The Romance of Tristan and Iseult
Theirs is incomparably the greatest love story in the world.
The New York Times
A philological miracle.
The New York Times
In tragic passion and intensity Tristan and Iseult stand alone, more magnificent than Helen and Paris, Paolo and Francesca, Abelard and Heloise, Pelléas and Mélisande, Romeo and Juliet. And besides their passion they have a rich and pervasive medievalism, a quality of legend… In Joseph Bédier’s Tristan and Iseult, translated with great beauty by Hilaire Belloc, we have the only telling of the tale which is identical with the medieval story. For Bédier’s version is taken from Beroul the Monk, who wrote it nearly a thousand years ago.
Bédier took the Old French of Beroul and, retaining the antique style, made it intelligible for modern readers. In his book the tale is still told by a wandering minstrel to the lords of the hall. In no way is this story modernized. Nor is it, from another standpoint, taken out of its own particular age: it is gorgeously medieval.
The telling of the tale is beautiful. Hilaire Belloc has shown the greatest sensitiveness to language using fine old words and lovely, moving rhythms… There remains here, across a thousand years, something of the naïveté of the ancient minstrel, and all of his simplicity; there come to you, time after time, little phrases and sentences as immediately moving as they must have been for those who heard them ten centuries ago.
The story, as Bédier has retained it, is far richer in detail than any modern version; many of its episodes unconsciously reveal the turn of a medieval mind, its mysticism, its fears, its wonderment, even its psychology. But above everything else there exists the story of Tristan and Iseult, the immortal lovers who unknowingly drank a love potion and were forever fated to bear the sorrows and privations of their indestructible passion, until, in death, the end came for both of them.