Deucalion and the Flood

Deucalion and Pyrrha by Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione

Deucalion and the Flood

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The human race, which had been steadfast under misfortune, could not
bear good fortune. It became sensual, effeminate, and haughty. Zeus
heard of this human degeneracy, assumed human form, and betook himself
to earth to discover how much of truth there was in these evil reports.
He found a worse state of things than he had feared. Every kind of
abomination prevailed. At the close of day he went to the palace of
Lycaon, king of Arcadia. To those assembled there he gave a sign that a
deity was present. They immediately began to pray. Then said the king:
"Let us see whether this is a deity or a mortal like ourselves." If
mortal, he resolved to slay him in the night. He first of all prepared a
banquet for him. He cut the throat of a man who had been sent to him by
the people of Molossia to be scourged, took the still quivering members,
threw some of them into boiling water, and placed the rest of them upon
a spit and held them over the fire.
When Zeus saw this he shook the earth and at once the mighty castle was
in ruins. The king fled in terror to the fields. He tried to speak, but
his voice was an awful howl. And as his voice changed, so did his whole
body. He had hair instead of garments and his arms became feet. As a
wolf, with eyes glaring, with a longing for blood, and with the action
of the wild beasts, he sprang among the herds and his teeth were covered
with the blood of the strangled animals.
Zeus not only determined to punish Lycaon, but prepared for the
destruction of the whole human race. He betook himself to Olympus,
entered his golden palace, called the other deities together, and
announced his decision to them. Some approved of it; to others the word
of their master caused pain and they said: "Who will build us
sacrificial altars in future if the race of mortals is destroyed?"
Zeus promised to people the earth with another and better race and
seized his thunderbolts to hurl them over all the earth. But suddenly he
feared that the storm of fire might spread through the whole sacred
firmament and reduce the universe to ashes. Therefore he dismissed the
one-eyed Cyclops, who forged his bolts, and decided to destroy the world
by a deluge. He summoned Æolus, god of the winds, and ordered him to
retain in his grotto the winds which dispel the rain clouds and release
only the south wind. This was done. The south wind immediately spread
its heavy, wet wings over sea and land, its foreboding face was
concealed by the night, mists covered its brow, its heavily waving beard
dripped with rain, and from its curls torrents of water poured down.
Zeus pressed the cloud with his broad hand and at once the thunder
resounded through immeasurable space. Swiftly the goddess Iris ascended
and descended her seven-hued rainbow, drawing water from the agitated
sea and filling the clouds. All growing things were bent to the ground
and it was not long before the husbandman's hopes disappeared before the
raging flood.
Poseidon (Neptune), god of the sea, was the ruler in the universe most
actively engaged in the work of destruction. He ordered the rivers to
break through the dikes and overflow the land. He himself rode over the
sea in his chariot and excited it so that it hurled its foaming waves
upon the shore. Then he smote the earth with his golden trident so that
it trembled and the water covered every place. Trees, houses, and
temples fell before the wrath of the flood. The rush of the storm
drowned the piteous shrieks of men, who, sitting in the trees or upon
ridge-poles, vainly stretched out their hands to the darkened heavens.
Others fled in multitudes to the mountains to save themselves among the
peaks. But higher and higher rose the flood. Some died of fright, some
of despair. Others, bereft of reason, rushed aimlessly here and there,
until with horrible shrieks they were swallowed up in the raging flood.
The waters soon flowed over the tops of the highest mountains and only
the sky and water were visible. Here and there men rowed in boats, and
tigers and lions vainly sought to save their lives by swimming. The
sheep were in no danger from the wolves when the flood swept among them.
Every animal perished. Even the birds, which can remain long in the air,
at last sank with tired wings into the water.
Only one place was free from water, the heights of Parnassus, which
tower among the clouds. There a small boat was caught in which were
Deucalion, king of Thessaly, and his spouse. They lifted their voices
and implored a nymph dwelling in a grotto near by to save them. Zeus saw
them clinging to the wall of the height, and knowing that they were the
only god-fearing ones among the thousands who had perished, decided to
let them live. So the winds following the rain clouds were checked and
the blue sky smiled once more and Apollo ascended in his flaming
chariot. Poseidon stilled the sea. He gave a signal with his trident and
the vast tide ebbed. Then he called his son Triton, ruler of the depths
of the sea, who dwelt there in a golden house with his mother
Amphitrité. He was half man and half fish, with a bluish scaly skin.
Triton appeared and Poseidon ordered him to call back the floods and
streams which had swept over the land. In obedience to his father's
request Triton raised his wreathed shell and from sunrise to sunset
sounded a blast which called all the waters back to their depths. The
flood receded, mountains and hills appeared above the water, and
gradually the plains and forests and devastated fields became visible.
Deucalion and Pyrrha left their boat, and as he looked around him at the
widespread desolation he said: "Oh my spouse, bound to me by ties of
kindred and marriage, behold, we are the only human beings in the wide
world. How wretched would it then have been if death also had overtaken
me! If thou hadst been swept away by the flood I should have followed
after thee, for without thee I could not have lived, best beloved! Oh!
would that I possessed my father's divine power of creating men and
bestowing life upon them."
Tears choked his voice and Pyrrha wept also. At last they decided to
implore Themis[6] to have mercy and relieve them in their sore straits,
and repaired to the temple of the goddess. What a spectacle! The aisles
were covered with slime and the fires upon the altars were extinguished.
They fell upon their knees, kissed the cold stones, and prayed: "Divine,
all-gracious, and merciful one, behold! Empty is the world! We alone
remain of all its mortals. Oh pity us and let us once more live among
people like ourselves."
At once through the halls of the temple resounded these words: "Leave
the temple, cover your heads, loosen your girdles, and throw behind you
the bones of your great mother."
They were mute with astonishment for a time, but at last Pyrrha said
with trembling voice: "Be not angry with me, oh goddess, that I cannot
throw my mother's bones behind me. Thereby I should disturb the dear one
now wandering among the shades in Tartarus."
Sadly they descended the temple steps, Deucalion meditating over the
mysterious message to them. At last the shadows of grief in his heart
were dissipated and he said: "Best beloved, the goddess intends no harm
to us. I believe this is the meaning of her message. The earth is the
mother, the stones are her bones. So we will throw them."
They began at once to obey the goddess's message. They loosened their
girdles, covered their heads, and threw stones behind them. Suddenly
life began to manifest itself in the stones. They began to enlarge and
take shape. Soon they resembled blocks of marble which the sculptor is
fashioning in human form. The softer parts were changing to flesh, the
harder to bones. At last appeared the forms of living persons. The
stones which Deucalion threw behind him became men and those which
Pyrrha threw became women. Thus was the earth repopulated with beings
made of stone--a race of strong minds and stout bodies.


cBecker, K. F., Schmidt, F., & Putnam), U. G. P. (George. (n.d.). Deucalion and Pyrrha. In Gods and heroes. essay, Project Gutenberg.