Pyramus and Thisbe

The oldest love story in the world is a tragedy. It’s the familiar tale of young lovers whose union is thwarted by their opposing parents and whose lives end in double suicide based on a misunderstanding.

Shakespeare mentions them in Midsummer Night’s Dream and enriches the plot in Romeo and Juliet but he borrowed the story from Ovid, who borrowed it from the Greeks, who borrowed it from the Middle East.

It was also the basis of West Side Story for although it’s a long way from the Hanging Gardens of Babylon to the West Side of New York, a mere 4000 years means nothing to young love.

Legend tells us Pyramus was the handsomest youth, and Thisbe the fairest maiden, in all Babylonia, where Semiramis reigned.

The two lived in adjoining houses and contrived somehow to strike up an aquaintance by conversing through a crack in the shared wall. Friendship flourished and blossomed into love as the young couple shared their hopes and dreams with nightly whisperings through the faulty mortar. Their parents were enemies but this meant nothing to Pyramus and Thisbe and their sweet conversations through the crack in the wall began to grow desperate. They longed for the opportunity to exchange but a simple kiss and one morning they were no longer able to suppress their desires.

A meeting point and a time was established. This was to be near a tomb in the public gardens where the lovers would embrace under a mulberry with snowy fruits. Both waited eagerly for the last rays of sunlight so that they could finally see each other face to face. Never had their young hearts beaten with such fervour.Thisbe reached the trysting place and, entwining her veil around the mulberry, she sat by the small pool and dreamed of Pyramus. All at once a lioness appeared, thirsty from a hunt, her jaws bloody from a fresh kill. Thisbe prudently ran off, and left the lioness to rip the veil and tear it with her teeth, smearing blood on the delicate fabric, all this before slaking her thirst in the water.

When Pyramus made his way from the city to meet his love he found the veil and the footprints of the beast. With wails of grief he called for the young woman he believed to be carried off by the lion. Unable to bear the prospect of life without his love, Pyramus plunged his own sword into his breast.

His blood ran amongst the grasses and the roots of the mulberry staining the white fruit into a deep red hue.

After allowing the lioness time to drink at the pool, Thisbe returned to this tree only to find her lover gone forever from this world, his lifeless hands still gripping her torn and bloody veil. She wailed and lamented louder than had the young man before her, and then she took his sword into her own hands. With a last cry she plunged the weapon into her belly and fell to the ground beside him.

Stricken by this useless tragedy, the gods turned the tall tree into the symbol of their love. Every year, when the fruit of the mulberry is ripe, it turns a deep red to commemorate the devotion of the two lovers.