Tristan and Isolde

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Tristan and Isolde play chess while drinking the love potion on board a ship (medieval miniature 1470).
Tristan and Isolde (painting by Edmund Blair Leighton , 1902)

The story of Tristan and Isolde , along with that of the Grail or that of King Arthur and his round table, is one of the subjects that were often dealt with by the narrative literature of the European Middle Ages . Numerous poets of different folk literatures - especially in France and Germany - have tested their poetic skills on the creation of this exciting subject.


Isolde (painting by Gaston Bussière , 1911)

Tristan is the son of Riwalin, king of Lohnois, who was killed in a war. His mother is Blanscheflur, the sister of King Marke of Cornwall, who also died of longing for her husband Riwalin. Tristan grew up with Rual le très loyal, a friend of Riwalin's. At the age of seven, Tristan was sent abroad to learn languages. Later he will be brought back so that he can get to know the important gentlemen in his country. Tristan is kidnapped with his squire curve and released again in Cornwall. At König Marke he learns of his noble origins and wants to avenge his father's death. So he meets Morgan, who killed his father, and kills him.

Tristan and Isolde with the love potion (painting by John William Waterhouse , around 1916)

Morold, son of the King of Ireland, takes his annual tribute from Cornwall. Tristan faces Morold in a duel, which he wins, but is poisoned by Morold's sword. Tristan goes to Ireland because he knows that only Isolde, Morold's sister, can cure him. Tristan is brought to Queen Isolde, whose name he pretends to be Tantris. She offers to heal him if he please her with his enchanting harp playing and teach her beautiful daughter Isolde of the same name.

When Tristan returns to his homeland, the king is forced to marry because he has no heirs yet. The beautiful Isolde is proposed to him on the condition that he will not marry anyone else. He agrees because he assumes that Isolde does not agree to the marriage.

Tristan goes to Ireland to ask for the hand of the beautiful Isolde in the name of the King of England. The family agrees, but only if they also become Queen of England. So Tristan and Isolde drive to the brand. Before leaving, the queen had brewed a love potion which she gave to Brangaine, a relative. King Marke and Isolde should drink it together so that they will love each other forever. But when Brangaine does not pay attention to the drink, Tristan and Isolde drink one after the other from the vessel. Tristan and Isolde fall in love and must now meet secretly.

Isolde is stolen from King Marke by a trick. But Tristan can bring them back and hand them back to the king. Tristan and Isolde now meet more often, and they are also discovered. Traps are set for them, but Tristan and Isolde can avoid them again and again. In this way they can also dispel the king's doubts. But one day the king notices that the two are in love. King Marke lets her go until he discovers them in bed together one night. Now Tristan is no longer safe in England and fled to Germany.

There is war in Germany. Here Tristan meets Duke Jovelin, his wife Karsie, his daughter Isolde aux mains blanches and his son Cahedin le noble, with whom he allies and goes to war. Now he sees more and more Isolde aux mains blanches, which reminds him of Isolde of England. But he begins to doubt their love and falls in love with Isolde aux mains blanches. He is wounded in a battle by a poisoned spear and can only be healed with the healing ointment of the Queen of Ireland, whose secret Isolde of England also knows.

Tristan sends out curve, his faithful companion, to bring Isolde from England to him. If he had her with him when he returned, he should hoist a white sail, otherwise a black one. When he returned with Isolde from England, Isolde aux mains blanches falsely reported to the terminally ill Tristan, so as not to lose him to Isolde of England, that the sail was black. Thereupon Tristan dies immediately, now without hope. When Isolde of England sees her dead lover, she becomes very ill and dies shortly afterwards too.


Tristan and Isolde on their way to Cornwall (medieval miniature, Jean du Mas, 15th century).

The origin of the Tristan legend cannot be reliably reconstructed. In addition to other roots, a Celtic, a Germanic and an oriental origin appear to be possible.

In particular, the Celtic theory of origin is considered likely, as there are local and historical references (see Drystan fab Tallwch , Diarmuid and Gráinne and Scéla Cano meic Gartnáin , “The story of Cano, Gartnan's son”). In Cornwall, a 6th century stele has been found with the name Drustanus in the inscription, possibly a Latinized form of the name Tristan (see Tristan stone ).

From Celtic lais , the material probably first passed into northern French and Anglo-Norman musicians' poems . All of them have only survived in fragments, including the 12th century novels by Béroul and the more elaborate adaptation of Thomas of England (an Anglo-Norman ) as well as a controversial version of Tristan by Chrétiens de Troyes (also from the 12th century) ). From here the saga found its way into Spanish, Italian, German, Scandinavian, Slavic and even Greek literature.

