Greek and Roman Mythology > Baucis and Philemon

Baucis and Philemon

On a certain hill in Phrygia stand a linden tree and an oak,
enclosed by a low wall. Not far from the spot is a marsh,
formerly good habitable land, but now indented with pools, the
resort of fen-birds and cormorants. Once on a time, Jupiter, in
human shape, visited this country, and with him his son Mercury
(he of the caduceus), without his wings. They presented
themselves at many a door as weary travellers, seeking rest and
shelter, but found all closed, for it was late, and the
inhospitable inhabitants would not rouse themselves to open for
their reception. At last a humble mansion received them, a small
thatched cottage, where Baucis, a pious old dame, and her husband
Philemon, united when young, had grown old together. Not ashamed
of their poverty, they made it endurable by moderate desires and
kind dispositions. One need not look there for master or for
servant; they two were the whole household, master and servant
alike. When the two heavenly guests crossed the humble
threshold, and bowed their heads to pass under the low door, the
old man placed a seat, on which Baucis, bustling and attentive,
spread a cloth, and begged them to sit down. Then she raked out
the coals from the ashes, kindled up a fire, and fed it with
leaves and dry bark, and with her scanty breath blew it into a
flame. She brought out of a corner split sticks and dry
branches, broke them up, and placed them under the small kettle.
Her husband collected some pot-herbs in the garden, and she shred
them from the stalks, and prepared them for the pot He reached
down with a forked stick a flitch of bacon hanging in the
chimney, cut a small piece, and put it in the pot to boil with
the herbs, setting away the rest for another time. A beechen
bowl was filled with warm water that their guests might wash.
While all was doing they beguiled the time with conversation.

On the bench designed for the guests was laid a cushion stuffed
with sea-weed; and a cloth, only produced on great occasions, but
old and coarse enough, was spread over that. The old woman, with
her apron on, with trembling hand set the table. One leg was
shorter than the rest, but a shell put under restored the level.
When fixed, she rubbed the table down with some sweet-smelling
herbs. Upon it she set some olives, Minerva's-fruit, some
cornel-berries preserved in vinegar, and added radishes and
cheese, with eggs lightly cooked in the ashes. All were served
in earthen dishes, and an earthenware pitcher, with wooden cups,
stood beside them. When all was ready, the stew, smoking hot,
was set on the table. Some wine, not of the oldest, was added;
and for dessert, apples and wild honey; and over and above all,
friendly faces, and simple but hearty welcome.

Now while the repast proceeded, the old folks were astonished to
see that the wine, as fast as it was poured out, renewed itself
in the pitcher, of its own accord. Struck with terror, Baucis
and Philemon recognized their heavenly guests, fell on their
knees, and with clasped hands implored forgiveness for their poor
entertainment. There was an old goose, which they kept as the
guardian of their humble cottage; and they bethought them to make
this a sacrifice in honor of their guests. But the goose, too
nimble for the old folks, eluded their pursuit with the aid of
feet and wings, and at last took shelter between the gods
themselves. They forbade it to be slain; and spoke in these
words: "We are gods. This inhospitable village shall pay the
penalty of its impiety; you alone shall go free from the
chastisement. Quit your house, and come with us to the top of
yonder hill." They hastened to obey, and staff in hand, labored
up the steep ascent. They had come within an arrow's flight of
the top, when turning their eyes below, they beheld all the
country sunk in a lake, only their own house left standing.
While they gazed with wonder at the sight, and lamented the fate
of their neighbors, that old house of theirs was changed into a
TEMPLE. Columns took the place of the corner-posts, the thatch
grew yellow and appeared a gilded roof, the floors became marble,
the doors were enriched with carving and ornaments of gold. Then
spoke Jupiter in benignant accents: "Excellent old man, and woman
worthy of such a husband, speak, tell us your wishes; what favor
have you to ask of us?" Philemon took counsel with Baucis a few
moments; then declared to the gods their united wish. "We ask to
be priests and guardians of this your temple; and since here we
have passed our lives in love and concord, we wish that one and
the same hour may take us both from life, that I may not live to
see her grave, nor be laid in my own by her." Their prayer was
granted. They were the keepers of the temple as long as they
lived. When grown very old, as they stood one day before the
steps of the sacred edifice, and were telling the story of the
place, Baucis saw Philemon begin to put forth leaves, and old
Philemon saw Baucis changing in like manner. And now a leafy
crown had grown over their heads, while exchanging parting words,
as long as they could speak. "Farewell, dear spouse," they said,
together, and at the same moment the bark closed over their
mouths. The Tyanean shepherd long showed the two trees, standing
side by side, made out of the two good old people.

