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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Tristan and Isolde

Tristan

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Tristan and Iseult as depicted by Herbert Draper (1864 -1920).
Tristan and Iseult as depicted by Herbert Draper
(1864 -1920).

Sir Tristan(Latin/Brythonic: Drustanus; Welsh: Drystan; also known as Tristran, Tristram, etc.) is one of the main characters of the Tristan and Iseult story, a Cornish hero and one of the Knights of the Round Table featuring in the Matter of Britain. He is the son of Blancheflor and Rivalen (in later versions Isabelle and Meliodas), and the nephew of King Mark of Cornwall, sent to fetch Iseult back from Ireland to wed the king. However, he and Iseult accidentally consume a love potion while en route and fall helplessly in love. The pair undergo numerous trials that test their secret affair.

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[edit] The Tristan legend cycle

Tristan makes his first medieval appearance in the early twelfth century in Celtic folklore circulating in the north of France. Although the oldest stories concerning Tristan are lost, some of the derivatives still exist. Most early versions fall into one of two branches, "courtly" branch represented in the retellings of the Anglo-Norman poet Thomas of Britain and his German successor Gottfried von Strassburg, and the "common" branch, including the works of the French poet Béroul and the German poet Eilhart von Oberge.

Arthurian romancier Chrétien de Troyes mentions in his poem Cligès that he composed his own account of the story; however, there are no surviving copies or records of any such text. In the thirteenth century, during the great period of prose romances, appeared the Tristan en prose or Prose Tristan, one of the most popular romances of its time. This long, sprawling, and often lyrical, work (the modern edition takes up thirteen volumes) follows Tristan from the traditional legend into the realm of King Arthur where Tristan participates in the Quest for the Holy Grail. In the fifteenth century, Sir Thomas Malory shortened this French version into his own take, The Book of Sir Tristram de Lyones, found in his Le Morte D'Arthur.

[edit] Historical roots

There are strange aspects to Tristan, such as his Pictish name. Drust is a very common name of Pictish kings, and Drustanus is merely Drust rendered into Latin. It may have originated from an ancient legend regarding a Pictish king who slew a giant in the distant past, which had spread throughout the isles.

Another strange aspect is his kingdom, Lyonesse, for whose existence there is no evidence. However there were two places called Leonais: one in Brittany, the other the Old French transcription of Lothian. However, the Islands of Scilly have also been proposed to be this place, since they were possibly one island until Roman times and several islands are interconnected at low tide. Regardless, Tristan being a prince of Lothian would make his name more sensible, Lothian being on the borderlands of the Pictish High-Kingship (and once was a part of Pictish territory; Tristan may in fact have been a Pictish prince under a British King). One suggestion is that he could have been adopted into the family of Mark of Cornwall, historically a practice attested in Roman law.

[edit] The Tristan and Iseult romance

Main article: Tristan and Iseult

The romantic narrative of the Tristan and Iseult love affair predated and most likely influenced the Arthurian romance of Lancelot and Guinevere.[citation needed] The legend tells of the love affair between Tristan and Iseult of Ireland (the promised bride of Tristan's uncle), and the events and trials that the lovers go through to cover up their secret affair.

[edit] Modern adaptations

In 1857–59, Richard Wagner composed the opera Tristan and Isolde, now considered one of the most influential pieces of music of the 19th century. In his work, Tristan is portrayed as a doomed romantic figure.

Algernon Charles Swinburne wrote an epic poem Tristram of Lyonesse. The story has also been adapted into film many times. [1] The most recent is the American version entitled Tristan & Isolde, produced by Tony and Ridley Scott, written by Dean Georgaris, directed by Kevin Reynolds, and starring James Franco and Sophia Myles. The story of Tristan has also been represented through the song of the same name by the artist Patrick Wolf.

Tristan plays a prominent role in the comic book series Camelot 3000, in which he is reincarnated in A.D. 3000 as a woman and subsequently struggles to come to terms with his new body and identity and to reconcile them in turn with his previous notions of gender roles and of his own sexuality.

Russian composer Nikita Koshkin wrote a classical guitar solo entitled Tristan Playing the Lute in 1983. Tristan Playing the Lute evokes the spirit of Tristan from the legend of "Tristan and Isolde", set in a playful adaptation of traditional English lute music, at least initially. According to Koshkin:

"Tristan was written as a musical joke. It was a period when I was fond of all the stories about King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Tristan was not only a great fighter, but he also played many musical instruments and had a beautiful singing voice. This is why I thought he could be the subject of a piece to suggest the process of improvising in a characteristic early style that then begins to change to futuristic musical ideas. The first section of the piece is clearly ancient in style; the second is more modern; then the third introduces elements of Eastern music as well as some rock riffs. The idea is that Tristan, during his improvising, is building musical bridges to the future."

In the 2004 film, King Arthur, based on the Sarmatian connection theory of origin for the Arthurian legends, Tristan (Mads Mikkelsen) is a prominent member of the knights, who are Sarmatians serving under a half-Roman Arthur in the 5th century. He is a cavalry archer, and uses a sword similar to, if not a dao. It seems that he finds a pleasure in killing and is quite good at it. He has a pet falcon, which he greatly treasures and uses as a lookout for Arthur and the rest of the knights in the film. He is killed by Cerdic in single combat in the Battle of Badon Hill

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