Top 10 Tales of Star-Crossed Lovers Not Written by Shakespeare

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Do you believe in true love? Are you a romantic fool in constant search of the one thing that so many novels, poems, and films have been dedicated to, or are you one of those people who doesn’t have much faith in love, if any at all, and who mocks the bold “explorers” searching for their one true love?

Regardless of which group you belong to, here are ten love stories that will renew or even reinforce your faith in love. Some of them might be nothing but a creature of mythology or literature while others are probably exaggerated, but the sure thing is that all these stories became immortal in time and part of pop culture due to their deeper message for all humankind: love conquers all.

10. Odysseus and Penelope

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In our modern times very few people would be able to understand the unique bond between Odysseus and Penelope and even fewer who could imitate what they did.

Soon after they got married, Odysseus had to leave Penelope and their infant son to fight as one of Greece’s leaders in the Trojan War and wouldn’t return home for the next 20 years, a period of time in which Penelope was totally faithful to her husband and declined every offer from the 108 suitors who conquered Odysseus’s kingdom.

On the other hand, the mythical king of Ithaca was equally devoted to his true love, and despite following his man’s needs a couple of times, he eventually declined most temptations and decided to return home to his wife and son. A story for all of us to remember that true love is worth waiting for and can beat any distance if there’s hope and faith.

9. Marie and Pierre Curie

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This is one of the rare cases where the genius and incredible scientific innovations of a couple exceed their great love story, or at least this is how it seems to the average person who mostly knows of the Curies more for their partnership in the scientific field than anything else.

For Pierre Curie it was love at first sight when he first saw Marie when she was still a student in one of the laboratories he directed in the University of Paris, also known as the Sorbonne. After several failed marriage proposals Marie finally said yes and the two got married in 1895 and nothing but death could separate them again. They worked together, discovered polonium and radium together, and won the Nobel Prize for Physics together (1903) only a year before Pierre died.

Marie took his place at the Sorbonne, becoming the first female professor at the University of Paris. She would later become the first person to win a second Nobel Prize (1911), this time for chemistry, and continued to work and experiment in the name of the only man she ever loved as she used to say, until her own death from leukemia in the mid-1930s.

8. Erotokritos and Arethousa

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Despite not knowing exactly if this is a true story or just a fantasy of the poet Vikentios Kornaros, Erotokritos is a romantic piece of literature that takes place in Athens, and tells us the love story of two youths, Erotokritos and Arethousa. It was written around 1590 but published almost 125 years later in the early years of 17th century, probably in Florence. The world of the poem is that of chivalry and romance that highlights the heroism and bravery of Erotokritos, the faithfulness and loyalty of Arethousa, and that only true love can help us prosper in life and overcome any obstacle.

Possibly inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Erotokritos became part of Greek folklore and inspired many generations and influential poets such as Dionysios Solomos, who later wrote Greece’s national anthem, and Nobel Laureate in Literature, George Seferis.

7. Cleopatra and Mark Antony

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This is possibly the most famous love story in the world behind that of Romeo and Juliet and without a doubt the greatest historically recorded love of all time. The two fell in love at first sight and their love was so great to the point it became a threat to the Roman Empire, which kept losing power and control to Egypt because of the decisions a blinded-by-love Mark Antony made.

Despite all the obstacles and warnings, Mark Anthony and Cleopatra got married and Anthony ended up fighting his own people. According to one version of their story, it is believed that while fighting a battle against the Romans, Antony was informed falsely that Cleopatra was dead and, devastated by this news, took his own life with his sword. When Cleopatra learned of Antony’s death, she took her own life, putting an end to one of the greatest loves that ended in tragedy.

6. Tristan and Isolde

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The heartbreaking love story of Tristan and Isolde has been told and retold in various stories and manuscripts. Tristan met the love of his life after traveling to Ireland to ask for the hand of the beautiful princess Isolde in marriage, on behalf of his uncle Mark, king of Cornwall.

On their way back to Cornwall, Tristan and Isolde commit a fatal mistake and drink a magic potion, which produces invincible and eternal love in anyone who tastes it. Despite this, Isolde eventually marries Mark of Cornwall, but cannot help but love Tristan eternally. The love affair continues after the wedding, but when King Mark finally learns about it, he bans Tristan from Cornwall.

