Study Guide

The Great Deluge Analysis

  • Context

    The myth of the Great Deluge is one of the most widespread and ancient myths of all. (This is about as old school as it gets, folks.) The earliest versions that we have come from ancient Sumeria where epics like The Epic of Gilgamesh tell of a great flood sent by the gods to destroy mankind. Just like in the Greek version of the myth, starring Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha, this oldest version features a dude who builds a boat to survive the flood and is thus able to reignite all of humanity.

    The story of Noah and the Ark, which appears in Jewish, Islamic, and Christian tradition is, of course, pretty similar as well, and there's also a version from Hindu culture, starring a hero named Manu. It doesn't stop there either. Many many cultures the world over have some form of flood myth.

    So, what gives? If pretty much every major world religion and every culture has some version of a flood myth, it's highly likely that some version of it must've happened, right? There's no knowing for sure, but a ton of scientists have put in time trying to figure out where the story might've come from. Their theories range from a giant comet crashing into the ocean, to melting Ice Age glaciers. Who knows if we'll ever figure out the inspiration for the myth of the Great Deuluge, until then we'll just have to enjoy the literary versions that pop up in the works of Ovid and Apollodorus among others.

  • Setting

    Deucalion and Pyrrha are sometimes thought of as the first king and queen of Thessaly. This region of Greece is home to a bunch of famous mountains, like Mt. Pelion, home of Chiron the centaur, and Mt. Olympus, home of the gods. Speaking of famous mountains, the most important location in this story is probably Mt. Parnassus, where Deucalion and Pyrrha are said to have landed after the deluge. Parnassus is also known for being the home of the Muses, and it's lower slopes housed the Oracle of Delphi. Other versions of the myth claim that Deucalion and Pyrrha landed any of several other famous mountaintops, including Mt. Othrys, Mt. Athos, and Mt. Etna.

  • The Hero's Journey

    The Hero's Journey is a framework that scholar Joseph Campbell came up with that many myths and stories follow. Many storytellers and story-readers find it a useful way to look at tale. (That's actually putting it lightly. Some people are straight-up obsessed.) Chris Vogler adapted Campbell's 17 stages of a hero's journey, which many screenwriters use while making movies. Vogler condensed Campbell's 17 stages down to 12, which is what we're using. Check out a general explanation of the 12 stages.

    The story of "The Great Deluge" doesn't fit perfectly into the Hero's Journey structure, but we're giving it a shot. As the gross old saying goes, there's more than one way to skin a cat.

    Ordinary World

    Deucalion and his wife, Pyrrha, chill out in Thessaly, having a good old time. Things are pretty awesome.

    Call To Adventure

    Deucalion's dad, Prometheus, warns his son that Zeus is sending a flood to destroy all of humanity. Prometheus advises his son to build a floating chest to save him and Pyrrha.

    Refusal Of The Call

    There's no refusal here. Deucalion gets right to work.

    Meeting The Mentor

    Prometheus is totally the mentor. He tells his son what to do, and Deucalion wisely follows his dad's advice.

    Crossing The Threshold

    When the waters start to rise, Deucalion and Pyrrha are swept into a world of adventure.

    Tests, Allies, Enemies

    Well, Prometheus has definitely proven himself to be an ally. While Zeus doesn't target Deucalion and Pyrrha specifically, he's certainly not doing them any favors.

    Approach To The Inmost Cave

    It seems like this step already happened while Deucalion and Pyrrha were waiting for the waters to rise.

    Ordeal

    A gigantic flood drowns everybody on earth, and you're stuck in a little boatyeah, we'd call that an ordeal.

    Reward

    Deucalion and Pyrrha make it through the flood and land on the peak of Mt. Parnassus where they're rewarded with... well... being alive.

    The Road Back

    The happy couple makes it back to dry land, so that kind of counts, we guess.

    Resurrection

    Usually this is the part where the hero goes through a final terrible ordeal and barely comes out alive. Although the worst ordeal is over for Deucalion and Pyrrha, there is a major resurrection here when the couple throws rocks over their shoulders and regenerate the entire human race.

    Return With The Elixir

    Deucalion and Pyrrha return to their life together and have lots or babies, having been made stronger by the whole ordeal.

  • Flood Stories

    Deucalion isn't the only dude from mythology land who built a boat to escape a god-sent flood that destroyed all of humanity. He's part of a very exclusive club of human beings who survived this major disaster in order to get humanity going again after everything dried out.

    Noah

    Yup, you're not the only one who noticed that the story of Deucalion is a whole lot like the story of Noah, who appears in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic tradition. Just like Deucalion, Noah was the only good dude left on Earth, so when God decided to cleanse the world with a giant flood, he ordered Noah to build a giant ark. Also like Deucalion, Noah brought his wife with him and ended up landing on the top of a mountain. In Noah's case, he landed on top of Mt. Arrarat. Unlike Deucalion, Noah was told to bring two of every animal earth.

    Utnapishtim

    This is yet another guy who built a boat to survive a big old flood. His story pops up in the ancient Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, where he meets Gilgamesh while the warrior king is on his quest for immortality. Like Noah, Utnapishtim was also instructed to save the animals as well as certain humans. Like both Deucalion and Noah, Utnapishtim also ended up on top of a mountainMt. Nisir in his case. Unlike his other boat buddies, Utnapishtim got the added bonus of immortality for his efforts.

    Manu

    Manu is a major figure in Hindusim and is thought of as the father of all humanity. Just like the rest of the dudes in this group, Manu was a really good guy who survived the great flood by building a gigantic boat, taking his family and some animals along with him. The gods knew that Manu was worth saving because he made the very good decision of helping out Vishnu, when the god appeared to Manu in the form of a carp. (Moral of the story: always be nice to carp.)

    Other Flood Myths

    There's also a ton of other flood myths that don't necessarily have to do with a dude building a boat. Click here to get a nice rundown on the many many other types of flood myths from around the world.

  • Flood

    Many have debated for a long time about whether this story and its counterparts in other cultures are actually based on a real event. Does this myth reflect some literal flood that our ancient ancestors barely survived? Scientists have come up with plenty of theoriesfrom rising sea levels after the Ice Age, to comets crashing into the oceanto explain how it might actually have happened, but nobody can know for sure.

    Whether a real flood happened or not, the image of a guy building an ark to survive a catastrophic flood sent by a divine force is one that pops up in tons of cultures. Very often the message is the same: humanity had better be good, or we will pay the price. You could also see the story as an allegory representing humankind's struggle against the seemingly uncontrollable natural forces that make up our world.