James Reuel Smith.

Springs and wells in Greek and Roman literature, their legends and locations online

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Jason was finally the victim of, possibly, an overlooked
injury sustained by the Argo when she was carried a
twelve days' journey overland in Libya; or when her
stern was nipped by the Symplegades or swinging rocks,
at the entrance into the Black Sea, which came together
when she had almost completed a dash between them.

Fortunately for all later navigators these wicked rocks
became firmly fixed after that incident.

Jason having had the vessel drawn up on the shore of
the Isthmus as a monument, he lay down on the sands
under its shade and was killed by the stern which fell off
and overwhelmed him before he could make his escape.
The Spring, concisely located in ancient descriptions as a
short distance beyond the temple and bronze statue of
Apollo on the way from the market place to Sicyon, was
identified by the excavators before mentioned as un-
earthing Peirene, who found it about one hundred and
fifty yards from the west end of the temple, its basin
made out of a cube of the same sort of stone with which
that building had been constructed; a basin that prob-
ably was made to take the place of the natural pool into
which poor Glauce plunged in her frantic efforts to re-
lieve herself of the pain of the poison that permeated the
fatal wedding garment.

Pausanias; II. 3-


Well of Lerna

The Well of Lerna was on the ascending way to the
Acro-Corinthus, the top of the hill above the city of
Corinth. Apparently it was lower down than the foun-
tain of Peirene, but above, in the following order, the
temple of Athena the Bridler; the theater; a wooden
statue of a naked Hercules ; a temple of Jupiter Capitoli-
nus, and near an old gymnasium. The Well was sur-
rounded with pillars, and there were seats to refresh
those who made the ascent in summertime. Seemingly
the pillars supported a roof that shaded those who
stopped to rest on the way up the hill, and to slake their
thirst and enjoy the magnificent view.

It is not stated how far the Well was from the statue
of Hercules whose name is closely linked with Lerna and
its Hydra, nor whether, as might be inferred, the Well was
an outcropping or tapping of the Spring of Peirene higher
up on the hill.

Pausanias; II. 4.


The Bath of Helen

Opposite the Corinthian seaport town of Cenchreas
there was a warm Spring of salty water that flowed copi-
ously into the sea from a rock, and its temperature is
informingly described as that of water just with the
chill off. This Spring was called the Bath of Helen;
but what part, if any, its delightfully tempered saline
waters had in contributing to or enhancing Helen's
marvelous beauty is not disclosed, as was done in the
case of the bathing of the grateful goddess who awarded


Helen to Paris with such dire after effects. (See Nos.

This Spring is now found about a mile southwest of
Cenchreas on the western promontory and far enough
from the sea to admit of the overflow's being used for
mill purposes.

Pausanias; II. 2.


Fount of the Sithnides

A part of the water supply of the city of Megara was
derived from the fount of the Sithnides which was near
a place called Rhun; and some fragments of a fountain's
foundations on the north side of the site of the town have
led to the conclusion that they are a part of the ancient
Fount of the Nymphs. The water was conveyed to the
city through an aqueduct beautified by many attractive

One of the Sithnides nymphs was the mother of Me- '
garus, one of Zeus' sons who at the time of the flood of
Deucalion saved himself by swimming to the top of Mt.
Geraneia under the guidance of some cranes.

The city was about twenty-six miles from Athens, and
near it were the rocks where Sciron, the highwayman,
kicked his victims into the sea while they were kneeling
to wash his feet, an act that he required them to perform.
Theseus, adopting the robber's manner of procedure,
destroyed him; and the rocks were said to be his dis-
membered body which the sea refused to receive.

The municipal Council met in a chamber of tombs
wherein the bodies of heroes were deposited; among these
may have been the remains of Hippolyta the Amazon, the
sister of Antiope, who fled to Megara when she was over-
come by Theseus, and passed her last days there in griev-
ing over her defeat. Iphigenia, also, is said to have



passed away in Megara, though that may be considered
a disputed point as some claimed that she died in Brauron
while others said that she never died, but became en-
dowed with immortality and eternal youth.

It is perhaps an instance of the natural rebound of
the human mind that among a people who legislated in
the Halls of Death there was produced about 650 B.C. the
inventor of Comedy — if the claim of the Megarans is to
be accepted in this matter. Susarion was the inventive
author's name.

