Rebuilding Mankind out of rocks

In the Greek myth of Decalion and Pyrrha, the couple recreates mankind after the universal deluge by throwing rocks over their shoulders to let them grow into men and women. Why rocks? And why over their shoulders? Is this how a community, a city is rebuilt?
Ovid concludes in his Metamorphosis that mankind – the second one, so to say – is hard and enduring becasue it is made out of rock.

Painting by Domenico Beccafumi from the 16. Century

Italy; 16. Century; 1. Century AD; Pagan; Painting; Text; Myth

All things have turned into a boundless sea – The myth of Deucalion and Pyrrha

In the ancient Greek and Roman mythologie there is also a story of the great deluge and of an arch. Roman poet Ovid (43 BC – 18 AD) retells it in his “Metamorphosis. Book 1”. Infuriated by mankind’s brutality, the highest of the Gods, Jupiter, announces: „You might well believe that men had sworn to act as criminals. Let them all quickly pay the penalty they richly merit! So stands my judgment.” Jupiter than chooses his weapons of destruction. He shies away from fire, as he fears that the „ sacred eather, by some accident, may be set on fire from so many flames“.

“[…] So he sets aside
those weapons forged by hands of Cyclopes
and approves a different punishment—
he will send rains down from the entire sky
and wipe out mortal men beneath the waves.

So he immediately locks up North Wind
in Aeolus’ caves, along with any blasts
which scatter clouds collecting overhead,
and sends out South Wind, flying on sodden wings,
his dreadful face veiled in pitch-black darkness,
his beard heavy with rain, water flowing
from his hoary locks, mists sitting on his forehead,
his flowing robes and feathers dripping dew.

When Jupiter stretches his hand and strikes
the hanging clouds, heavy, crashing rainstorms
start pouring down from heaven. Iris,
Juno’s messenger, dressed in various colours,
gathers the water up and brings it back
to keeps clouds well supplied. Crops are flattened,
fond hopes of grieving farmers overthrown,
their long year’s work now wasted and in vain.
And Jupiter’s rage does not confine itself
to his own sky. For Neptune, his brother,
god of the azure sea, provides him help
with flooding which augments the pouring rain.
He summons the rivers to a meeting
and, after they have entered their king’s home,
says to them:

“This is not now the moment
for a long speech from me. What we require
is for you to discharge all your power.
Open your homes, remove all barriers,
and let your currents have free rein to flow.”

Neptune gave his orders, and the rivers

return, relax the mouths of all their springs,
and race down unobstructed to the sea.
Neptune himself with his trident strikes the land.
Earth trembles and with the tremor lays bare
the sources of her water. Streams spread out
and charge through open plains, sweeping away
all at once groves, planted fields, cattle herds,
men, and homes, along with sacred buildings
and their holy things. If any house remains
still standing and is able to resist

such a huge catastrophe, nonetheless,
waves higher than the house cover the roof,
and its towers, under pressure, collapse
beneath the surge. And now the land and sea
are not distinct—all things have turned into
a boundless sea which has no ocean shore.
Some men sit on hill tops, others in boats,
pulling oars here and there, above the fields
which they just ploughed not long before. One man
now sails above his crops or over roofs
of sunken villas, another catches fish
from high up in an elm. Sometimes, by chance,
an anchor bites into green meadowland,
or a curved keel scrapes against a vineyard
submerged beneath the sea. And in those places
where slender she-goats have grazed on grasses,
misshapen sea calves let their bodies rest.
Nereïds are astonished at the groves,
cities, and homes lying beneath the waves.
Dolphins have taken over in the woods,
racing through lofty branches and bumping
into swaying oaks. Wolves swim among sheep.

Waves carry tawny lions and tigers.
The forceful, mighty power of the boar
is no help at all, nor are the swift legs
of the stag, once they are swept into the sea.
The wandering bird, after a long search
for some place to land, its wings exhausted,
falls down in the sea. The unchecked movement
of the oceans has overwhelmed the hills,
new waters beat against the mountain tops.
The deluge carries off most living things.
Those whom it spares, because food is so scarce,
are overcome by gradual starvation.

The fertile territory of Phocis,

while still land, separates Aonia
from Oeta, but when that flood took place
was still part of the sea, a wide expanse
of water which had suddenly appeared.
In that place there is a soaring mountain
which has two peaks striving to reach the stars.
Its summit rises high above the clouds.
Deucalion lands here in his small boat,
with the wife who shares his bed—for the sea
now covers every other place. They revere
Corycian nymphs and mountain deities
and prophetic Themis, too, the goddess
who at that time controlled the oracle.

No man was finer than Deucalion,
no man loved justice more, and no woman
had more reverence for gods than Pyrrha.
When Jupiter observes the earth submerged
in flowing water, with only one man left
from many thousands not so long before
and sees one woman from many thousands
a short while earlier, both innocent,
both worshippers of the gods, he scatters
the clouds, and once North Wind has blown away
the rain, he makes land open to the sky
and heaven to the earth. And the sea’s rage
does not persist. The lord of the ocean
sets down his three-pronged weapon, calms the seas,
and summons dark-blue Triton standing there
above the ocean depths, his shoulders covered
by native shells, and orders him to blow
his echoing horn and with that signal
summon back the flooding waters and the sea.
Triton raised his hollow shell, whose spirals
grow as they curl up from the base—that horn,
when filled with air in the middle of the waves,
makes coastlines under east and western suns
echo its voice—and thus, once the god’s lips,
dew dripping from his soaking beard, touched it,
and, by blowing, sounded out the order
to retreat, all the waters heard the call,
on land and in the sea. They listened to it,
and all of them pulled back. And so the sea
had a shore once more, full-flowing rivers
remained within their banks, floods subsided,
hills appeared, land rose up, and dry places
grew in size as the waters ebbed away.
After a long time, exposed tops of trees
revealed themselves, their foliage covered
in layers of mud. The world had been restored.

