Valentines Day / Cetera / Holidays
Love Myths
from Cultures
Around the World
Part 1

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Enclosed are the plot summaries of love tales from ancient and modern cultures. After a unit on Classical mythology you may want to have your students compare the Greek and Roman stories to tales from cultures around the world. Students will be interested to find many parallels such as transformations, trips to the Underworld, impossible tasks, and magic charms. This booklet contains only brief samples, so there is plenty of room for further research as well as creative projects to portray similarities and differences in myths. Students can also do further research on the culture in order to relate the elements of the myth to their cultural context.


Part 1
  • Egyptian: Osiris and Isis
  • Babylonian: Ishtar and Tammuz
  • Phoenician: Adonis and Aphrodite
  • Persian: Zal and Rudabeh
  • Indian: Sakuntala and Dashyanta
  • Chinese: Chih-nii and the Cowherd
  • Japanese: O-Kuni-Nushi and Suseri-Hime
Part 2
  • African: Kintu and Nambi
  • Teutonic: Song of the Nibelungs
  • Celtic: Diarmuid and Grainne
  • Spanish: El Cid and Ximena
  • Callisto and Melibea
  • French: Abélard and Héloïse
Worms in love


Egyptian: Osiris and Isis

Osiris, son of Earth and Sky, was the husband-brother of Isis, goddess of the earth and moon. Set, Osiris' evil brother and god of darkness, trapped Osiris in a coffin and threw him into the Nile. Grief-stricken Isis found the coffin on the Phoenician coast where it had washed and become encased in a tamarisk tree. Isis retrieved her husband's body, but inspite of her attempts to hide it in Egypt, Set found it again and cut it into fourteen pieces which he scattered throughout the land. Isis searched unwaveringly. When she found the parts, she rejoined the fragments, and restored the god to eternal life with the first use of the rites of embalment.

Worms in love

Babylonian: Ishtar and Tammuz

Ishtar, sometimes considered a war-goddess and sometimes a goddess of love and voluptuousness, in her youth loved Tammuz, god of the harvest. According to Gilgamesh her love caused Tammuz' death and she was stricken with such tremendous grief that she vowed to descend into the Underworld to rescue Tammuz. After threatening her way through the door of the Underworld, she preceded through the seven precincts. At the gate to each she was forced by Allatu, queen of the Underworld to remove one piece of her dress: her crown, her earrings, her necklace, the jewels from her breast, her girdle of birthstones, her wrist and ankle bracelets, and finally the garment covering her nakedness.

When Ishtar entered the realm of Allatu in a rage, Allatu ordered her to be imprisoned forever among the dead. The earth became desolate, and the heavens mourned. The god Ea sent a man to Allatu with a magical spell that forced her to sprinkle Ishtar with the water of life and return her to the earth. As Ishtar exited the gates, she was bestowed the adornments she had lost.

Worms in love

Phoenician: Adonis (Eshmun) and Aphrodite

Adonis' mother transformed herself into a tree from which Adonis was born a most beautiful child. Aphrodite placed him into a coffin which she entrusted to Persephone, goddess of the Underworld. When Aphrodite returned to retrieve the coffin she discovered that Persephone had opened it and claimed the handsome child for herself. Zeus, forced to intervene in the dispute between the two goddesses, decided that Adonis should spend half the year on earth and half in the Underworld.

In another version of this myth Adonis was an avid hunter. Because Aphrodite deeply loved Adonis, she tried to persuade him to give up the dangerous sport. Adonis refused and was killed by a wild boar or bear. In the sixth century the Phoenician name for this character was discovered. He was the agricultural divinity named Eshmun.

Worms in love

Persian: Zal and Rudabeh

Zal, son of a Feridun chief named Sam, was born with snow white hair. This curious condition aroused fear that he might be a daeva's son, and Sam was forced to abandon the boy on a mountaintop. A simurgh, a bird with magic powers, snatched up the crying baby and raised him with its own nestlings.

Upon dreaming that his son still lived, Sam prayed to be reunited. The simurgh instructed Zal that he must return to his father, but gave him a feather that would ensure Zal's safety if he were ever in danger. Sam welcomed his son and eventually put him in charge of Zabulistan where he performed his duties well. Zal regretted his ignorance of world, however, and decided to visit other places including Kabul. The chief of Kabul was a descendant of Zohak, an enemy of Zal's father Sam and the king of Persia. Zal knew that he should avoid contact with the chief, yet he yearned to meet the chief's daughter Rudabeh who was described as "fair as the moon with ringlets of dark hair that reached her feet and whose presence made men think of heaven." Rudabeh in turn had heard of Zal's exceptional white hair and strange upbringing. Her attendants sensed her interest in Zal and ventured to gather roses in a stream bed by his camp. When Zal shot a bird rising from the waters, he received a message that Rudabeh could be his if he were worthy. The maidens returned to Rudabeh with gems, robes, and rings from Zal. She invited Zal to her palace retreat. After calling to him from a balcony, she let down her tresses which Zal climbed. The two realized their great love for each other, but feared their families' enmity.

The days that followed were grim because the king of Persia vowed to destroy all descendants of Zohak. When Zal confessed his love for Rudabeh to his father, Sam consulted astrologers, and learned that the offspring of the two lovers would become a great conqueror. He sent Zal with a letter fo the king of Persia beseeching permission for the marriage. When the king received the same sign from the astrologers, he consented, and Rudabeh and Zal were married on the palace balcony. The king of Persia also made peace with the ruler of Kabulistan.

