The oldest love story in the world
The Story of Pyramus and Thisbe is the oldest love story in the world. It's a story we still tell - and it's a tragedy.
It's a familiar tale to all of us although we may not instantly recognise the names of the ancient lovers. You know it very well, it's the story of young lovers whose union is thwarted by their opposing parents and whose lives end in double suicide based on a misunderstanding.
Two, by themselves, each other, love and fear,
Slain, cruel friends, by parting have join'd here.
Pyramus and Thisbe through the Ages
This story is 4,000 years old
Mosaic from the House of Dionysos in Paphos, Pyramus and Thisvi, 3rd century CE
The story was recorded by the Roman poet Ovid in his Metamorphoses written sometime in the 1st century. Ovid heard the story from the Greeks, who heard the story (it is said) from Tunisian traders who heard it from Persian travellers.
The 14th century saw a revival in its popularity with Petrarch recording the story in 1340, Boccaccio in 1342 and, in 1386, Chaucer wrote The Legend of Thisbe.
So Shakespeare used the sorrowful story of Pyramus and Thisbe in Midsummer Night's Dream and enriched 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 the basis for West Side Story.
Although it's a long, long way from the Hanging Gardens of Babylon to the West Side of New York, a mere 4000 years means nothing to young love. Or to a good story. Pyramus and Thisbe, the Plot
Legend tells us that 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...