The people of Greece had very strange ideas about the earth in those far-away childish days. They knew all about their own fair country, for they had climbed its mountains and traversed its valleys; but beyond these were strange regions, about which they thought a great deal, although they knew but little. They thought that the earth was flat, like a great shield; that their own country was in the centre; and that the home of the gods was Mount Olympus, which rose above them, like the central point on the great brass shields which you have seen. They thought that the great River-Ocean flowe'd around the earth, and poured its waters into the Aegean Sea and the seas about which they knew.
North of them was the beautiful land of the Hyperboreans, in which country were the happiest of people, who spent their time in singing and dancing, laughing and dreaming, a careless, idle people, doing no work, never growing old. and always free from sickness or war. A poet has written one of the songs of these joyous Hyperboreans. South of Greece was a country quite as beautiful, and a people quite as happy.-the god-favored Ethiopians. On the west were the Isles of the Blessed, where good people were taken by the gods, and where they lived forever in happiness. So you see the Greeks knew very little about the countries around them; for we have learned that these are very strange and useless beliefs about the earth.
When we think that other places are so much better than our own, and that happiness can be found everywhere else than in our own little corner of the world, we, like the Greeks, are believers in a land of the Hyperboreans, into which we cannot expect to enter. Zeus often visited these strange and blissful regions; and he chose Hermes for a companion, because lie had the winged cap and sandals, and could travel rapidly. Then, too, Hermes was a famous storyteller; and who does not love to listen to a good story? Hermes' stories were his own. They were not always true; but they pleased the dignified and stately Zeus, nevertheless.
One day Hermes and Zeus had walked for a long distance in search of the Elysian Plains. They were weary and footsore, and they had travelled over steep mountains and through sunny valleys without having found a path. They had made frequent inquiries, but each person whom they asked had told them to go in a different direction. So they decided to give up the search until the next day; and just as Helios was driving far down in the west, they came to a village, nestled close beneath a high mountain. Hermes and Zeus were dressed like mortals; their clothes were dusty and torn, and they looked like very ordinary travellers. At the outskirts of the village, they came to a fine large house with marble pillars, around which were great shady trees inviting rest. Hermes said, " Let us go in here. This will be a nice place to rest."
So they walked up to the arched portico, and would have entered, but a richly dressed man came out and bade them begone. Again and again they sought rest at different houses, with no better success. In this manner they passed through the village. At length they came to a little tumble-down house with which the West Wind had played many a rough game. Two old people were sitting on a rude bench by the door; and at sight of the travellers, they both arose and welcomed them gladly. They gave up their bench; the housewife brought water in a wooden bowl; while the man unfastened their sandals, and helped them to bathe their faces, hands, and feet. Inside the house the good lady spread a coarse cloth upon the table, and began to get supper.
To the wearied and hungry travellers, all this was very pleasant indeed. To be treated as if they were long-expected guests was as delightful to Hermes and Zeus then as it is to mortals now. They began to talk to the old man, who seemed cheerful and happy in spite of his poverty. " To whom do we owe this pleasure?" ' asked Zeus. "This is Baucis, my wife," and "That is Philemon, my husband," they both answered, almost in the same breath. They were too polite to ask who the strangers were or where they were going.
They talked of the harvest and about the games in which some of the young men of the village had taken part, and had been victorious. Then they went into the house, with its one room, a rickety old table, and shaky chairs. Baucis began to say how sorry she was that she had nothing better to offer. She had only cakes, grapes, and milk; and these' did not seem very much for two hungry people. Baucis and Philemon said that they were not at all hungry, and urged their guests to eat all that there was in the dishes. And how they did eat! The dishes were nearly empty; one cake and the last bunch of grapes remained, and there was no more milk in the pitcher, when Hermes politely asked for more.
Baucis tipped the pitcher to pour out the last drop, when, lo! it was full to the brim of rich and sparkling nectar, while each humble dish was turned into a glittering vessel of gold, filled with rare dainties, such as Baucis and Philemon had never dreamed of. They were now invited to the feast, and they fell upon their knees, for they discovered that their visitors were the gods themselves. "Good Baucis and Philemon," said Zeus, "ye have shown us the true beauty of hospitality, and ye are deserving of gifts worthy of those whom ye have served. Rise and follow us."
The gods led the way to the top of a hill, and there, pausing, bade Baucis and Philemon look back. The whole scene had changed. They saw no longer the village with its white houses among the trees, but, instead, a blue and sparkling lake. Tn the midst of this lake, on an island, stood their old home; and as they looked, it began to change. Slowly its crumbling walls rose into tall and stately columns, and the old roof became the pediment of a beautiful temple. On the pediment were statues of Zeus and the gods. " This shall be your home," said Zeus. " It is a temple sacred to Zeus, and it shall be taken care of by those who know well how to care for the needs of others. Is there a wish you would have granted?" " Great father Zeus," said Baucis, u we pray that we may never part, but that we may go together to the land of the afternoon."
One day Baucis and Philemon were standing before the temple; and as they looked lovingly into each other's eyes, Baucis said, " Ah Philemon, would that we could remain here always!" She had scarcely spoken these words, when Philemon was changed into a beautiful tree; and looking down at her feet, she saw that she herself was changing. So Baucis became a beautiful linden, and Philemon a strong and sturdy oak. For years they stood before the temple, and with each passing breeze, they whispered loving words to each other.
The Legend and Myth about Baucis and Philemon
The Myth of Baucis and Philemon
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