Greetings, greetings fellow stargazers! This month, let’s roll back the centuries and look upon a distant springtime when love was as fresh and new and wonderful as it is now. I’d like to tell you an ancient tale that focuses on the star pattern that is the symbol of spring itself — Leo, the lion. The pattern serves as an annual reminder of both the happiness of love won, and the tragedy of love lost, a theme as perennial as spring itself.
To find Leo, simply go outside on any clear night this month just after sunset, and look west. There you’ll see him. Our story was told by the great Roman poet Ovid over two thousand years ago. Surely most Roman children, at one time or another, heard this tale of two young lovers: handsome Pyramus and the beautiful Thisbe. Like Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Pyramus and Thisbe had to keep their feelings about each other a secret because their parents were against the match.
And, like Romeo stealthily seeking out Juliet in the dark of the night, climbing up trees to her balcony, Pyramus likewise met Thisbe in the dark of night. They talked to each other of love through cracks in a wall that separated their homes from one another. Unable even to touch each other because of this wall, finally one moonlit night they decided to risk the anger of their parents and secretly meet in a distant woods.
But Thisbe, who arrived first, was horrified to see in the shadows of a large tree, a huge lion devouring a traveller who had been taken by surprise. Frightened, she quietly ran off to warn Pyramus and to get help. But as she ran she lost her veil, which fluttered past the lion who snatched at it and stained it with the traveller’s blood.
Pyramus, arriving a short time later, saw the veil. He immediately recognized it and believing that the lion had killed Thisbe, attacked the lion with his small sword. But no match for the beast, Pyramus was quickly killed.
Meanwhile, Thisbe, who was unable to find help, rushed back to the woods desperately hoping that she was not too late to warn her lover. But, when she found Pyramus he was already dead, and she fell upon his body in grief. Well, you can guess the rest. Still lurking in the shadows was the lion, who on seeing Thisbe, killed her too. Thus, as with Romeo and Juliet, Pyramus and Thisbe were finally united forever, but in death. Their families, upon seeing both their children taken from them forever, realized the folly of their quarrel, but too late.
It was said that the lion’s attack was so severe that a nearby mulberry tree was completely covered with the lovers’ blood and that to this day mulberry trees bear red fruit instead of white. It also was said that Jupiter took such pity on these two young lovers that as a constant reminder to mankind of their true love, he put Thisbe’s veil among the stars where we can see it flutter still, directly behind the lion in the stars of Coma Berenices. To see this veil for yourself, all you have to do is remember to Keep Looking Up!