James Reuel Smith.

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

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found in possession on his arrival from Phoenicia.

The Hyantes he drove away but he allowed the Aones
to remain.

The succession of rulers, from Cadmus down to Dirce's
transformation into Thebes' youngest Spring, was; —
Polydorus; Labdacus; Lycus with his wife Dirce; and
those were followed by Amphion and Zethus; Laius;
CEdipus and others down to the time of the Trojan

Nearly twenty centuries after the period assigned to
the existence of Cadmus, the neighborhood of Thebes was
still an open air museum filled with objects connected
with these characters and their contemporaries.

With Electricity not then broken to harness for the
carriage of news, the local legends were negligibly older
than the tidings of the day from the outside world.

They were far more interesting and more delightfully
told, and one may turn to them even today with a sigh
of happy relief after glancing at the headings of fifty



newspaper columns reporting more horrors and crimes
than a hecalogue carefully drawn up would cover.

Modern Historical Societies, pointing around to a cart-
load of tablets, might blush for their laziness when read-
ing of the energy of the Thebans in marking their places of
interest. Beginning with the event that brought Cadmus
to the country, they pointed out the place where Jupiter
hid Europa — a place so near where her brother gave up
the search that on a quiet day he might have heard her
screams if she had made an outcry — and they con-
tinued with unflagging vigor, locating the spot where
the cow first lowed; where she lay down; where the
dragon appeared; where the teeth were sown; and
kept on until every detail of the first part of the
legend was riveted to some mound or hill or rock or
field or Spring.

Then, applying their attention to the town, they
marked the house of Cadmus, converted into a Temple of
Demeter; and the spot in the market place where the
Muses stood and sang at his marriage with Harmonia, as
well as her bridal chamber ; and also the lightning-struck
room where Zeus paid his court to her daughter Semele.
And delving deeply into the rubbish heaps of the Past,
they even rescued and preserved odds and ends of me-
mentos for the inspection of posterity ; ancient armor and
out-of-date weapons tagged with the names of the battles
they won or the soldiers who used them; pieces of wood
from Cadmus' ship; remains of furniture, such as frag-
ments of the bridal bedsteads of the prominent ladies of
the Cadmean family, not forgetting to hunt up parts of
the bed of Alcmena the mother of Hercules.

When every feature of the neighborhood had been
appropriately connected with some incident in the lives
of these people, then the roads were walled with their


statues and tombs, or with cenotaphs in the cases of
those whose existence was terminated abroad.

At the tomb of Amphion no little additional interest
was excited by the presence of a number of stones lying
about in no particular order, the members of a pathetic
funeral deputation of the rocks that had so often moved
to Amphion's music when he was alive.

All of the local heroes having thus been monumental-
ized, and the highway's margin still affording vacant
spaces, a commission was sent across the seas to search
for celebrated heroes' bones, and brought back Hector's
body from the plains of Troy and placed it in a tomb
along the roadside.

To the Thebans, the riddle of the Sphinx was not the
usually accepted classical conundrum, but the more inti-
mate question, "What did the Oracle say to Cadmus?",
and the number of the Sphinx's victims was small enough
to show how few people in the neighborhood had not
committed the conversation to heart.

In such an atmosphere even infants breathed in patriot-
ism and pride perforce. No boy with a spark of imagina-
tion could drink at the Spring in the dragon's cave, or go
through the field where the armed men grew and fought,
without feeling each fiber tingle with the valor with which
every surrounding was saturated; and men were made
emulative heroes by the stirring associations linked with
each natural feature they had to pass in even such com-
monplace tasks as driving the flocks home through
meadows and forests, or watering them at the fountains,
of which Thebes had so many that it was described, as
late as the third century before Christ, as being "all

Four of these fountains overflowed into the literature
of their countrymen; the Spring of Ares in the east; of


Dirce in the west ; and of Strophie in the center ; they were
feeders of three rivers, the Ismenus and the Dirce which
ran about a mile apart, and the Strophia which ran
between them, all of them traveling northward. And a
short distance beyond the walls there was the fountain
of (Edipus.

In addition to this number of water sources, the city
derived a supply from an unlocated body that is thought
to have been tapped in ante-historical times and that
was brought to the town through an aqueduct coming
from the south.

The fountain of Ares as the foundation Spring of the
city is geographically the most important one of the town,
but its fame has been overshadowed by the prominence
that has been given to the Spring of Dirce, both in poetry
and in prose.

Pausanias; IX. 9. et seq.



The most famous of the many Theban Springs is
Dirce. It was written about by scientists, travelers and
poets, and especially by Pindar the poet of sportsmen.
Likening the flow of his song to the stream of the Spring,
his promise, to give the athletes the pure water of Dirce
to drink, was only a modest way of announcing that
another ode was about to be put forth for the heroes of
the stadium.

He called it the Glorious Fount of Dirce, and, holding
that man dull who did not mention its waters, referred to
them so frequently, and lived so near them, that Horace
styled him the Dircean Swan, a term that may have a


trace of pity for the author's praise of water, or maybe
one of envy; for in the ever-recurring Grecian games
there were many hundred more victors to pay Pindar for
his paeans than there were wine growers willing to help
Horace on the way to fortune with his vinous verses.