Tristan moves to Brittany, marries another woman only because her name, Iseult, reminded him of his true love, Isolde. Despite both of them being married to other people they never managed to get over each other and their sad story ends with Isolde dying on Tristan’s chest in what is one of the saddest love stories of medieval literature.

5. Paris and Helen

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We don’t know if Homer invented the romance between Paris and Helen or greatly exaggerated the facts surrounding what is believed to be the greatest love of antiquity, which led two nations into a catastrophic war. According to the epic poem The Iliad, myth gets mixed with history and gives birth to a tale of the most beautiful woman in the then-known world and wife of the aging King Menelaus of Sparta, and Paris, the young and handsome prince of Troy. When Paris and Helen meet for the first time they feel like they were meant to be together and fall deeply in love. Paris, blinded by love, decides to kidnap her to Troy, which enrages the Greeks.

The campaign of the Greek army and fleet led by Agamemnon, brother of Menelaus, and the war that followed became the reason for the destruction of the kingdom of Troy, and for Helen to return to her rightful husband after so many great warriors, Achilles and Hector among them, died in battle just so that she and Paris could live their romance at any cost.

4. Pyramus and Thisbe

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The story of the two young lovers comes from the Middle East and to be more specific, Pyramus was described as the most handsome of all men in Babylonia and Thisbe the most beautiful woman. Just like Romeo and Juliet, they were members of feuding families and for that reason they met secretly and shared a love only they knew about.

In one of their secret meetings near a lake, Thisbe, who was sitting nearby under a tree, saw a lioness with blood on her jaws thirsty for water approaching the lake. She panicked and ran to a cave to hide but unfortunately as she rushed to hide she dropped her veil. When the lion saw the veil, it picked it up and left blood all over it. When Pyramus arrived on the scene and found Thisbe’s bloody veil, he only thought of the worst and shattered by the idea that a wild animal killed Thisbe, he took his sword and stabbed himself in the chest. When Thisbe returns to the meeting place and sees Pyramus lying dead she kills herself with his sword too.

3. Heloise and Abelard

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In twelfth-century Europe, the norm for your average society was to be as repressed and strict as it gets and a love affair between a theologian and philosopher (Abelard) and his younger student, Heloise, scandalized and challenged Parisian society like never before. The thin line between blind faith and logic was violated and the consequences were about to hit Heloise and Abelard hard, who by the way had been married already. The trigger was when Heloise got pregnant; they both realized that it would not be safe for her to remain in Paris and they fled to Brittany, Abelard’s birthplace.

Heloise’s uncle, Fulbert, canon of Notre Dame and the one who had hired Abelard to be his niece’s tutor, in a scheme to protect her dignity (only in his own mind), was the one who put an end to their love by having his servants castrate Abelard while he slept. Abelard became a monk and dedicated his life to philosophy while the heartbroken Heloise was forced by her uncle to give her child up for adoption and become a nun, even though she remained in love with Abelard, with whom she corresponded for the rest of her life. Their affectionate but sad love letters were later published and continue to touch thousands of people around the world.

2. Salim and Anarkali

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Salim, son of the Mughal emperor Akbar the Great, loved a beautiful prostitute named Anarkali more than any other woman. He was stunned by her beauty and fell in love with her as soon as he saw her. His father could not accept the fact that his son was in love with a courtesan and did anything in his power to make Anarkali look cheap and fall in the eyes of his beloved son.

When Salim found out about this, he declared war against his father but the emperor’s great army was too much for such a young boy to overcome and he was defeated and sentenced to death.

It was then that Anarkali intervened and renounced her true love to save Salim and became “immortalized” by taking his place by being entombed alive behind a brick wall right in front of Salim’s eyes, who never loved another woman as he did Anarkali to the day he died, as he had promised her.

1. Paolo and Francesca

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Paolo and Francesca were introduced to the world by the great Dante in his masterpiece the Divine Comedy. A true story that the great Italian writer described in the best possible way with his beautiful prose, Francesca is a young, beautiful woman married to Gianciotto Malatesta, a mean, horrible person who mistreats her daily. Francesca ends up falling in love with Gianciotto’s handsome, kind brother, Paolo, and the two become lovers, sharing a passionate secret affair.

According to Dante their love grows when they discover and read the story of two other great lovers in literature, that of Lancelot and Guinevere. Unfortunately, Gianciotto Malatesta finds out and kills both of them, ending in the most violent, brutal fashion one of the greatest romances the world ever knew.


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