Not Caving In

When I mentioned Mark and Tristan in my entry on “bounce/bounds” (p. 42) I knew some people would immediately think of the opera Tristan und Isolde. But there’s no cave in Wagner’s version of the story. I was thinking instead of Gottfried von Strassburg’s Tristan, my favorite Medieval romance. I taught it in an early European survey class for many years.

In one episode, when jealous King Mark banishes his wife Isolde and her lover Tristan they take refuge in a cave in the mountains. Gottfried tells us that some say they spent part of the time hunting, but others say they lived on love alone.

Hearing a hunting party in the woods nearby one night, Tristan placed his sword ready at hand. When Mark discovered them sleeping side by side in the cave he allowed his love for Isolde and his affection for Tristan to convince him that the sword separating the two was a sign that they were leading a chaste life. This was not the first time that Mark let himself be deceived. In the story he continually vacillates between jealous suspicion and love-blinded credulity.

I made the king less credulous in my entry by writing “Mark thought that it was was out of bounds for his wife to go spelunking with Tristan.”

You do know what spelunking means, don’t you?

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