wife. Unfortunately, he got only a glimpse of Eurydice before she was once again drawn back into the underworld.
Like Lot’s wife, we must not look back – but look to the future.
Hero and Leander #
Hero, virgin priestess of Aphrodite at Sestos, was seen at a festival by Leander of Abydos; they fell in love, and he swam the Hellespont at night to visit her, guided by a light from her tower. One stormy night the light was extinguished, and Leander was drowned; Hero, seeing his body, drowned herself likewise.
amative - disposed to love; amorous. Amative stems from the Latin verb amāre meaning “to love.” It entered English in the mid-1600s.
Paul Sartre, Simone Beauvois #
The legend of Simone de Beauvoir—of how an obedient Catholic schoolgirl cast off her rigid, patriarchal upbringing to become the high priestess of existential feminism—is often narrated as a love story. Her biographers trace her escape from the bourgeois Parisian milieu into which she was born, in 1908, first to the Sorbonne and then to the École Normale Supérieure. There, among the “graceless faces” of the agrégation candidates of 1929, she spied Jean-Paul Sartre, twenty-four years old and—as she rhapsodized in “Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter” (1958), the first of four autobiographical volumes—“still young enough to feel emotional about his future whenever he heard a saxophone playing after his third martini.” Together, she and her “Playboy,” her “Leprechaun,” as she called him, chased life’s pleasures up the steps of Boulevard du Montparnasse, down the Avenue d’Orléans, and all around the woodland parks of Paris, where her parents had forbidden her and her sister to speak with children outside their social class. Beauvoir’s mother was devoted to the Church and its rigid moralism; her father detested intellectuals and wanted his oldest daughter to “marry a country cousin.” By the time she met Sartre, Beauvoir had different aspirations. “Never have I so loved to read and think, never have I been so alive and happy or envisioned a future so rich. Oh! Jean-Paul, dear Jean-Paul, thank you,” she wrote in her diary.
August 30, 2021, issue, The New Yorker with the headline “Sentimental Education.” by Merve Emre is a contributing writer.