Ovid, Metamorphoses 4.55-166
Pyramus and Thisbe
Pyramus and Thisbe—one of the pair the most beautiful of youths; the other, most esteemed of those girls whom the Orient held—lived in houses side-by-side, where it is said that Semiramis has girded her high city with baked-brick walls. Their proximity made the first steps for acquaintance; love grew in time, and the wedding torches would have been joined by law, but the parents forbade that which they were not able to forbid, for both burned equally with enraptured minds. When all observers are away, they speak with a nod and in signs, and the more that their love is hidden, the more that the hidden love burns.
The wall common to both their houses held a crack which was formed when once the wall was made. This defect, though, has been noted by none through long ages, but what does love not know? You, o lovers, firstly have seen it, and safely through it your amorous talk has grown accustomed to journey with the slightest whisper. Often, when Thisbe stopped here, and Pyramus there, and the breath of each in turn had been snatched, they would say, “O envious wall, why do you stand in the way of lovers? How much must we give that you might permit us to be joined in our two bodies, or, if this is excessive, rather might you lie open that we should kiss? Nor are we ungrateful: we confess that we are indebted to you, for to our loving ears a passage for our words has been given.”
Speaking such things in vain from their separate houses, they have said, “Farewell,” and part their gaze, and each gives to the wall kisses that do not reach through.
After dawn’s fire removed the fires of the night, and the sun dried frosty plants with its rays, they met at this place. Then, first lamenting, they decided many things, that in the silent night they might try to deceive their parents and to depart from their houses, and, when they have left from home, they would too relinquish the city, and, lest they wander about lost in a wide field, they resolved to meet at the tomb of Ninus, and lie hidden under the shade of a tree, for there was at that place a tree bearing frosty fruits—a lofty mulberry neighboring a frigid spring.
They are joyous of the pact, and light, to fall slowly from sight, is seized by the waters, and night comes forth from those same waters.
Skillful Thisbe steps through the darkness, turning the door on its hinge; she deceives her parents and with covered face goes to the hill and sits under the agreed-upon tree. Love gave her courage: behold, a lioness—open jaws smeared of foam from a heifer’s recent slaughter, about to staunch her thirst in the wave of the nearby spring—which Babylonian Thisbe saw from afar by the moon’s beams, and on timid foot she fled to a darkened cave, though while she fled, her gliding veils fell from her back.
When the savage lioness checked her thirst in the wave, she then returned to the forests, and, come upon the slender garments by chance, tore them with her bloodied mouth. Pyramus, too late having come, saw footprints in the deep dust, certainly of a beast, and his face grew wan: truly, as also he discovered the garment tainted with blood, he lamented, “One night ruins two lovers, of whom, she was more worthy of life! My heart is guilty: I have destroyed you, piteous one, for it was I who bid you come by night into places replete of fear, not had I come here prior. O, whatever lions live under this cavern, tear my body and consume with your wild bite my polluted organs! But it is of a timid man to strive for death.”
He raises Thisbe’s veils and bears them with himself to the shadow of the agreed-upon tree, and as he gave tears to her, much loved, and as he gave kisses to her garment, cries, “Now, accept also the drink of my blood!” He plunged the sword with which he was girded into his gut without delay, and, dying, he dragged the weapon from frothing wound. Supine, as he lay himself down on the ground, blood gurgled forth from within, not other than when a pipe is cracked from flawed lead and it spews forth shrieking water from a thin hole that bursts through the air with blows.
The fruits of the tree are turned black in appearance from the spray of death, and the roots, moistened with purple blood, tinge the hanging mulberries with color. Look—with fear not yet put aside, Thisbe returns, lest she deceive her lover, and seeks the youth with eyes and mind, and exults to tell how many dangers she had avoided. And as she recognized the place and the form of the tree, the color of the fruit made her uncertain—she hesitates—if this might be the tree.
While she doubts, she sees that Pyramus’ trembling limbs touch the bloody ground, and she bears herself backwards, and, wearing a face more pallid than a box-wood, she shudders, as the image of water which trembles when the surface is struck by a small breeze. But after she had delayed, she recognized her lover, and beat her unworthy arms in clear desperation, tore her hair, and hugged the body of her lover.
She bathed his wounds in her tears, and mixed her grief in his blood, and, fixing kisses to his frigid face, cried: Pyramus, what cause has torn you from me? Pyramus, respond! Your most dear Thisbe calls you; hear me, and raise your hanging head!”
Pyramus lifted his eyes, heavy from death, at Thisbe’s name, and having seen her, closed his eyes again. As she recognized her veil, and saw the ivory scabbard, empty of a sword, she said, “Your hand and your love have killed you, unfortunate one! It is my brave hand and by love that will give me strength for wounds in this one matter. Would that I might follow you in death, for I might be said to be your companion and the most miserable cause of your death, but alas, you who has been taken from me by death alone shall not not have been able to be torn from death. Nevertheless, o my and his unhappy parents, let it be asked that you do not refuse those whom certain love and whom the last hour has joined to be placed in the same tomb; and you, tree, which now covers the miserable body of one with your branches, presently, which presently will cover the bodies of two, hold the signs of our death and always have dark fruits, made so by grief: monuments of a twin death.”
She spoke, and impaled her heart with pointed iron, which hitherto was made warm from blood. And yet, her wishes bound the gods and their parents both, for a black color remains in the fruit when it has ripened, and that which is left over from their funeral pyre rests now in one urn.