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The Great Flood of Deucalion, the Greek Equivalent of Noah’s Story

great flood, high water, river overflow
The Greek flood myth of Deucalion and Pyrrha is equivalent to that of Noah’s. Credit: Hippopx CC0

Deucalion, who, in Greek legend, constructed an ark to save himself and his wife when Zeus, the king of the gods, resolved to destroy all humanity by a Great Flood, is the mythical counterpart of Noah.

Deucalion was the son of Prometheus (the creator of humankind), king of Phthia in Thessaly, and husband of Pyrrha; he was also the father of Hellen, the mythical ancestor of the Hellenic race.

The myth about Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha closely resembles the Biblical tale of Noah. Like the flood stories of The Eridu Genesis and Gilgamesh, the objective was to purge the world in order to create a new type of man.

Deucalion and the Great Flood

The tale unfolds as follows:

Prometheus defied the great and mighty Zeus, the king of the gods, by stealing fire from Olympus and giving it to humanity.

Zeus, in his fury, decided to punish humanity for Prometheus’ actions. He planned to unleash a massive flood upon the Earth to eradicate all life. The flood was meant to be a cleansing and a lesson for humanity.

Prometheus, in his foresight, knew of Zeus’ plan and warned his son Deucalion about the impending disaster. He instructed Deucalion to build a large wooden chest or ark to survive the flood. Deucalion, obedient to his father’s instructions, constructed the ark and entered it along with his wife, Pyrrha.

As the floodwaters rose, covering the entire Earth, Deucalion and Pyrrha floated in their ark for days and nights. Eventually, the floodwaters began to recede, and the ark came to rest on the summit of Mount Parnassus in central Greece.

Deucalion and Pyrrha sole survivors of the human race

Once the flood had completely subsided, Deucalion and Pyrrha emerged from their ark and found themselves as the sole survivors of the human race. They realized that they needed to repopulate the Earth and bring humanity back from the brink of extinction.

In search of guidance, Deucalion and Pyrrha consulted the oracle of Themis, the Titan goddess of divine law and order. The oracle instructed them to throw the bones of their “great mother” over their shoulders as they walked away from the temple.

Confused by the cryptic message, Deucalion and Pyrrha pondered its meaning. Eventually, they deduced that the “great mother” referred to the Earth itself, and her “bones” were interpreted as rocks or stones found on the ground.

Following the oracle’s advice, Deucalion and Pyrrha began picking up stones and tossing them over their shoulders. Miraculously, the stones thrown by Deucalion transformed into men, while those thrown by Pyrrha transformed into women. Thus, the Earth was repopulated with a new generation of humans.

Deucalion and Pyrrha went on to become the progenitors of a new era of humanity. Their story symbolizes the endurance of mankind and the cyclical nature of life, with destruction and renewal being integral parts of the natural order.

It also serves as a cautionary tale about the consequences of defying the will of the gods and the importance of divine order.

Deucalion Noah Great Flood
The flood. Painting by Johann Heinrich Schönfeld. Public Domain

Parallels between stories of Deucalion and Noah in the Bible

The myth of Deucalion and the Great Flood has many parallels with the story of Noah in the Bible. While the two stories originate from different cultural and religious traditions, they share similar themes and motifs.

Both stories revolve around a cataclysmic flood that covers the entire Earth, leading to the destruction of all living beings except for a select few who are saved.

In both narratives, the main characters receive a divine warning about the impending flood. In Deucalion’s case, his father Prometheus informs him, while in Noah’s case, God directly communicates with him.

Both Deucalion and Noah are instructed to build an ark or a large vessel to survive the flood. The arks serve as the means of salvation for the chosen individuals and a means to preserve life during the deluge.

Deucalion is accompanied by his wife, Pyrrha, in the ark, while Noah is accompanied by his wife, their three sons, and their sons’ wives. In both stories, it is through the family unit that humanity is ultimately preserved.

Following the flood, both Deucalion and Noah receive divine promises or covenants. In Deucalion’s case, the gods promise that the Earth will be repopulated. In Noah’s case, God establishes a covenant with Noah and his descendants, vowing never to destroy the Earth with a flood again and setting the rainbow as a sign of this covenant.

After the floodwaters recede, both stories involve the survivors repopulating the Earth. Deucalion and Pyrrha throw stones that transform into humans, while Noah’s family becomes the foundation of the post-flood human population.

These parallels suggest a shared cultural theme of a catastrophic flood serving as a divine punishment or cleansing and the preservation of a chosen group of individuals who go on to restore life on Earth.

Related: Noah’s Flood Fact or Fiction? Scientists Answer

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