UNITED STATES - CIRCA 1963: Painted illustration showing Richard Burton as Marc Anthony leaning into a reclining Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra, 1963. (Photo by Camerique/Getty Images)
Ancient History

The 10 Most Romantic Couples in History

Reams have been written about it; it has forged the most unusual alliances and triumphed over all odds. Like an elephant on rampage (not a very romantic simile but you get the picture), it has not bothered to see who lies in its path, and just completely consumes the persons involved. Yes, we are talking about this thing called Love. Down the decades, Cupid’s arrows have sometimes caused two human beings to be so deeply, passionately and hopelessly in love that society and its dictates have simply fallen by the wayside. And we have devoured their immortal love stories, secretly envying these couples who found their matching halves or soul mates. And feeling encouraged to find our own prince or princess.

Here are 10 of the all time most romantic couples in mankind’s history.

1. Romeo and Juliet. Arguably, the most famous pair of lovers of all time, this is one love story by William Shakespeare that has inspired generation of lovers, and continues to do so till today. Rome and Juliet are the ultimate synonyms for true, eternal love, and also of love’s greatest sacrifice – one’s own life.

2. Pyramus and Thisbe. Penned by the Roman poet Ovid in his work ‘Metamorphoses’, this is a tragic love story that probably set the tone for William Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ several centuries later. In this story, two young lovers are next door neighbours but cannot meet openly because of their respective warring families. They used to meet secretly and one day agreed to have a rendezvous under the mulberry tree. Through a series of unfortunate incidents and colossal misunderstandings, both Pryramus and Thisbe die within minutes of each other, each killing oneself believing the other to be dead.

3. Cleopatra and Mark Antony. Intriguing, memorable and intensely romantic, this is a love story whose passionate appeal has not dimmed with time. Not surprisingly, William Shakespeare dramatized the tale of true love in his play. Cleopatra, a breathtakingly beautiful woman, intelligent and powerful, was the last Pharaoh of Egypt while Mark Antony was the Roman general who had succeeded his slain friend Julius Caesar. The two fell in love instantly and their union made them a formidable ruling power, putting Egypt in a position of supremacy. As with all love stories, their course too never ran straight and false news of Cleopatra’s death caused Antony to impale himself on his own sword. The shattered Egyptian Queen followed suit, unable to live without her lover.

4. Salim and Anarkali.The Mughals, who ruled India from 1526 till 1858, not only built one of the greatest monument of love there ever was – the Taj Mahal – but also produced several memorable love stories. Among them, the most popular tale has been that of the handsome Prince Salim (the as-yet-uncrowned Emperor Jehangir) and the beautiful courtesan Anarkali, the court dancer of his father’s palace. Their love story is the stuff of legends – unlikely alliance, insurmountable social barriers and parental opposition. And, the final, heart-breaking end when Anarkali is walled alive even as a jailed Salim looks on helplessly.

5. Tristan and Isolde. Isolde, the daughter of King of Ireland was engaged to be married to King Mark of Cornwall. King Mark sent his nephew Tristan to Ireland to escort his bride-to-be to Cornwall. However, destiny had planned otherwise. Both Tristan and Isolde fell passionately in love with each other. However, Isolde went on to marry King Mark but never stopped loving Tristan. King Mark learnt of this affair and banished Tristan from Cornwall. The heartbroken Tristan went to Brittany where he met Iseult of Brittany. Ultimately he marries her but never consummates the union. Finally, due to a lie on the part of Iseult, Tristan dies of grief. The shattered Isolde dies soon after.

6. Odysseus and Penelope. This is a Greek love story that is marked by unimaginable devotion and sacrifice. Soon after his marriage to Penelope, Odysseus leaves for battle and is separated from her for the next twenty years. But each patiently awaits the other’s return. During these long years of being apart, Penelope steadfastly turns down no less than 108 ardent suitors even though she has little hope of her beloved husband’s return. Odysseus, on his part, valiantly spurns the advances of a beautiful witch just so that he could return to his wife and son.

7. Heloise and Abelard. The love story that became world famous in the early 12th century celebrates the passion between a monk and a nun. Peter Abelard was a philosopher par excellence in Paris, who was commissioned by the canon of Notre Dame, Fulbert, to tutor his niece, Heloise, a serious girl. Abelard and Heloise fell madly in love, and a child was conceived as a result of this secret affair. When the canon stumbled onto their love affair, Abelard decided to send Heloise to a convent to avoid the wrath of her uncle. However, the uncle was convinced that Abelard was just amusing himself with his niece and so had him castrated while the latter was sleeping. Deprived of his manhood, Abelard became a monk for the rest of his life, but continued to love Heloise. Heartbroken, Heloise became a nun in that same convent. However, the wonderfully touching love letters that the two exchanged found their way into print later on and inspired true lovers all over.

8. Shah Jehan and Mumtaz Mahal. Another Mughal love story that has endured till this day is the one between the Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan and his wife Mumtaz Mahal. After Mumtaz’s death in 1629, the heartbroken emperor resolved to build a fitting monument for the love of his life – the magnificent Taj Mahal, hailed as the greatest monument of love. It is also among the New Seven Wonders of the World. Construction on this white marble monument took twenty long years, employing 20,000 workers and 1,000 elephants. Shah Jehan was overthrown by his own son, Aurangazeb, and imprisoned in the Red Fort of Agra. He spent his long and lonely years, standing and staring across the Jamuna River at the gleaming white monument of his beloved queen. Ultimately, Shah Jehan was buried beside her in the Taj Mahal. Lovers try to view the Taj Mahal on a full moon night – it is an unforgettable sight.

9. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. This is an incredible love story in which an English monarch mourned the death of her husband – the one man she loved – for 40 long years. Victoria ascended the throne of England in 1837 and married her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in 1840. Deeply devoted to her husband, Victoria was devastated when Albert died in 1861. The grieving Queen shunned all public appearances for three years. Even after she returned to public life, she never stopped mourning her beloved husband, and continued to wear black until her death in 1901. It was under her rule, the longest in English history, that Britain became a world power on which “the sun never set.”

10. Orpheus and Eurydice. In this ancient Greek love story, Orpheus fell madly in love with and married Eurydice, a beautiful nymph. Casting a shadow on this happy pair was Aristaeus, the Greek god of the land and agriculture, who also had an eye upon the ethereal Eurydice. One day, while trying to escape the amorous pursuit of Aristaeus, Eurydice inadvertently stumbled straight into a lair of snakes and was bitten fatally on her legs. The distraught Orpheus played and sang mournful songs that finally moved the gods and the nymphs to restore his lost love to him. However, as with most love stories, this one, too, did not have a happy ending. And he lost Eurydice for the second time, but this time for all eternity.

Did you notice? None of the love stories really had a ‘happy ending’. They all ended with either one, or both, lover dying at the end, usually due to some colossal misunderstanding. I wonder if they all had ‘lived happily ever after’ would we have had felt that same sense of poignancy we experience now? We will never know!