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The Flood in the Age of Deucalion 1

1111: The Flood. Painting by Johann Heinrich Schönfeld 1609-1684. Hessisches Landesmuseum, Kassel.

When Nyctimus succeeded to the kingdom of Arcadia, there occurred the Flood in the age of Deucalion 1. Some said that it was caused by the impiety of Lycaon 2 and his sons. Zeus, by pouring rain from heaven flooded the greater part of Hellas, so that all men were destroyed, except a few who fled to the high mountains. It was then that the mountains in Thessaly parted, and that all the world outside the Isthmus and Peloponnesus was overwhelmed.


Besides the Flood in the time of Deucalion 1, there have been other floods. The island of Atlantis, for example, was swallowed up by the sea, and vanished with the third of the floods which preceded the deluge in the age of Deucalion 1. Severe inundations are also reported to have wiped out severals cities that were founded and ruled by Cecrops 1 in Boeotia, then called Ogygia (Strab.9.2.18).

The Flood in the Age of Deucalion 1

This Flood occurred at the time when Cecrops 1 ruled in Athens, as some say, but others say that Cranaus (his successor) was already king when the Flood took place. The city Cyrbe in Rhodes was completely destroyed by the Flood. Agenor 1, father of Cadmus and Europa, belongs to this time, and so does Danaus 1, father of the DANAIDS. Also Teucer 2, king of the Teucrians, at the very origins of the Trojan lineage, lived about this time.

The crime of Lycaon 2 and his sons

The reason for this Flood might have been the crime of impious Lycaon 2, who sacrificed a human baby on the altar of Zeus, and was, immediately after, turned into a wolf by the god. Some say that this happened as follows: Zeus, desirous of putting Lycaon 2 to the test, came to him in the likeness of a day-laborer. Then, having slaughtered a male child, Lycaon 2 and his sons mixed his bowels with the sacrifices, and set them before him. Zeus in disgust killed both Lycaon 2 and his sons, but because of their impiety, Zeus decided to destroy the men of the Bronze Age; and for that purpose, he sent the Flood.

Zeus decides to destroy mankind

When Zeus, through that abominable action, had learned the degree of degeneration that the human race had reached, and after assembling the gods, had decided to destroy them, he first thought of hurling his thunderbolts against the world. But remembering that it was fated that there would be a time for the world to be destroyed by fire, he preferred to let the human race to be washed away by the waves, and thus put an end to mankind through water. So he shut the North Wind (Boreas 1) up in the cave of Aeolus 2, and let the wet and rainy South Wind (Notus) loose (see also WINDS), while Iris 1 drew up water feeding it to the clouds. By way of these moves, all crops were destroyed, and the work of a whole year amounted to nothing. Also Poseidon contributed, for he assembled the RIVER GODS, and they, after receiving permission and instructions, broke all bounds and overwhelmed the open plains. And so, what had happened to the crops, had to be considered as a detail of no significance, compared to the waves that started to sweep away houses and shrines until the water covered the highest towers. Thus in very short time the whole world was turned into a wide sea without shores. Even the NEREIDS were amazed, for now they could see the cities of men beneath the waters. Lions, and tigers, and boars, and all animals that lived on land were carried away by the waves, the dolphin being the only one that could be seen among the trees of the woods. And also the birds drowned, for they fell into the sea not being able to stop and rest. And among those who were able to escape many died of starvation through lack of food.

Deucalion 1 manages to survive

But Deucalion 1, who was adviced by his father Prometheus 1 in advance, constructed a chest, and having stored it with provisions, he embarked in it with his wife Pyrrha 1. Floating in the chest over the sea for nine days and as many nights, they drifted to Parnassus, a mountain in Phocis, where they landed when the rain ceased. For now Zeus, seeing that the world was a stagnant pool, and the only survivors were Deucalion 1 and Pyrrha 1—innocent, pious, and scrupulous of right both of them—opened the sky. As the rain stopped falling and the waters calmed, land appeared once more, and the sea recovered its shores. Likewise the rivers came back to their channels, the hill-tops became visible, and as the land rose up the trees showed their tops, and finally the whole world was restored. When the Flood was over, Deucalion 1 and Pyrrha 1, having come to Mount Parnassus, worshipped the CORYCIAN NYMPHS—deities living in the mountain—and Themis, the goddess who then kept the oracles.

Alone in the world

Soon Deucalion 1 realized that this restored world was an empty world. And however difficult or impossible it is to live with other men and women, even more difficult and more impossible is to live without them, in complete loneliness. And that is why, noticing that silence filled the lands that had been left desolate, he burst into tears, and trembled at the thought of being left completely alone:

"What would be your feelings now, if you had been rescued all alone? Who would console your grief? Be assured that if the sea held you, I would follow you, my wife, and the sea should hold me also." (Deucalion 1 to Pyrrha 1. Ovid, Metamorphoses 1.358).

But after a while, believing that prayers are better than tears, and convinced that when no man can help god might lend a hand, they decided to appeal to the power of Heaven, asking for aid through oracles.

A race as hard as its origin

So, after sprinkling drops from the waters of the river Cephisus on head and clothing, they went to the shrine of Themis, and asked her to tell them by what means they could restore the human race. And the goddess answered:

"With veiled heads and loosened robes throw behind you as you go the bones of your great mother." (Themis to Deucalion 1 and Pyrrha 1. Ovid, Metamorphoses 1.381).

Doing as Themis has told them, they took up stones (for in that way they understood the oracle), and threw them over the head, and the stones which Deucalion 1 threw became men, and the stones thrown by Pyrrha 1 became women. From this comes, they say, the hardness of our race; for this race has been considered to be the living proof of its own origin. But others have said that Zeus sent Hermes to Deucalion 1, and allowed him to choose what he would, and he chose to get men.

Animal life restored

The earth then is said to have spontaneously produced anew all other species, restoring animal life. When the moisture left by the flood united with the heat from the rays of the sun, new creatures were conceived by the earth, partly restoring the ancient shapes, and partly creating new ones; for, they tell, life grows from the inharmonius harmony that results from the enmity between fire and water.

Populating the new world

Deucalion 1 had children by Pyrrha 1 in a more regular way. One of them is Hellen 1, after whom the Hellenes are named. Another of his sons, Amphictyon, became king of Athens, having expelled Cranaus from the throne. Another son, Orestheus 1, became king of the Locrians.

Other survivors

It is told that there were other survivors in other places: One of them was Megarus, a son of Zeus by a Nymph. He also escaped the flood in the time of Deucalion 1, climbing to the top of Mount Gerania; for birds were flying, and he swam towards the cry of the birds. Another was Cerambus, who was borne up into the air on wings by the NYMPHS, and so escaped the flood undrowned. It is also said that in Phocis, those inhabitants who were able to escape the storm were led by the howls of wolves to safety on the top of Mount Parnassus.

Related sections Ages of Man, The Ages of the World, Deucalion 1, Three Main Ancestors, Lycaon 2, Mythological Chronology 

Apd.1.7.2; Arg.3.1086; DH.1.17.3; Hes.CWE.1-3 Hyg.Ast.2.29; Nonn.3.211, 6.367; Ov.Met.1.318ff., 7.356; Pau.10.38.1; Vir.Geo.1.62.