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Pyramus and Thisbe

Quick Facts

Him: Pyramus, a handsome young man

Her: Thisbe, a dark-haired beauty living in the neighboring house

Setting: Babylon, during the reign of Queen Semiramis

 



Background

Growing up next door to each other, Pyramus and Thisbe are forbidden from marrying by their parents due to an ongoing rivalry. The two find a way to communicate through a small hole in the wall and agree to sneak off together, only tragedy befalls the two when they attempt to meet.


Story

Two families of like standing live in separate houses under the same roof. Divided by a wall, the warring clans find every opportunity to drive the wedge between them even deeper. Each member of the families is committed to maintaining this enmity – except for two: Pyramus, a son on one side of the dispute, and Thisbe, a daughter on the other.

Having seen each other walking the streets, the two are both enchanted by their opposite number, wishing for a way to connect. One evening, thanks to a small hole in the wall, they are able to look at each other eye to eye and talk for the first time. Taking turns, one would place an ear to the opening while the other whispered into it – and, eventually, they manage to sneak kisses through the gap.

The passion between them becoming unbearable, Pyramus and Thisbe plot to escape Babylon and be married. After agreeing to meet outside the tomb of Ninus, she pulls on her veil and slips away under cover of darkness. When she arrives, she finds a lioness with blood dripping from her mouth from a recent kill and sprints away in terror, leaving her veil behind.



Pyramus arrives to find the veil has been torn apart by the lioness and, noticing the blood, assumes Thisbe has fallen prey to the animal. Overcome with grief, he draws his sword and falls on it according to Roman custom. His blood sprays onto the white fruit of a nearby mulberry tree, turning them red as life ebbs away from him.

Thisbe returns to find her love dead in the shadow of the tree and begins to weep bitterly, begging the gods to allow her blood to be mixed with his for eternity. As she plunges his weapon into her own chest, the flow reaches the berries, as well, and her cry is answered – the forbidden romance is remembered by the blossoms of the mulberry tree to this day.


Reputation

Upon first glance, it is easy to see how this story from Antiquity shaped legends and literature that followed it. Two of Shakespeare’s masterpieces, Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, borrow heavily from the ideas conveyed within the story of Pyramus and Thisbe. Though used as a myth to explain the color of mulberries, the couple’s star-crossed relationship has remained one of the most famous love stories in history.

Regardless of its effect on storytelling in the future, the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe accurately reflects the purity of young love evident in every generation: even the smallest connection is magnified into great passion and, when the romance is prohibited by family, fanned into a much larger flame.



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