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The Goddess Ondine and The Curse


Ondine was a nymph, a water goddess in French folk tale written by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué. The tragic and tender love story has been made into both an opera and a ballet (Undine). Here is the story of Ondine.

Ondine was breathtakingly beautiful and possessed of a streak of independence, truly what we call a 'free spirit'.

Like all nymphs and mermaids, she was leery of men. If a nymph ever falls in love with a man and bears his child, she will begin to age like a mortal woman, losing her eternal youthfulness and everlasting life.

Ondine myth

Nonetheless, when Ondine saw the handsome young Palemon she was smitten and began to watch for him on his daily walks. When Palemon noticed her, he was taken by her incredible beauty and came back frequently to try to get a glimpse of her again.  

Eventually they talked and fell in love. He broke his engagement with the young noblewoman Berta and, in time, convinced Ondine to marry him. When they exchanged their wedding oaths, Palemon vowed that "My every waking breath shall be my pledge of love and faithfulness to you."

But it was not to be.


The following year Ondine gave birth to their son. From that moment on, her beauty began to fade, her body suddenly susceptible to the effects of age. As her youthful attractiveness gave way to a more mature beauty, Palemon's eye began to wander to the younger women he met at court.

One fateful day Ondine was out walking on their estate when she heard the sound of Palemon's familiar snoring. Planning to take him back home so he could finish his nap, the amused Ondine entered the stables to wake him.

The scene she encountered filled her with great sorrow. Discarded garments littered the floor and her beloved Palemon lay sleeping in the haystack, his arms wrapped around his former fianceé Berta. Having sacrificed her immortality for this man, she was filled with anger and regret.

opera Ondine

Kicking her sleeping husband, she woke him and uttered her curse. "You pledged faithfulness to me with your every waking breath and I accepted that pledge. So be it. For as long as you are awake, you shall breathe. But should you ever fall into sleep, that breath will desert you."

Ondine still retained some of her magic . . . enough to make the curse come true. And so it was. Palemon would never sleep again.

(Note: There actually is a medical disorder, a genetic form of sleep apnea, that is named 'The Curse of Ondine' or simply 'Ondine's Curse. It is a devastating illness that, untreated, can cause rapid aging. Fortunately,it  is very rare.)


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Read about the medical disorder called the 'Curse of Ondine'

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