Gateway to the Classics: Gods and Heroes by R. E. Francillon
Gods and Heroes by  R. E. Francillon

The Great Flood; or, The Story of Deucalion

P ROMETHEUS turned out to be quite right in saying that men would give more trouble to Jupiter than the Titans or the Giants, or anything that had ever been made. As time went on, men became more and more wicked every day.

Now there lived in Thessaly, on the banks of a river, a man and his wife, named Deucalion and Pyrrha. I think they must have been good people, and not like all the other men and women in the world. One day, Deucalion noticed that the water in the river was rising very high. He did not think much of it at the time, but the next day it was higher, and the next higher still. At last the river burst its banks, and spread over the country, sweeping away houses and drowning many people.

Deucalion and Pyrrha escaped out of their own house just in time, and went to the top of a mountain. But, to their terror, the waters still kept on spreading and rising, until all the plain of Thessaly looked like a sea, and the tops of the hills like islands.

"The water will cover the hills soon," said Deucalion, "and then the mountains. What shall we do?"

Pyrrha thought for a moment, and then said:—

"I have heard that there is a very wise man on the top of Mount Caucasus who knows everything. Let us go to him, and perhaps he will tell us what to do and what all this water means."

So they went down the other side, and went on and on till they reached the great Caucasian mountains, which are the highest in all Europe, and are always covered with snow. They climbed up to the highest peak, and there they saw a man, chained to the ice, with a vulture tearing and gnawing him. It was Prometheus, who had made the first man.

Deucalion tried to drive the horrible bird away. But Prometheus said:—

"It is no use. You can do nothing for me. Not even the Great Flood will drive this bird away, or put me out of my pain."

"Ah! the Great Flood!" cried Deucalion and Pyrrha together. "We have left it behind us—are we safe up here?"

"You are safe nowhere," said Prometheus. "Soon the waters will break over the mountains round Thessaly and spread over the whole world. They will rise and rise till not even this peak will be seen. Jupiter is sending this flood to sweep away from the face of the earth the wickedness of man. Not one is to be saved. Even now, there is nobody left alive but you two."

Deucalion and Pyrrha looked: and, in the distance, they saw the waters coming on, and rising above the hills.

"But perhaps," said Prometheus, "Jupiter may not wish to punish you. I cannot tell. But I will tell you what to do—it may  save you. Go down the mountain till you come to a wood, and cut down a tree." Then he told them how to make a boat—for nobody knew anything about boats in those days. Then he bade them good bye, and they went down the hill sorrowfully, wishing they could help Prometheus, and doubting if they could help themselves.

They came to the wood, and made the boat—just in time. The water rose; but their boat rose with the water. At last even the highest peak of Caucasus was covered, and they could see nothing but the sky above them and the waters round. Then the clouds gathered and burst, and the sky and the sea became one great storm.

For nine days and nights their little boat was tossed about by the winds and waves. But on the tenth day, as if by magic, the sky cleared, the water went down, and their boat was left high and dry on the top of a hill.

They knelt, and thanked Jupiter, and went down the hill hand in hand—the only man and the only woman in the whole world. They did not even know where they were.

But presently they met, coming up the hill, a form like a woman, only grander and more beautiful. They were afraid. But at last they had courage to ask:—

"Who are you? And where are we?"

"This hill is Mount Parnassus; and I am Themis, the goddess of Justice," said she. "I have finished my work upon the earth, and am on my way home to the sky. I know your story. Live, and be good, and be warned by what has happened to all other men."

"But what is the use of our living?" they asked, "and what is the use of this great world to us two? For we have no children to come after us when we die."

"What you say is just," said the goddess of Justice. "Jupiter will be pleased enough to give this empty world to a wiser and better race of men. But he will be quite as content without them. In short, you may have companions, if you want them, and if you will teach them to be better and wiser than the old ones. Only you must make them for yourselves."

"But how can we make men?" asked they.

"I will tell you. Throw your grandmother's bones behind you without looking round."

"Our grandmother's bones? But how are we to find them after this flood, or to know which are hers?"

"The gods," said Themis, "tell people what to do, but not how it is to be done." And she vanished into the air.

I think Themis was right. All of us are taught what we ought to do; but we are usually left to ask ourselves whether any particular thing is right or wrong.

Deucalion and Pyrrha asked one another; but neither knew what to say. The whole world, after the Great Flood, was full of bones everywhere. Which were their grandmother's, and where? They wandered about over half the world trying to find them, but all in vain, till they thought they would have to give it up in despair.

At last, however, Pyrrha said to Deucalion:—

"I have a thought. We are all called the children of Jupiter, you know, because he is called the father of gods and men. And Jupiter and all the gods are the children of Cœlus and Terra. Now, if we are the children of Jupiter, and Jupiter is the child of Terra, then Terra must be our grandmother. And Terra is the Earth; so our grandmother is the Earth, you see."

"But," asked Deucalion, "what about the bones?"

"What are the bones of the Earth but the stones?" said Pyrrha. "The stones must be our Grandmother's Bones."

"I don't think you're right," said Deucalion. "It's much too easy a thing—only to throw a few stones. But there's no harm in trying."

So they gathered two heaps of stones, one for him and one for her, and threw the stones behind them, over their shoulders, without turning round—just as Themis had told them.

When they had thrown away all their stones, they looked to see if anything had happened. And lo! every stone thrown by Pyrrha had become a woman, and every stone thrown by Deucalion had become a man.

So they kept on throwing stones till the world was full of men and women again. And Deucalion and Pyrrha became their king and queen.

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