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 hand.

"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 him.

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 deserted altar.

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.