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Text and bibliography updated to reflect current scholarship; keywords added.

Updated on 28 June 2017. The previous version of this content can be found here.
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date: 10 December 2019

Pyramus and Thisbe

Pyramus and Thisbe are the hero and heroine of a love story mainly known from Ovid, Met., 4. 55–165. They were next-door neighbours in Babylon, and, as their parents would not let them marry, they talked with each other through a crack in the party wall between the houses. Finally, they arranged to meet at Ninus’s tomb. There Thisbe was frightened by a lion coming from its kill; she dropped her cloak as she ran and the lion mauled it. Pyramus, finding the bloodstained cloak and supposing Thisbe dead, killed himself; she returned, found his body, and followed his example. Their blood stained a mulberry tree, whose fruit has ever since been black when ripe, in sign of mourning for them. The story is likely to be derived to some degree from Hellenistic sources, according to which the two lovers may have been transformed into a river and a stream, and can be linked with the eastern Mediterranean and the river Pyramus in Cilicia. Ovid’s narrative, told by the daughters of Minyas who show stereotypically ‘feminine’ romantic interests in Roman terms, may draw on a lost Greek novelistic source, as well as taking elements from the plots of new comedy (young neighbours in love). Ovid’s narrative is highly popular in art, especially in Pompeian wall paintings; it is notably picked up by Shakespeare in the 1590s, in comic form as the subject of the parodic play of the rude mechanicals in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and in tragic form in its adaptation in the suicides of the protagonists in Romeo and Juliet.


Rudd, Niall. “Pyramus and Thisbe in Shakespeare and Ovid.” In Creative Imitation and Latin Literature. Edited by D. West and A. J. Woodman, 173–193. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1979.Find this resource:

Holzberg, Niklas. “Ovids ‘Babyloniaka’ (Met. 4.55–166).” Wiener Studien 101 (1988): 265–277.Find this resource:

Knox, Peter E. “Pyramus and Thisbe in Cyprus.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 92 (1989): 315–328.Find this resource:

Linant de Bellefonds, Pascale. “Pyramos et Thisbe.” Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae 7.1 (1994): 605–607.Find this resource:

Lightfoot, J. L. Parthenius: The Poetical Fragments and the “Erōtika pathēmata,” 537–540. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.Find this resource:

Stramaglia, Antonio. “Piramo e Tisbe di Ovidio?: PMich inv. 3793 e la narrativa d‘intrattenimento alla fine dell‘età tolemaica.” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 134 (2001): 81–106.Find this resource:

Shorrock, Robert. “Ovidian Plumbing in Metamorphoses 4.” Classical Quarterly 53 (2003): 624–627.Find this resource:

Burrow, Colin. Shakespeare and Classical Antiquity, 537–540. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.Find this resource:

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