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Philemon and Baucis

01289: Philemon and Baucis. "They had one goose, the guardian of their tiny estate; and him the hosts were preparing to kill for their divine guests." (Ov. Met. 8.684). Guillaume T. de Villenave, Les Métamorphoses d'Ovide (Paris, Didot 1806–07). Engravings after originals by Jean-Jacques François Le Barbier (1739–1826), Nicolas André Monsiau (1754–1837), and Jean-Michel Moreau (1741–1814).

The Locrian Lelex 1, who some say was among the CALYDONIAN HUNTERS, told the story of Philemon and Baucis, whom Zeus and Hermes visited in Phrygia.

Disguised gods test humans

These gods descended to earth disguised as mortals, and when they were wandering in the region where Philemon and Baucis lived, they sought a place to rest, but no home would receive them until they knocked at the door of this aged couple's humble home. In that cottage, thatched with straw and reeds from a nearby marsh, they had wedded in their youth and grown old together.

Hospitality and Goodwill

Their poverty was not a hindrance for receiving the visitors, and after setting out a place for them to rest and lighting the fire, they prepared a meal for the unknown guests: olives, called Athena's berries, cornel-cherries pickled in the lees of wine, endives and radishes, cream cheese, and eggs. The food was served in earthen-dishes, and the wine in an earthen mixing-bowl, for that was the noblest material their wealth could afford. And for the second course they served honey, nuts, figs, dates, plums, grapes, and apples. So while the visitors noticed that their hosts were serving them abounding goodwill, the hosts noticed that each time the mixing-bowl with wine was drained it filled of itself, which should not be so surprising, for goodwill is often the prelude of things that are sometimes considered as miracles when goodwill has not yet appeared.

Their identity revealed

Afraid of what they were witnessing, Philemon and Baucis, fearing the power of their visitors, decided to slaughter their only goose, but old as they were they could not catch it, and finally the bird fled for shelter to the gods themselves, who revealing their divine identity, announced to the old hosts that the wicked neighborhood in which they lived would be punished, and that only them would be exempted.

The wicked punished

With these words the gods took the old couple to a tall mountain in the vicinity, and when Philemon and Baucis looked back from the top they saw the whole country-side flooded with water, but in the middle of this new large lake their own house still remained. Thinking of the tragedy that had affected their neighbors they were in tears, for there are those who pity even the most wicked, but while they wept, the gods changed the small cottage into a temple, turning the wooden supports into marble columns, and the straw into gold.

Olive trees growing from one double trunk at Delphi (AD 1983).

The wish of Philemon & Baucis

Having done all these wonders, the gods told them to ask any boon they wished. They asked to be the priests of the temple and, since they had spent their lives in constant company, they prayed to die at the same time, and Philemon asked:

"... that I may never see my wife's tomb, nor be buried by her." (Ovid, Metamorphoses 8.710).

Wishes granted

The gods granted their request, for after spending still many years guarding the temple, one day they put forth leaves, and no sooner they had said farewell to each other, they were turned into trees standing close together and growing from one double trunk.

What Publius Ovidius Naso says

Lelex 1 told this story, which he heard from staid old men who had no reason to deceive anybody, and he added that having seen votive wreaths hanging from the boughs of the trees, he placed some himself, and Publius Ovidius Naso, who made us acquainted with this man, says that Lelex 1 prayed in front of the tree:

"Let those beloved of the gods be gods; let those who have worshipped be worshipped." (Ovid, Metamorphoses 8.725).

Related sections Other couples: Hero & Leander, Pyramus & Thisbe 1, Ceyx & Alcyone 2  

Ov.Met.8.631, 8.720.