tragic love

5 Ancient Tragic Tales of Love

If asked to name a tragic love story, a common response would be Romeo and Juliet, but the star-crossed lovers aren’t the only ill-fated tale.

If asked to name two famous lovers, the most common response would be Romeo and Juliet. This can signify that while we often yearn for our own happily ever after, the most powerful tales of love can also be the most heart-wrenching. Let’s take a look at 5 legendary tragic love stories from ancient records:

The Cowherd and The Weaver Girl (China)

The 7th day of the 7th month in the lunar calendar is considered to be the Chinese Valentine’s Day due to a very popular folklore. It is a very special day for couples to commemorate their love, for singles to find love and overall just appreciate the power of love. There are many variations of the tale but the most common one is as follows:

Long ago, there lived a cowherd who stumbled across a sick, old bull. The kind-hearted cowherd nursed the ox back to health only for the bull to reveal that he was in fact the grey fairy bull who was exiled from the heavens. As gratitude, the bull began to aid the cowherd with any troubles.

One day, the cowherd came across seven heavenly sisters who had come to earth for a spring bath. The bull advised him to retrieve a maiden’s clothes and he complied. The celestial weaver girl could not return to her sisters as a result, and the cowherd took this opportunity to marry her. The two grew fondly in love over the years and happily raised two children as well. 

However, the Jade Empress — the weaver girl’s mother — found out about this marriage and was furious. Not only had her daughter neglected her weaving duties, she had married a mere mortal. Immediately, the Jade Empress took the weaver girl back to the skies.

The bull told the cowherd to make shoes from his hide when he passed away. When the day arrived, the cowherd made the shoes and traveled to the heavens with his two children. Just as the two lovers were about to reunite, the Jade Empress cast a long river to separate them.

Feeling sorry, all the magpies formed a bridge so that the couple could be together once more. This event softened the Jade Empress’ heart, and finally, she allowed them to meet for a single night every year.

It often rains on this day, believed to be the tears of the lovers as they think about being separated again for the rest of the year. To only be able to see your one true love for a short period of time is truly tragic.

Carmen and Luis (Mexico)

Take a trip to Guanajuato, Mexico and you’ll come across an infamous, narrow street. Here, many couples pay a visit and kiss! This commemorates the old tragic love story of Carmen and Luis.

Hundreds of years ago, there was a wealthy yet stern Spanish merchant who had a beautiful daughter named Carmen. So stern was he that he only allowed Carmen to attend mass with a maid. It was there that she fell in love with Luis, a mestizo miner.

With the high division of wealth and class in the Mexican society, Carmen’s father was absolutely livid when he discovered his only child was courted by a poor man. Immediately, he made preparations for Carmen to be married to a much older man back in Spain. In the meantime, the poor girl was locked in her house until her departure.

The devastated Luis suddenly came to the realization that Carmen’s bedroom balcony was a few inches apart from the balcony of another house, thanks to the narrow alley in which the houses were located. With this, Luis managed to visit his love and the two planned for an escape.

One night, Carmen’s father barged into her bedroom, surprising the pair. He held Carmen with a dagger and threatened her to never see Luis again. She figured it was an empty threat as she was the merchant’s only child. Enraged at her defiance and insistence to marry a miner, Carmen’s father plunged the dagger deep into her chest.

Brokenhearted, Luis held Carmen’s hand and they shared one last kiss until she passed away. Unable to live without her, Luis threw himself down a mine shaft. A beautiful love fated to a tragic end.

Siya and Maadi (Mali)

The great empire of Wagadu was the first of its kind in West Africa. Unfortunately, like many ancient empires, the rise was ultimately followed by a fall. The legendary decline of this society stemmed from a powerful love.

Wagadu’s kings held great power due to a pact with the snake Lord, Bida. Bida ensured prosperity and harvest in return for an annual sacrifice of a beautiful, virgin girl. 

