Erysichthon had the wicked audacity to cut down the tallest oak in a grove sacred to Ceres.
His servants shrank from the sacrilege when he ordered them to fell it; whereupon he seized an ax himself and attacked the mighty trunk around which the dryads used to hold their dances.
Blood flowed from the tree when he struck it and a voice came from within warning him that Ceres would surely punish his crime.
But these marvels did not check his fury; he struck again and again until the great oak crashed to the ground.
The dryads hastened to Ceres to tell her what had happened, and the goddess, deeply offended, told them she would punish the criminal in a way never known before.
She sent one of them to the bleak region where Famine dwells to order her to take possession of Erysichthon.
“Bid her see to it”, Ceres said, “that no abundance shall ever satisfy him. He shall starve in the very act of devouring food.”
Famine obeyed the command. She entered Erysichthon’s room where he slept and she wrapped her skinny arms around him. Holding him in her foul embrace she filled him with herself and planted hunger within him.
He woke with a raging desire for food and called for something to eat. But the more he ate the more he wanted. Even as he crammed meat down his throat he starved.
He spent all his wealth on vast supplies of food which never gave him a moment’s satisfaction. At last he had nothing left except his daughter. He sold her too.
On the seashore, where her owner’s ship lay, she prayed to Poseidon to save her from slavery and the god heard her prayer. He changed her into a fisherman.
Her master, who had been but a little behind her, saw on the long stretch of beach only the figure of a man busy with his fishing lines. He called to him,
“Where has that girl gone who was here a moment ago? Here are her footprints and they suddenly stop.” The supposed fisherman answered. “I swear by the God of the Sea that no man except myselt has come to this shore, and no woman either.”
When the other, completely bewildered, had gone off in his boat, the girl returned to her own shape. She went back to her father and delighted him by telling him what had happened.
He saw an endless opportunity of making money by her. He sold her again and again. Each time Poseidon changed her, now into mare, now into a bird, and so on. Each time she escaped from her owner and came back to her father.
But at last, when the money she thus earmed for him was not enough for his needs, he turned upon his own body and devoured it until he killed himself.
Other Greek stories you may not have heard about
Story of Philomela, Procne and Tereus & Greek Nightingale
Philemon and Baucis: Ovid’s Tale inspired by Greek Mythology
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