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Philemon and Baucis

A story of poverty, kindness, and hospitality

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Zeus and Hermes. Image ID: 1622957. The strangers in the village. (1892)

Zeus and Hermes. Image ID: 1622957. The strangers in the village. (1892)

NYPL Digital Library
According to ancient Roman mythology and Ovid's Metamorphoses, Philemon and Baucis had lived out their long lives nobly, but in poverty. Jupiter, the Roman king of the gods, had heard of the virtuous couple, but based on all his previous experiences with humans, he had serious doubts as to their goodness.

Jupiter was about to destroy mankind, but was willing to give it one final chance before starting over again. So, in the company of his son Mercury, the wing-footed messenger god, Jupiter went about, disguised as a worn and weary traveler, from house to house among the neighbors of Philemon and Baucis. As Jupiter feared and expected, the neighbors turned him and Mercury away rudely. Then the two gods went to the last house, the cottage of Philemon and Baucis, where the couple had lived all their long married lives.

Philemon and Baucis were pleased to have visitors, and insisted that their guests rest before their little hearth fire. They even lugged in more of their precious firewood to make a greater blaze. Unasked, Philemon and Baucis then served their presumably starving guests, fresh fruits, olives, eggs, and wine.

Soon the old couple noticed that no matter how often they poured from it, the wine pitcher was never empty. They began to suspect that their guests might be more than mere mortals. Just in case, Philemon and Baucis decided to provide the closest they could come to a meal that was fit for a god. They would slaughter their only goose in their guests' honor. Unfortunately, the legs of the goose were faster then those of Philemon or Baucis. Even though the humans were not as fast, they were smarter, and so they cornered the goose inside the cottage, where they were just about to catch it.... At the last moment, the goose sought the shelter of the divine guests. To save the life of the goose, Jupiter and Mercury revealed themselves and immediately expressed their pleasure in meeting an honorable human pair. The gods took the pair to a mountain from which they could see the punishment their neighbors had suffered -- a devastating flood.

Asked what divine favor they wanted, the couple said that they wished to become temple priests and die together. Their wish was granted and when they died they were turned into intertwining trees.
The Moral: Treat everyone well because you never know when you'll find yourself in the presence of a god.

Philemon and Baucis story from Ovid Metamorphoses 8.631, 8.720.

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Myth in Daily Life | What Is Myth? | Myths vs. Legends | Gods in the Heroic Age - Bible vs. Biblos | Creation Stories | Uranos' Revenge | Titanomachy | Olympian Gods and Goddesses | Five Ages of Man | Philemon and Baucis | Prometheus | Trojan War | Bulfinch Mythology | Myths and Legends | Golden Fleece and the Tanglewood Tales, by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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