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PYRAMUS AND THISBE.
Venus did not always befriend true lovers, as she had befriended
Hippomenes, with her three golden apples. Sometimes, in the enchanted
island of Cyprus, she forgot her worshippers far away, and they called
on her in vain.
So it was in the sad story of Hero and Leander, who lived on opposite
borders of the Hellespont. Hero dwelt at Sestos, where she served as a
priestess, in the very temple of Venus; and Leander's home was in
Abydos, a town on the opposite shore. But every night this lover would
swim across the water to see Hero, guided by the light which she was
wont to set in her tower. Even such loyalty could not conquer fate.
There came a great storm, one night, that put out the beacon, and
washed Leander's body up with the waves to Hero, and she sprang into
the water to rejoin him, and so perished.
Not wholly unlike this was the fate of Halcyone, a queen of Thessaly,
who dreamed that her husband Ceyx had been drowned, and on waking
hastened to the shore to look for him. There she saw her dream come
true,--his lifeless body floating towards her on the tide; and as she
flung herself after him, mad with grief, the air upheld her and she
seemed to fly. Husband and wife were changed into birds; and there on
the very water, at certain seasons, they build a nest that floats
unhurt,--a portent of calm for many days and safe voyage for the ships.
So it is that seamen love these birds and look for halcyon weather.
But there once lived in Babylonia two lovers named Pyramus and Thisbe,
who were parted by a strange mischance. For they lived in adjoining
houses; and although their parents had forbidden them to marry, these
two had found a means of talking together through a crevice in the
Here, again and again, Pyramus on his side of the wall and Thisbe on
hers, they would meet to tell each other all that had happened during
the day, and to complain of their cruel parents. At length they decided
that they would endure it no longer, but that they would leave their
homes and be married, come what might. They planned to meet, on a
certain evening, by a mulberry-tree near the tomb of King Ninus,
outside the city gates. Once safely met, they were resolved to brave
So far all went well. At the appointed time, Thisbe, heavily veiled,
managed to escape from home unnoticed, and after a stealthy journey
through the streets of Babylon, she came to the grove of mulberries
near the tomb of Ninus. The place was deserted, and once there she put
off the veil from her face to see if Pyramus waited anywhere among the
shadows. She heard the sound of a footfall and turned to behold--not
Pyramus, but a creature unwelcome to any tryst--none other than a
lioness crouching to drink from the pool hard by.
Without a cry, Thisbe fled, dropping her veil as she ran. She found a
hiding-place among the rocks at some distance, and there she waited,
not knowing what else to do.
The lioness, having quenched her thirst (after some ferocious meal),
turned from the spring and, coming upon the veil, sniffed at it
curiously, tore and tossed it with her reddened jaws,--as she would
have done with Thisbe herself,--then dropped the plaything and crept
away to the forest once more.
It was but a little after this that Pyramus came hurrying to the
meeting-place, breathless with eagerness to find Thisbe and tell her
what had delayed him. He found no Thisbe there. For a moment he was
confounded. Then he looked about for some sign of her, some footprint
by the pool. There was the trail of a wild beast in the grass, and near
by a woman's veil, torn and stained with blood; he caught it up and
knew it for Thisbe's.
So she had come at the appointed hour, true to her word; she had waited
there for him alone and defenceless, and she had fallen a prey to some
beast from the jungle! As these thoughts rushed upon the young man's
mind, he could endure no more.
"Was it to meet me, Thisbe, that you came to such a death!" cried he.
"And I followed all too late. But I will atone. Even now I come
lagging, but by no will of mine!"
So saying, the poor youth drew his sword and fell upon it, there at the
foot of that mulberry-tree which he had named as the trysting-place,
and his life-blood ran about the roots.
During these very moments, Thisbe, hearing no sound and a little
reassured, had stolen from her hiding-place and was come to the edge of
the grove. She saw that the lioness had left the spring, and, eager to
show her lover that she had dared all things to keep faith, she came
slowly, little by little, back to the mulberry-tree.
She found Pyramus there, according to his promise. His own sword was in
his heart, the empty scabbard by his side, and in his hand he held her
veil still clasped. Thisbe saw these things as in a dream, and suddenly
the truth awoke her. She saw the piteous mischance of all; and when the
dying Pyramus opened his eyes and fixed them upon her, her heart broke.
With the same sword she stabbed herself, and the lovers died together.
There the parents found them, after a weary search, and they were
buried together in the same tomb. But the berries of the mulberry-tree
turned red that day, and red they have remained ever since.
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