I’ve talked about Tristram a number of times already, so we will keep today’s post relatively short.
What do we know about Sir Tristram so far in this series of posts? He is one of Malory’s top knights, who will probably never fight Lancelot, because one of them would have to lose and neither of them is ever going to do that. Well, they might meet while incognito, fight and then stop to admire each other and ask each other’s names, after which they agree to call it a draw. That tends to be the way in Malory.
He commits adultery, and not only with the beautiful Iseult, his uncle’s wife, who, by the way, could have been his wife if he hadn’t left after the tournament where he defeated Palomides, the Muslim knight. He also sleeps with the wife of Palomides’ brother, Segwarides, who eventually forgives him for it because they are both boys in a boys’ club called the Round Table, and she is a “light lady”, ie a slut, not worth fighting a buddy for. Let’s go to the pub, mate, and talk about the scores in the last tournament at Camelot...
You do have to wonder, what happened to his big romance with Iseult. Lancelot was never unfaithful to his lover, even if it was an adulterous relationship, not ever. Mind you, Guinevere is very bad tempered. She really loses it when she finds out he has slept with a woman he honestly thought was her. Imagine how she’d react if he had done it on purpose!
I’ll tell you one thing for nothing, I would have liked to see Tristram have to deal with the King Mark of Cornwall shown in the TV series Arthur Of The Britons, played by Brian Blessed. He would be taking his balls home in a bag. Deservedly! But Tristram was not a part of that show. Maybe Mark had already disposed of him, and the lady, as he didn’t seem to be married.
Meanwhile, here is an episode of the show on YouTube, in case you are curious. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=vsV8zubzn4c
We also know he is the hero of one of Wagner’s excruciatingly long and dreary operas. Here is Birgit Nilsson singing the Liebestod(love death), so you can say you have heard it. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=_mOA8pZ_I4M
So, what else do we know about him? He appears in a lot of Arthurian fiction. Oddly, he is mostly offstage in The Once And Future King. People talk about him, quite a lot, but he isn’t seen. He does appear in Cornwell’s Warlord Chronicles and Parke Godwin’s Firelord. He is one of Arthur’s Sarmatian knights in the movie King Arthur, but all this version of Tristram has in common with the original is his name, just as Dagonet is a big, hulking warrior, not a court jester.
His mother, King Mark’s sister Elizabeth, died at his birth, so his name was one that means “sadness”. His father’s country was called Lyonesse. There is no known place in the real world by that name, but if it was the British Atlantis, as is sometimes suggested, that makes sense. However, there are theories that it might just have been a part of Lothian. (Where Gawain came from)
He had a stepmother who tried to poison him. On being caught, she was condemned to death by Tristram’s father, Meliodas. Tristram begged for her to be spared, and got his wish, but the King never spoke to either his wife or his son again. He went to France for a while, but ended up with his uncle, King Mark.
We know also that he played the harp. In fact, he was murdered while playing it for Iseult.
|Here are the lovers. And there is King Mark... Public Domain|
He also married a Breton Princess, called Iseult of the Fair Hands to keep her from being confused with his lover.
Here is something you may not know: he may have been inspired by a real person, a Pictish warrior or king, Drust or Drustan. In fiction, I think he was also one of Arthur’s earliest companions, along with Gwalchmai, Bedwyr and Cei.
There is a stone called the Tristan Stone in Cornwall, which says, in Latin, “Here lies Drustan, son of Cunomorus”. And Nennius, a ninth century author who wrote about Arthur, also wrote about Drustan and associated the name of Cunomorus with Mark.
Anyway, Drustan the Pictish King, just might have been the inspiration for our Tristram! I rather like the idea, myself.
Tomorrow, we meet Uther Pendragon!