(ORDO NEWS) — Name this man: when he was warned that the earth and all its inhabitants would be destroyed by a huge flood, he is the only godly person worthy of salvation – and his wife built an ark in which they both survived the flood.
After the waters receded and the ark ran aground on the top of the mountain, he and his wife gave thanks for their salvation and began to repopulate the earth.
If you guessed the biblical Noah, then you were only half wrong. The above description can actually be taken as a rough sketch of the story of Noah in the first book of the Bible, but in this case I am not talking about Noah, but about Deucalion, who survived the divine flood.
Let’s step back a little. Creation myths are, as the name suggests, mostly symbolic stories about the creation of the world and the human species. Almost every culture has its own version of the ancient creation myth (some are taken more seriously than others).
In particular, there are several creation myths in ancient Greek culture that we are relatively familiar with thanks to high school social studies classes on the Greek pantheon (not to mention popular culture)
Deucalion plays an important role in the creation myths of ancient Greece, but before talking about his contributions, we need to take a quick look at his father, the much more famous Prometheus.
Benefactor of mankind
Prometheus is known in myths (many of which survive in such texts as Hesiod’s Theogony and Ovid’s Metamorphoses) as the creator of mankind.
Although the details vary in different sources, in general it can be agreed that Prometheus, although he was a Titan, was not punished by the Olympian gods (Zeus and others) after their seizure of power, because he (and his brother Epimetheus) decided not to fight in the war between titans and olympians.
Zeus then gave the two brothers the task of repopulating the Earth. Epimetheus created animals, happily (and somewhat recklessly) endowing them with gifts such as speed, hard shell, claws, and more. In fact, by the time Prometheus finished shaping man out of clay, he no longer had any gifts left.
Seeing that this was the case, Prometheus decided to create man in the image and likeness of the gods. He gave man the ability to walk upright so that he could look at the sky, gave him the gift of reason, and (this is, of course, the gift for which Prometheus is best known) gave him the gift of fire, without which mankind would never have survived.
Prometheus gives fire
Some sources say that Zeus already took fire from mankind and Prometheus stole it back, or that Zeus never wanted people to have fire at all – in any case, Prometheus challenged him and was terribly punished: he was chained to a rock, where he was defenseless before the eagle, which during the day slowly ripped out and ate his liver. At night, his liver grew back, and in the morning the whole terrible process began again.
So, thanks to the valiant Prometheus, man was created from clay and, having received the gift of fire, was able to grow, flourish and form a civilization, but, as the legend says, humanity also began to quickly fall into a state of complete depravity.
Zeus (who never loved mankind) was shocked by their behavior, and by the time Lycaon, king of Arcadia (in an attempt to test whether Zeus was really omniscient) killed his own young son and served the boiled flesh of a boy to the god at a feast, Zeus’s patience had already been exhausted. Enraged by the degenerate actions of Lycaon, Zeus made the decision to destroy all of humanity.
After all, why throw away bad apples when you can just as easily burn an entire orchard?!
I never liked these people…
According to Ovid, Zeus almost destroyed humanity by bombarding the Earth with lightning, but stopped when he realized that the resulting fire would most likely destroy all of creation. Instead, he chose a punishment that would destroy people without causing much harm to the earth itself: the flood.
He and Poseidon together created a sudden and destructive flood, with Zeus ruling over the thunderclouds and Poseidon over the rivers and oceans. The entire ordeal lasted about nine days, and by the time the waters receded, all mankind had drowned.
All, that is, except for one married couple: Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha. Some sources say that because of Deucalion’s piety and loyalty to the gods, he was warned (either by his father or one of the Olympian gods) about the flood and was ordered to build a strong ark.
Other sources (such as the Metamorphoses) suggest that Deucalion and his wife were just lucky, they managed to find a boat, and they were allowed to survive because they humbly thanked the gods for their survival.
Their small boat ran aground in the only dry place on earth: on the very top of Mount Parnassus (although it is called differently in different sources). As the waters receded and the elderly couple left the boat, they were suddenly confronted with the horrifying realization that they were the ones who were to repopulate the land.
It is clear that they were frightened by such a prospect, and decided to seek advice from the “goddess of prophecy” Themis. They went to the place where her oracle was located and prayed for guidance. Inspired by their piety, Themis gave them the following divine message:
Leave this sanctuary, cover your heads and loosen your clothes, and then throw the bones of your mighty mother behind your backs” (Ovid, 1.382-383).
After a few minutes of confusion (when Deucalion and Pyrrha were shocked at the unholy prospect of disrespecting their mothers’ bones), they realized that Themis was referring to their common mother, Mother Earth.
Deucalion reasoned that Mother Earth’s bones should be stones on the ground, so they followed the divine advice and threw the stones over their shoulder. All the stones thrown by Deucalion turned into men, and all the stones thrown by Pyrrha into women; and so, says Ovid,
… our race is heavy; we toil in the sweat of our brows and bear indelible traces of our stony origins (1.414-415).
In this way, Deucalion and Pyrrha were able to repopulate the earth – and even in their old age they were blessed with their children, many of whom came to be considered extremely important in the creation myths of Greece.
In fact, one of their children, a boy named Hellenes, is considered the mythical ancestor of the entire Greek race, and it is from him that the demon name “Hellenes” by which the Greek people are still known is derived.
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