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Five tragic love stories across time

This time of year is often filled with images of romance, hearts, and cupid’s bows, but not all love stories end in ‘happily ever after’. Who among us hasn’t had their heart broken, or felt the sting of rejection? But we all know that life without love (even if it’s painful) isn’t much of a life. As Charles Darwin once said, ‘Much love much trial, but what an utter desert is life without love’.

We had a look through myth and time and discovered the following couples whose course of true love did not run smooth. Who would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments below or via social media.

Antony and Cleopatra

Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt, had a number of romances that ended in tragedy. It is said that Cleopatra met Mark Antony (a Roman general) in Rome after the assassination of her lover, Caesar. They quickly fell in love and Antony followed her to Egypt, abandoning his own wife Octavia. They ruled together, but after their defeat in the Battle of Actium Antony committed suicide (some accounts attribute this to his being wrongly informed that Cleopatra was dead), and Cleopatra followed him eleven days later. Shakespeare later used this fated story as inspiration for his play Antony and Cleopatra.

Héloïse and Abelard

Peter Abelard was a French theologian and philosopher during the 11th and 12th centuries. When he was in his thirties he became the tutor of 17-year-old Héloïse, at the request of her uncle Canon Fulbert of Notre Dame. Over time they fell in love and had a child, but when the affair was discovered they fled and were secretly married in Paris. That did not stop Héloïse’s family, however, who eventually found them, separated them, and had Peter castrated. Peter became a monk, and Héloïse a nun, but on their deaths they were reunited and buried together.

'Mugahl emperor Shah Jahan and his empress Mumtaz Mahal' by Unknown. CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
Image credit: ‘Mugahl emperor Shah Jahan and his empress Mumtaz Mahal’ by Unknown. CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal

Everyone knows and can picture the Taj Mahal in their mind – one of the great wonders of the modern world. But did you know that it’s a mausoleum created by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to commemorate his wife, Mumtaz Mahal? They met at the palace, in a holiday bazaar, and Shah Jahan immediately fell in love. They were married five years later, and he was devoted to her for the rest of her life, giving her the largest income ever given (10 million rupees), and entrusting her with his seal. When she died in childbirth, in her thirties, he assembled artists and craftsmen from all over India, Iran, and Central Asia to create the Taj Mahal. Construction lasted over ten years and cost more than 5 million rupees, eventually becoming the burial place for Shah Jahan himself.

Lancelot and Guinevere

Guinevere, the wife of King Arthur in the Arthurian legend, fell in love with one of the king’s Knights of the Round Table – Sir Lancelot. When the king learned of their adulterous affair he condemned Guinevere to death, but Lancelot managed to save her from the stake, and they ran away together to Brittany. Arthur chased after them, but was swiftly called back to Britain to fight against Mordred, his nephew. Hearing of this, Lancelot (being a good knight) followed Arthur back to Britain to help in the fight, but he was too late to save Arthur, who dies. Lancelot tried to find Guinevere again, but found that she had entered a nunnery.

Helen of Troy and Paris

Famously ‘the face that launched a thousand ships’, Helen of Troy was half human and half god, daughter of the Spartan princess Leda and the god Zeus. Of all her suitors she chose to become the wife of Menelaus, the wealthy Spartan king. However, Paris (the Trojan prince) was promised Helen by the goddess Aphrodite, in return for choosing her as the fairest goddess. During a visit to Sparta Paris and Helen became lovers and he took her back to Troy, beginning the great Trojan War, where Paris eventually died. Helen returned to Sparta once the war was over as Menelaus’s wife once again.

Featured image credit: ‘Wilted and brittle’ by A. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr.

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