The aqueduct was built about 630 B.C. by Theagnes,
an early Bolshevik who arrayed himself against the rich
and espoused the cause of the poorer classes by whom he
was installed as ruler of Megara. The wealthy were
banished, their property was confiscated, and the public
debts were repudiated. Payment of rent and interest
was refused, and the needy helped themselves to what-
ever they fancied. Even a century later the city was
still in a Russia-like condition and one of its residents
compared it to a ship in a tempest with a mutinous crew
usurping command and plundering the stores.

Megara was at the head of the Saronic gulf and
diagonally opposite the storied island of Salamis.

Pausanias; I. 40. Theognis; frag. LXIII.




In a year about 2100 B.C. when Cadmus was starting
the town of Thebes, Cecrops, 44 miles eastward, was
planning the city of Athens and modestly naming it
Cecropia; although the traditions of envious neighbors
averred that Porphyrion and Actaeus and Celaenus were
previous kings in that locality.

That a place is the Athens of its district is putting its
praise in the smallest of nutshells, for Athens produced or
possessed much more than her proportionate quota of
Greece's notable works and people.

Of her illustrious sons, men who have never been
touched by a shred of the mythic mists, Solon the Solo-
mon of Greece; Sophocles, Miltiades, Phidias, Plato,
Themistocles, or Aristotle alone, would have sufficed to
make her name enduring. And a pace or two into the
mist shows that Deucalion, the Grecian Noah, lived in
the town; and that Daedalus, the first designer of wings,
did so too until having killed Calus he fled to Crete, as
well as Musasus his compeer and compatriot, another
aviator of such skill, incredible as it may seem to later-
day flyers, that he died of old age. Callimachus, another
of her citizens, anticipated by some twenty centuries the
crowning glory of Edison's light, and lit the Acropolis



with a golden lamp that used a wick that flame could
not destroy.

And, competing with six other towns, Athens con-
tended that she was the real home of Homer, who was on
a voyage to the city and not far from it when his death

After a twenty-five-hundred-year journey over its
elliptical path, the long train of Progress was lately de-
livering at some of its western stations batches of ideas
so long forgotten that they were readily accepted as fresh
novelties under the general designation of Radical Poli-
tical Reforms ; they included several different styles such
as The Recall, The Review, The Referendum, and others.
But the Recall is only Ostracism, which originated at
Athens and was delivered in a much attenuated form;
and the Review, a device of which Athens was also the
author, was regularly resorted to there at the end of
officials' terms; and later it was greatly improved by
making even the heirs liable for the peculations of pilfer-
ing politicians.

Perhaps Female Suffrage, too, would be traceable back
to Athens but for the disaster it brought upon the city,
as, according to St. Augustine, it was the female vote that
lost Neptune his case vs. Minerva.

Neptune, in revenge, flooded the country, and, in order
to secure relief from the inundation, which it was held
had been brought about by the females, their privilege
of voting lapsed.

Much of the statuary and many of the carvings that
adorned her world wonders of buildings have for years
been on view in the British Museum, and it affords a
feast for reflection that when Greece became wealthy
again through the Balkan war of 1913 Athens should
have selected an Englishman to be her second Peisistratus


and revivify that still worshiped and wonderful Art
that had so long lain dormant among her country's ruins.

At the outset, Athena and Poseidon were rivals for the
tutelaryship of Athens, and they agreed to leave the
award to a jury of the gods, the decision to be based on
the relative value to man of the two things they were to

There were twelve gods in this first jury, and to the
sanctified inception of the system at that trial one might
attribute the persistence of the number to the present

Poseidon produced a Well of water which in ordinary
case should have secured him the award; but, unfor-
tunately, he was apparently obsessed by his own pre-
dilections for the sea, and tinctured the water with salt.

Thus Athena who produced an olive tree received the

It has, indeed, been claimed that through the opening
caused by the trident stroke that made the Well there
issued the first horse the people of Cecrops had ever
seen; but the impressions of the trident points, and the
fissure, are still shown, and from the narrowness of the
latter it is apparent that the horse could have been no
bigger than the sea horses the Adriatic still produces, and
consequently utterly useless save as a curiosity.

