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Tristan and Iseult

Tristan and Iseult by Joseph Bédier
By: (1864-1938)

He is a divinely handsome young man, valiant and fiercely loyal to his uncle who adopted and nurtured him from the time he was an abandoned orphan. She is the ethereally beautiful princess of a faraway country, betrothed to the middle-aged uncle. They meet when the young man is sent as an emissary to her country to bring her back for the grand wedding. On board the ship, the two fall tragically in love.

Tristan and Iseult by Joseph Bedier is a retelling of an ancient legend which has been popular for nearly eight hundred years! The origins of the story are lost in the mists of time, but scholars reckon that it is based on a Persian epic poem called Vis O Ramin, composed by the Persian poet Asad Gorgani in the 11th century. This itself was based on oral traditions which existed since the first century. Whatever the origin, the poignant story of doomed lovers captured the imagination of writers, musicians, playwrights, poets and artists all over the world and gave rise to wonderful works of literature and art.

Joseph Bedier was a classical scholar and professor of Medieval Literature at the University de Faubourg, Switzerland. Due to his concerted efforts, interest was revived in ancient French texts and legends. Tristan and Iseult was published in 1909 and it firmly established his great reputation as a writer and a scholar. It was translated into English by Hilaire Belloc and Paul Rosenfeld. Other translations included Cornish, German, Italian and many other languages.

Tristan and Iseult tells the story of a Cornish knight, Tristan, who travels to Ireland to bring back the lovely princess Iseult for his uncle Mark to marry. En route, the two young people fall in love. Some legends have it that the lovers mistakenly ingested a love potion that made them fall eternally and irrevocably in love. When they reach their destination, Iseult marries King Mark but continues her affair. When the secret is discovered, the lovers are condemned for adultery. They are sentenced to death, but conspire to escape. There are various versions of the end of this story – Some end in tragedy with both dying, while others have them escaping, begging the king for forgiveness and living happily ever after. Whatever the outcome, the story has had an indelible impact on Western romantic and tragic traditions. It was also incorporated into Arthurian legends.

Widely adapted on stage, screen and television, Tristan and Iseult is a timeless classic which would be a great addition to your bookshelf.

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