The ancient Roman writer Ovid weaved a timeless tale immortalizing those love unions that are partnerships of equality built over time by two people’s mutually conjoined efforts.
In ancient times when much of the world was ruled by the Roman Empire, in a town called Phyrigia, there lived an elderly couple named Baucis and Philemon. Back then it was the custom to treat a person, no matter who he was or where she was from, like a god….should that person be a guest in one’s home.
Unfortunately, this was very much NOT the case in Phyrigia.
To prove this point, a day came when two foreigners dressed only in the barest of rags entered Phyrigia’s borders going door to door, asking for food and shelter. Time and again, the two wanderers were rudely turned away at every home located within the confines of the town that was reputed throughout all the Empire as being a most inhospitable and unwelcome place to strangers.
Baucis and Philemon’s tiny hut was the residence which lay furthest from Phyrigia’s borders and thus the last place the two wayfarers reached. When the beggars knocked at the couple’s door asking for their indulgence to eat and rest, the old man and woman warmly welcomed the impoverished travelers by bidding them to enter their humble home. The elderly couple then proceeded to offer the two strangers all they had of the meager food and drink which they had prepared for themselves. Insisting their guests sit in their own chairs, the aged host and hostess of the tiny house busied themselves by graciously tending to both weary man’s every need.
However, it was while adding more kindling to the hut’s hearth which served the purposes of both cooking and warmth that Baucis became suddenly aware of something that simply could not be. The observant old woman noticed how the small remainder of wine which had been offered to their guests upon first seating them had still yet to run out. That, along with the fantastical fact the roughly hewn chalices which the men drank from were being inexplicably refilled to the brim with a heavenly elixir and not the odd-smelling cheap stuff which lay at the bottom of their wine bottle with the twist off cap.
While attempting to comprehend these things most unnatural, Baucis looked over to see that her husband had abruptly stopped what he was doing as well since Philemon, too, had arrived at the same irrational conclusion as his wife. The mortal pair then immediately fell to their knees as they beseeched the mercies of their otherworldly guests.
There was a pause between the two men. Then one motioned the other. Both strangers rose, removed their rags, and revealed their divine selves in their natural state of deified splendor. For there before Baucis and Philemon stood Jupiter, the King of Gods, and his squire, the heavenly messenger, Mercury.
The two deities bade the old man and woman to rise and follow them up a hill overlooking Phyrigia. Upon reaching the summit, Baucis and Philemon turned to witness the waters of a mighty flood suddenly crash violently down upon the town, pummeling every home and hut located within Phyrigia’s borders.
…Every hut, with the exception of their own.
But the gracious couple’s meager surroundings didn’t stand for long – their dwelling began to transform. Before their aging eyes, the elderly husband and wife beheld their tiny abode magically expand into a great temple constructed with columns made of the strongest marble and preciously inlaid with walls and floors of the purest gold.
Mighty Jupiter proceeded to inform the elderly pair that their generosity of heart had not only spared their lives but earned each the bestowment of a wish. Baucis and Philemon consulted each other and took no time in making their thoughts known to the benefic deities. The couple asked Mercury and Jupiter if they could tend to the temple that once was their humble home as the sanctuary’s residing high priest and priestess. The pair so advanced in years then asked the great gods that when the moment came, if it was at all possible that they die together at the same time, so that neither would have to bury nor be left alone without the other.
The couple spent their remaining years peaceful and fulfilled within the holy halls of the temple. Early each morning, Baucis and Philemon emerged from the sanctuary to offer the gods a joyous prayer of grateful thanksgiving. The High Priest and Priestess performed their ritual of thanks with daily regularity upon the lovely grounds which sprawled before the entrance of the blessed building that now gloriously served as the couple’s place of worship as well as their home.
One particularly fine day, as the High Priestess was joining hands with those of her spouse to begin their morning prayers, Baucis beheld Philemon’s arms suddenly begin to lengthen into hardened branches, while leaf covered boughs sprang forth from the elderly man’s flowing white hair. The old woman barely had time to fathom what was taking place before realizing she, too, was elongating into leafy wood as well. Both were able to utter the words, “Farewell, my love!” before each was transformed into the most majestic of trees.
One whose yellow-white blossoms come forth during mid to late summer, the Linden, the other made of the strongest wood that yields acorns in the early autumn which served as a reliable, all be it practical, source of food in times of famine, the Oak. The roots of the Linden and Oak trees firmly anchored themselves into the soil, criss-cross clasping back and forth in the depths of the earth as their branches intertwined while growing higher into the sky with each passing year.
The two conjoined trees forever stood as a testament for all mortals to mark and remember that there once existed an earthly love which had transcended this world by blooming far into the Heavens, ever reaching upwards for the remainder of Time.
*Brad Kronen’s book “Love in the Stars” published by Llewellyn Worldwide, Inc. is available for purchase at your local book seller or online at amazon.com at the link listed below.