August 17, 2021

#08-123: Pyramus and Thisbe

a semi-nude woman holds a swordtip under her breast; before her lies a fully-nude youth with curly blond hair, and behind her is a large masonry structure. An ancient Middle-Eastern-looking city lies in the distance.
Thisbe uses her dead lover's sword to stab herself.

Note: Two young lovers separated by the enmity of their families--no, not Romeo and Juliet, but a couple who lived centuries before them and helped inspire their story.

Get Ready: Do you think parents should be allowed to prevent their son or daughter from dating whomever they choose? Why or why not?

One of the most widely-known stories of its day, "Pyramus and Thisbe" was used at least twice by no less than William Shakespeare himself: explicitly, when he wrote a parody of it in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and implicitly, when he stole some major plot points from it for his Romeo and Juliet."

The scene is set in Babylon, a city of great walls whose perimeter was said to be surrounded by a wall of brick nearly 100 kilometers in circumference, 27 meters thick, and over 100 meters high.

But that wall was secondary in the thoughts of Pyramus, among the handsomest of youths in Babylon, and his neighbor Thisbe, more beautiful than any in the east. For though living right next to each other, they were separated by the enmity of their parents, and by the thickness of the wall between their houses and gardens.

However, unbeknownst to the families, there was a crack in the wall, large enough that the young lovers could whisper to each other through it, but not large enough to touch fingers--let alone kiss.

And so, as time passed and their passion grew, they hatched a plot: they would sneak out of the city separately, at night, and rather than wander randomly, trusting chance to bring them together, they would meet by design at the tomb of Ninus, first king of Babylon, and there join in the body what had already been joined in the heart.

Now, near this tomb was a mulberry tree (which at that time bore white fruit), and quite nearby was a cold spring. This is where they would have their tryst. Thisbe was the first to arrive, and while waiting for her lover, she was frightened by the approach of a lioness, whose jaws were smeared with the blood of a recently-killed ox. The predator was coming for a drink at the spring.

Run, Thisbe! Off she ran to the safety of a nearby cave, but so fast did she fly that she didn't realize that she had dropped her veil. The lioness saw it, though, and wiped her bloody lips on it before stalking away.

Pyramus now arrived, and grew pale upon seeing the footprints of the lioness and the blood-smeared veil. "I am guilty of destroying you!" he cried out, and, after wiping his tears with the bloody garment, plunged his sword into his bowels. The blood spurting from his wounds sprayed the mulberries a dark red, and soaked into the roots of the tree, so that mulberries are a deep purple to this day--some say almost black, as if in mourning.

Thisbe, having heard him cry out, emerged from the cave just in time to take the dying youth in her arms, filling his wounds with her tears. With one last look into her eyes, Pyramus died, and Thisbe, hoping to be rejoined to him in death, and hoping further that parents everywhere would allow their children to follow their hearts, placed the point of his sword under her breast and fell on it.

Their parents placed their cremated remains in the same urn.


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Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. cremated
  2. emerged (from)
  3. explicitly
  4. implicitly
  5. mourning
  6. plunged
  7. urn
  8. veil
  9. whisper
  10. youth

  1. in a sort of hidden way
  2. burned, as a dead body
  3. a young person, especially a male
  4. speak very quietly, without using the actual voice
  5. a covering used on a woman's face or head
  6. very clearly and obviously
  7. came out (of)
  8. a container for the ashes of the dead
  9. thrust with force
  10. sorrow over someone's death

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for August 17, 2021

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. b; 2. g; 3. f; 4. a; 5. j; 6. i; 7. h; 8. e; 9. d; 10. c