Love is at once a terrible and powerful emotion, there are innumerable stereotypes that arise from poetry, mythology, history and art, all are true and simultaneously each man or woman's experience of it is infinitely different. Love can cause immeasurable hurt, as we see in the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, where circumstance combined with the power of their emotional states (indeed Juliet describes Romeo as the: "god of my idolatry", i.e. her love is so strong she almost worships him in some capacity) ends up destroying them. On the other hand, some relationships seem to bring peace and joy: a contrasting pair in Shakespeare would be Beatrice and Benedick who actually seem dissatisfied with life until finally their union transforms into what is often called one of the most perfectly portrayed relationships in theatre. Interestingly their expressions of love are often in the form of cutting remarks, and their dialogue is full of fire and interchanging ripostes.
In the story of the Nibelungenlied, Krimhild and Siegfried's love is portrayed in an almost fantastic and impossible light: they are seen as the 'perfect couple': "... no more happy pair could have existed, no more happy pair could have completely expressed their love for one another as these two now." However, as with Romeo and Juliet's relationship, it comes undone through the power of the passions experienced. In fact it is Krimhild's depth of devotion to Siegfried, the "greatest husband" that causes her revenge on the Nibelungs to be so extreme: "I have power ... and now it is time to make my enemies suffer dearly!" The extreme emotion of love transmutes into the darker emotion hatred: "Krimhild's face contorted with vehement inconsolable rage, an almost palpable heat radiating from her as her malice and humiliation grew a thousand fold ..." The same strength of feeling is theirs, but twisted by experience and loss.
Love is also beautiful and positive; it inspires courage and acts that actually seem to defy physical barriers or restrictions. Giselher's character in the Nibelungen legend, as he is newly married, is spurred on to fight with almost superhuman strength in order to come home to his wife. "I will see her again...It seemed he was impervious in his attempt to survive and see his beloved one once again." In contrast to this love that inspires physical action, there are scenes in literature of such perfect and beautiful love that they have resonated down the ages and are still with us. Who could possibly forget the infamous Sonnet 18:
"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate."
From scenes of stillness and serenity, Ovid's "O lente, lente currite noctis equi ..." to the tempestuous love affairs of Tristram and Isolde, we see love is one of the most powerful and essential parts of human life. Love shapes and forms us, from perennial love, amicable love, and finally true romantic and deep love. Love has been with us from the very birth of our existence, and appears even in the Old Testament; it is important that it should stay with us, lest we become inhumane.
To read more from Joseph Sale you can find him on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/#!/josephwordsmith
To find out about the myths of the Nibelungenlied and how they have been transformed into a modern novel, Dark Age Heroes, visit his website: http://www.taliesinbooks.com/
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