BAUCIS ET PHILEMON
Ovid, Metamorphoses VIII: lines 626-660, 679-719
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Early 1500's. High Renaissance.
The Italian painter Bramantino is more interested in displaying his skills in architectural perspective than providing an illustrated copy of Ovid's words. Among a crowd of bystanders, Philemon kneels before Jupiter, while in the background Baucis chases the goose.
In the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne, Germany.
In this homely scene, Ovid's account is closely followed: Philemon chats with Mercury while Baucis catches up with the goose fleeing to Jupiter.
By an unknown artist working in the studios of the Flemish artist Rubens.
In the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria
The most famous painting of Philemon and Baucis is that by the Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn. It's a very dark painting, so here's a light-enhanced version
The elderly Baucis and Philemon, huddled on the left, offer up their single goose to Jupiter, in the centre, who raises his hand to refuse, while Mercury,on the right, looks on, his head dramatically lit from behind by a lamp or candle.
In the National Gallery of Washington, USA.
In this version, painted by the French artist Jean-Bernard Restout, the gods have just revealed themselves to the surprised couple. As described by Ovid, the goose flees to the gods who spare the bird.
In the Musee des Beaux-Arts, Tours, France.
The elderly couple with Jupiter and Mercury, watch the land being flooded. Painted by the Flemish (Dutch)artist Peter Paul Rubens.
In the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria.
1984. Post-modern, neo-classical.
Fantastic landscape, showing Philemon and Baucis' house transformed into a marble temple.
By the American artist David Ligare. In the Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hartford, Connecticut, USA.
17th century engraving from Ovid's Metamorphoses.
1956. Surrealism by French artist, Christian D'Orgeix.
Contemporary painting by Ron Orpitelli, 2006.
Contemporary photo.... ahhhh.
Contemporary photo from Japan with referenfe to a similar legend involoving lovers and trees.
Ovid tells us just prior to the start of the passage in the Anthology, that Philemon and Baucis lived in Phrygia and were turned into an oak and a linden tree (although doesn't specify which person was turned into which tree - but see below).
is the linden tree, also known as a lime tree in the UK (but unrelated to the citrus fruit). This pretty tree comes with heart-shaped leaves
The linden, being more slender than the oak, undoubtedly represents Baucis.
or oak is famous for its strength (a suitably masculine feature) and its longevity. It was sacred to Jupiter. Its leaves and acorns
are particularly photogenic.
The unusual Greek names, Philemon and Baucis, are perhaps derived from words respectively meaning "kiss" and "coy", a rather touching example of "opposites attract" that also stresses their mutual affection.
Terrific series of literary and cultural questions with follow-up answers and pointers that help illuminate the Anthology text. Especially valuable for those preparing for GCSE exams.
Created by Godfrey Evans of Chelmsford County High School for Girls.
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Once you have opened or saved the file to your PC, you'll need to play in "slideshow mode" for full effect.
Have you noticed something "woody" in Ovid's tale? He uses at least 30 references to trees, plants, their products or their various parts, many of them dried, wrinkled or shriveled, rustic, bent or old and well-used like Philemon and Baucis.
Great, fascinating article by Patrick Hunt at Stanford University, USA, outlining these "arborisms".
An introduction and commentary on all 15 books of Ovid's Metamorphoses, with discussion of myths and links to sources and influences in art and literature. The notes are not meant to be a summary, but are designed to accompany a reading of Ovid's text, highlighting major themes or interesting details as background for understanding the myths.
An excellent online resource by Larry A. Brown.
BAUCIS and PHILEMON IN ANCIENT LITERATURE
The Latin text of Baucis and Philemon in the Cambridge Latin Anthology is composed of the following lines from Book VIII of Ovid's poem, Metamorphoses: 626-660 and 679-719.
The link takes you to Book VIII of Ovid's Metamorphoses; scroll down to line 626 for where the Anthology extract starts: "Iuppiter huc specie...".
is written in a poetic form or "meter" known as dactylic hexameter
Find out more about the forms of Roman poetry in the section LATIN POETRY: Meters, Rhythms & Scansion
on the Verse Authors
The myth of Philemon and Baucis is first told by Ovid, but it seems likely he was influenced by tales with similar themes, such as gods and heroes, sometimes unrecognised for who they really are, being warmly welcomed into the homes of socially-inferior mortals:
PARALLEL TALES: hospitality to strangers
One of Ovid's prime influences would have been the Greek epic poet Homer. In his Odyssey, a famous scene of hospitality (xenia) - with the provision of food, drink and lodging to a stranger - occurs when the disguised hero Odysseus (Roman Ulysses), upon his return to Ithaca, shelters with the swineherd Eumaeus in his hut.
The "Hecale" of the Grek poet Callimachus (c.305-240 BC) is perhaps the most brilliant, imaginative and enjoyable example of the learned Greek poetry written in Ptolemaic Alexandria. Set in and around Athens, it describes how the hero Theseus was entertained by an old woman, Hecale, in her ramshackle hut on the night before he captured the monstrous bull of Marathon. When he returned to see her, she had died and he honoured her by naming a region around Athens after her, and establishing a cult of Zeus in her name.
The complete poem was lost after 1200 AD but substantial fragments have been recovered in the last 100 years.
The hero Hercules (Greek Herakles) stays in the shack of a poor labourer. The tale would have been well-known to all ancients but Ovid probably was directly inspired by Callimachus again(see above) and his collection of poems called Aetia ("Origins").
