Philemon et Baucis.
BAUCIS AND PHILEMONAnd at this point, the River said no more.
This wonderful event astonished all;
but one was there, Ixion's haughty son—
a known despiser of the living Gods—
who, laughing, scorned it as an idle tale.
He made a jest of those who heard, and said,
“A foolish fiction! Achelous, how
can such a tale be true? Do you believe
a god there is, in heaven so powerful,
a god to give and take away a form—
transform created shapes?
Such impious words
found no response in those who heard him speak.
Amazed he could so doubt known truth, before
them all, uprose to vindicate the Gods
the hero Lelex, wise in length of days.
“The glory of the living Gods,” he said,
“Is not diminished, nor their power confined,
and whatsoever they decree is done.
“And I have this to tell, for all must know
the evil of such words:—Upon the hills
of Phrygia I have seen two sacred trees,
a lime-tree and an oak, so closely grown
their branches interlace. A low stone wall
is built around to guard them from all harm.
And that you may not doubt it, I declare
again, I saw the spot, for Pittheus there
had sent me to attend his father's court.
“Near by those trees are stagnant pools and fens,
where coots and cormorants delight to haunt;
but it was not so always. Long ago
'Twas visited by mighty Jupiter,
together with his nimble-witted son,
who first had laid aside his rod and Wings.
“As weary travelers over all the land
they wandered, begging for their food and bed;
and of a thousand houses, all the doors
were bolted and no word of kindness given—
so wicked were the people of that land.
At last, by chance, they stopped at a small house,
whose humble roof was thatched with reeds and straw;—
and here a kind old couple greeted them.
“The good dame, Baucis, seemed about the age
of old Philemon, her devoted man;
they had been married in their early youth,
in that same cottage and had lived in it,
and grown together to a good old age;
contented with their lot because they knew
their poverty, and felt no shame of it;
they had no need of servants; the good pair
were masters of their home and served themselves;
their own commands they easily obeyed.
“Now when the two Gods, Jove and Mercury,
had reached this cottage, and with bending necks
had entered the low door, the old man bade
them rest their wearied limbs, and set a bench,
on which his good wife, Baucis, threw a cloth;
and then with kindly bustle she stirred up
the glowing embers on the hearth, and then
laid tinder, leaves and bark; and bending down
breathed on them with her ancient breath until
they kindled into flame. Then from the house
she brought a store of faggots and small twigs,
and broken branches, and above them swung
a kettle, not too large for simple folk.
And all this done, she stripped some cabbage leaves,
which her good husband gathered for the meal.
“Then with a two-pronged fork the man let down
a rusty side of bacon from aloft,
and cut a little portion from the chine;
which had been cherished long. He softened it
in boiling water. All the while they tried
with cheerful conversation to beguile,
so none might notice a brief loss of time.
“Swung on a peg they had a beechwood trough,
which quickly with warm water filled, was used
for comfortable washing. And they fixed,
upon a willow couch, a cushion soft
of springy sedge, on which they neatly spread
a well worn cloth preserved so many years;
'Twas only used on rare and festive days;
and even it was coarse and very old,
though not unfit to match a willow couch!
“Now as the Gods reclined, the good old dame,
whose skirts were tucked up, moving carefully,
for so she tottered with her many years,
fetched a clean table for the ready meal—
but one leg of the table was too short,
and so she wedged it with a potsherd—so
made firm, she cleanly scoured it with fresh mint.
“And here is set the double-tinted fruit
of chaste Minerva, and the tasty dish
of corner, autumn-picked and pickled; these
were served for relish; and the endive-green,
and radishes surrounding a large pot
of curdled milk; and eggs not overdone
but gently turned in glowing embers—all
served up in earthen dishes. Then sweet wine
served up in clay, so costly! all embossed,
and cups of beechwood smoothed with yellow wax.
“So now they had short respite, till the fire
might yield the heated course.
“Again they served
new wine, but mellow; and a second course:
sweet nuts, dried figs and wrinkled dates and plums,
and apples fragrant, in wide baskets heaped;
and, in a wreath of grapes from purple vines,
concealed almost, a glistening honey-comb;
and all these orchard dainties were enhanced
by willing service and congenial smiles.
“But while they served, the wine-bowl often drained,
as often was replenished, though unfilled,
and Baucis and Philemon, full of fear,
as they observed the wine spontaneous well,
increasing when it should diminish, raised
their hands in supplication, and implored
indulgence for their simple home and fare.
And now, persuaded by this strange event
such visitors were deities unknown,
this aged couple, anxious to bestow
their most esteemed possession, hastily
began to chase the only goose they had—
the faithful guardian of their little home —
which they would kill and offer to the Gods.
But swift of wing, at last it wearied them,
and fled for refuge to the smiling Gods.
At once the deities forbade their zeal,
and said, ‘A righteous punishment shall fall
severe upon this wicked neighborhood;
but by the might of our divinity,
no evil shall befall this humble home;
but you must come, and follow as we climb
the summit of this mountain!’
and leaning on their staves toiled up the steep.
Not farther from the summit than the flight
of one swift arrow from a hunter's how,
they paused to view their little home once more;
and as they turned their eyes, they saw the fields
around their own engulfed in a morass,
although their own remained,—and while they wept
bewailing the sad fate of many friends,
and wondered at the change, they saw their home,
so old and little for their simple need—
put on new splendor, and as it increased
it changed into a temple of the gods.
Where first the frame was fashioned of rude stakes
columns of marble glistened, and the thatch
gleamed golden in the sun, and legends carved,
adorned the doors. And al] the ground shone white
with marble rich, and after this was done,
the Son of Saturn said with gentle voice,
‘Now tell us, good old man and you his wife,
worthy and faithful, what is your desire?’
“Philemon counselled with old Baucis first;
and then discovered to the listening Gods
their hearts' desire, ‘We pray you let us have
the care of your new temple; and since we
have passed so many years in harmony,
let us depart this life together— Let
the same hour take us both—I would not see
the tomb of my dear wife; and let me not
be destined to be buried by her hands!’
“At once their wishes were fulfilled. So long
as life was granted they were known to be
the temple's trusted keepers, and when age
had enervated them with many years,
as they were standing, by some chance, before
the sacred steps, and were relating all
these things as they had happened, Baucis saw
Philemon, her old husband, and he, too,
saw Baucis, as their bodies put forth leaves;
and while the tops of trees grew over them,
above their faces, — they spoke each to each;
as long as they could speak they said, ‘Farewell,
farewell, my own’—and while they said farewell;
new leaves and branches covered both at once.
“The people of Tyana still point out
two trees which grew there from a double trunk,
two forms made into one. Old truthful men,
who have no reason to deceive me, told
me truly all that I have told to you,
and I have seen the votive wreaths hung from
the branches of the hallowed double-tree.
And one time, as I hung fresh garlands there,
I said, ‘Those whom the Gods care for are Gods!
And those who worshiped are now worshiped here.’”