IN the age of the Men of Bronze, when Zeus, the ruler of the world, heard evil things about those who dwelt in it, he decided to walk the earth in mortal shape. But wherever he went, he found that rumor had fallen far short of the truth.
One evening, as twilight deepened into night, he came to the halls of inhospitable Lycaon, king of Arcadia, who was known for his savagery. By miraculous signs and tokens Zeus made evident his divine origin, and the people knelt and worshipped him. But Lycaon scoffed at their devout prayers. “Let us see,” he said, “whether this guest of ours is a god or a mortal!” And in his heart he resolved to destroy him at midnight, when his sleep would be soundest.
But first he killed a poor hostage the people of Molossia had sent him, cast part of the body, still warm, into boiling water, roasted part over the fire, and served this dish to the stranger for his evening meal. Zeus, who had seen through both what was done and what was intended, started up from the board and launched avenging flames upon the palace of this impious king. Shaken with terror he fled into the open. But the very first sound of distress he uttered turned into a howl. His skin roughened to a shaggy pelt, his arms became legs. He had been changed into a bloodthirsty wolf.
Then Zeus returned to Olympus, sat in council with the gods, and determined to wipe out the whole infamous race of man. He was just about to do this by scourging all the earth with lightning, when he held back for fear the sky might catch fire and burn the axis of the world. So he laid aside the thunderbolts the Cyclopes had forged for him and resolved to send torrents of rain down upon the earth and drown mortals in a vast flood. Instantly the north wind and all the other winds that clear the skies were locked into the cave of Aeolus, and only the south wind was allowed to issue forth. Down to earth he flew with dripping wings, shrouded in darkness as black as pitch. Tides flowed from his white hair, fogs covered his forehead, and water oozed from his breast. He reached up to the sky, swept the clouds into his mightv grip, and began to squeeze them out. Thunder rumbled, and masses of rain beat down from the heavens. The violence of the storm bent the harvest and shattered the farmer’s hopes. The long labors of the seasons had been in vain.
Poseidon, the brother of Zeus, also helped in this orgy of destruction. He called together the rivers, saying: “Let loose your currents! Engulf the houses and wreck the dams!” And they carried out his commands, while he himself struck the earth with his trident and shook the ground to make way for the waters. The rivers rolled over the open meadows, deluged the fields, and tore down the saplings, temples, and homes. If a few palaces still loomed here and there, the great tide rose to their roofs in no time at all, and the tallest towers were caught up in a whirlpool. Soon no one could distinguish between water and land. Everything was sea, shoreless sea.
Men tried to save themselves as best they could. One climbed a high mountain, another took to his boat and rowed over the roof of his submerged house, or over his vineyards, where the vine-sprays brushed against the keel. Fish struggled in the boughs of trees, while the fleeing stag and boar were at the mercy of the tide. Whole peoples were swept away, and those who were spared died of hunger on hills where nothing grew but barren heather and ferns.
In the land of Phocis there was still one mountain which lifted its peaks above the waste of water. It was Mount Parnassus. Deucalion, whose father Prometheus had warned him of the coming flood, and built him a boat, floated up to this mountain with Pyrrha his wife. No man and no woman created ever surpassed these two in goodness and fear of the gods. When Zeus, looking down from the sky, saw only endless swamp where the earth had been, and only two people left of thousands upon thousands, both guiltless and devout worshippers of his deity, he sent the north wind to drive away the black clouds and scatter the fogs. Once more he showed heaven to earth and earth to heaven, while Poseidon, sovereign over the sea, laid down his trident and smoothed the waves. The sea had shores again; the rivers returned to their beds. The tops of trees, smeared with mud, began to rise from the depths. Next came the hills, and at last the level plain spread clear and dry. Earth was restored.
Deucalion looked around. The land lay ravaged and silent as the tomb. At the sight, tears ran down his cheeks, and he said to Pyrrha: “My only and beloved companion, in all directions, as far as eye can reach, I see no living thing. We two are the only humans left on earth; all the rest have been drowned in the flood. And we, indeed, are not yet sure of our life. I tremble at every cloud. And even if all danger were past, what should two lonely people do on the abandoned earth? Oh, how I wish my father Prometheus had taught me the art of creating men and breathing spirit into shapes of clay!”
So he spoke, and in their solitude both he and his wife began to weep. Then they fell on their knees before a half-ruined altar of Themis and pleaded with the immortal goddess. “Tell us, goddess, how we may recreate the vanished race of man. Oh, help the world to live again!”
“Go from my altar,” said a voice. “Veil your heads, loosen the garments from your limbs, and cast the bones of your mother behind you.”
Long they pondered over these mysterious words. Pyrrha was the first to break the silence. “Forgive me, great goddess,” she said, “if I shudder and do not obey you, for I hesitate to offend my mother’s shade by scattering abroad her bones.”
But Deucalion’s mind was suddenly illumined as by a flash of light. He calmed his wife with soothing words. “Unless I am much mistaken,” he said, “the command of the gods never bids us do wrong. The earth is our mother, and her bones are the stones. It is the stones, Pyrrha, that we are to cast behind us!”
Nonetheless both were very doubtful about this explanation of the command of Themis. Yet—so they thought—there is no harm in trying. So they went to one side, veiled their heads, loosened the clasps of their garments as they had been told, and flung stones backward over their shoulders. And a miracle happened: the stones no longer remained hard and brittle. They became supple, and grew, and took on shape. Human forms stood out, not very distinctly at first, but rather like the first rough outline an artist hews from marble. Whatever was earthen and moist about the stones changed to flesh, and what was firm and hard was transformed to bones, while the veins turned into human veins. So, in a very short time, with the help of the gods, the stones cast by the man became men, those by the woman, women.
The human race does not deny its origin. It is a sturdy race, well-fitted for a life of toil, and it never forgets the stuff from which it was made.