Hero and Leander
Hero and Leander is the Greek myth relating the story of Hero (Ancient Greek: Ἡρώ, Hērṓ; pron. like "hero" in English), a priestess of Aphrodite who dwelt in a tower in Sestos on the European side of the Hellespont (today's Dardanelles), and Leander (Ancient Greek: Λέανδρος, Léandros), a young man from Abydos on the opposite side of the strait. Leander fell in love with Hero and would swim every night across the Hellespont to be with her. Hero would light a lamp at the top of her tower to guide his way.
Succumbing to Leander's soft words and to his argument that Venus, as the goddess of love, would scorn the worship of a virgin, Hero allowed him to make love to her. These trysts lasted through the warm summer. But one stormy winter night, the waves tossed Leander in the sea and the breezes blew out Hero's light; Leander lost his way and was drowned. When Hero saw his dead body, she threw herself over the edge of the tower to her death to be with him. (Wikipedia)
Image: The Last Watch of Hero by Frederic Leighton, depicting Hero anxiously waiting for Leander during the storm.
Image source: commons.wikimedia.org
Pyramus and Thisbe
Pyramus and Thisbē are a pair of ill-fated lovers whose story forms part of Ovid's Metamorphoses. The story has since been retold by many authors.
In the Ovidian version, Pyramus and Thisbe are two lovers in the city of Babylon who occupy connected houses/walls, forbidden by their parents to be wed, because of their parents' rivalry. Through a crack in one of the walls, they whisper their love for each other. They arrange to meet near Ninus' tomb under a mulberry tree and state their feelings for each other. Thisbe arrives first, but upon seeing a lioness with a mouth bloody from a recent kill, she flees, leaving behind her veil. When Pyramus arrives he is horrified at the sight of Thisbe's veil, assuming that a wild beast has killed her. Pyramus kills himself, falling on his sword in proper Roman fashion, and in turn splashing blood on the white mulberry leaves. Pyramus' blood stains the white mulberry fruits, turning them dark. Thisbe returns, eager to tell Pyramus what had happened to her, but she finds Pyramus' dead body under the shade of the mulberry tree. Thisbe, after a brief period of mourning, stabs herself with the same sword. In the end, the gods listen to Thisbe's lament, and forever change the colour of the mulberry fruits into the stained colour to honour the forbidden love. (Wikipedia)
Image: Thisbe also known as The Listener by John William Waterhouse, 1909
Image source: commons.wikimedia.org
Sohni and Mahiwal
Sohni Mahiwal (Punjabi: ਸੋਹਣੀ ਮਹੀਂਵਾਲ) (Sindhi: سهڻي ميهار) is one of the four popular tragic romances of Punjab. The others are Sassi Punnun, Mirza Sahiba, and Heer Ranjha. Sohni Mahiwal is a tragic love story which reverts the classical motif of Hero and Leader. The heroine Sohni, unhappily married to a man she despises, swims every night across the river using an earthenware pot to keep afloat in the water, to where her beloved Mehar herds buffaloes. One night her sister-in-law replaces the earthenware pot with a vessel of unbaked clay, which dissolves in water and she dies in the whirling waves of the river.
The story also appears in Shah Jo Risalo and is one of seven popular tragic romances from Sindh. The other six tales are Umar Marui, Sassui Punhun, Lilan Chanesar, Noori Jam Tamachi, Sorath Rai Diyach and Momal Rano commonly known as Seven Heroines (Sindhi: ست سورميون ) of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai. Shah begins the story at the most dramatic moment, when a young woman cries out for help in the cold river, attacked by crocodiles. The whole chapter (Sur Sohni) is merely an extension of this dreadful and yet hoped-for moment when the vessel of her body breaks and she, faithful to her pre-eternal love-covenant with Mehar, will be forever united through death.
