Friday, April 3, 2009
Here are some Baucis & Philemon trees. One is a double trunk (one of which has died, though you can't see it in this photo), but there are two distinct trees here. I'm taking an educated guess that we have an oak and a black birch, but I won't bet on it - I'll let you know after the leaves come out again.
Baucis and Philemon were an elderly peasant couple who always worked hard and treated everybody fairly. They didn't have much, but they were happy to share.
One day Zeus and Hermes (or Jupiter and Mercury, depending on your version) decided to see if they could find any good humans. They disguised themselves as weary travellers and went knocking on doors in Phrygia, looking for a meal and shelter for the night. At house after house they were turned away, until they came to the humble cottage of this kind and honest couple.
When the gods knocked at the door, they were greeted warmly and Philemon immediately stoked the fire from their precious wood supply while Baucis began to prepare food for the visitors.
As they ate, they drank wine, and Baucis soon noticed that the jug never emptied! She realized that the visitors were not mere mortals. She whispered to Philemon, and he jumped up to get their only goose, to serve to the guests, thinking that only bread and vegetables were not enough for such lofty company.
At this time, Zeus and Hermes revealed themselves and insisted that they had more than enough food, and that the goose should live to see another day. "You have done more than enough," they said, "and have shown us that there is good in humanity." The gods took the couple outside, and showed them that the valley below had been flooded, drowning all the unkind people who had refused to feed and shelter the gods. At the same time, the tumbledown cottage that Baucis and Philemon had lived in for so long became a lovely white temple.
Zeus then asked the pair what wish he could grant them, to repay them for their kindness. They spoke quietly together, and then made a request. "We wish to never be apart, and for neither of us to outlive the other," they said.
Zeus granted the devoted couple their wish. They lived out their days as caretakers of the temple, and when their time came to die, they transformed, together, into trees. And if you come upon a small temple on a Phrygian hillside, look to see if there are an oak tree and a linden tree growing together, branches intertwined. This is how Philemon, the oak, and Baucis, the linden, are still holding hands.