Baucis and Philemon

In the ancient hills of Phrygia, there lives an ancient oak intertwined with an ancient linden tree. A low wall encircles the two. Locals come and travelers too, to visit and to rest. Some come make offerings, a pilgrimage of love.
The surrounding land, now marsh, gives sanctuary to the water birds of the region, the loon, the coot, the great blue heron. It was once fertile farmland, till one day, Zeus, with his wily son Hermes came to earth as travelers, strangers seeking respite.
They knocked upon 500 doors, but at each, they were turned away, until they came to one humble home, the cottage of an aged couple, dear Baucis and Philemon. She and He had lived here many years and growing old together found peace of mind in one another’s company. They were not concerned with wealth or poverty but lived each day with hearts quite full of love.
And so it comes as no surprise that when the travelers inquired at their gate, the couple bade them enter and set about to make the strangers comfortable. He pulled up chairs and she the cushions. And as she worked to stoke the fire, he went out back to gather greens and produce from their garden plot.
And as she fed the embers with twigs and sticks, and breathed new life into the hearth, the aged couple chatted cordially to pass the time and sooth their hungry guests. Soon  the food was cooked.
The meal was spread – a humble wine, some cheese and bread – now cabbages and hearty roots and just a bit of precious meat. And as a second course they served their best, some nuts and plums and fruits in season. And in the center was a honeycomb, fresh and sweet and golden. To this they added liveliness, the cheer of hospitality.
And as they moved to offer more, the couple noticed something odd. The wine stood full despite the pours. It seemed to fill up magically. So Baucis and Philemon, they raised their faces to the sky and set their palms in prayer. Sincerely they apologized for their humble fare. They recognized divinity and set to kill their only goose as offering to their godly guests.
But the goose was quick, the couple old. The goose quickly won the chase. He jumped into the lap of Gods who said, “You shall not kill the goose tonight.” “And for your generosity, please come with us, for you shall live beyond catastrophe.”
And so the couple aged and frail, they climbed beside the Gods and up the mountain slope were led. Looking back they saw indeed, the town’s land was submerged. Flooded and now lost to them were all those who previously denied the gods.
And as they watched and grieved the dead, they saw their cottage small, change into a temple, transformed before their eyes. Rough hew timbers change to marble. The thatched roof glowed with gold. The once dirt floor was marble now, great pillars in the hall.
A temple stood where once their home. Zeus turned towards these two. “Dear Grandmother and Grandfather, if you could have one wish…”
They looked into each others eyes and knew what they would ask. They spoke as if one voice they shared. “We wish to serve the Gods, my Lords, to tend what is now a shrine. And since we live as one right now, a life in peace and harmony, we’d like to pass in kind. No separate deaths, we’d ask of you, but two as if we’re one.” “I’d ask him not to bury me.” “Nor she to tend my grave.” And so the Gods did make it pass. What was asked they gave.
The couple lived for many years within their temple home, until one day their wish fulfilled outside the temple door. They stood and watched each other grow green with leafy bows, over smile and eye their bark did grow as each bid their love fair well.
Now ancient oak and linden tree, forever in embrace, create a temple of their own, the guardians of that place. We could look with mortal eyes or see with eyes of grace, for those to whom the Gods have blessed are the spirits of that place. They give their shade to travelers and comfort to the wind. Let all who visit know its true, this love beyond all end. 

~~~

Notes:

Adapted telling from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, book VIII. I have chosen to use the Greek names for the Gods, although Ovid told the tale in Roman tradition where Zues and Hermes are known as Juno and Mercury.

Sources:

Mandelbaum, Allen Translator (1993). The Metamorphoses of Ovid. San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Company. pp. 273-277.

Longley, Michael. (1994). “Baucis and Philemon.” In Hofmann, M. and Lasdun, J. (1994) After Ovid: New Metamorphoses. New York: Noonday Press. p. 194.

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