Baucis and Philemon, A Greek Myth

This exploration is for all ages, as the colored smilies show. You can learn about Baucis and Philemon with your whole family together!

1st thru 4th grades
5th thru 8th grades
9th thru 12th grades

Layers of Learning Unit 1-4
Unit 1-4: Ancient Greece, Wonders of the World, Satellites, Greek Art

The tale of Baucis and Philemon is an exploration that pairs with Layers of Learning Unit 1-4 about the ancient Greeks. Layers of Learning has hands-on explorations in every unit of this family-friendly curriculum. Learn more about Layers of Learning.

The story of Baucis and Philemon is a tale from Metamorphosis by Ovid. Ovid was a Roman poet who lived during the reign of Caesar Augustus. Metamorphosis was a retelling of the ancient Greek myths in poetic form. It is the major source of much of our knowledge about Greek mythology.

As you read Greek myths keep in mind that to the Greeks the spirit world was as real as the physical world. They believed that everything people did, said, or thought, came directly from the gods. That is why the Greek gods seem so “human” to us with human failings and emotions. If a human felt or did something it was because a god or spirit was making the human feel of do something. The myths were the ancient way of explaining this intimate connection between the spirit world and the physical world. When you read Greek myths therefore, look for the explanations of human nature found in them.

Step 1: Library Research

Before you begin exploring, read a book or two about Baucis and Philemon. Here are some suggestions, but if you can’t find these, look for books at your library about Baucis and Philemon, Greek Myths, or Metamorphosis. The colored smilies above each book tell you what age level they’re recommended for.

Most of the Greek myths we know came from Metamorphosis by Ovid. Baucis and Philemon is one of those, but is not among the most popular with modern authors of Greek myth books. So it may be hard to find this tale in children’s retellings. If you can’t find it, just read the version we wrote below on this article and get books on other Greek myths to read with your children just for fun.

The Story of Baucis and Philemon

by Pamela Espeland

This book is out of print, but you can find used copies. A beautiful story of a loving couple.

Shapeshifters: Tales From Ovid’s Metamorphoses

by Adrian Mitchell

The story of Baucis and Philemon is called “Hospitality Repaid” in this book. The whole book is excellent and the illustrations are wonderful. There are references to sex in various places throughout the book, as true to the Greek tales. Pre-read or read with your child if you are concerned.

Metamorphosis

By Ovid, Translated by Charles Martin

This English translation uses very modern language and is therefore highly readable. Occasionally it gets annoying because it uses modern slang, some of it already dated. Still, the translation is faithful to the original both in meaning and in the speed of the verse.

Step 2: Baucis and Philemon Exploration

You will need the printable Baucis and Philemon puppets, card stock, crayons or markers, craft sticks, and glue.

Baucis_and_Philemon_puppets
Click on this image to get the PDF to print.

Start by reading the story of Baucis and Philemon, below, to your children. Then use the printable puppets to retell the story in your own words.

The Story of Baucis and Philemon

Near a swampy lake in Phyrgia there is a low wall enclosing two trees–a linden and an oak.  Long long ago Zeus visited this land with his son, Hermes, the messenger god.  The two gods traveled through the land, disguised as ordinary travelers, knocking on doors and asking for shelter and food.  They were turned away at door after door until they reached the humble shack of Baucis, a kind old woman, and Philemon, her husband, humble farmers, who welcomed them in.

Baucis and Philemon had married young and worked and raised their family together and grown old, still in love and happy, though poor.  With the two visitors seated a their humble table, Baucis kindled a fire and Philemon went to the garden to gather herbs for the stew pot.  He flung in the rind of bacon and added water to the pot, stirring in the vegetables.  All the while Baucis and Philemon cheerfully entertained their guests with conversation.  When the meal was prepared and spread on the table.  They began to eat.  The old couple noticed with astonishment that their wine, no matter how much was poured, never ran out.

This is a painting of Baucis and Philemon entertaining Hermes and Zeus. It was painted sometime around 1800, give or take a few decades by Andrea Appiani or one of his friends.

With humble surprise and some fear, the two recognized that their visitors were gods.  They fell on their faces and begged pardon for the humble entertainment they had provided.  The scrambled to add their lone goose to the meal, but the goose could not be caught.  Zeus raised them to their feet and declared that though the ungrateful cruel village would be destroyed, Baucis and Philemon would be preserved.  Zeus and Hermes took the couple to the top of a nearby hill and they all watched as a lake rose up and covered the whole of the village except for a little island upon which stood the small cottage of Baucis and Philemon.  The cottage transformed into a beautiful columned temple before their eyes.

Then Zeus asked the couple what they would ask of him.  They consulted together, then Philemon begged that they might be made priests of the temple and when their time came to die they might leave this earth at the same time so as not to be parted in sorrow.  Zeus granted their desire.

Janus_Genelli_-_Philemon_und_Baucis

For many more years the couple were priests of the small pretty temple and blessed all travelers who came their way with rest and food and safety on their travels.  One day as they stood bent and stooped in the yard in front of the temple they saw one another changing into trees before their eyes.  They understand that the time had come for them to leave the earth.  Baucis changed into a beautiful linden and Philemon into a mighty oak.  They stand there today, branches intertwining to remind all of their love and kindness.

Retell the Story of Baucis and Philemon with Puppets

Talk about the story with your kids.  Ask them what they like and do not like about the story.  What do you think the moral of the story is?  Does it tell us about any character traits that the Greeks valued?  Do we still value those same traits today?  Finally, ask your kids the question – If you could choose between being very good and kind or very wealthy and successful, which would you want to be?

Print the Baucis and Philemon puppets figures onto card stock, color the pictures, cut out the circles, and attach craft sticks to the back.  Then have your kids tell the story back to you as well as they can remember.  They can each take a turn telling the story in their own way.

Step 3: Show What You Know

Write down the story of Baucis and Philemon in your own words and then write what lesson(s) you think the story teaches.

Additional Layers

Additional Layers are extra activities you can do or tangents you can take off on. You will find them in the sidebars of each Layers of Learning unit. They are optional, so just choose what interests you.

Deep Thoughts

The idea that the gods, or angels, might be travelers in disguise and therefore you should give hospitality to strangers, is not just a Greek one.  Does your religious or cultural tradition contain stories or ideas about this?

This image shows Saint Cuthbert washing the feet of a man who turned out to be an angel in disguise.

Additional Layer

Look up the details about linden and oak trees.  How old do they get?  What do their leaves and bark look like.  How tall do they grow?

Here are the leaves and bark of a linden tree.

Famous Folks

The Greek Poet Ovid wrote the story of Baucis and Philemon in his Metamorphosis, VIII.

Learn more about Ovid.

Get the first Layers of Learning unit free when you sign up for the monthly newsletter.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.