Metamorphoses

Metamorphoses

by

Ovid

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Metamorphoses: Book 4: Pyramus and Thisbe Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Minyas’s first daughter tells the story of how the mulberry tree’s white berries became red: once, two beautiful teenagers—Pyramus and Thisbe—lived in adjoining estates. Growing up together, they fall in love, but they are forbidden to marry because their families don’t approve of the match. One day, they discover a small hole in the wall that divides their families’ estates, and they whisper to each other through it. They are grateful to the wall for allowing them to talk to each other, but they curse it for separating them physically.
The story of Pyramus and Thisbe is the first complete story in the Metamorphoses which tells of a male and female who love each other mutually. However, a different kind of obstacle—the disapproval of the two families and the wall between their homes—keeps this mutual love from existing happily. This suggests that love of any kind is likely doomed.
Themes
Love and Destruction Theme Icon
One day, Pyramus and Thisbe decide to elude their guards the next night and run away together. They decide to meet at a mulberry tree—a tree that had white berries—by a fountain before leaving the city. That night, Thisbe sneaks out to the mulberry tree. As she waits for Pyramus, a lion whose mouth is bloody from a kill comes to drink in the fountain. Frightened, Thisbe runs to a cave to hide, accidentally dropping her cloak behind her. As the lion is leaving the fountain, it mangles the cloak in its bloody mouth.
Pyramus and Thisbe find a way to get around the first obstacle to their love, but they encounter new and unforeseen obstacles—such as the lion—that continue to reduce their chances of being together happily. This suggests that Pyramus and Thisbe’s love is not fated to succeed. All in all, this paints love as something either destructive or doomed—either way, it’s always tragic.
Themes
Love and Destruction Theme Icon
Soon after, Pyramus arrives at the mulberry tree and discovers Thisbe’s bloody cloak. Thinking that Thisbe was eaten by a wild beast, Pyramus stabs himself, wanting to die with her. His blood spurts up, staining the mulberries and the roots of the tree dark red.
Similar to the story of Narcissus, Pyramus feels that the only way he can be with Thisbe is in death. This indicates the depth of his love but also its inevitably tragic nature.
Themes
Love and Destruction Theme Icon
A little later, Thisbe dares to leave the cave and return to the mulberry tree to meet Pyramus. She is confused by the new red color of the mulberries until she finds Pyramus’s writhing body. She embraces him and kisses him. Pyramus looks into her eyes and dies. Thisbe notices her bloody cloak and guesses that Pyramus killed himself to be with Thisbe whom he thought was dead. Thisbe then kills herself with Pyramus’s sword, praying to the gods that the mulberry tree remain red forever as a sign of their united love. The gods answer her prayer, and so the mulberry tree now bears red berries.
Pyramus and Thisbe’s love story is made tragic by a misunderstanding. This suggests that love—even true love—is always doomed to fail due to the complications of the real world. The gods make the mulberry red to commemorate the tragic ending of their love story. It’s ambiguous, though, whether the gods had the power to divert the couple’s doomed fate.
Themes
Love and Destruction Theme Icon
Time, Fate, and Poetry  Theme Icon
Quotes
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