Ancient Greek Flood Myth of Deucalion and Pyrrha

Deucalion and Pyrrha, Ca 1636. Found in the Collection of the Museo Del Prado, Madrid.
Heritage Images / Contributor​ / Getty Images

The story of Deucalion and Pyrrha is the Greek version of the biblical flood story of Noah's ark, as told in the Roman poet Ovid's masterpiece, The Metamorphoses. The story of Deucalion and Pyrrha is the Greek version. Like the tales found in the Old Testament and Gilgamesh, in the Greek version, the flood is a punishment of humankind by the gods.

Great flood tales appear in many different Greek and Roman documents—Hesiod's The Theogony (8th century BCE), Plato's Timeaus (5th century BCE), Aristotle's Meteorology (4th century BCE), Greek Old Testament or Septuagint (3rd century BCE), Pseudo-Apollodorus's The Library (ca. 50 BCE), and many others. Some Second Temple Jewish and early Christian scholars were of the opinion that Noah, Deucalion, and the Mesopotamian Sisuthros or Utnapishtim were the same person, and the various versions were all of a single ancient flood that affected the Mediterranean region. 

The Sins of the Human Race

In Ovid's tale (written about 8 CE), Jupiter hears of the evil doings of humans and descends to earth to find out the truth for himself. Visiting at the house of Lycaon, he is welcomed by the devout populace, and the host Lycaon prepares a feast. However, Lycaon commits two acts of impiety: he plots to murder Jupiter and he serves up human flesh for dinner. 

Jupiter returns to the council of gods, where he announces his intention to destroy the whole human race, indeed of every living creature of earth, because Lycaon is just a representative of the whole corrupt and evil lot of them. Jupiter's first act is to send a thunderbolt to destroy Lycaon's house, and Lycaon himself is turned into a wolf. 

Deucalion and Pyrrha: The Ideal Pious Couple

The son of the immortal Titan Prometheus, Deucalion is warned by his father of the coming Bronze Age-ending flood, and he builds a small boat to carry him and his cousin-wife Pyrrha, the daughter of Prometheus' brother Epimetheus and Pandora to safety. 

Jupiter invokes the floodwaters, opening the waters of the sky and sea together, and water covers the entire earth and wipes out every living creature. When Jupiter sees that all life has been extinguished except for the ideal pious married couple—Deucalian ("son of forethought") and Pyrrha ("daughter of afterthought")—he sends the north wind to scatter the clouds and mist; he calms the waters and the floods subside. 

Repopulating the Earth

Deucalion and Pyrrha survive in the skiff for nine days, and when their boat lands on Mt. Parnassus, they discover that they are the only ones left. They go to the springs of Cephisus, and visit the temple of Themis to ask for help in repairing the human race.

Themis replies that they are to "Leave the temple and with veiled heads and loosened clothes throw behind you the bones of your great mother." Deucalion and Pyrrha are at first confused, but eventually recognize that the "great mother" is a reference to mother earth, and the "bones" are stones. They did as recommended, and the stones soften and turn into human bodies—humans that no longer have a relationship to the gods. The other animals are spontaneously created from the earth.

Eventually, Deucalion and Pyrrha settle in Thessaly where they produce offspring the old-fashioned way. Their two sons were Hellen and Amphictyon. Hellen sired Aeolus (founder of the Aeolians), Dorus (founder of the Dorians), and Xuthus. Xuthus sired Achaeus (founder of the Achaeans) and Ion (founder of the Ionians).

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Gill, N.S. "Ancient Greek Flood Myth of Deucalion and Pyrrha." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Gill, N.S. (2020, August 28). Ancient Greek Flood Myth of Deucalion and Pyrrha. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "Ancient Greek Flood Myth of Deucalion and Pyrrha." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).