The famous psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud, used names of Greek gods Eros and Thanatos, respectively, to refer to what he considered as the basic forces that act on the human being: love and death. However, how were these themes represented in ancient times?
On one hand, Greek culture is very characterized by its mythology, in which a strong bond and relationship between these two is often observed. Regarding the previous topics, in Greek myths there were several ways of interpreting and representing them, whether it was trough tragedies, stories, comedies, etc.
, that were later passed orally from generation to generation. For example, in stories such as ‘Orpheus and Eurydice’ and ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’, despite being both of a romantic narrative and sharing many characteristics in common, the duality of love/death manifests itself in different ways: lovers that did or did not overcome the inevitable obstacle of death. That is why it is possible to compare in both stories the ideas of ‘love that surpasses everything”, and the way each couple faced the inevitable consequences of death.
These myths are both romantic stories that emphasizes the sacrificial aspects that love implies. In each, the lovers attempt to be together, but ends with a tragic outcome. Nevertheless, the myth of “Pyramus and Thisbe” illustrates the ideal and cliché concept of love, the illusion of an immortal love stronger than death. While in “Orpheus and Eurydice, the male protagonist is punished and pulled apart from his lover, showing that even the most genuine and purest love cannot be enough to impose to the destructive power of death.
Despite these differences, both share and show through their characters the fragility of the heart when it falls in love, and that it can make people do irreal things, such as defeating all physical obstructions and reincarnating in the form a tree, or even being able to impress the deities of the underworld itself. Even so, these are just two examples of something much bigger and that is difficult to illustrate with words, because love is a complex and contradictory element in each personal life.
Also, retaking the subject, it is important to highlight a notable difference in both stories: the approach to the theme of death. The young lovers Pyramus and Thisbe resorted to death to preserve their true love, since this implies the devotion they have for each other, in all its facets, even if it means quitting to life itself. In other words, in this tale, they sought death and used it as a mediator, and it became something that went beyond the tragedy, or as the story tells: “everlasting memorial of this true lovers.” (Hamilton 110) Therefore it secure to say, it represents an act that is rewarded even by the gods. Although, Orpheus considered it as an obstacle to be with his wife, Eurydice, and decided to confront and impose against it for what he considered was an unjust death. However, later, his impatience triggers catastrophe, and the gods seem to condemn the couple to stay separate as “they would not consent to his entering the world of the dead a second time, while he was still alive.” (Hamilton 113)
In order to understand and connect better these central themes of love and death, it would be ideal to contrast both Greek stories with one of the best-known romantic plays around the world: Romeo and Juliet. Since its author, William Shakespeare, was mostly inspired by the myth of ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’, it is without a doubt, another sad story about an impossible love. Again, death is conceived as the only way for the couple to perpetuate their love that only encounters obstacles in its path. This shows that the same ideas keep repeating repeatedly. Although they share more similarities with the myth previously mention, comparing it with “Orpheus and Eurydice”, the pair of lovers all are victims of their love experiences and were capable to give up everything for their partner.
To reemphasize again, it is shown that through these two stories the Greeks managed to gather two concepts that really move the world. All experience and human life can be summed up in two words: Eros (love) and Thanatos (death). Being transcendental themes in human existence, they are not something that are united and walk the same path without an apparent reason. From these two myths, two sides of the same coin are represented: the love that returns as something divine because death gives life, or also the love that causes an irremediable death. Even though, comparing it with the mundane reality, it can be concluded that nothing remains, for everything is destined for death.