Poseidon, however, was awarded the very small por-
tion of the territory that bore his trident's marks.

Both the Well and the tree were carefully preserved for
a score of centuries, and for at least several of them there
were people who protested that the Athenian water was
not what it should be. It seemed to take its taste more or
less mildly from Poseidon's Well.

When someone sang of the pure water of the Eridanus
that was quaffed by the Athenian virgins, Callimachus


roared in rhyme and ridicule, and asserted that even the
herds would turn away from it.

Travelers, too, abused the water; and the best that
could be said of it seems to be that however bad it might
be at the moment there had been a time when it was good.

Nevertheless someone might have aptly retorted on the
lines a President followed when his greatest General was
accused of ebriety, that it would be well for the rest of
Greece if it used the same brand of water, for Athens was
not only the most popular and renowned of all Grecian
cities but also the most populous, having at one time
120,000 free inhabitants and more than 10,000 houses
that, notwithstanding the quality of the water, were
readily sold at any price from $24 to $2,400, according to
the character of the dwelling.

The city surrounded the Acropolis, a flat-top rock 150
feet high; 500 feet wide and twice as long from east to
west. In the beginning the city was on the rock which
was also the stage of the contest between the two deities
and where the Well and the tree were produced. But
afterwards the rock was devoted exclusively to the site
of temples and statues.

An inclined way and a flight of marble steps seventy
feet broad led to the top of the rock on the west where
the Propylaea, having an imposing facade 168 feet wide
with five entrances, gave admission to the Acropolis.
The cost of this work was the equivalent of two and a
quarter million dollars.

The principal temple on the Acropolis was that of
Athena, the Hecatompedos (the temple of 100 feet, from
its breadth) or Parthenon (the Virgin's house), the most
perfect production of Grecian architecture. It was 66
feet high and built entirely of Pentelic marble.

Within it and upon it were the most exquisite pieces of


sculpture; some made by Phidias himself, and others
executed under his direction. The effect of their faultless
proportions was heightened by coloring, and the mon-
otony of all-marble groups was relieved by making of
metal such parts as bridles, swords, and other weapons.

This temple was in a fair state of preservation until
Friday, September 26, 1687, when it was wrecked by the
besieging Venetian artillery with a bomb that a German
lieutenant had the dubious honor of firing.

Another temple was the Erechtheium in which were
Athena's Olive tree and Poseidon's Well.

Besides these magnificent temples, and a colossal chrys-
elephantine statue of Athena with ivory face and flesh,
and garbed in a golden dress, there stood on the rock a
bronze statue of Athena. This gleaming giantess, seven
times as tall as an ordinary woman, was visible to marin-
ers far out on the distant sea, and was still standing
in 395 a.d. when its size and dignity so awed the ruthless
Alaric that he was afraid to climb to the Acropolis.

Within a mile of Athens no doubt a hundred Springs
broke forth, as Timon says; but the city does not seem to
have had a due proportion of them; Pausanias mentions
two Springs, as also two Wells connected with temples or
shrines, and Aristophanes alludes to a third Spring, all
five of which sources of water supply have been written
about with considerable zeal in recent years.

Pausanias; I. 2. et seq. Shakespeare; "Timon of Athens," Act iv., 8. 3.


The Erechtheium Well

This was the Well of salty water ineffectually produced
by Poseidon when he struck the rock with his trident in
competition with Athena.


The Erechtheium received its name from being the
place of sepulture of a successor of Cecrops, Erechtheus,
the inventor of the four-horse chariot, a device that
secured him the position he still holds as Auriga, the
charioteer of the sky, in the constellation of that

According to Homer, a temple existed on the Acropolis
before the birth of Erechtheus, but that or one of its
successors was burned by the Persians, as was also
Athena's olive tree which, however, renewed itself in a
sprout three feet long two days after the fire, and was still
in existence in the 1st century a.d. The last temple was
probably completed about 393 B.C.

When the wind blew strong from the south a sound
was said to come from this Well that resembled the
roaring of the sea.

