Baucis and Philemon

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Jacob van Oost Mercury and Jupiter in the House of Philemon and Baucis
Jupiter and Mercury in the house of Philemon and Baucis, Adam Elsheimer, c1608, Dresden
Rubens, 1630–32
Jean-Bernard Restout, 1769
Rembrandt 1658
Rembrandt, 1658

Baucis and Philemon (Greek: Φιλήμων και Βαυκίς, romanizedPhilēmōn kai Baukis) are two characters from Greek mythology, only known to us from Ovid's Metamorphoses. Baucis and Philemon were an old married couple in the region of Tyana, which Ovid places in Phrygia, and the only ones in their town to welcome disguised gods Zeus and Hermes (in Roman mythology, Jupiter and Mercury respectively), thus embodying the pious exercise of hospitality, the ritualized guest-friendship termed xenia, or theoxenia when a god was involved.


Zeus and Hermes came disguised as ordinary peasants, and began asking the people of the town for a place to sleep that night. They had been rejected by all, "so wicked were the people of that land", when at last they came to Baucis and Philemon's simple rustic cottage. Though the couple were poor, their generosity far surpassed that of their rich neighbors, among whom the gods found "doors bolted and no word of kindness".

After serving the two guests food and wine (which Ovid depicts with pleasure in the details), Baucis noticed that, although she had refilled her guest's beech wood cups many times, the pitcher was still full (from which derives the phrase "Hermes' Pitcher"). Realizing that her guests were gods, she and her husband "raised their hands in supplication and implored indulgence for their simple home and fare". Philemon thought of catching and killing the goose that guarded their house and making it into a meal, but when he went to do so, it ran to safety in Zeus's lap. Zeus said they need not slay the goose and that they should leave the town. This was because he was going to destroy the town and all those who had turned them away and not provided due hospitality. He told Baucis and Philemon to climb the mountain with him and Hermes and not to turn back until they reached the top.

After climbing to the summit ("as far as an arrow could shoot in one pull"), Baucis and Philemon looked back on their town and saw that it had been destroyed by a flood and that Zeus had turned their cottage into an ornate temple. The couple's wish to be guardians of the temple was granted. They also asked that when time came for one of them to die, that the other would die as well. Upon their death, the couple were changed into an intertwining pair of trees, an oak and a linden, standing in the deserted boggy terrain.


The story belongs to Aarne-Thompson-Uther tale type 750.[1][2] It does not appear elsewhere in ancient writings.[3]


  • Nathaniel Hawthorne repeated the story of Baucis and Philemon in "The Miraculous Pitcher," a story in A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys, 1851.
  • Jean de la Fontaine's poem follows Ovid closely.
  • John Dryden translated Ovid's poem in 1693.
  • Jonathan Swift wrote a poem on the subject of Baucis and Philemon in 1709.
  • Joseph Haydn wrote a marionette opera Philemon und Baucis, oder Jupiters Reise auf die Erde in 1773.
  • Baucis and Philemon are characters in the fifth act of Goethe's Faust II (1832).
  • Gogol wrote an ironic and bittersweet reworking of the legend in his 1835 novella The Old World Landowners.
  • Charles Gounod wrote his opéra comique Philémon et Baucis in 1860.
  • The Lanchester Marionettes created a puppet show Philemon and Baucis in 1952[4]
  • One of the cities in Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities (1972) is named after Baucis.
  • Charles Frazier's novel, Cold Mountain (1997), ends with a reading of this myth.
  • Film director Károly Makk sets his film Philemon és Baucis during the Hungarian uprising of 1956.
  • Referenced by Shakespeare in Much Ado About Nothing when Don Pedro courts Hero for Claudio (2.1.95), and also in As You Like It by Jaques (3.3.7-8).
  • Australian writer Ursula Dubosarsky published a play for children, The Goose Who Was Nearly Cooked, based on the story of Philemon and Baucis.[5]
  • Referenced in Nadja by André Breton.
  • Referenced in Thom Gunn's poem "Philemon and Baucis" in The Man with Night Sweats.
  • Barbey d'Aurevilly describes a couple as Philemon and Baucis in his short story "Happiness in Crime" from the collection Les Diaboliques.
  • The narrator in Max Frisch's 1964 novel Gantenbein refers to the main characters as Baucis and Philemon for a whole chapter.
  • Philemon (and occasionally Baucis) is a central protagonist in Carl Jung's revelatory text, the Red Book.
  • Referenced by Ezra Pound in the poem "The Tree" and in "Canto XC".
  • The Overstory by Richard Powers makes several references to the story and to the idea of gods' traveling incognito.
  • British writer Jenn Ashworth echos the myth of Baucis and Philemon in her 2016 supernatural novel Fell
  • The myth is retold in the story Sawdust by Edward Carey in the anthology xo Orpheus (2013; ISBN 978-0-14-312242-5), edited by Kate Bernheimer.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Uther, Hans-Jörg (2004). The Types of International Folktales: Animal tales, tales of magic, religious tales, and realistic tales, with an introduction. FF Communications. p. 397
  2. ^ Hansen, William (2002). Ariadne’s Thread: A Guide to International Tales Found in Classical Literature. Cornell University Press. pp. 211–223.
  3. ^ Griffin, Alan (1991). "Philemon and Baucis in Ovid's 'Metamorphoses'". Greece & Rome. 38 (1): 62–74. Retrieved 4 June 2023.
  4. ^ Arnott, Peter D (1964). Plays without people knowledge. Indiana, USA: Indiana University Press. p. 44.
  5. ^ Dubosarsky, Ursula. "Philemon and Baucis: The Goose Who Was Nearly Cooked" – via Amazon.


  • Ovid VIII, 611–724. (On-line)
  • Philemon and Baucis (2003). Mythology: Myths, Legends, & Fantasies. : ISBN 1-74048-091-0
  • Hall, James, Hall's Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art, 1996 (2nd edn.), John Murray, ISBN 0719541476
  • William Smith, ed. A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1873)
  • Harry Thurston Peck, Harper's Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)
  • Hamilton, Edith (1969). "Eight Brief Tales of Lovers". Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes. Mentor. pp. 115–118. ISBN 0-451-62803-9.

External References[edit]