When Rudabeh was ready to bare her child, she became gravely ill. Zal placed the simurgh feather on the fire. The simurgh appeared and instructed that Rudabeh be drugged with wine. Her side was opened, her child drawn out, and the incision rubbed with an herb and another feather from the simurgh's wing. The child named Rustam revealed himself immediately to be a hero and the fulfillment of the simurgh's prophecy.

Worms in love

Indian: Sakuntala and Dashyanta (A story told by an early Indian poet Kalidasa)

Sakuntala, the infant daughter of a sage and a nymph, was abandoned in the forest where she survived on food brought by birds. She was discovered by the sage Kanva who raised her as his own daughter at a hermitage. One day King Dushyanta was hunting in the forest, and having caught sight of Sakuntala, fell in love. He persuaded her to marry him and gave her a ring of commitment when he departed. Unfortunately, Sakuntala, upon returning to the hermitage, mistakenly offended the irritable sage Durvasas. He cast a curse that she would be forgotten by her husband forever unless King Dushyanta spied the ring he had left with her.

Eventually it was time for Sakuntala to find her husband and she left the hermitage. When she stopped to bathe in a sacred pool, Sakuntala dropped the ring. In accordance with the curse, Dushyanta did not recognize her when she arrived at the palace and denied their marriage, although he did feel sorry for the grief-stricken girl about to give birth to a child. Sakuntala sadly withdrew from the palace only to be whisked away to a sacred grove by an apparition. There she bore a son named Bharata.

When a fisherman later found a ring inside a fish, he was taken before Dushyanta as a suspect of theft. Upon seeing the ring Dushyanta realized his vow to Sakuntala and anxiously sought her. The god Indra appeared in his chariot and carried Dushyanta to the sacred grove. There Dushyanta and Sakuntala were reunited and rejoiced in the heroic destiny of their son Bahrata.

Worms in love

Chinese: The Heavenly Spinster, Chih-nii and the Cowherd

Chih-nii was the divine daughter of the August Personage of Jade, and for him she always spun seamless robes of brocade and clouds. As a reward, her father married her to the Heavenly Cowherd whom she came to love so dearly that she neglected her spinning. Her father became so angry that he separated them by casting one to the right of the Heavenly River (Milky Way) and one to the left. Chih-nii and the Cowherd were allowed to see each other only once a year.

Another version of this story adds many colorful details. It is a popular legend in China and the source of frequent poetic allusions:

The Cowherd, a simple-minded mortal, was advised by his ox (a genius in disguise) that he could secure a beautiful wife cheaply by hiding the clothes of a girl bathing in the river on a certain day. He followed the ox's directions and hid a maiden's clothes in the well. The maiden happened to be the Heavenly Spinster, who had ventured to earth with friends for a little fun, but could not return to heaven without her clothes. The Cowherd then took the opportunity to marry her. After the couple had been married several years and had born a son and daughter, the Heavenly Spinster again sought her clothes. When the Cowherd revealed the hiding place, to his surprise his wife put on her clothes and immediately returned to heaven. The Cowherd and his children, stricken with grief, consulted the ox which then bore them to heaven. In heaven the cowherd told his tale to the August Personage of Jade. When the August Personage of Jade verified the story with the Heavenly Spinster, he made the Cowherd immortal and lord over a star to the west of the River (Milky Way). The Spinster ruled over a star to the East and the two had permission to meet once every seven days. It was because of a miscommunication that they thought they could meet only once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month. That is what they have always done, and on that day all magpies fly to heaven with a twig to form a bridge so that the Spinster and Cowherd can cross the river.

Worms in love

Japanese: O-Kuni-Nushi and Suseri Hime

O-Kuni-Nushi was the god of medicine who was credited with the invention of therapeutic methods. As a reward for curing an ailing hare he was granted the Princess Yakami. O-Kuni-Nushi's jealous brothers killed him, but because his mother interceded with a goddess Kami-Musabi, he returned to life as a strong young man. In order to hide him from his brothers, his mother sent him to the god Susanoo in the Underworld. When O-Kuni-Nushi met Susanoo's daughter Suseri-Hime, they fell in love. Susanoo grudgingly welcomed O-Kuni-Nushi and offered him a room full of snakes for his rest. Suseri-Hime, however, gave him a scarf which spared his life. On the second night the god offered him a room full of centipedes and wasps, but once again Suseri-Hime rescued him with a magic scarf. Desperate, Susanoo shot a hissing arrow into a meadow and ordered O-Kuni-Nushi to find it. When O-Kuni-Nushi reached the middle of the meadow, Susanoo burned the field, but a mouse guided him to an underground shelter, then fetched the arrow. These escapes impressed Susanoo, and he began to approve of O-Kuni-Nushi. The god asked him to wash his hair, then fell asleep. Instead of washing, O-Kuni-Nushi cleaverly tied the god's long hair to the rafters of the house, stole his weapons and his harp Koto, then fled with Suseri-Hime on his back. The harp awoke Susanoo who pulled down his house with his hair while attempting to stand up.

When Susanoo saw O-Kuni-Nushi with his daughter in the distance and realized he had no hope of catching up, he advised O-Kuni-Nushi how to vanquish his enemy brothers with the stolen weapons and marry Suseri-Hime. Susanoo then asked that O-Kuni-Nushi and Suseri-Hime build their palace at the foot of Mt. Uka.

Worms in love


  • The Concise Oxford Dictionary of French Literature, edited by Joyce Reid, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1976.
  • Myths and Legends of All Nations, Herbert Spencer Robinson and Knox Wilson, Garden City Books, Garden City, N.Y. 1960.
  • New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology with introduction by Robert Graves, Hamlyn Publishing Group, 1968.
  • Pears Encyclopedia of Myths and Legends: Northern Europe, South and Central Africa, Sheila Savill, Pelham Books.
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