ased on a Babylonian folk tale of two lovers who suffer a tragic end, the Roman poet Ovid retold the legend of Pyramus and Thisbe in his Metamorphoses.
The theme of Pyramus and Thisbe is akin to that of Romeo and Juliet and other ill-fated lovers in poetry and prose. Shakespeare incorporated a travesty of "Pyramus and Thisbe" into A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Pyramus and Thisbe, members of two neighboring Babylonian families, fall in love, but their marriage and even their mutual communication are forbidden by both families. The young lovers circumvent the prohibition by whispering to each other through a crack in the wall between their houses. They finally decide to meet beneath a white mulberry tree at the tomb of King Ninus of Assyria, then to runaway together.
Thisbe arrives first and spies a lion whose mouth is bloody from its recent prey. Startled, the young woman flees and, in her haste, leaves her veil (or cloak), which the lion picks up in its mouth. When Pyramus arrives he sees the bloody veil and jumps to the conclusion that Thisbe was the lion’s latest meal. In agony at the thought of living without his love, he takes his sword and kills himself, staining the white mulberries with his blood. (According to legend, that is why the fruit of the mulberry tree is purple.) Returning to the scene and finding Pyramus dead, Thisbe also takes Pyramus’s sword and commits suicide in the hope of reuniting with her beloved in the hereafter.
This Vanity Fair cartoon blames Democratic President James Buchanan for the 1860 split of the Democratic party into Northern and Southern factions, with each running rival presidential candidates, Stephen Douglas and John Breckinridge, respectively. The cartoonist depicts Douglas as the male Pyramus, Breckinridge as the female Thisbe, and Buchanan as the wall keeping them apart. The caption quotes Pyramus from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Buchanan grasps stalks of wheat symbolizing his Lancaster estate, Wheatland, where he would retire.
Sources consulted: Funk and Wagnalls Encyclopedia on-line (FunkandWagnalls.com); Encarta; “Pyramus & Thisbe: A Love Story,” by Carlos Parada, on Greek Mythology Link.