Tortoise Tuesday: Roadmapping in Tristan

In Gottfried von Strassburg’s medieval German version of the story of Tristan and Isolde, names are important – so important that the meaning of Tristan’s name is a summary of his whole life. Early on, Gottfried explains the name and its significance: the word “triste,” “sad,” which forms part of the name, will be a defining theme in Tristan’s life. In his explanation, Gottfried sketches the outline of his story. This roadmap does more than just tell the reader what’s coming. It also shows why everything that’s going to be included is relevant and introduces a broader theme that will recur throughout the story: the importance of names in general. This passage combines several aspects of a good introduction: it roadmaps, introduces a “key term” of sorts, and sets up expectations for what will follow, all without lengthy summary or extensive analysis that would be better off in the body of the text. The roadmap says what’s going to happen just as a paper’s roadmap indicates what the final thesis will be, but leaves the reader curious as to how Gottfried will arrive at this conclusion.

                                                                                                                  —Rosamond van Wingerden ’20

“Now ‘triste’ stands for sorrow, and because of all these happenings the child was named ‘Tristan’ and christened ‘Tristan’ at once.

His name came from ‘triste.’ The name was well suited to him and in every way appropriate. Let us test it by the story, let us see how full of sorrow it was when his mother was delivered of him, see what a sorrowful life he was given to live, see the sorrowful death that brought his anguish to a close with an end beyond the comparison of all deaths, more bitter than all sorrow. All who have read this tale know that the name accorded with the life: he was the man that his name said he was, and his name of Tristan said what he was.”

— Gottfried von Strassburg, Tristan (tr. A. T. Hatto), pp. 66-7