Gongora and the "Pyramus and Thisbe" Myth from Ovid to Shakespeare

Gongora and the "Pyramus and Thisbe" Myth from Ovid to Shakespeare

Gongora and the "Pyramus and Thisbe" Myth from Ovid to Shakespeare

Gongora and the "Pyramus and Thisbe" Myth from Ovid to Shakespeare

Excerpt

A mannered style, that of Góngora or Henry James, for example, is like eccentric clothing: very few writers can carry it off, but one is enchanted by the rare exception who can.

W. H. AUDEN

THE TALE OF "PYRAMUS AND THISBE" has been immensely popular from the time Ovid first set it down in the Metamorphoses (4.55-166) shortly before the year 8 A.D. It is the story of two young lovers in ancient Babylon whose parents forbid them to marry. They continue to court secretly despite the parental restriction, conversing through a hole in the common wall between their houses, but their courtship ends in disaster when they attempt a midnight rendezvous. Pyramus stabs himself because he mistakenly believes that Thisbe has been killed by a lioness, and Thisbe falls on her lover's sword after she finds him dying. The blood from their double suicide metamorphoses the fruit of a nearby mulberry tree from white to red, and the changed color symbolizes their fate.

Imitated, translated, allegorized, elaborated, decorated, and metamorphosed throughout Europe, "Pyramus and Thisbe" was the favorite Ovidian myth among the poets of Spain's Golden Age (the 16th and 17th centuries). Finally, just as the popular romances of chivalry were parodied in Don Quixote (I, 1605; II, 1615), this story of star-crossed lovers was burlesqued by Luis de Góngora y Argote in his 1618 ballad, "La Ciudad de Babilonia" (The City of Babylon), more commonly known as the Fábula de Píramo y Tisbe (The Fable of Pyramus and Thisbe) . . .

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