【明報專訊】This is an old tale of an aged couple who had a visit from the gods. Jupiter, king of the gods, and his son, Mercury, assumed human form and went to the land of humans. They disguised themselves as weary travellers and went from door to door, seeking shelter. As it was late in the evening, the people would not open their doors for these strangers. Time and again, they were turned away.
At last, they came to the humble cottage (小屋) of an aged couple who had known each other since they were youngsters and had married and grown old together. When the tired travellers knocked on their door, the couple greeted them warmly and welcomed them as if they were honoured guests.
Baucis at once kindled a fire and started to make a meal for their hungry visitors, while her husband Philemon made them comfortable. He then picked herbs and vegetables from their small garden. Whatever they had, they shared with their guests and with wrinkled hands trembling with age, offered their simple feast of soup, eggs, apples, honey, and rough wine.
Heartily the four ate and drank until the old folks noticed that unlimited wine seemed to pour from their little jug. Rubbing their bleary (視線模糊的) eyes, they suddenly realised who these strangers were and fell on their knees saying, "Oh gods, forgive us for our poor offerings!"
"Dear old mother and father, we can never forget your rich hospitality. Come with us to the top of that hill."
The ancient pair laboured up the slope, huffing and puffing. Jupiter and Mercury pointed to the village at their feet and declared, "This is the fate of rude, unkind people!" As they looked, water flooded the area and only the couple's cottage was spared. Then Jupiter turned to them and smiled, "Baucis and Philemon, how well-matched you two are in kindness and gentleness of heart. Do you have any favour to ask of us?"
The old couple had a short discussion and then said, "We wish that our lives may end at the same hour, so that each may not have to live to see the other's grave."
So it was that when the pair had grown very, very old, Philemon and Baucis were changed into an oak (橡樹) and a linden tree (椴樹). If you pass that spot, you can see them still standing side by side.
■Something to think about
In many cultures, there is a strong tradition of hospitality to travellers. Those who are unkind to them anger the gods.
How hospitable is your community?
Jupiter had many sons he could have brought along on his trip, but he chose Mercury — also known as Quicksilver, messenger of the gods. His staff, the caduceus, is a controversial symbol for the medical profession in the USA. To measure temperature, we can use a thermometer which contains mercury — one of the most toxic substances on earth.
What will be your response to a surprise visit from Mercury?