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The Ancient Legend of Baucis and Philemon and their Hospitality

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Baucis and Philemon

Image source: Wikimedia

The Legend of Baucis and Philemon

One of the stories often repeated by the ancient Greeks and Romans was the legend of Baucis and Philemon which tells of a visit to the land of Phrygia by the gods Jupiter and Mercury. The gods turned themselves into the likeness of men and decided to test the hospitality of the townsfolk by visiting several houses.

Late at night the gods came to a village where they knocked on many doors to ask for food and shelter but nobody would answer them. When they finally reached a poor thatched cottage where an old couple called Baucis and Philemon lived they were surprised to be warmly welcomed. Baucis was not ashamed of their poverty so laid the table and offered their guests the best food they had, bread, cheese, eggs and a jug of the local wine. Philemon brought the gods water to wash their hands.

During the meal the old couple were astonished to see that the wine jug remained full of wine no matter how much was poured out and drank. All of a sudden Baucis and Philemon realised that their visitors were gods and knelt before them to ask for forgiveness for such poor entertainment. Jupiter gently raised them up and thanked them for their warm hospitality and food, then he led them to the top of a hill, saying that they would see the punishment of the inhospitable and selfish villagers. Suddenly the village became a lake and their own humble cottage became a golden temple standing in the middle of it. Then Jupiter asked Baucis and Philemon what reward they would like from him. They replied that they would like to be priest and priestess of the temple and also asked that when their turn came to die that they would pass away in the same hour together.

These wishes were granted and one day, whilst standing on the steps of the temple, Philemon noticed a strange change coming over Baucis. Leaves were growing from her! At the same time Baucis saw that the same thing was happening to Philemon. After a short while the light wind blowing through their branches bore their whispered goodbyes to each other, for Philemon had become an oak tree and Baucis a lime tree.

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