Symbolism In Ovid's Metamorphoses

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In book IV of Metamorphoses, Ovid recounts the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, ill-fated sweethearts whose love was destroyed by a lion. Pyramus and Thisbe were neighbors in Babylon and friends during their childhood; as they aged, they fell madly in love. The families of the two lovers were enemies and forbid their engagement, but Pyramus and Thisbe’s love could not be suppressed. By communicating in secret through a crack in the wall, Pyramus and Thisbe devised a plan to escape from their families so that they could be together. During her departure, Thisbe encountered a lion whose muzzle was covered in blood. She fled and hid, but lost her veil during her escape. When Pyramus came upon the same lion, he noticed Thisbe’s veil in the lion’s…show more content…
Although she is not explicitly mentioned in Ovid’s tale of Pyramus and Thisbe, she is exceedingly represented in a tapestry woven by an unknown artist in 1538 through symbolism. Juno’s most popular symbol is the peacock, but she is also often represented by lilies, horses, deer, rabbits, and cuckoo birds. It is important to note that her daughter, Venus, is represented by these symbols as well (), most likely because both gods represent love between two people. The tapestry depicts Pyramus’ dead body lying on the ground and Thisbe in the process of stabbing herself with his sword. Although this scene is the apparent focus of the tapestry, many elements are illustrated surrounding the lovers. Rabbits and a horse appear in the left-hand corner, a deer is present in the background, a peacock and cuckoo are shown perched on a fountain behind the lovers, and lilies are shown on the ground surrounding Pyramus and Thisbe. In many illustrations, symbols such as these are usually present in the background of the artwork, and are comparably insignificant in size compared to the main focus of the visualization. The audience might assume, by knowledge of the original story and the title of the tapestry being Pyramus and Thisbe, that the two suicidal lovers are the focus of the piece. Although their scene is significant in the “story” depicted in the tapestry, it is not the only feature emphasized by the artist. The horse and fountain on which the birds are perched shown in the picture are approximately the same size as Pyramus and Thisbe; one can interpret this using the metaphor significant is big (Kovecses) to mean that the symbolism of the horse, peacock, and cuckoo are equally significant to the meaning of the painting as are Pyramus and Thisbe themselves. The representation of Juno through symbolism within the Pyramus and Thisbe story is expected due to her relationship with marriage; the
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