Saturday, April 26, 2008
Two Yew Trees in Chilthorne, Somerset
Acts of the Apostles 14.11-12 (healing of a crippled man at Lystra):Newer› ‹Older
And when the people saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, the gods are come down to us in the likeness of men. And they called Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercurius, because he was the chief speaker.The case of mistaken identity was understandable. Jupiter (Zeus) and Mercury (Hermes) used to hang out together in the neighborhood of Lystra. An inscription from nearby Ak-Kilisse (ancient Sedasa), published on p. 77 of W.M. Calder, "A Cult of the Homonades," Classical Review 24 (1910) 76-81, connects the two. Because I can't find the inscription online, even in Searchable Greek Inscriptions, I reproduce it here from Calder:
οἵ τε ὄχλοι ἰδόντες ὃ ἐποίησεν Παῦλος ἐπῆραν τὴν φωνὴν αὐτῶν Λυκαονιστὶ λέγοντες, Οἱ θεοὶ ὁμοιωθέντες ἀνθρώποις κατέβησαν πρὸς ἡμᾶς· ἐκάλουν τε τὸν Βαρναβᾶν Δία, τὸν δὲ Παῦλον Ἑρμῆν, ἐπειδὴ αὐτὸς ἦν ὁ ἡγούμενος τοῦ λόγου.
Τούης Μ[α-W.M. Ramsay translates the inscription as follows:
τος καὶ Βάτα-
τες σὺν ὡρο-
λογήωι ἐκ τῶ[ν
σαν Διὶ [Ἡλίῳ
Toues Macrinus also called Abascantus, and Batasis son of Bretasis having made in accordance with a vow at their own expense [a statue of] Hermes Most Great along with a sun-dial dedicated it to Zeus the sun-god.We also find Zeus and Hermes wandering through this same area together in the story of Philemon and Baucis as told by Ovid, Metamorphoses 8.616-724 (tr. Frank Justus Miller, rev. G.P. Goold):
There stand in the Phrygian hill country an oak and a linden-tree side by side, surrounded by a low wall. I have myself seen the spot; for Pittheus sent me to Phrygia, where his father once ruled. Not far from the place I speak of is a marsh, once a habitable land, but now water, the haunt of divers and coots.Jonathan Swift imitated the story of Philemon and Baucis from Ovid and transferred it to the English countryside. In Swift's version, the pious pair were changed not into oak and linden but rather into yew trees. Swift ended his poem with these lines:
Hither came Jupiter in the quise of a mortal, and with his father came Atlas' grandson [Mercury], he that bears the caduceus, his wings laid aside. To a thousand homes they came, seeking a place for rest; a thousand homes were barred against them. Still one house received them, humble indeed, thatched with straw and reeds from the marsh; but pious old Baucis and Philemon, of equal age, were in that cottage wedded in their youth, and in that cottage had grown old together; there they made their poverty light by owning it, and by bearing it in a contented spirit. It was of no use to ask for masters or for servants in that house; they two were the whole household, together they served and ruled.
And so when the heavenly ones came to this humble home and, stooping, entered in at the lowly door, the old man set out a bench and bade them rest their limbs, while over this bench busy Baucis threw a rough covering. Then she raked aside the warm ashes on the hearth and fanned yesterday's coals to life, which she fed with leaves and dry bark, blowing them into flame with the breath of her old body. Then she took down from the roof some fine-split wood and dry twigs, broke them up and placed them under the little copper kettle. And she took the cabbage which her husband had brought in from the well-watered garden and lopped off the outside leaves. Meanwhile the old man with a forked stick reached down a chine of smoked bacon, which was hanging from a blackened beam, and cutting off a little piece of the cherished pork, he put it to cook in the boiling water.
Meanwhile they beguiled the intervening time with their talk and smoothed out a mattress of soft sedge-grass placed on a couch with a frame and feet of willow. They threw drapery over this, which they were not accustomed to bring out except on festal days; but even this was a cheap thing and well worn, a very good match for the willow couch. The gods reclined.