In the vestibule of the Erechtheium there was an altar
to Zeus where grain, cakes and wine were offered instead
of flesh ; and here a peculiar custom prevailed that seems
to have been a sop to such sacrificers as preferred some
excitement for their fee, for, a free ox having been per-
mitted to eat of the grain on the altar, a priest, deftly
throwing an axe at the ox, killed him and then ran away.
The axe was immediately arrested and put on trial as the
defendant in the Court called the Prytaneum where iron
and other substances were tried for injuries to man or
beast. Such incidents are now passed over with a casual
reference to the perversity of inanimate objects, but even
at the time when Cambyses received his death wound
from his own sword while leaping upon his horse, the
matter was considered as a personal assault and the
general verdict in that case was one of justifiable

The Athenian axe was indicted annually and always


acquitted, but under an English law, not abolished till
during the reign of Queen Victoria, a chattel that caused
the accidental death of a person was always considered
guilty, and was forfeited to the crown.

Under the Draconian law of the Athenians, such ob-
jects were banished, being, if practicable, thrown into the
sea, as was the statue of Theagenes that fell on a man
and killed him at Thasos.

Perhaps many of the playful occurrences of today will
appear as serious customs in the far-away future, and some
historian of the coming race may chronicle that among
the tribes of the ancient days of the 20th century were
the English who worshiped Justice so devoutly that
they even had a Court in which they tried the criminals
of their story books — as indeed Dickens' Edwin Drood
was publicly tried in London by a judge and jury and
counsel of noted authors in 19 14.

There was another Athenian court called the Phreattys
which was situated on the shore of one of the harbor
towns of the city, the Peiraseus, where the peculiar prac-
tice prevailed of having the defendants, in a boat on the
water, address the judges on the shore. The accused in
that court were such as had fled from justice, and appar-
ently there was a mild principle of the "third degree"
involved in thus placing them where their minds would
be likely to dwell on the wrong of their flight.

Less important seats of Justice are told of, as Froggy;
and Scarlet, from their colors; Triangle, from its shape;
and Crush, because of the crowds that resorted to it for
the settlement of very trivial disputes.

The Erechtheium was north of the Parthenon and near
the edge of the Acropolis ; many of the Athenian temples
became churches at the decline of the pagan religion in
the 6th century, and then mosques; but the fate of the


Erechtheium was to be turned into a harem for a Turkish


Pausanias; I. 26.
Herodotus; III. 64.



Two rivers, the Ilyssus and the Eridanus, coming from
the east, joined just before reaching Athens, and then as
one river, the Ilyssus, passed under the southeast wall
and through the city for a short distance and then flowed
south to the sea — when its bed was not dry, as it gen-
erally is after rains.

Just within the walls the Ilyssus, making a waterfall,
passed over a broad ridge of rock from the side of which
flowed the Fountain Callirrhoe whose water was distinct
from that of the river. About 510 B.C. the side of the
rock was perforated with nine holes to increase the flow
of water, and the fountain was afterwards called En-
neacrunus or Nine Springs.

It was through this Spring that the Athenians had their
first walls constructed without cost. The Pelasgians who
built the walls received in payment for their work a
barren tract near the town which they converted in due
course into productive and valuable land. Then those
Athenians who in early days had no servants, claimed
that the wall builders ill treated their daughters when
they went to the Spring to fetch water, and on that score
they drove away the Pelasgians, and took back the land
in which they had paid them for their masonry work.

Callirrhoe was the only source of good drinking water
in the neighborhood, and other parts of the town relied
upon wells and cisterns. Of the latter there are still


many evidences visible, including a series of them below
the Olympieium so large that they were said to have
received the subsiding waters of the flood of Deucalion.

The Cerameicus, a wide street bordered with colonnades
and statues and containing private houses and the
Odeium or Music Hall, was the principal promenade of
the city and led from the fountain in the southeast to ths
Dipylum Gate in the northwest section of the walls.
From that gate the thoroughfare ran to Plato's Acad-
emy so called from Academus a former owner of the prop-
erty ; it was hardly a mile from the gate and was laid out
with paths winding through groves supplied with foun-

The name Akadhimia is still attached to the spot, and
near it is the grove of sacred olives derived from the tree
in the Erechtheium.

