Stories of the Ancient Greeks - Charles D. Shaw

Deucalion's Flood

The Greek poets say that the first men lived in happiness and innocence for many years. That was the Golden Age. After it came the Silver Age, when men were not quite so happy or so good. The Brazen Age followed, with everything growing worse and worse. Then came the Iron Age, and wickedness and wrong were everywhere. Nobody was happy; love was dead; cruelty, murder, robbery, and war filled the whole world.

Zeus, king of heaven, called a meeting of the gods. They went to his palace, and he told them of the wickedness of mankind.

"The sins of men rise up like a black cloud," he said. "There are not songs of praise, only cries of the unhappy. No smoke of sacrifice ascends, but the smell of burning homes comes up and spreads itself through heaven. Men hate one another and do not love the gods. I will destroy this wicked race, and bring a better people upon the earth."

At first he thought he would send lightning and burn up all; then he considered that water might serve him better. He sent out the stormy winds, and the sky grew black with heavy clouds from which rain poured down. He called on his brother Poseidon to unchain the ocean, and soon its waters rolled high over the shores. The rivers rose, the ground rocked with earthquakes. Temples and homes fell, valleys filled with water, beasts and men were swept away. Villages vanished, cities were seen no more; only the mountains appeared, and on their tops and sides animals and human beings were gathered trembling. The wolf stood by the lamb but did not harm it, the lion crowded close against the deer, and both were alike afraid. Men did not strike each other; they lifted up their hands in prayer to the gods. Women did not look into mirrors; they looked to heaven for pity and help.

The waters rose higher. The animals were gone, so were all the men who did not have boats. The waves were high and fierce. They dashed the boats against the rocks, and they sank.

Only one mountain stood out of the water. That was Parnassus. Only one boat floated on the sea, and in it were a man and his wife, Deucalion and Pyrrha. They had been good when everybody else was bad, and Zeus had taken care of them through the storm and the flood.

The winds fell, the rain stopped, the boat rested on the mountain side. Ocean drew back his waves, the valleys were filled with roaring rivers that carried away the water to the sea. Deucalion and Pyrrha stepped out of the boat and stood upon the ground.

"O, wife," the good man said, "I am afraid we are alone in the world! All our friends and neighbors are gone. There is nobody to help us, or tell us what to do! [...] I am wrong in saying that. There are yet the gods and we will ask their advice."

They went down the mountain a little way to a place where they knew there had been an oracle. The cave was there, but no altar burned, and no priest stood near.

They went into the cave and knelt down. "O goddess!" they said, "thou dwellest in the dark, yet seest all things. Behold two sorrowful creatures who are left alone in a drowned world! We have nothing, we know nothing. We pray to thee, O goddess! Tell us what we ought to do."

A strange, solemn voice answered, "Cover your heads. Loosen your girdles. Go down the mountain, and, as you go down cast your mother's bones behind you."

They were frightened and did not understand. How could they find their mother's bones when everything had been swept away in the dreadful flood? They were no wiser than they had been until Deucalion thought, "Why, the earth is our great mother, to be sure. Her bones,—why, those must be the stones. Let us see if that is what the oracle means."

They covered their heads and loosened their belts, and went down the mountain. As they went they stooped and picked up stones and threw them back over their shoulders. Presently they heard a sound of running feet and of voices. They looked back. Young men were following Deucalion, holding out their hands to him and calling him "Bab-ba!" Young girls were running hard after Pyrrh, trying to catch her dress, and murmuring "Mam-ma!"

Deucalion threw another stone, and watched to see what would happen. Another young man started up run and call. Pyrrha threw again, and a new young woman joined the company of girls.

The old people went down into the valley, and by the time they reached it they had a large family of grown-up children, whom they taught to build houses, to plow the ground, to plant vines, to weave and sew, and to talk the Greek language. So the world was peopled again, and all the Greeks look back to Deucalion and his wife as their great ancestors.