Sohni is one of the favourite folktales both in Sindh and Punjab, Pakistan and India. (Wikipedia)
Image: Sohni Swims to Meet Her Lover Mahinwal, Style of Faqir Ullah Khan (India, Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow or Farrukhabad, circa 1780)
Image source: commons.wikimedia.org
Laila and Majnu
Layla and Majnun (English: Possessed by madness for Layla; Persian: لیلی و مجنون عامری (Leyli o Majnun); Arabic: مجنون لیلی (Majnun Layla)) is a love story that originated as a short, anecdotal poem in ancient Arabia, later significantly expanded and popularized in a literary adaptation by Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi who also wrote "Khosrow and Shirin". It is the third of his five long narrative poems, Khamsa (the Quintet).
Qays and Layla fall in love with each other when they are young, but when they grow up Layla’s father doesn't allow them to be together. Qays becomes obsessed with her, and the community gives him the epithet Majnun (مجنون, lit. "possessed"), the same epithet given to the semi-historical character Qays ibn al-Mulawwah of the Banu 'Amir tribe. Long before Nizami, the legend circulated in anecdotal forms in Arabic akhbar. The early anecdotes and oral reports about Majnun are documented in Kitab al-Aghani and Ibn Qutaybah's al-Shi'r wal-Shu'ara'. The anecdotes are mostly very short, only loosely connected, and show little or no plot development. (Wikipedia)
Image: “The fainting of Laylah and Majnun”. This folio depicts a well-known passage from the tragic story of Layla and Majnun described in the third book of Nizami's "Khamsah" (Quintet). Forcibly separated by their respective tribes' animosity, forced marriage, and years of exile into the wilderness, these two ill-fated lovers meet again for the last time before their deaths thanks to the intervention of Majnun's elderly messenger. Upon seeing each other in a palm-grove immediately outside of Laylah's camp, they faint of extreme passion and pain. The old man attempts to revive the lovers, while the wild animals protective of Majnun ("The King of Wilderness") attack unwanted intruders.
Image source: commons.wikimedia.org
The Butterfly Lovers
The Butterfly Lovers is a Chinese legend of a tragic love story of a pair of lovers, Liang Shanbo (梁山伯) and Zhu Yingtai (祝英台), whose names form the title of the story. The title is often abbreviated to Liang Zhu (梁祝).
The legend of Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai is set in the Eastern Jin dynasty (265-420 CE).
Zhu Yingtai is the ninth child and only daughter of the wealthy Zhu family of Shangyu, Zhejiang. Although women are traditionally discouraged from taking up scholarly pursuits, Zhu manages to convince her father to allow her to attend classes in disguise as a man. During her journey to Hangzhou, she meets Liang Shanbo, a scholar from Kuaiji (present-day Shaoxing). They chat and feel a strong affinity for each other at their first meeting. Hence, they gather some soil as incense and take an oath of fraternity in the pavilion of a thatched bridge.
They study together for the next three years in school and Zhu gradually falls in love with Liang. Although Liang equals Zhu in their studies, he is still a bookworm and fails to notice the feminine characteristics exhibited by his classmate.
One day, Zhu receives a letter from her father, asking her to return home as soon as possible. Zhu has no choice but to pack her belongings immediately and bid Liang farewell. However, in her heart, she has already confessed her love for Liang and is determined to be with him for all eternity. Before her departure, she reveals her true identity to the headmaster's wife and asks her to pass a jade pendant to Liang as a betrothal gift.
Liang accompanies his "sworn brother" for 18 miles to see her off. During the journey, Zhu hints to Liang that she is actually a woman. For example, she compares them to a pair of mandarin ducks (a symbol of lovers in Chinese culture), but Liang does not catch her hints and does not even have the slightest suspicion that his companion is a woman in disguise. Zhu finally comes up with an idea and tells Liang that she will act as a matchmaker for him and his "sister". Before they part, Zhu reminds Liang to visit her residence later so he can propose to marry her "sister." Liang and Zhu reluctantly part ways at the Changting pavilion.
