We have a well-worn copy of Bullfinch's Mythology. Among the more famous myths and tales of the gods is the sweet story of Baucis and Philemon. It's my favorite story, so I thought I'd tell it to you on this cold winter night.
On a hill overlooking a lake, stand a majestic oak and a graceful linden, enclosed by a low wall.
Baucis and Philemon were an old couple. They married young, and spent their entire married life in Phrygia, living in poverty in a small thatched cottage. They weren't ashamed of being poor; their home may have been small, but it was tidy and welcoming, and they made do with what they had.
One night Jupiter and his son Mercury disguised themselves as humans and went to Phrygia. Seeking shelter for the night, they knocked on all the doors in the village. But it was very late, and no one answered. Finally the gods knocked on Baucis and Philemon's door. The old couple made the gods welcome - Philemon set up a bench and Baucis covered it with a cushion and a cloth, and they asked their guests to make themselves comfortable. Baucis, her hands trembling, put on her apron, made a stew, and served it. The four of them dined on the stew, and had olives, berries, and cheese. For dessert, they served wine, with apples and honey.
As they ate and had a friendly conversation, the old couple were astonished to see that as soon as they poured wine out of the pitcher, the pitcher refilled itself. It was then that Baucis and Philemon realized that they were entertaining Jupiter and Mercury, not just some random strangers in need of shelter and food. Well, as you might imagine, the old couple was terrified and begged the gods to forgive them for their poor dinner and less than stellar surroundings.
But Jupiter allowed as how it was the rest of the village that should be terrified and would pay for their rudeness and lack of hospitality; only Baucis and Philemon would escape the punishment. The gods led the couple to the top of the hill, where they saw the village sink into a lake. Then they saw their humble home change into a grand temple. When all this was done, Jupiter said, "Philemon, what will you have as a reward for your kindness?"
Philemon and Baucis talked together. Then they said to Jupiter, "We have two desires. First, to serve you as guardians of this temple. Second, that when the time comes, we die at the same time, so that neither of us must see the other die."
Jupiter granted their wishes.
Baucis and Philemon moved into the temple and took care of it for the rest of their lives. When they had grown very old, Baucis looked at Philemon and noticed that he was putting forth leaves, and Philemon saw the same thing happening to Baucis. As the leafy crowns grew over their heads, they said their parting words to each other, as long as they could speak. Finally, they said to each other, "Farewell, dear spouse," as the bark closed over their mouths.