Indiana's James Baldwin, though largely self-educated, began teaching at 24. After several years he became superintendent of graded schools in Indiana, a post he held for 18 years. As well as editing school books, he started writing too. After the publication in 1882 of The Story of Siegfried, he went on to write more than 50 others. His influence was widely felt, because of all the school books in use in the United States, at one time over half had been written or edited by him. So far as I know, none of his books are in print today so we have decided to republish selections here, starting with his Old Greek Stories, which, though written for children, make good reading even today..
James Baldwin's The Story of the Flood Old Greek Stories, the Myths Retold...
The story of the Great Flood that wiped out most of mankind is familiar to most of us from the story of Noah and his Ark, in the Book of Genesis, chapters 6–9. But did you know that many ancient cultures, including the Greeks, have a similar myth? In Greek Myth, Deucalion was the son of the mighty Prometheus, the creator of mankind, and when Jupiter decided to destroy humanity for its evils, Deucalion survived in a boat with his wife Pyrrha and regenerated humanity. The stories of the cosmic gods have shaped our culture, our literature, our art and even our religion. A portion of our heritage from the distant past, they form as important a part of our intellectual life as they did of that of the people among whom they originated. This is the third of a series of Old Greek Stories by James Baldwin, which will be added to in weeks ahead.
Deucalion, Son of Prometheus
In those very early times there was a man named Deucalion, and he was the son of Prometheus. He was only a common man and not a Titan like his great father, and yet he was known far and wide for his good deeds and the uprightness of his life. His wife’s name was Pyrrha, and she was one of the fairest of the daughters of men.
After Jupiter had bound Prometheus on Mount Caucasus and had sent diseases and cares into the world, men became very, very wicked. They no longer built houses and tended their flocks and lived together in peace; but every man was at war with his neighbor, and there was no law nor safety in all the land. Things were in much worse case now than they had been before Prometheus had come among men, and that was just what Jupiter wanted. But as the world became wickeder and wickeder every day, he began to grow weary of seeing so much bloodshed and of hearing the cries of the oppressed and the poor.
“These men,” he said to his mighty company, “are nothing but a source of trouble. When they were good and happy, we felt afraid lest they should become greater than ourselves; and now they are so terribly wicked that we are in worse danger than before. There is only one thing to be done with them, and that is to destroy them every one.”
Jupiter Sends A Mighty Flood
So he sent a great rain-storm upon the earth, and it rained day and night for a long time; and the sea was filled to the brim, and the water ran over the land and covered first the plains and then the forests and then the hills. But men kept on fighting and robbing, even while the rain was pouring down and the sea was coming up over the land.
No one but Deucalion, the son of Prometheus, was ready for such a storm. He had never joined in any of the wrong doings of those around him, and had often told them that unless they left off their evil ways there would be a day of reckoning in the end. Once every year he had gone to the land of the Caucasus to talk with his father, who was hanging chained to the mountain peak.
“The day is coming,” said Prometheus, “when Jupiter will send a flood to destroy mankind from the earth. Be sure that you are ready for it, my son.”
Deucalion and Pyrrha
And so when the rain began to fall, Deucalion drew from its shelter a boat which he had built for just such a time. He called fair Pyrrha, his wife, and the two sat in the boat and were floated safely on the rising waters. Day and night, day and night, I cannot tell how long, the boat drifted hither and thither. The tops of the trees were hidden by the flood, and then the hills and then the mountains; and Deucalion and Pyrrha could see nothing anywhere but water, water, water—and they knew that all the people in the land had been drowned.
After a while the rain stopped falling, and the clouds cleared away, and the blue sky and the golden sun came out overhead. Then the water began to sink very fast and to run off the land towards the sea; and early the very next day the boat was drifted high upon a mountain called Parnassus, and Deucalion and Pyrrha stepped out upon the dry land. After that, it was only a short time until the whole country was laid bare, and the trees shook their leafy branches in the wind, and the fields were carpeted with grass and flowers more beautiful than in the days before the flood.
But Deucalion and Pyrrha were very sad, for they knew that they were the only persons who were left alive in all the land. At last they started to walk down the mountain side towards the plain, wondering what would become of them now, all alone as they were in the wide world. While they were talking and trying to think what they should do, they heard a voice behind them. They turned and saw a noble young prince standing on one of the rocks above them. He was very tall, with blue eyes and yellow hair. There were wings on his shoes and on his cap, and in his hands he bore a staff with golden serpents twined around it. They knew at once that he was Mercury, the swift messenger of the Mighty Ones, and they waited to hear what he would say.
“Is there anything that you wish?” he asked. “Tell me, and you shall have whatever you desire.”
“We should like, above all things,” said Deucalion, “to see this land full of people once more; for without neighbors and friends, the world is a very lonely place indeed.”
“Go on down the mountain,” said Mercury, “and as you go, cast the bones of your mother over your shoulders behind you;” and, with these words, he leaped into the air and was seen no more.
“What did he mean?” asked Pyrrha.
Deucalion and Pyrrha after the Flood
The Bones of the Mother
“Surely I do not know,” said Deucalion. “But let us think a moment. Who is our mother, if it is not the Earth, from whom all living things have sprung? And yet what could he mean by the bones of our mother?”
“Perhaps he meant the stones of the earth,” said Pyrrha. “Let us go on down the mountain, and as we go, let us pick up the stones in our path and throw them over our shoulders behind us.”
“It is rather a silly thing to do,” said Deucalion; “and yet there can be no harm in it, and we shall see what will happen.”
And so they walked on, down the steep slope of Mount Parnassus, and as they walked they picked up the loose stones in their way and cast them over their shoulders; and strange to say, the stones which Deucalion threw sprang up as full-grown men, strong, and handsome, and brave; and the stones which Pyrrha threw sprang up as full-grown women, lovely and fair. When at last they reached the plain they found themselves at the head of a noble company of human beings, all eager to serve them.
So Deucalion became their king, and he set them in homes, and taught them how to till the ground, and how to do many useful things; and the land was filled with people who were happier and far better than those who had dwelt there before the flood. And they named the country Hellas, after Hellen, the son of Deucalion and Pyrrha; and the people are to this day called Hellenes.