One year, Siya was chosen for the annual sacrifice. Her fiancé, Maadi, pleaded that she not go, but Siya was insistent that this was her destiny. She could not allow Maadi and the kingdom to fall to poverty and famine otherwise. With that, Siya journeyed to meet Bida.

Before she left, Maadi vowed that no harm would be fall onto Siya. He ordered for the local blacksmith to create the finest, sharpest sword. Shortly, after Maadi headed towards Bida as well.

Upon arrival, he saw Siya dressed in her finest clothes and her hair plaited with gold. The two lovers embraced when they saw each other and cried. Maadi reassured her that she will be safe no matter what. With this, he hid nearby until night fell upon them.

The great snake had seven heads, and when Maadi spotted Bida, he cut each head with his new sword. Before the last head was cut, the snake cursed Wagadu:

I swear by the lord of seven head, during seven years and seven bad years, and during seven months and seven bad months, during seven days and seven bad days, Wagadu will not receive any rain and any piece of gold.”

Though Siya and Maadi were reunited and wedded, Bida’s promise went into full effect. Wagadu was no longer fertile and families were forced to leave the inhospitable empire.

Love had won, but at the cost of an empire, affecting many generations to come.

Harmodius and Aristogeiton (Greece)

Ancient Greece was a civilization like no other. Famous for their arts, sciences and philosophies; remembered for their innovations and medicines, some still used today. Above all, much less condemning about who you love. LGBTQ+ tales of love were aplenty then, but this legendary tale led to the reestablishment of democracy in Athens.

Hippias was the new ruler of Athens and his brother, Hipparcus, was a high ranking minister. Their popularity severely declined due to tyranny and abuse of power.

Hipparcus was charmed by Harmodius but his feelings were unrequited as Harmodius was loyal to his lover, Aristogeiton. In a fit of rage, he asked that Harmodius’ sister be brought forward at a public event. Amidst the crowd gathering, he questioned her virginity, thereby humiliating Harmodius’ entire family.

Tired of the abusive leaders, Harmodius vowed revenged. A few years later, at the same event, the two managed to kill Hipparchus. Unfortunately, Hippias had his men slay Harmodius immediately. Aristogeiton was captured and tortured to death.

The lover’s sacrifice ultimately paid off.  Their death was one of the last straws tolerated as society grew tired of Hippias oppressive and tyrannical behavior. The cruel leader was eventually assassinated and Athens flourished again under democracy.

The couple was ill-fated but they would go one to be remembered as civic heroes.

Naupaka and Kaui (United States)

Though it may be very common in Hawaii, the naupaka plant is very unique. The flowers on the plant only bloom in half and are found near the beach or high up in the mountains.  The legend of the flower’s uniqueness comes from a Romeo-Juliet like tale.

Long ago, there lived a beautiful Hawaiian mountain princess named Naupaka. One day, as she was visiting the seaside, she came across a handsome fisherman casting out his net. When he had finally noticed her, there was an instant attraction.

Kaui, the fisherman, and the Naupaka grew helplessly in love. As per tradition, royal family members could not marry mere commoners. Despite the difference in social status, the young lovers tried to find a way to be wed.

First, they tried to avail the blessings of the island’s wise elder. She forbade them to be together. Naupaka and Kaui then traveled deep into the forests until they came across a high priest. He too refused to bless the couple, but asked them to pray to the gods instead.

In a last futile attempt, the princess and the fisherman went up the mountains to pray to the heavens. As soon as the gods heard their pleas, lightning struck the mountains and rain fell from the sky. The gods had disapproved of the pairing.

Heartbroken, the two set off to part ways. Before leaving, Naupaka took the flower in her hair and tore it in half. She gave one half to Kaui as remembrance of their love. The very next day, the flowers began to only bloom in half, up in the mountains and down by the seashores.

Though the lovers physically never met again, locals say that the pair are spiritually reunited when the mountain half and the beach half of the naupaka flowers are joined together.

Whether it was meant to be or absolutely doomed from the start, true love will always be worth fighting for.

Header: Kelly Sikkema

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