The fairest and most sought after-maiden in all of Babylon, where Semiramis reigned. She fell in love with Pyramus, the handsome youth who lived next door, but their parents kept them apart. The only way they could communicate and exchange messages was through a fissure in the wall of their adjoining houses. One day they agreed to meet secretly at a place outside of the city, near the Tomb of Ninus, beneath a white mulberry tree.
Thisbe arrived there first and encountered a lion. Fleeing in fear, she hid in a dark cave, but as she fled she lost her veil. The lion, which had just killed an ox and whose jaws were stained with blood, soiled the garment. When Pyramus arrived at their meeting place a little while later, he discovered the bloodied veil. Seeing the lion's tracks and no sign of Thisbe, he imagined that had been killed by the animal. Blaming himself for her death, he sat himself beneath the mulberry tree, and took his own life.
Thisbe, still afraid of the lion but not wanting to disappoint her lover, ventured out of the cave. When she came to the tree she noticed the different color of the mulberries and doubted it is was the same place. Still hesitating, she saw a form beneath the tree struggling in the agonies of death. She ran forward and came upon the body of her beloved. When she noticed her bloodied veil, she realized why he had taken his own life.
Uttering a prayer that the tree would always carry its fruit darkened in color in remembrance of the blood of both her and her lover, she took Pyramus' sword, held it to her heart, and fell forward. Her prayer stirred the gods for since then the berries are blackish-red when fully ripened.
Shakespeare has a travesty of this tale in his Midsummer Night's Dream.
- Ovid. Metamorphoses iv, 55-165; comp. Latin Anthology i, p. 106 ff. (ed. Burn).