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The Green Thumb
Legned has it that there once was a man named Pygmalion who had a love of nature. His greatest wish was to be able to work in his city’s gardens, but as he was just a lowly kitchen servant, he neither had the time nor the privileges to view them. Every day he prayed to the gods to change his fortune, and one day Ceres decided to test him. She transformed herself into an old crone and arrived at the servant’s quarters, begging for shelter.
Being the kind man he was, Pygmalion ushered her in and even offered her some bread and water from the kitchen. Once the old woman had her fill, she stood up and took a bundle from beneath her cloak.
“To repay you for your generosity, I have three items you may choose from: a pouch of gold, expensive jewels, and a rose. Which do you desire?”
Pygmalion, who was indeed very surprised at the woman’s offer, nevertheless gently picked up the rose.
“You have no need to repay me, as I did not help you so I could later get a reward, but I would very much like to keep this rose.”
The old woman was very intrigued by this response and she commented, “Most people higher than your status would go for the money or the jewels. Surely a servant such as you desires wealth?”
“I have no use for money,” Pygmalion replied.
“I eat well enough and have a roof over my head. Besides, my greatest wish is to be around beautiful things such as this rose.”
Now that Ceres was sure of Pygmalion’s passion for nature, she shed her disguise and slipped a brilliant green ring on his thumb.
“As you can see, I am no crone but a goddess, the goddess of green earth and luscious gardens. I have taken note of your unusual love for the beauty of nature, and I give you this ring so all your wishes may be granted. ”
With that, she vanished. Pygmalion doubted the ring’s powers, but the next day he went up to his master and asked him if he could have a job working in the city’s gardens. Imagine his surprise when he was given a small plot to tend to! For several months Pygmalion toiled happily in it, and soon his plot outshone the rest. One day as he proudly overlooked his blossoming garden, he suddenly realized that his heart yearned for more.
After all, he thought, I work the hardest and I am the best, so why shouldn’t I be chief gardener?
And so he was promoted. As chief gardener, Pygmalion did everything he could to make them the most beautiful in the land. When the people of the city noticed that he tended every plant with such care and skill, and they started to whisper among themselves with awe.
“See that gardener over there? He can persuade a sapling to grow from the driest of soils and the coldest of days; there’s magic in those fingers of his.”
This of course made Pygmalion very pleased with himself, and to keep the people’s admiration he started adorning his garden with fountains, statues and pools. Each day he used his ring to ask the king for lavish things, and after each request the ring became darker and tighter. He was tempted to use his magic to ask for anything, as it often occurred to him that any desire of his could be granted, no matter how grand, but the thought of that also frightened him. The gods who were watching from Mt. Olympus were apprehensive as well. They had warned Ceres that the ring was an irresponsible gift to a mortal, but they had all thought Pygmalion was too humble to ask for much. But now as they saw him drain the city’s revenues with his ridiculous wishes, the gods felt the need to intervene before he went too far. The only way they could retrieve the ring was if Pygmalion willingly gave it up to them, and with the help of a few wood nymphs, they had a plan.
The next morning a peddler, who was really Ceres in disguise again, brought three wood nymphs to Pygmalion’s door.
“I hear you want to make your city’s gardens the most beautiful in the land. Well I have just the thing. Look! As they dance, flowers bloom at their feet. No doubt they will make your gardens more beautiful than before.”
True to the peddler’s word, flowers did bloom wherever the delicate nymphs stepped, and Pygmalion immediately took the bait. Soon he was seeing his gardens grow lush with exotic fruits and beautiful flowers, and as word of his wondrous garden spread, he became rich from all the visitors that flocked to his city. However, he still wasn’t happy. He became terribly jealous of sharing his precious garden with the nymphs, who he believed were taking all the credit. For many days his jealousy simmered and stewed until he finally wished for them to leave. The ring on his finger was black.
At first the nymphs pleaded with him, but the ring’s magic was stronger than their own and they left. But with their passing, the plants in the garden also withered until there was nothing but bare dirt. The god’s decided that this was the appropriate time to confront Pygmalion.
“Mortal, you have abused your power far too much; take off the ring so we can destroy it before you cause any more damage.”
Seeing his once beautiful gardens devoid of any life, Pygmalion realized how greedy he had been and wept inconsolably.
“I will very gladly give you this ring that has caused me to become so wretched. In fact, to repent for my deeds, I will destroy the ring myself.”
He tried to remove the black band, but it had become too tight. Ignoring this, he grabbed a rock and crushed the ring that was still on his thumb. Instead of shattering on the ground, however, the particles from the ring spread across the bare gardens and caused them to bloom once more. The gods were so impressed with Pygmalion’s brave deed that they decided to reward him with a new thumb that was brilliant green. Perhaps there was some power in this new limb, or perhaps he did it all by himself, but with time Pygmalion became known as the best gardener of Rome, and all of his children and grandchildren inherited his legendary thumb. Though the green color and power fades with each generation, we can still see some of the magic today in people who have a “green thumb”.