THE STORY OF PYRAMUS AND THISBE
BY M. M. BIRD
"The most lamentable comedy and most cruel death of Pyramus
In Babylon of old, where walls were first built of
bricks, two houses had been set so close together
that they shared one roof. Two families came to dwell
in them, and young Pyramus of the one house soon made
acquaintance with fair Thisbe of the other. Their friendship
grew and ripened into love. But alas! a deathless
feud had arisen to separate the two families, and the
unhappy lovers were inexorably divided.
Still, though angry parents could forbid their love
and could prevent them meeting, all this could not avail
to kill their love. The thwarted pair could but gaze
upon each other, could only look and sigh: yet that was
enough to feed the flame of love. And at last they found
a way to reach each other's ears, as lovers will: a chink
between two bricks in the wall that divided the two
houses—a little chink where the cement had crumbled
away, so small it had never been noticed and filled in.
Through this friendly chink young Pyramus breathed his
vows, and fair Thisbe answered him with tender words.
Their eager lips pressed the unresponsive brick, their
hands that longed to clasp each other were kept apart
by the hard, unfeeling wall. Their sighs and softly
spoken words of love alone could pierce the barrier that
At last they resolved to defy the cruel parents who
thus wronged their love; to steal out one night in the
concealing darkness, and fly together despite all opposition.
Outside the town, beside a little brook and shaded by
a widespread mulberry tree, stood the tomb of Ninus.
Here they agreed to meet at nightfall.
Impatiently they watched the sun sink slowly down
the western sky and bathe in the western sea. Thisbe,
with caution, unbarred her father's door and stole softly
forth, veiling her face and hasting through the town to
the spot where the tomb stood on the open plain.
But in the darkness other creatures had come forth.
A lioness, scouring the plain in search of prey, had slain
an ox. Surfeited with flesh and all besmeared with
blood, it came swiftly to the brook to slake its thirst. By
the light of the moon Thisbe, approaching the trysting-place,
saw the fearful beast. She flew trembling across
the plain to the neighboring rocks and hid within a
cave. And as she fled her floating veil dropped from
her shoulders and was left upon the ground.
When the queen of beasts had drunk her fill, she came
bounding back across the plain. She found the veil, and
this she tore and mouthed with jaws still wet with the
blood of the slaughtered ox. And then went on her way.
Young Pyramus, who could not elude his parents so
soon, came hastening to the tryst. By the moonlight he
noted the footprints of the savage beast beside the brook,
and farther on his anguished eyes beheld his loved
Thisbe's torn and blood-stained veil. Convinced that the
beast had slain his love, he cried in his agony of grief
that the fault was his in that he had not been first at
the tryst to protect her, and cursed the malevolence of
fate that had caused him to fix the spot where she should
meet her death. He kissed the veil so torn, so dear
to him. And then, crying that Death should not divide
two hearts so fond, he drew his sword and plunged it
into his breast. The life-blood spurted from the grievous
wound and besprinkled all the white clusters of the
Cautiously the trembling Thisbe left her hiding-place
among the rocks, fearing lest delay should make her lover
think her untrue, and neared the appointed spot. But
though the tomb and the brook were there as of old,
the tree she could not recognize with its new burden of
As she gazed in doubt, her eyes fell on a form that
lay stretched upon the ground. She saw her lover
bathed in his blood.
She shrieked and tore her hair; she raised him, clasped
him, bathed with her tears his gaping wound. She cried
to him to wake and answer his poor Thisbe. His dying
eyes unclosed in one long look of love, and then he died
in her arms.
She gazed around, saw her torn veil, and saw his own
sword lying, blood-stained and sheathless, by his side.
She saw that by his own hand he had inflicted the fatal
wound; that, believing her dead, he had not chosen to
Should her love be weaker than his? She it was who
had been the innocent cause of his death, and she would
share it. One prayer she breathed that their cruel parents
would grant them at last to be joined together, and in
one urn confine their ashes. Of the drooping mulberry
tree, beneath whose kindly shade she made her piteous
lament, she begged one boon—that by the purple color
of its fruit it would bear perpetual witness to their love
and their untimely death.
Then in her bosom she plunged the sword, yet warm
with the blood of its slaughtered lord, and fell dead
The prayer that dying Thisbe breathed was heard by
compassionate gods and parents. Their ashes were
mixed in one golden urn, and from that sad day the
fruit of the mulberry tree has been stained a lustrous