Baucis and Philemon

Baucis and Philemon (over-modest and friendly slinger) In Greek mythology, an old couple rewarded for their hospitality to Zeus and Hermes.

Zeus and Hermes, in human form, found themselves in Baucis and Philemon’s country, Bithynia, without shelter for the night. They sought lodging at every house, but it was late, and the householders refused to accommodate the travelers. At last they came to the house of Baucis and Philemon, a poor couple who had grown old together. Baucis and Philemon welcomed the travelers, raked up the coals into a fire, and prepared food. When the wine was poured out for the visitors, the couple saw that its level in the pitcher had not gone down, but the wine had replenished itself. They realized that their visitors were gods and, becoming fearful, apologized for the poor quality of their hospitality. But Zeus said: “We are gods. This inhospitable village shall pay the penalty of its impiety; you alone shall go free from the chastisement. Quit your house, and come with us to the top of yonder hill.”

They hastened to obey, and staff in hand, labored up the steep ascent. When they turned and looked back down at their village, they saw that it had been submerged in a lake, with only their own house standing on a small island of dry ground. Suddenly, before their eyes, their house was transformed into a magnificent temple. Their reward for their hospitality to the gods was to become priest and priestess in the temple for the rest of their lives. Their final prayer to the gods was that when the time came for them to die, they should both die at the same hour so that they should never be without each other.

Ovid’s Metamorphoses (book 8) tells the myth, which was also translated into French by La Fontaine and into English by Dryden, who translated part of the entire Metamorphoses. The myth was used by Rembrandt for his Philemon and Baucis, in which he portrays the couple and the gods at dinner. Rubens also painted the scene. There are some 10 operas on the subject. One, Philémon et Baucis (1860), is by Charles Gounod, the composer of Faust.


Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow– Copyright © 2009 by Anthony S. Mercatante