Greek and Roman Mythology > Erisichthon


Erisichthon was a profane person and a despiser of the gods. On
one occasion he presumed to violate with the axe a grove sacred
to Ceres. There stood in this grove a venerable oak, so large
that it seemed a wood in itself, its ancient trunk towering
aloft, whereon votive garlands were often hung and inscriptions
carved expressing the gratitude of suppliants to the nymph of the
tree. Often had the Dryads danced round it hand in hand. Its
trunk measured fifteen cubits round, and it overtopped the other
trees as they overtopped the shrubbery. But for all that,
Erisichthon saw no reason why he should spare it, and he ordered
his servants to cut it down. When he saw them hesitate, he
snatched an axe from one, and thus impiously exclaimed, :"I care
not whether it be a tree beloved of the Goddess or not; were it
the goddess herself it should come down, if it stood in my way."
So saying, he lifted the axe, and the oak seemed to shudder and
utter a groan. When the first blow fell upon the trunk, blood
flowed from the wound. All the bystanders were horror-struck,
and one of them ventured to remonstrate and hold back the fatal
axe. Erisichthon with a scornful look, said to him, "Receive the
reward of your piety;" and turned against him the weapon which he
had held aside from the tree, gashed his body with many wounds,
and cut off his head. Then from the midst of the oak came a
voice, "I who dwell in this tree am a nymph beloved of Ceres, and
dying by your hands, forewarn you that punishment awaits you."
He desisted not from his crime, and at last the tree, sundered by
repeated blows and drawn by ropes, fell with a crash, and
prostrated a great part of the grove in its fall.

The Dryads, in dismay at the loss of their companion, and at
seeing the pride of the forest laid low, went in a body to Ceres,
all clad in garments of mourning, and invoked punishment upon
Erisichthon. She nodded her assent, and as she bowed her head
the grain ripe for harvest in the laden fields bowed also. She
planned a punishment so dire that one would pity him, if such a
culprit as he could be pitied to deliver him over to Famine.
As Ceres herself could not approach Famine, for the Fates have
ordained that these two goddesses shall never come together, she
called an Oread from her mountain and spoke to her in these
words: "There is a place in the farthest part of ice-clad
Scythia, a sad and sterile region without trees and without
crops. Cold dwells there, and Fear, and Shuddering, and Famine.
Go to Famine and tell her to take possession of the bowels of
Erisichthon. Let not abundance subdue her, nor the power of my
gifts drive her away. Be not alarmed at the distance," (for
Famine dwells very far from Ceres,) "but take my chariot. The
dragons are fleet and obey the rein, and will take you through
the air in a short time." So she gave her the reins, and she
drove away and soon reached Scythia. On arriving at Mount
Caucasus she stopped the dragons and found Famine in a stony
field, pulling up with teeth and claws the scanty herbage. Her
hair was rough, her eyes sunk, her face pale, her lips blanched,
her jaws covered with dust, and her skin drawn tight, so as to
show all her bones. As the Oread saw her afar off (for she did
not dare to come near) she delivered the commands of Ceres; and
though she stopped as short a time as possible, and kept her
distance as well as she could, yet she began to feel hungry, and
turned the dragons' heads and drove back to Thessaly.

In obedience to the commands of Ceres, Famine sped through the
air to the dwelling of Erisichthon, entered the bed-chamber of
the guilty man, and found him asleep. She enfolded him with her
wings and breathed herself into him, infusing her poison into his
veins. Having discharged her task, she hastened to leave the
land of plenty and returned to her accustomed haunts.
Erisichthon still slept, and in his dreams craved food, and moved
his jaws as if eating. When he awoke his hunger was raging.
Without a moment's delay he would have food set before him, of
whatever kind earth, sea, or air produces; and complained of
hunger even while he ate. What would have sufficed for a city or
a nation was not enough for him. The more he ate, the move he
craved. His hunger was like the sea, which receives all the
rivers, yet is never filled; or like fire that burns all the fuel
that is heaped upon it, yet is still voracious for more.

His property rapidly diminished under the unceasing demands of
his appetite, but his hunger continued unabated. At length he
had spent all, and had only his daughter left, a daughter worthy
of a better parent. HER TOO HE SOLD. She scorned to be the
slave of a purchaser, and as she stood by the seaside, raised her
hands in prayer to Neptune. He heard her prayer, and, though her
new master was not far off, and had his eye upon her a moment
before, Neptune changed her form, and made her assume that of a
fisherman busy at his occupation. Her master, looking for her
and seeing her in her altered form, addressed her and said, "Good
fisherman, whither went the maiden whom I saw just now, with hair
dishevelled and in humble garb, standing about where you stand?
Tell me truly; so may your luck be good, and not a fish nibble at
your hook and get away." She perceived that her prayer was
answered, and rejoiced inwardly at hearing the question asked her
of herself. She replied, "Pardon me, stranger, but I have been
so intent upon my line, that I have seen nothing else; but I wish
I may never catch another fish if I believe any woman or other
person except myself to have been hereabouts for some time." He
was deceived and went his way, thinking his slave had escaped.
Then she resumed her own form. Her father was well pleased to
find her still with him, and the money too that he got by the
sale of her; so he sold her again. But she was changed by the
favor of Neptune as often as she was sold, now into a horse, now
a bird, now an ox, and now a stag, got away from her purchasers
and came home. By this base method the starving father procured
food; but not enough for his wants, and at last hunger compelled
him to devour his limbs, and he strove to nourish his body by
eating his body, till death relieved him from the vengeance of

Myth Collection

Achelous and HerculesAcis and GalateaAdmetus and Alcestis
Agamemnon, Orestes, and ElectraAmphionAmphitrite
AntigoneApollo and DaphneApollo and Hyacinthus
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
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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