The Old Couple Visited by the Gods in Greek Mythology
The story of Philemon and Baucis tells of an elderly couple who were rewarded for their kindness toward the gods Zeus and Hermes. Though this story is present only in the text of Metamorphoses, the Roman poet Ovid's epic about the Greek gods, it remains popular due to its message on the value of hospitality.
1 A Lifetime of Poverty and Happiness
Philemon and Baucis in a humble cottage thatched with reeds marsh stems for the duration of their marriage. They lived in a town filled with parsimonious citizens, but despite the indecorous behavior of their neighbors, they maintained their piety and their love for one another.
They worked together as equals, and though they acknowledged their poverty, they did not dwell on it. Instead, they passed their many years in happiness and humility, making them the perfect candidates to offer hospitality to the gods.
2 The Gods Disguised
Zeus, the primary Greek god, and his son Hermes, god of messengers, had disguised themselves as humans. Weary from travel, they stopped in the town of Philemon and Baucis, yet after knocking on one thousand doors, the gods found that none in the village would offer them hospitality.
Finally, the gods knocked on the door of the dilapidated, thatched cottage. Philemon invited them in, and though they had to stoop down to enter the doorway, Zeus and Hermes entered the tiny home of Philemon and Baucis.
3 The Best for Their Guests
Philemon prepared a place for his guests to sit and chatted with them as Baucis served them a variety of provender: olives, preserved cherries, cheese, roasted eggs, figs, dates, plums, apples, grapes, honeycomb and wine. Philemon prepared a stew with preserved meat as an entree.
As their guests ate, Philemon and Baucus noticed that each dish and each goblet of wine refilled by itself, as if by magic. Distraught, they prayed to the gods to make amends.
4 Retribution and Reward
Zeus and Hermes revealed themselves and assured the elderly couple that no harm would come to them. Instead, they guided Philemon and Baucis to a nearby mountainside. When the couple looked back, they saw that their entire village had been consumed by a swamp, and that their home had turned into a temple.
To reward them for their hospitality and piety, Zeus offered to grant the couple anything they wished in as a reward for their hospitality toward the gods.
5 An Eternity of Love
After conferring with Baucis, Philemon requested only that he and his wife be allowed to serve as priests in the temple and that they die at the same moment, as they loved each other too much to be parted by death.
When the couple finally passed away on the same day, the gods turned them into trees. Future generations would hang garlands in the trees and speak homilies to honor the memory of Philemon and Baucis.