Pyramus and Thisbe

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Pyramus and Thisbe

Pyramus and Thisbe are young lovers in a Babylonian* story told by the Roman poet Ovid in the Metamorphoses. The lovers, who lived next door to each other, were forbidden by their parents to see or speak to each other. But the two communicated through a hole in the wall between their houses.

Deciding to elope, Pyramus and Thisbe agreed to meet at night under a mulberry tree outside the city. Thisbe arrived first, wearing a veil over her face. When she heard a lion roar, she fled, dropping her veil. The lion, whose jaws were bloody, found the scarf and tore it up. When Pyramus arrived, he saw the stained, tattered veil and assumed that Thisbe was dead. He drew his sword and stabbed himself. Thisbe then returned to find Pyramus dying, and she used his sword to kill herself as well.


* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.

It is said that, before this incident, the fruit of the mulberry tree was white. However, the blood from Pyramus and Thisbe turned its fruit deep red, and it has been that color ever since.

See also Metamorphoses, The; Trees in Mythology.

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Pyramus a Babylonian youth, lover of Thisbe. Forbidden to marry by their parents, who were neighbours, the lovers conversed through a chink in a wall and agreed to meet at a tomb outside the city. There, Thisbe was frightened away by a lioness coming from its kill, and Pyramus, seeing her bloodstained cloak and supposing her dead, stabbed himself. Thisbe, finding his body when she returned, threw herself upon his sword. Their blood stained a mulberry tree, whose fruit has ever since been black when ripe, in sign of mourning for them.

The story of Pyramus and Thisbe is the subject of the mechanicals' play in Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream.