Mythology Summary and Analysis
Baucis and Philemon; Endymion; Daphne; Alpheus and Arethusa
Jupiter and Mercury decide to test the hospitality of humans. They disguise themselves as poor travelers and knock on the doors of many houses, but no one will take them in. Finally they approach a small hut owned by Baucis and Philemon. The couple warmly invite the travelers inside and offer all their food and wine. Though it is not much, Baucis and Philemon explain that they are content with what they have because they love each other. Eventually, the gods reveal themselves. They destroy the rest of the town in a flood but spare Baucis and Philemon. Jupiter and Mercury also replace the hut with a large marble house. Baucis and Philemon ask the gods that when they die, they would like to die together. Many years later, in their old age, they are in the middle of a conversation when they notice leaves springing forth from their bodies. They turn into a conjoined tree—a linden and an oak both growing from one trunk.
A beautiful young man, Endymion, catches the attention of Selene, the Moon. Selene puts him in a magical slumber: he lies as if dead, but in fact he is alive and forever asleep. Every night, Selene covers him with kisses, but it is said that she still suffers from loneliness.
Daphne is a stunning wood nymph whom Apollo desires. He comes down and chases her through the woods, hoping to make her his own. Daphne, terrified, tries her best to outrun him. Just when he catches up to her, she screams for help from her father, and he turns her into a laurel tree. Though disappointed that he did not catch Daphne, Apollo decides that the laurel should be the victor's crown.
Arethusa, a mortal huntress, worships the speed and agility of Artemis. One day she is bathing in a river when she feels a rumbling beneath her. A voice says it is Alpheus, the river god, and the voice says that Alpheus loves her. But Arethusa wants nothing to do with him and runs away in fear. Just before Alpheus catches up to her, the huntress prays to Artemis. The goddess hears the prayer and turns Arethusa into a spring of water.
Ovid notes that the myth of Baucis and Philemon shows not only that the gods exert great power on earth, but also that they reward the humble and the pious. They have appreciation for justice and piety. The myth also suggests that love does not necessarily depend on material wealth.
Baucis and Philemon also illustrate the recurring theme of true love. Unlike with Cupid and Psyche or many other love relationships, that between Baucis and Philemon is not particularly based on physical beauty. They are an older couple with a modest lifestyle, and they are hardly known through the land for their beauty. The story thus suggests that true love is humble and selfless. As with Ceyx and Alcyone, the love between Baucis and Philemon is rewarded as they become eternal trees. The use of natural imagery (common in Greek mythology) illustrates that true love exists naturally and beautifully. In this case, it is not hard to imagine something of the nature of love remaining in the transition from humans to entwined trees.
The short tale of Endymion suggests that the gods do not necessarily know how to successfully solve their problems. The Moon puts a sleep spell on the object of her desire, but this does not quench her desire for him. Being asleep, he is not much of a companion. Her action just increases her feeling of quiet solitude. Knowing this myth, we might look at the moon as a lonely being in the night sky, when most beings are asleep.
The myth of Daphne provides another example of a human becoming a plant. Unlike with Baucis and Philemon, however, Daphne becomes a plant in order to be saved from a god. Daphne's only choice in escaping what appears to be an impending rape is to become a tree. If Apollo cannot have her, he can at least declare that victors win parts of a laurel tree in the form of a crown. He thus retains some degree of control over Daphne, who is now a laurel herself.
Daphne provides an interesting contrast to Europa, who willingly went along with Zeus's pursuits. After Europa followed Zeus's orders, she went on to live a happy life in Crete and birth two children. Does following gods' orders always lead to a happier outcome? Does a person have no other choice than to do what she is told by a god?
The story of Alpheus and Arethusa appears to be a variation on the plot of Daphne and Apollo. The gods do sometimes look over and care for humans, even when they do so against other gods. The gods do play favorites.
Scholars cite this story as an example of female independence and power, for Arethusa effectively escapes from the river god with the help of a goddess. Yet again, however, Arethusa becomes water, just the thing over which Alpheus seems to have control.
Once again, natural imagery defines the tale. By connecting Alpheus to spring water, the story effectively places her in the reader's physical world. Spring water (just like hyacinth flowers or an echo) is invoked to remind readers of the tale and the moral it holds.
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