Broken Hearts: Stories of Love and Loss

Stories of love and loss

The Ramayana
Clíodhna's wave
Romeo and Juliet

Stories of love and loss

Love and loss are powerful themes that have been explored in folklore for centuries. In many cultures, love stories form the basis of traditional tales, often featuring a hero or heroine who must overcome obstacles to be reunited with their beloved.

Every culture has its own stories of love and loss – Britain has Romeo and Juliet, India has Anarkali and Salim, Persia has Khosrow and Shirin, to name a few.

Love is a universal emotion that transcends culture and time. In many stories, love is presented as an ideal to strive for – something that can bring joy and fulfillment even in the face of adversity. Sometimes the tales end tragically, which reminds us of the fragility of our relationships.

Gods and humans

Divine love is a common theme in traditional folktales, with gods and goddesses often falling in love with each other, or even with humans.

This type of story can be found across many cultures, from Greek mythology to Hindu epics such as the Ramayana. In these tales, divine beings are depicted as having human emotions and desires. By showing that even powerful deities can experience feelings of love and longing, these stories remind us that no one is immune from the power of emotion.

In some tales, divine beings are not only capable of loving humans, but also willing to sacrifice their position as a god in order to have a life together. Again, this demonstrates the power of this simple, universal emotion – love is worth more than magical powers, immortality, or a life in divine paradise.

Tragic endings

Tales of love have often explored the tragedy of broken hearts. The story of Orpheus and Eurydice is a classic example; it tells the tale of two lovers who are tragically separated when Eurydice dies after being bitten by a snake. Despite his desperate pleas to Hades, ruler of the underworld, Orpheus is unable to bring her back from death.


The Japanese legend ‘The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter’ tells the story of an old man who finds a tiny girl inside a bamboo stalk. He raises her as his own daughter, but when she comes of age she must leave him to return to her home in the heavens. Despite their deep love for each other, they are forced apart by fate and never see each other again.

No matter where you come from or who you are, everyone experiences heartbreak at some point in their lives. Tragedy may be painful, but these stories teach us valuable lessons about love and loss that stay with us forever.

An example: Eros and Psyche

The story of Eros and Psyche is a classic example of divine love in folklore. This ancient Greek myth tells the tale of a beautiful princess, Psyche, who is so admired that even Aphrodite, goddess of beauty and love, becomes jealous. To punish her for being so beautiful, Aphrodite orders her son, Eros, to make Psyche fall in love with an ugly creature.

However, when Eros sees how lovely Psyche is, he falls madly in love with her and whisks her away to his secret palace. Despite many obstacles along their journey – including a series of tasks set by Aphrodite – they eventually marry and live happily ever after.

This classic tale speaks to our deepest desires for true love; it shows us that no matter what challenges we face or how difficult things seem, if we remain faithful to each other then our dreams can come true.

An example: Clíodhna and Ciabhán

The Irish folktale of Clíodhna and Ciabhán is a beautiful story of love and loss. Clíodhna is a god-like beauty who lives in a magical otherworld called Tír na nÓg. The gods of this world watched over Ireland – the home of mortal men.

One of these mortals was Ciabhán. When Clíodhna fell in love with him, she took the brave decision to leave Tír na nÓg, and live with Ciabhán in the mortal realm. However, when she was crossing the ocean between the two realms, she was struck by a wave and dragged under the sea.

Some versions of the story say that the wave was sent by the other gods, who resented Clíodhna for her betrayal. In some parts of Ireland, the tide is referred to as ‘Clíodhna’s wave’.

Same-sex love

Same-sex love has been featured in traditional folktales for centuries, celebrating and acknowledging homosexual relationships long before the modern LGBT movement.

Tu’er Shen (the ‘rabbit deity’) was a god who promoted same-sex relationships in traditional Chinese folklore. Greek mythology includes many examples of same-sex relationships, including the story of Pelops, a beautiful king, falling in love with the sea-god Poseidon.

Meanwhile, Inuits believe that the first two people on earth – Aakulujjuusi and Uumarnituq – were both male. They fell in love, and Uumarnituq was impregnated by Aakulujjuusi. To help him give birth, Uumarnituq’s anatomy was magically altered, which created the world’s first woman.

An example: Apollo and Hyacinth

Greek mythology is dotted with folktales celebrating same-sex love. One of the most famous – and most tragic – is the story of Apollo and Hyacinth.


Apollo was the god of music, poetry, and prophecy. One day, he fell in love with the mortal prince Hyacinth. The pair spent all their time together playing sports and music. However, during a game of discus, a stray throw struck Hyacinth on the back of the head, killing him instantly.

Apollo tried everything to bring Hyacinth back to life, but nothing worked. In the end, he created a flower from Hyacinth’s blood, and named it after him.

Love in modern media

Modern humans are no less interested in love and loss than their predecessors were. Romance novels are the best-selling books in the world, and often address the exact same themes as classic folktales, including passion, heartache and redemption.

Some modern romances have even been inspired by specific folktales. Jane Austen’s *Pride and Prejudice* is a retelling of the classic Cinderella story, while *The Notebook* draws heavily from the star-crossed lovers of *Romeo and Juliet* – a Shakespeare play which itself was inspired by older stories, like the Greek tale of Pyramus and Thisbe.


In all of these stories, characters must overcome obstacles in order to find true love, whether those obstacles are family expectations, class imbalances, or the wrath of angry gods. These tales have captivated readers for millennia, and will continue to do so for as long as humans feel love.

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