The old woman, with her skirts tucked up, with trembling hands set out the table. But one of the three legs was too short; so she propped it up with a potsherd. When this had levelled the slope, she wiped it, thus levelled, with green mint. Next she placed on the board some olives, green and ripe, truthful Minerva's berries, and some autumnal corn-cherries pickled in the lees of wine; endives and radishes, cream cheese and eggs, lightly roasted in the warm ashes, all served in earthen dishes. A moment and the hearth sent its steaming viands on, and wine of no great age was brought out, which was then pushed aside to give a small space for the second course. Here were nuts and figs, with dried dates, plums and fragrant apples in broad baskets, and purple grapes just picked from the vines; in the centre of the table was a comb of clear white honey. Besides all this, pleasant faces were at the board and lively and abounding goodwill.
Meanwhile they saw that the mixing-bowl, as often as it was drained, kept filling of its own accord, and that the wine welled up of itself. The two old people saw this strange sight with amaze and fear, and with upturned hands they both uttered a prayer, Baucis and the trembling old Philemon, and they craved indulgence for their fare and meagre entertainment.
They had one goose, the guardian of their tiny estate; and him the hosts were preparing to kill for their divine guests. But the goose was swift of wing, and quite wore the slow old people out in their efforts to catch him. He eluded their grasp for a long time, and finally seemed to flee for refuge to the gods themselves. Then the gods told them not to kill the goose. 'We are gods,' they said, 'and this wicked neighbourhood shall be punished as it deserves; but to you shall be given exemption from this punishment. Leave now your dwelling and come with us to that tall mountain yonder.'
They both obeyed and, propped on their staves, they struggled up the long slope. When they were a bowshot distant from the top, they looked back and saw the whole country-side covered with water, only their own house remaining. And, while they wondered at this, while they wept for the fate of their neighbours, that old house of theirs, which had been small even for its two occupants, was changed into a temple. Marble columns took the place of the forked wooden supports; the straw grew yellow and became a golden roof; there were gates richly carved, a marble pavement covered the ground.
Then calmly the son of Saturn spoke: 'Now ask of us, thou good old man, and thou wife, worthy of thy good husband, any boon you will.' When he had spoken a word with Baucis, Philemon announced their joint decision to the gods: 'We ask that we may be your priests, and guard your temple; and since we have spent our lives in constant company, we pray that the same hour may bring death to both of usthat I may never see my wife's tomb, nor be buried by her.'
Their request was granted. They had the care of the temple as long as they lived. And at last, when, spent with extreme old age, they chanced to stand before the sacred edifice talking of old times, Baucis saw Philemon putting forth leaves, Philemon saw Baucis; and as the tree-top formed over their two faces, while still they could they cried with the same words; 'Farewell, dear mate,' just as the bark closed over and hid their lips.
Even to this day the Bithynian peasant in that region points out two trees standing close together, and growing from one double trunk. These things were told me by staid old men who could have no reason to deceive. With my own eyes I saw votive wreaths hanging from the boughs, and placing fresh wreaths there myself, I said: 'Let those beloved of the gods be gods; let those who have worshipped be worshipped.'
Old Goodman Dobson of the greenThe sub-title of Swift's poem is On the Ever-Lamented Loss of the Two Yew-Trees in the Parish of Chilthorne, Somerset.
Remembers he the trees has seen;
He'll talk of them from noon till night,
And goes with folks to show the sight;
On Sundays, after evening prayer,
He gathers all the parish there,
Points out the place of either Yew:
Here Baucis, there Philemon grew,
Till once a parson of our town,
To mend his barn, cut Baucis down;
At which, 'tis hard to be believed
How much the other tree was grieved,
Grew scrubby, died a-top, was stunted:
So the next parson stubbed and burnt it.
- The Fate of the Shrubbery at Weston
- The Trees Are Down
- Sad Ravages in the Woods
- Strokes of Havoc
- Maltreatment of Trees
- An Impious Lumberjack
- Erysichthon in Ovid
- Erysichthon in Callimachus