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The love story of Pyramus and Thisbe, is a part of Roman mythology, and is also a sentimental romance.

The tale is told by Ovid in his Metamorphoses.


In the Ovidian version, Pyramus and Thisbe is the story of two lovers in the city of Babylonmarker who occupy connected houses, forbidden by their parents to be wed, because of their parents' rivalry. Through a crack in one of the walls, they whisper their love for each other. They arrange to meet near at Ninus' tomb under a mulberry tree and state their feelings for each other. Thisbe arrives first, but upon seeing a lioness with a mouth bloody from a recent kill, she flees, leaving behind her veil. The lioness drinks from a nearby fountain, then by chance mutilates the veil Thisbe had left behind. When Pyramus arrives, he is horrified at the sight of Thisbe's veil, assuming that a fierce beast had killed her. Pyramus kills himself, violently thrusting a sword into his groin, and in turn splashing blood on the white mulberry leaves. Pyramus' blood stains the white mulberry fruits, turning them dark. Thisbe returns, eager to tell Pyramus what had happened to her, but she finds Pyramus' dead body under the shade of the mulberry tree. Thisbe, after a brief period of mourning, stabs herself with the same sword. In the end, the gods listen to Thisbe's lament, and forever change the color of the mulberry fruits into the stained color to honor the forbidden love.

Ovid's version

The following is a paraphrase of Ovid by Thomas Bulfinch (The Age of Fable, second edition, 1856):


The story of Pyramus and Thisbe appears in Giovanni Boccaccio's On Famous Women as biography number twelve (sometimes thirteen) and in his Decameron, in the fifth story on the seventh day, where a desperate housewife falls in love with her neighbor, and communicates with him through a crack in the wall, attracting his attention by dropping pieces of stone and straw through the crack.

Geoffrey Chaucer was among the first to tell the story in English with his The Legend of Good Women. The "Pyramus and Thisbe" plot appears twice in Shakespeare's works. The plot of Romeo and Juliet may draw either from Ovid's Latin retelling in the Metamorphoses, or from Arthur Golding's 1567 translation of that work. A comic recapitulation appears in the play A Midsummer Night's Dream (Act V, sc 1), enacted by a group of "mechanicals".

Luis de Góngora wrote his Fábula de Píramo y Tisbe in 1618. Théophile de Viau (1590 - 1626) wrote his Les amours tragiques de Pyrame et Thisbée, a tragedy in five acts (1621).

François FRANCOEUR et François REBEL composed Pirame et Thisbée, a liric tragedy in 5 acts and a prologue, libretto by Jean-Louis-Ignace de la Serre, Sieur de l'Anglade (1662 - 1756), played at the Académie royale de musique, on October 17, 1726. The story was adapted by John Frederick Lampe as a "Mock Opera" in 1745, containing a singing "Wall" which was described as "the most musical partition that was ever heard." In 1768 in Viennamarker, Johann Adolf Hasse composed a serious opera on the tale, titled Piramo e Tisbe.

Edmond Rostand adapted the tale from Romeo and Juliet, making the fathers of the lovers conspire to bring their children together by pretending to forbid their love, in Les Romanesques. Rostand's play, translated into English as The Romancers was the basis for the musical The Fantasticks. The musical West Side Story, based on Romeo and Juliet, and The Fantasticks, thus have the same ultimate source. Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, also wrote a children's version in her short story "A Hole in the Wall".


Thisbe "of the many doves" is mentioned as a city in Boeotia in the Catalogue of Ships, from The Iliad 2.502. Pausanias mentions a Boeotian nymph named Thisbe for whom the city is named (

A play adaptation of the myth holds a prominent position in the play A Midsummer Night's Dream. The myth is to be played out by a group of commoners for a wedding.

There is a chapter entitled "Pyramus and Thisbe" in the Count of Monte Cristo, alluding to the secret romance between Maximillian Morrel and Valentine de Villefort.

In Cyrano De Bergerac during his "nose monologue," Cyrano mocks his "traitorous nose" in "parody of weeping Pyramus."

See also



Primary sources

  • Ovid, Metamorphoses iv.55-166

Secondary sources

Bulfinch, Thomas (1856). The Age of Fable; Or, Stories of Gods and Heroes (2nd ed.).

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