Months later, when Liang visits Zhu, he discovers that she is actually a woman. They are devoted to and passionate about each other and they make a vow to the effect of "till death do us part". The joy of their reunion is short-lived as Zhu's parents have already arranged for her to marry Ma Wencai, a man from a rich family. Liang is heartbroken when he hears the news and his health gradually deteriorates until he becomes critically ill. He dies in office later as a county magistrate.
On the day of Ma and Zhu's marriage, strong winds prevent the wedding procession from escorting the bride beyond Liang's grave, which lies along the journey. Zhu leaves the procession to pay her respects at Liang's grave. She descends in bitter despair and begs for the grave to open up. Suddenly, the grave opens with a clap of thunder. Without further hesitation, Zhu throws herself into the grave to join Liang. Their spirits turn into a pair of butterflies, emerge from the grave, fly away together and are never to be separated again. (Wikipedia)
Image: Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai- The Butterfly Lovers
Image source: en.gotohz.com-Hangzhou Tourism Commission
Meng Jiang Nü
Lady Meng Jiang or Meng Jiang Nü (Chinese: 孟姜女; pinyin: Mèng Jiāng Nǚ), is a Chinese tale, with many variations. Later versions are set in the Qin dynasty, when Lady Meng Jiang's husband was pressed into service by imperial officials and sent as corvee labor to build the Great Wall of China. Lady Meng Jiang heard nothing after his departure, so she set out to bring him winter clothes. Unfortunately, by the time she reached the Great Wall, her husband had already died. Hearing the bad news, she wept so bitterly that a part of the Great Wall collapsed, revealing his bones.
The legend developed into many versions with variations in both form and content. The scholar Wilt Idema has selected and published ten versions of the legend, which, in the publisher's words, "emphasize different elements of the story – the circumstances of Meng Jiangnu's marriage, her relationship with her parents-in-law, the journey to the wall, her grief, her defiance of the emperor. (Wikipedia)
Popular versions tell the reader that this story happened during the reign of the wicked, unjust Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi, who decided to build a wall to keep the barbarians from invading his kingdom. But the wall kept disintegrating, and the construction made little progress. A clever scholar told the Emperor "Your method of building the wall is making the whole country tremble and will cause many revolts to break out. I have heard of a man called Wan Xiliang. Since the name 'Wan' means 'ten-thousand,' You need only fetch this one man." The Emperor was delighted and sent for Wan, but Wan heard of the danger and ran away.
In one version, Wan Xiliang flees the hardship of labor on the Great Wall in the north and enters the Meng family garden to hide in a tree and sees the young lady bathing. He at first refuses her demand that she be his wife, saying that such a well-born woman cannot marry a conscript, but she replies "A woman's body cannot be seen by more than one man".
In the form which came to be most common, after suffering pain and exhaustion laboring on the Great Wall, Wan Xiliang died. When winter came, Lady Meng Jiang had heard no news and insisted on taking winter garments to her husband. Over her parents' objections and paying no attention to her own fatigue, she traveled over mountains and rivers to arrive at the Great Wall, only to find that her husband had died. She collapsed in tears. She did not know how to identify her husband's bones, and cried until the wall collapsed and exposed a pile of human bones. She still could not identify her husband's remains, so she pricked her finger and prayed that her blood would penetrate only her husband's bones.
When the Emperor heard of Lady Meng, he had her brought before him. Her beauty so struck him that he decided to marry her. She agreed only on three conditions: First, a festival of 49 days should be held in her husband's honor; second, the Emperor and all his officials should be present at the burial; and, third, he should build a terrace 49 feet tall on the bank of the river, where she would make a sacrificial offering to her husband. After these three conditions were met, she would marry the Emperor. Qin Shi Huangdi granted her requests at once. When all was ready she climbed the terrace and began to curse the Emperor and denounce his cruelty and wickedness. When she had finished, she leaped into the river and drowned herself. (Wikipedia)
Image: Statue of Mengjiangnu
Image source: www.chinatravel.com