Ondine fell in love with a dashing knight - Sir Lawrence
- and they were married. When they exchanged vows, Lawrence said,
"My every waking breath shall be my pledge of love and faithfulness
to you." A year after their marriage Ondine gave birth to Lawrence’s
son. From that moment on she began to age. As Ondine’s physical
attractiveness diminished, Lawrence lost interest in his wife.
One afternoon Ondine was walking near the stables when she heard
the familiar snoring of her husband. When she entered the stable,
however, she saw Lawrence lying in the arms of another woman. Ondine
pointed her finger at him, which he felt as a kick, waking up with
a start. Ondine uttered a curse: "You swore faithfulness to
me with every waking breath, and I accepted your oath. So be it.
As long as you are awake, you shall have your breath, but should
you ever fall asleep, then that breath will be taken from you and
you will die!"
According to a theory advanced by Paracelsus, an Undine is a water
nymph or water spirit, the elemental of water. They are usually
found in forest pools and waterfalls. They have beautiful voices,
which are sometimes heard over the sound of water. According to
some legends, undines cannot get a soul unless they marry a human
man. This aspect has led them to be a popular motif in romantic
and tragic literature.
In 18th century Scotland, Undines were also referred to as the
wraiths of water. Even then, they were not feared as other wraiths.
Ondine's curse is now a medical term applied to a rare syndrome
where the autonomic (involuntary) control of breathing is lost,
resulting in the need to initiate every breath consciously. Untreated,
patients with Ondine's curse supposedly will - like Ondine's unfaithful
spouse - die if they fall asleep.