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Deucalion and Pyrrha in Greek Mythology

Updated on August 30, 2016
Colin Quartermain profile image

Having travelled through Italy, Greece and the Aegean in his youth, Colin quickly became interested in the ancient mythology of the region.

Civilisations from all around the world tell of the Deluge, a Great Flood, which encompassed the earth. The most famous version of this story is based around Noah, a story that appears in the religious history of Judaism, Islam and Christianity, but other stories appear in Hindu and Mesopotamian religious texts.

There is also a tale of the Great Flood in Ancient Greece, a story that tells of the survival of Deucalion and Pyrrha.

Ancient Sources

Today, the most comprehensive text of the Deucalion and Pyrrha myth is a Roman one, rather than Greek, as the story appears in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Another version of the story would also be written down decades later, as it appears in the Bibliotheca, a work attributed to Apollodorus.

There were some differences between the original Greek story, and the Roman retelling, but there were also some regional differences in the story within Greece.

A general retelling of the Greek Great Flood myth is told below.

A Scene from the Metamorphoses

Leonaert Bramer (1596–1674) PD-art-100
Leonaert Bramer (1596–1674) PD-art-100 | Source

Deucalion and Pyrrha

Deucalion and Pyrrha lived in the Third Age of Man, the Bronze Age of Greek myth. The First Age of Man had been the Golden Age, but these people had died out, whilst the Second Age of Man, the Silver Age, had been killed off by Zeus for their lack of worship.

In the Bronze Age, Deucalion had been born to the Titan Prometheus, and had become King of Phthia in Thessaly. Deucalion was married to Pyrrha, the daughter of Prometheus’ brother Epimetheus, and Epimetheus’ wife Pandora.

The Wrath of Zeus

The population of the world increased greatly during the Bronze Age; but it was an age of many troubles. All of the evils had been released into the world when Pandora had looked inside the chest given to her by Zeus, and it was also a time of lawlessness and war. Zeus looked down from Mount Olympus, and saw that even the worship of the Olympian gods was being corrupted by mankind, and so the supreme deity decided that it was time to bring the Bronze Age to a close.

In one version of the myth, it was the actions of one king and his sons who brought about the wrath of Zeus, rather than the whole race of man.

When Deucalion was King of Phthia, a man by the name of Lycaon was on a throne of Arcadia. In this version of the story, King Lycaon and his sons killed a boy and attempted to feed the remains of the boy to Zeus; the disgusted Zeus killed Lycaon and his 50 sons with his thunderbolts, but also sent the Flood to rid the earth of all mankind because of the king’s impiety.

A Flood Comes

Zeus manipulated the Anemoi, locking up Boreas, the North Wind, in his palace in Aeolus. This allowed Notus, the South Wind, to blow unopposed, bringing forth the rains associated with the wind god. Iris, the female messenger god, and goddess of the rainbow, then saturated the clouds with water.

Finally, Poseidon gave instruction to the Potamoi, the 3000 river god sons of Oceanus, who were allowed to do as they wished, and were no longer bound to their normal water channels. Water levels increased and soon houses were submerged. The water levels would continue to increase for nine days and nights, and soon only the tips of the highest mountains were free from water.

The flood killed almost the entire population of the ancient world, but alongside man, all of the animals and birds perished; only those creatures that lived in the water survived.

The Great Flood

Joachim Wtewael (1566–1638) PD-art-100
Joachim Wtewael (1566–1638) PD-art-100 | Source

Deucalion and Pyrrha Survive

Despite being tied to a mountain in the Caucasus mountain range, Prometheus managed to send a warning to his son about the imminent flood; Prometheus being blessed with the gift of foresight.

Deucalion heeded his father’s warning, and so constructed a chest in which he and his wife, Pyrrha, could live in as the water rose. There was room for but the two of them, with no rescue of animals or family members as in the story of Noah. The chest worked though, and Deucalion and Pyrrha were saved, drifting safely on the surface of the rising flood, until the touched land near the peak of Mount Parnassus.

Zeus looked down from Mount Olympus and saw that his vengeance was all but complete; and so he called for the water levels to recede. Zeus allowed Deucalion and Pyrrha to survive the destruction as they were pure of heart.

Other Survivors

In the story of Deucalion and Pyrrha, husband and wife are of course the only survivors, but in other stories of Greek mythology other individuals are also saved; mainly because they fled to the highest mountain peaks.

King Dardanus, the son of Zeus and Electra, was said to have found refuge on Mount Ida; whilst Arcas and Nyctimos (descendents of King Lycaon) found refuge on Mount Cyllene. Another son of Zeus, Megarus, observed the panic of some cranes, and so climbed to the top of Mount Gerania to avoid the flood water.

Deucalion and Pyrrha Bring Forth Life

The other survivors are said to have been the founders of population groups, Megarus being the ancestor of the Megarians; but in the myth of Deucalion and Pyrrha, it is the husband and wife who create a whole new generation of mankind.

Having reached the safety of Mount Parnassus, Deucalion and Pyrrha offered up a sacrifice to Zeus, and sought the guidance of Themis from a sanctuary located on the Mountain. The goddess offered the pair guidance, by telling them to throw the bones of their mother over their shoulders.

Themis was not being literal, and Deucalion and Pyrrha understood the meaning to be the bones, or stones, of Gaia, Mother Earth. The stones that Deucalion threw over his shoulder became the new generation of men, whilst those thrown by Pyrrha were women.

Bringing Forth Life

Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) PD-art-100
Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) PD-art-100 | Source

Children of Deucalion and Pyrrha

Deucalion and Pyrrha would also bring forth offspring in the more natural way, and three sons and daughters were born. The three daughters were Protogeneia, Pandora and Thyja, all of whom became lovers of Zeus, bearing children to him.

The three sons of Deucalion and Pyrrha were Hellen, Amphictyon and Orestheus. Hellen would become ancestor to the Hellenes people, Amphictyon became king of Athens, and Orestheus would become king of the Locrians.

The grandsons of Deucalion and Pyrrha would become the rulers of almost all of the ancient kingdoms of Greece.

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