The story of Baucis and Philemon has been imitated by Swift, in a
burlesque style, the actors in the change being two wandering
saints and the house being changed into a church, of which
Philemon is made the parson The following may serve as a
specimen:--

"They scarce had spoke when, fair and soft,
The roof began to mount aloft;
Aloft rose every beam and rafter;
The heavy wall climbed slowly after.
The chimney widened and grew higher,
Became a steeple with a spire.
The kettle to the top was hoist,
And there stood fastened to a joist,
But with the upside down, to show
Its inclination for below;
In vain, for a superior force,
Applied at bottom, stops its course;
Doomed ever in suspense to dwell,
'Tis now no kettle, but a bell.
A wooden jack, which had almost
Lost by disuse the art to roast,
A sudden alteration feels,
Increased by new intestine wheels;
And, what exalts the wonder more,
The number made the motion slower;
The flier, though 't had leaden feet,
Turned round so quick you scarce could see 't:
But slackened by some secret power,
Now hardly moves an inch an hour.
The jack and chimney, near allied,
Had never left each other's side.
The chimney to a steeple grown,
The jack would not be left alone;
But up against the steeple reared,
Became a clock, and still adhered;
And still its love to household cares
By a shrill voice at noon declares.
Warning the cook-maid not to burn
That roast meat which it cannot turn.
The groaning chair began to crawl,
Like a huge snail, along the wall;
There stuck aloft in public view,
And, with small change, a pulpit grew.
A bedstead of the antique mode,
Compact of timber many a load,
Such as our ancestors did use,
Was metamorphosed into pews,
Which still their ancient nature keep
By lodging folks disposed to sleep."



Myth Collection


Achelous and HerculesAcis and GalateaAdmetus and Alcestis
Agamemnon, Orestes, and ElectraAmphionAmphitrite
AntigoneApollo and DaphneApollo and Hyacinthus
AriadneArionAristaeus
Aurora and TithonusBacchusBaucis and Philemon
CadmusCastor and PolluxCephalus and Procris
Ceyx and HalcyoneClytieCupid and Psyche
DaedalusDiana and ActaeonDryope
Echo and NarcissusEndymionErisichthon
Glaucus and ScyllaHebe and GanymedeHercules
IbycusIo and CallistoLeucothea dnd Palaemon
LinusMarsyasMedea and Aeson
MelampusMenelaus and HelenMidas
Minerva and ArachneMonstersMusaeus
NeptuneNereus and DorisNiobe
Nisus and ScyllaOrionOrpheus and Eurydice
Pegasus and the ChimaeraPenelopePerseus and Medusa
PhaetonPluto and ProsperinePrometheus and Pandora
PygmalionPyramus and ThisbePython
RhoecusSapphoSimonides
ThamyrisThe Calydonian HuntThe Camenae
The CentaursThe Golden FleeceThe Graeae and Gorgons
The Griffin, or GryphonThe IliadThe Myrmidons
The PygmiesThe Rural DeitiesThe Sphinx
The Trojan WarThe Water DeitiesThe Winds
TheseusThetisVenus and Adonis
Vertumnus and Pomona

 
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