Pyramus and Thisbe

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Pyramus and Thisbe
Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses tells the tragic story of the forbidden love of Pyramus and Thisbe. In this ancient tale, Pyramus kills himself believing his beloved is dead; when Thisbe finds the dying Pyramus, she stabs herself. This painting by Flemish painter Jan Gossaert, who is also known as Mabuse, is from a private collection.

Pyramus and Thisbe, two young lovers, in an ancient Babylonian story recounted in the Metamorphoses of the Roman poet Ovid. Their parents occupied adjacent houses, and the young people fell in love, but their parents forbade them to marry. The lovers held whispered conversations through a crack in the wall between their houses. Finally, they decided to meet at the tomb of Ninus, under a white mulberry tree. Arriving first, Thisbe saw a lion with jaws bloody from a recent kill. Fleeing, the maiden dropped her veil, which the lion tore in its bloody mouth. When Pyramus came, he saw the bloody veil and, believing Thisbe dead, plunged his sword in his side. His blood spurted upward, staining the white mulberries. Thisbe found him dying and stabbed herself. Ever since, the mulberry has been purple. Shakespeare included a travesty of the story in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Pyramus was the handsomest youth, and Thisbe the fairest maiden, in all Babylonia, where Semiramis reigned. Their parents occupied adjoining houses; and neighbourhood brought the young people together, and acquaintance ripened into love. They would gladly have married, but their parents forbade. One thing, however, they could not forbid—that love should glow with equal ardour in the bosoms of both. They conversed by signs and glances, and the fire burned more intensely for being covered up. In the wall that parted the two houses there was a crack, caused by some fault in the structure. No one had remarked it before, but the lovers discovered it. What will not love discover! It afforded a passage to the voice; and tender messages used to pass...
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