Baucus and Philemon, or two trees in love

Entwined treesOne of Ancient Rome’s greatest poets, Ovid, wrote this fable, the story of two honored trees:

Baucus and Philemon, an elderly couple in Greece, had little to share, but when two weary travelers sought a place to sleep for the night, they welcomed them into their hovel. This couple was pious, and hospitality was a joyful duty. The town’s other residents, all wealthy and wicked, would share nothing with those strangers, mere peasants.

The couple provided the two strangers with all the comforts they had, and with food and drink, though their best was poor and meager. Their guests soon admired their deep love for each other. Baucus and Philemon noticed that their guests’ wine cups were refilling themselves magically, and they realized that these were no peasants — they were gods in disguise.

They apologized for their humble offerings, but the gods, Zeus and Hermes, assured them they were content. However, they had deep wrath for the other people of the town. They sent Baucus and Philemon to higher ground and destroyed the town with a flood.

When he was done, Zeus turned their hovel into a grand, beautiful temple, and, to honor their love for each other, he bade them to ask for their dearest wish. They asked to be able to serve in the temple and worship him, and that when the time came, for them to die together, so neither would grieve alone.

Zeus granted that and more. When the hour of human death arrived, they sprouted leaves and roots, and they had time to say goodbye and kiss before they became trees and spent several more centuries in companionship with each other.

Those trees, Ovid wrote, grew together and were celebrated by their new neighbors, who recognized their sacredness. Their branches were hung with garlands, and prayers and vows were made beneath their shelter.

In our day, we know through scientific observation that trees care for each other, something the ancients could easily imagine.

Photo by Hermann Hammer.

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