Through the nine holes, Callirrhoe's water poured into
a pool from which a canal three feet square cut in the
solid rock carried the overflow to a village a mile away
and there supplied a Well and a wayside fountain and
watered many gardens.

Two temples were built above the Spring, one to
Demeter, and the other to her daughter Proserpine.
In one of these there was a statue of Triptolemus as the
first sower of grain, Demeter having taught him the art of
agriculture in gratitude for the assistance he gave her
after the loss of her daughter; and in front of the temple
there was a representation of Epimenides, the prototype
of Rip Van Winkle, who after sleeping for forty years
made use of his headful of dreams as a poet.

It may be supposed that it was not long after Athens,
when it was Cecropia, had become something more than
a small village that the increase in the Athenian thirst
began to exceed Callirrhoe's capacity to assuage it, and


doubtless water was then brought from more or less dis-
tant Springs in the surrounding mountains, as the
Emperor Hadrian on a grander scale brought water from
one of the chief mountains of Attica, Mt. Lycabettus,
through an aqueduct that he had constructed about 117
A.D., and for which two reservoirs were made, in the
neighborhood of the Fountain of Panopus, which yielded
a quality of water that neither poets nor travelers seem,
during a long period, to have found cause to complain

Several modern writers have attempted to trace a con-
nection between the water of Callirrhoe and the water of
a cistern that was under the Olympieium, the temple of
Zeus Olympius, which may have been what Pliny calls
the Well in the Garden of Jupiter, and what Pausanias
calls a cavity into which the waters of the flood of Deu-
calion drained.

Pausanias; I. 14.



The Spring of Halirrhothius was intimately connected
with the antithetical sciences — Medicine, always trying
to lead the pageant of Progress; and Jurisprudence,
lamely lagging behind and lazily piecing together out-of-
date theories and principles to cover practices as novel in
their way as aerography and aviation are in another field.

The first trial for murder took place when Halirrho-
thius, the lover of Alcippe the daughter of Ares, was
drowned in it by Ares. The trial was held in the Areo-
pagus; the accuser was Neptune, the father of the victim,
and Ares was acquitted.


The Spring was in the Esclepieium or Temple of ^Escu-
lapius which was adorned with statues of the members of
the god's family, and with paintings, and which contained
a museum-like collection of relics and curios; not the
least interesting of which was a coat of mail made by
Sarmatians, a primitive nomadic people who used bone
points for tipping their weapons, and who apparently
were the inventors of the lasso which they employed in
conflicts with their enemies with no less skill than the
most proficient of modern cowboys. The coat was made
of mares' hoofs, cut in two and joined together with the
animals' ligaments, so that they resembled a dragon's
scales, or, if the reader has not seen a dragon (as the origi-
nal describer thoughtfully adds) the bosses of pine nuts.

The Spring's waters were not suitable for drinking but
were used in rites of a religious nature, and especially in
the ceremonies required of Grecian girls about to marry.

It is sometimes puzzling to picture the relative posi-
tions of the features Pausanias describes, as he had an
excursive habit of springing from one part of a town to
another and describing two objects far apart as if they
adjoined each other, in the same way that he leaps from
Greece in one line to Africa in the next, and in the third
to countries of One-Eyed, or Horse-Tailed, or other
imaginary men, from which accounts Polo and Mande-
ville could by skillful grafting have produced their won-
derful stocks of monstrosities. But he was quite exact
in stating the position of this Spring and that of Ennea-
crunus, after saying that there was only one Spring in
Athens; and perhaps from that remark it has been as-
sumed by some that they had one source, notwithstand-
ing that the water of one supplied the city while that of
the other was undrinkable !

Pliny says that substances thrown into this fountain


were cast up in a fountain at Phalerum which is similar
to the connection said to have existed between Clepsydra
and the harbor of Phalerum.

Pausanias; I. 21.

Pliny, Nat. Hist. II. 106.



This was a fountain of dark water in the sanctuary of
the Eumenides commonly called the Semnae, The Vener-
able Goddesses.

The sanctuary contained also a monument to CEdipus.

It was a gloomy recess that was reached through a wide
chasm in the rocks at the southeast angle of the Hill of

Online LibraryJames Reuel SmithSprings and wells in Greek and Roman literature, their legends and locations → online text (page 10 of 46)