PARALLEL TALES: incognito divinities
There is a large body of classical myths dealing with gods and goddesses appearing in disguise to mortals who don't recognise them. Sometimes, as in Philemon and Baucis, the deities are treated as guests and given food and lodging - theoxeny:
The lowly shepherd Icarius entertained the god Bacchus (the Greek Dionysus) in his hut... with tragic consequences.
The sad legend is told, in this webpage, under the name "Virgo", with reference to Icarius' daughter, Erigone. Scroll to the 3rd paragraph for the story of Erigone and Icarius.
According to one theory, the French artist Poussin included Icarius and his daughter Erigone as the figures on the right of his masterwork "The Shepherds of Arcadia"
This theoxeny results in the unusual birth of the giant hunter Orion. As told by Ovid in Book V of his Fasti...
From the Christian era comes a famous example of mistaken identity: Jesus first appears to Mary Magdalen after his crucifixion. She sees him as a gardener and doesn't recognise him until he calls her name. This well-known painting, Noli Me Tangere, of 1511, is by the great Italian artist Titian. In the National Gallery, London.
PARALLEL TALES: floods and fires
Read all about it! Ovid's version in Metamorphoses I is still the best Classical version.
The 2nd-millenium-BC Babylonian tale of Utnapishtim, who built a boat and saved his family and friends, along with artisans, animals, and precious metals from a great flood sent by the gods. Sound familiar?
This weblink also looks at other flood myths of the ancient Near-east
Ovid set the story of Baucis and Philemon in Phrygia (an area of modern Turkey). He may have been influenced by a tale of a flood in and around the Phrygian city of Apamea (map
). This flood is reflected in the local Jewish population's association of the nearby mountain with Ararat (where Noah's ark came to rest). In the 3rd century AD, Apamea issued coins, depicting Noah and his wife in the Ark (looks like a box really!), to celebrate this tradition, an example of which is illustrated in this link.
You probably know the story, hum the song and have the t-shirt, but just in case... here's the full text of Genesis 6-8
And could it possibly have happened
The ancient story is another version of the flood, but substituting fire and brimstone for water.
Here's the full text of Genesis 18-19
BAUCIS & PHILEMON: TRANSLATIONS & INTERPRETATIONS
It's old and difficult to read but it is the first English translation of Metamorphoeses! Not the greatest poetry... but it's the one Shakespeare read!
Scroll down to lines 801-902 for the story of Baucis and Philemon.
This is no translation - it's a wind-up! A satire by Jonathan Swift (of "Gulliver's Travels" fame) in which the old couple's humble shack changes not into a temple, but a dreary country chapel; and, as trees, they meet an unhappy end!
Attractive modern poem about Baucis and Philemon by a contemporary English author and poet.
Modern on-line prose translation by Tony Kline which is much closer to Ovid's Latin than the well-known 1955 Penguin translation by Mary M.Innes.
If you need help in translating the Latin, this is the version to use.
An online-only "retelling" of the myth of Baucis and Philemon. It's not a word-for-word translation, but in its detail it always stays pretty close to Ovid. A big plus is that it's written in refreshingly modern language. So good read for all, but particularly appealing to the under 30's!
Unfortunately, there's no online version, but we list this here as a fantastic verse translation. The lines stay as close to the Latin as one can hope for in verse, and Ovid's hexameters are reflected in the "six-beats to a line" rhythm that runs through the translation. In fact, be careful where you read this... because you can't help but read it out aloud! Great, user-friendly introduction and there's a helpful sneak-peek of the tales at the start of each chapter/book.
A fun American High School movie telling the myth of Baucis and Philemon.
It's posted on YouTube so school computer filters may automatically block it; ask for permission to view it and don't miss the "real" temple at the end: it's a faithful replica of the Parthenon temple... and it's in Nashville, Tennessee!
Super MP3 audio-file of an English literal translation/dramatisation of the Anthology extract prepared by the Camden School for Girls. There's a goose on the loose!
Review of the 1998 book "Ovid in English" by Christopher Martin which re-iterates some of the significant works inspired by Ovid. If you like the sound of it, you could always try and get hold of a copy!
Ovid's tale suggests ancient tree cults (worship of trees); indeed, in lines following the Anthology passage, he states that Philemon and Baucis, as trees, were worshipped. The following links relate to some known or supposed tree cults of the ancient world.
A gold signet ring from Archanes in Crete, engraved with a scene thought to show worshippers at a tree shrine. The central figure could be the "tree/nature" goddess herself, appearing as a worshipper (right) shakes the tree. Note that the tree is surrounded by a wall - just as Ovid describes the Philemon and Baucis trees.
Dating c.1500 B.C., created by Minoan craftsmen from Crete; in the Herakleion Museum, Crete.
There were many examples of trees and groves sacred to specific gods in Greek times - although worship at the tree itself is more difficult to find. One good example of a revered tree is the sacred palm on the island of Delos, to which Leto clung on while giving birth to Apollo and Artemis were born. This image shows a drawing of a Greek vase (in the Museo Nazionale, Palermo, Italy) depicting (l-r) Leto, Artemis, Apollo and perhaps a personification of Delos, as well as the sacred palm tree.
Here's a photo
showing the modern palm planted in the area of the (now drained) sacred lake on Delos.
In Roman culture the most famous sacred tree was the ficus ruminalis
("suckling fig-tree") in the Roman Forum. Pliny the Elder states that it was sacred because things struck by ligtning were buried under it; additionally it was a reminder that the she-wolf suckled Romulus and Remus under a fig tree.
This marble relief from the Roman Forum (now in the Senate House) shows the tree on the right in front of the arcaded Basilica Julia.
The fig, as well as a vine and olive, have been replanted and stand today