DEUCALION AND PYRRHA
BY M. M. BIRD
To the golden age of innocence, when the world was
young and men a race of happy children, succeeded
an age of silver, and then an age of brass. Last
came an age of iron, when every man's hand was against
his neighbor, and Justice fled affrighted to the sky. Then
the sons of earth, the giants, no longer curbed by law
or fear of the gods, waxed bold and wanton. Piling
mountain upon mountain they essayed to scale the
heavens and hurl its monarch from his throne. These
Jupiter blasted with his red lightnings and transfixed
with his winged bolts. But from their blood, as from
seed that the sower scatters, there arose a race of men,
a feeble folk, but no less godless and lawless than their
sires. Then Jupiter, beholding the ways of men that
they were evil and that none was righteous in his eyes,
determined to destroy this world and people it with a new
race unlike the first. He was minded at first to destroy
it by fire, and made ready his artillery of thunderbolts,
but then he bethought him that the vast conflagration
might blaze up to heaven itself and scorch the gods on
their golden thrones. So he dropped the bolts from his
"Water," he cried, "as my poet has sung 'is the best
of all elements'; by water I will drown the world."
First he bound the North Wind that freezes floods by
its icy breath, then loosed the South Wind that brings
fog and darkness and horror on its wings. From his
beard and eyebrows he rained showers, from his robe
and mantle the unceasing floods streamed down and
wreathing mists encircled his frowning brow.
He swept above the earth, wringing the waters from the
high clouds, while peal on peal of thunder rolled about
The bearded corn bent before the driving rain, and the
farmers lamented their ruined crops. But not alone in
the skies was Jupiter content to open the watergates.
He summoned to his aid the powers of Neptune. The
ocean, the natural enemy of the fruitful earth, swelled
with pride at this request, and rushed inland to meet the
swollen torrents that gushed from the hills across the
sodden plains. The floods gathered deep over the lowlands,
the fields were drowned, the ruined grain was
submerged. Sheep and cattle, peasants and their plows,
trees and wild beasts, were all borne out upon the resistless
waters. Even the houses, sapped by the water, fell
into the angry flood, and all the household goods were
swallowed up. Some climbed high cliffs to escape the
general doom, other launched out in little boats and
floated above the submerged chimneys of their homes or
cast anchor among their vines. Hills and valleys were
alike engulfed by the heaving waters; those who had
sought safety on the hilltops died of starvation, and those
in boats were swamped.
Jupiter, looking down from his starry heights, saw
nothing but a lake of troubled waters where the blooming
earth had been. The destruction was complete. Then
he unloosed the North Wind, and set fierce Boreas to
drive away the clouds. Neptune he commanded to lay
his trident on the rough waves and smooth out their furrows.
And he bade Triton, who appeared above the
waves, give the signal for the waters to retire within
their proper bounds. Triton blew a blast on his shell,
and the note was borne from wave to wave, from marge
to marge. The waters, obedient to the summons, ran
off the shores. The streams shrank by slow degrees to
their accustomed level, and the green shoulders of the
earth rose up from out their watery shroud. The tops
of the drooping trees emerged all matted with mud, the
houses lay in heaps of reeking ruin, the whole world lay
desolate and wore a sickly hue.
I have said that all men were evil, yet among this sinful
race were two righteous found, and though they could not
save others from destruction, they themselves were saved.
In a far vale of Thessaly there lived an aged couple,
who had fled there to escape from the wickedness of men,
Deucalion and Pyrrha his wife. When the flood came
they had seen a little skiff floating by their cottage door
and had embarked in it. For many days the skiff had
floated like a cork above the surging flood, and when the
flood abated they found themselves stranded on the
heights of Parnassus.
They were the sole survivors, and they blessed the
gods for their deliverance, but as they looked upon the
scene of desolation they were sad at heart. It was a
silent world. No human voice to greet them, no sound
of beast or bird. They were childless and without hope
of children, and if one of them were to die, how could the
other live on?
Yet in their misery they forgot not to pay their
reverent vows to Jupiter, the God of Deliverance, and
then together made their way down from Parnassus and
sought the now ruined shrine of Themis. The roofs
were green with moss and slime; no fire burned on the
They fell prostrate and implored the goddess: "O
righteous Themis, if the gods can be moved to love or
pity by our prayers; if the miseries of men can touch
them; if there is forgiveness and renewed favor to be
found in them, tell how we may restore mankind, and
by a miracle repeople all the world!"
The gracious goddess bowed to them and said: "Depart!
Veil your heads and cast each behind you the
bones of your mighty mother."
The pair stood amazed and dumb with wonder.
Pyrrha could not bring herself to obey the dire and
seemingly impious command.
"Forbid it, Heaven," she cried, "that I should tear
those sacred relics from their sepulcher!"
But Deucalion pondered in his heart the word of the
goddess, ever seeking in it some hidden meaning not at
first made clear. At length his eye brightened; he called
Pyrrha to him and said: "If I understand it right, there
is an answer to the dark enigma that will free the goddess's
word from taint of sacrilege. Our mighty mother
is the earth; the stones are her bones. These we must
cast behind us."
With renewed hope and gladness Pyrrha heard his
words, and though doubting still resolved to try.
Descending from the mountain to the plain that was
strewn with stones, reverently they veiled their heads,
and, taking up one stone after another, they flung them
over their shoulders.
And as the stones fell to the ground a miracle was
wrought. As each stone fell it visibly changed. At first
but the imperfect rudiments of a form appeared, such as
is seen in marble where the chisel has begun to chip it
out, and the sculptor has not yet lavished on it his finished
art. Then by degrees the stones seemed to swell
and soften like ripening fruit, till at last the life-blood
ran through the blue veins, while the bones kept their
hardness and supported the new-formed frame.
By divine power each stone thrown by Deucalion
turned into a man; while each that Pyrrha threw bloomed
into a fair woman. Thus was the earth repeopled.
'Tis a marvelous tale, but if you doubt its truth go
question the Egyptian rustics. They will tell you that
when the Nile subsides they find in the slime rude stones
shaped like a man's body, with a knob like a head and
bosses like the beginnings of arms and legs. These are
stones that Deucalion and Pyrrha threw, but such as fell
at their feet instead of behind them, and only began to
turn into men and women.