When Deucalion sees that earth is empty
and observes the solemn silence over
devastated lands, with tears in his eyes
he speaks to Pyrrha:

“O wife and sister,
the only woman alive, linked to me
by common race and family origin,
then by marriage, and by these dangers now,
we two are the total population
of the entire world, every place spied out
by the setting and rising sun. The sea
has taken all the others. Even now,
there is nothing secure about our lives,
nothing to give us sufficient confidence.
Those heavy clouds still terrify my mind.
O you for whom I have so much compassion,
how would you feel now, if you had been saved
from death without me? How could you endure
the fear all by yourself? Who would console
your grief? For if the sea had taken you,
dear wife, I would follow you, believe me,
and the sea would have me, too. How I wish
I could use my father’s skill to replace
those people and infuse a living soul
in moulded forms of earth. The human race
lives now in the two of us. Gods above
thought this appropriate, and we remain
the sole examples left of human beings.”

Deucalion said this, and they wept. They thought
it best to pray to the celestial god
and to seek help from sacred oracles.
Without delay they set off together
to the stream of Cephisus, whose waters
were not yet clear but by now were flowing
within their customary banks. And there,
once they have sprinkled their heads and garments
with libations, they approach the temples
of the sacred goddess, whose pediments
are stained with filthy moss and whose altars
stand without a fire. As they touch the steps
before the shrine, they both fall on the ground,
and kiss the cold stone, in fear and trembling.
Then they speak these words:

“O Themis, if gods
may be overcome with righteous prayers
and change their minds and if their anger
may be averted, reveal to us the art
by which destruction of the human race
may be repaired and, most gentle goddess,
assist our drowned condition.”

The goddess
is moved and through the oracle speaks out:

“Leave the temple. Cover your head, and loosen
the garments gathered around you. Then throw
behind your backs the bones of your great parent.”

For a long time they are both astonished.
Pyrrha’s voice is the first to break the silence,
refusing to act on what the goddess said.
Her mouth trembling, Pyrrha asks the goddess
to grant her pardon, for she is afraid
to offend her mother’s shade by throwing
her bones away. Meanwhile, they both review
the obscure dark riddle in the language
of the oracle they have been given,
examining the words between themselves.
And then the son of Prometheus consoles
Epimetheus’ daughter with these words
to reassure her:

“Either we have here
some subtle falsehood, or, since oracles
respect the gods and do not recommend
impious acts, our great mother is the Earth
and, I assume, what people call her bones
are those rocks in the body of the earth.
These stones are what we have been commanded
to throw behind our backs.”

Although the way
Deucalion has interpreted the words
encourages the Titan’s daughter, their hopes
are plagued by fears—that’s how much both of them
have doubts about the heavenly command.

But then what harm will there be in trying?
They go down, cover their heads, unfasten
their tunics, and, as they have been ordered,
throw stones behind where they are standing.
The stones—and who would ever think this true,
if old traditions did not confirm it?—
began to lose rigidity and hardness.
Gradually they softened, and then, once soft,
they took on a new shape. They grew larger
and before long acquired a gentler nature.
One could make out a certain human form,
but indistinctly, like the beginnings
of marble carvings not yet completed,
crude statues. But still, those pieces of them
which were earthy and damp from any moisture
were changed into essential body parts.
What was solid and inflexible changed
to bones, and what just a few moments before
had been veins remained, keeping the same name.
Soon, with the help of gods above, the stones
which the man’s hand had thrown took on the form
of men, and the stones the woman had cast
changed into women. That’s why human beings
are a tough race—we know about hard work
and provide the proof of those origins
from which we first arose.

I found the source in the book “Naturkatastrophen in der Antike” by Holger Sonnabend.
The Ovid Quote is from:

Italy; 1. Century AD; Pagan; Myth; Literature

Strabo on the flooding of Helice

Strabo, a Greek geographer and historian whol lived from around 60 BC to 20 AD writes in his Geographica:

“For the sea was raised by an earthquake and it submerged Helice, and also the temple of the Heliconian Poseidon, whom the Ionians worship even to this day, offering there the Pan-Ionian sacrifices. … Helice was submerged by the sea two years before the battle at Leuctra. And Eratosthenes says that he himself saw the place, and that the ferrymen say that there was a bronze Poseidon in the strait, standing erect, holding a hippo-campus in his hand, which was perilous for those who fished with nets.

And Heracleides says that the submersion took place by night in his time, and, although the city was twelve stadia distant from the sea, this whole district together with the city was hidden from sight; and two thousand men who had been sent by the Achaeans were unable to recover the dead bodies; and they divided the territory of Helice among the neighbours; and the submersion was the result of the anger of Poseidon, for the Ionians who had been driven out of Helice sent men to ask the inhabitants of Helice particularly for the statue of Poseidon, or, if not that, for the model of the temple; and when the inhabitants refused to give either, the Ionians sent word to the general council of the Achaeans; but although the assembly voted favorably, yet even so the inhabitants of Helice refused to obey; and the submersion resulted the following winter; but the Achaeans later gave the model of the temple to the Ionians.”

thanks to Jasmin Hettinger for the lead.