Overall, it can be assumed that the material has developed over the centuries from a wide variety of sources, so that there is no exact original text.


From Eilhart of Oberg , the first German version of the Tristan material originates. His Tristrant and Isalte probably originated at the end of the 12th or beginning of the 13th century. Only three parchment fragments of his text have survived from the 12th century . Three paper manuscripts from the 15th century, which presumably go back to an adaptation of the text from the 13th century, contain the complete text.

Finally, the version by Thomas von England is the basis of the likewise fragmentary verse novel Tristan by the Middle High German poet Gottfried von Strasbourg from the 13th century, which is considered to be the “classic” presentation of the Middle Ages . Both Ulrich von Türheim and Heinrich von Freiberg wrote a sequel to complete Gottfried's fragment, and Tristan as a monk also succeeds Gottfried. A translation of the French prose Tristan are the fragments of a prosaic Tristan novel written in the 15th century . Around 1400 Franz and Niklaus Vintler from Bolzano had part of the summer house painted in their Runkelstein Castle with Terraverde frescoes on the motif of Tristan and Isolde.

Beyond the Middle Ages, numerous other writers, visual artists and composers created arrangements of Tristan and Isolde, such as Hans Sachs (tragedy, 1553), Karl Immermann (cycle of poems, 1840; subtitled: "A poem in romances"; left unfinished and copied Final arrangement by Ludwig Tieck published posthumously in 1841), Richard Wagner ( Tristan und Isolde , Opera, 1859) and Thomas Mann , whose novella ( Tristan , 1901) alludes to Wagner's opera but is not a Tristan story.

John Neumeier realized the Tristan material as a ballet in 1982 . Bernard Cornwell incorporated the subject into his Arthurian Chronicles. In 2015, David Dawson created the first complete Tristan and Isolde ballet.

The theme was taken up both in metal music and in the music of the medieval scene, for example by Blind Guardian ( The Maiden and the Minstrel Knight on the album A Night at the Opera , 2002), Grave Digger ( Tristan's Fate on the Album Excalibur , 1999) or Qntal , who dedicated the entire album Qntal III - Tristan und Isolde to the subject in 2003 .

Film adaptations


  • Gottfried von Strasbourg : Tristan and Isolde. Revised by Wilhelm Hertz . 3. Edition. Cotta, Stuttgart 1901 and other editions.
  • Gottfried of Strasbourg; Rüdiger Krohn (Ed.): Tristan : Verse 1–9982. Volume 1, Reclam, Ditzingen 1986, ISBN 978-3-15-004471-1 / Verse 9983–19548 in Volume 2, ISBN 978-3-15-004472-8 (Middle High German / New High German).
  • Günter de Bruyn : Tristan and Isolde [retold]. Fischer Taschenbuch 8275, Frankfurt am Main 1988, ISBN 978-3-596-28275-3 (licensed edition by the Neues Leben publishing house, Berlin).
  • Albrecht Diem: "Nu suln ouch we will be together." - About beauty, friendship and male-male love in Tristan Gottfrieds von Strasbourg. In: Lev Mordechai Thoma and Sven Limbeck (eds.): "The sin of the tuivel in the light". Homosexuality in Medieval and Early Modern Culture. Thorbecke Verlag, Ostfildern 2009, pp. 91-121, ISBN 978-3-7995-0223-8 .
  • Daniel Lacroix, Philippe Walter: Tristan et Iseut. Les poèmes francais. La saga norroise. Textes originaux et intégraux présentés, traduits et commentés par Daniel Lacroix et Philippe Walter ( Le livre de Poche - Lettres Gothiques , volume 4521). Librairie générale française, Paris 1989, ISBN 2-253-05085-7 (with a very good introduction and the Scandinavian adaptation of the Tristan novel by Thomas of England from the 13th century, which reproduces the legend in full).
  • Gottfried of Strasbourg; Dieter Kühn (ed.): The story of the love of Tristan and Isolde . Reclam, Stuttgart 1998, ISBN 978-3-15-004474-2 .
  • Asuka Yamazaki: The German National Consciousness of the 19th Century and Richard Wagner's “Tristan and Isolde” . Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2013, ISBN 978-3-8260-5344-3 ( Dissertation University of Kyoto 2012, 134, pages).

Web links

Commons : Tristan und Isolde  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Claudia Müller-Ebeling, Christian Rätsch: Isoldens Liebestrank. Munich 1986.
  2. Tristan . In: Brockhaus Konversations-Lexikon 1894-1896, Volume 15, pp. 1003-1003.