Still, Pindar, like Dirce, remains one of the principal
realities of Thebes. Many of its other celebrities; (Edi-
pus the king; Amphiaraus and Tiresias, the seers; Her-
cules, the personification of strength, who was thought to
have derived a part of his power from drinking the waters
of Dirce, were all but little more than such creations as
Pindar himself had a part in bringing to life in literature.
Thus, perhaps, felt Alexander when he ruined the city so
completely that even the daughters of Arachne, the city's
spiders, were saddened with the foresight of the awful
wreck, and showed their sorrow by weaving their webs in
mournful black. He pulled down the mansions of myth-
ology as scornfully as he leveled the huts of the rabble ;
he regarded neither the palace of Lycus nor the home
of Amphitryon and Hercules. There was seemingly no
structure in all the town that he cared to save except the
house that Pindar lived in on the bank of the Dirce
river, for that was the only one the conqueror left intact.

Bacchus is said to have been brought up at the foun-
tain of Dirce; but as Bacchus was born before Dirce's
time that is perhaps a euphemism regarding some occa-
sion when Bacchus was brought to rather than up by
means of its cold waters.

Grecian Thebes, less rich in gates than her Egyptian
sister city with a hundred, had only seven, and the one
which stood near the fountain of Dirce was named the
Crencea or Dircean Gate.

The pessimist of the XXth century may take heart of
grace and feel a renewal of waning faith in the revival of


retributive justice when finding its waters at hard labor,
turning a mill and expiating the cruelties that in the city's
early days Dirce, as the queen of King Lycus of Thebes,
practised in her persecutions of Antiope; cruelties that
were suddenly cut short in a very unexpected manner.

It was the relentless jealousy of Dirce that caused the
Spring's tragic birth.

Even after Lycus had discarded his niece- wife Antiope
in Dirce's favor, Dirce continued to persecute her with
ever increasing vindictiveness. Not content with shred-
ding her face with her cruel nails, and even setting fire
to her fair and alluring locks, she reduced her to a state
of servitude, and imposed upon her the most menial and
degrading tasks.

She even went further in order to tire her out with
want of rest, and forced her to live in a dark and dirty
quarter where she could dispose her wearied and tortured
body only upon the bare, hard ground.

To these torments she added those of hunger and thirst,
withholding all but such little nourishment as was ab-
solutely necessary to sustain a weak spark of life in her
emaciated frame.

At last, upon a certain cold night, Antiope succeeded
in escaping, and managed to drag herself to a place of
refuge which she reached in an exhausted and fainting

Her respite, however, bade fair to be of but short dura-
tion, for Dirce pursued and discovered her, and had
perfected arrangements to have her tied to the horns of
a mad and frothing bull and dragged to death, when two
of the assistants, who, abandoned in infancy, had been
brought up in the belief that they were only ordinary
shepherds, fortunately discovering that Antiope was their
mother, seized Dirce and immediately meted out to her


the horrible fate that she herself had fiendishly devised
for Antiope — and, either because the sentient and horri-
fied earth refused to retain her tears of agony, or the
streams from her wounds, and threw them forth as this
ever bubbling fountain; or because she was cast into it,
it thenceforth bore her name.

The incident is represented in the statuary group called
The Farnese Bull, found in 1546 in the Thermae of Cara-
calla, and now in the National Museum at Naples.

But the gruesome legend of barbarities does not con-
clude with the loss of Dirce's human life. She had been
a prominent devotee in celebrating the rites of Bacchus,
and that deity in revenge for her transformation, and
possibly considering her watery fate an innuent injury,
added another dash of misery to the cup of Antiope by
inflicting that hapless being with madness.

In the end, however, she was happily cured of that
disease by the grandson of Sisyphus, Phocus, who in
saving her mind lost his heart and received her hand in
marriage as his fee, and after a life of happy union they
were laid at rest together.

Antiope's sons, the two quondam shepherds, Zethus,
and Amphion who laid the walls with the magic music of
his lyre, came into their own and prospered in due mea-
sure until the loss of Amphion's children and Niobe
his wife, the children all killed suddenly and in the
same moment, drove him to end his life with a sword
thrust. He and his brother were buried in one grave
and worshiped as the Theban Dioscuri with white

There was an extensive grove by the Spring where
sacrifices for the dead, and other rites, were performed, and
in which there appears to have been laid out a park and
driveway, or a race-course, as Sophocles, writing of the


fountain, mentions its "spacious grove where Thebe's
chariots move."

The Thebans, somewhat oddly, seem to have held this
Spring in little less veneration than they did their tutelar
dragon; they swore "By the fountain of Dirce" in regis-
tering a vow, or in emphasizing a statement; and they
considered its waters as the most nourishing of all the
Springs with which the Ocean had endowed the earth.

Lord Byron, always anxious to make personal trial of
the founts that had inspired the poetry of his predecessors,
visited the Spring and wrote; "The fountain of Dirce
turns a mill, at least my companion (who, resolved to be
at once cleanly and classical, bathed in it), pronounced
it to be the Fountain of Dirce."

Nowadays, several Springs contribute to the western
stream, and the one called Paraporti is supposed to be the
ancient Dirce ; the river that receives its waters is now the

Apollodorus; III. 5. § 5.
Propertius; Elegy IV. 15.



The history of this Spring begins about 2084 B.C., in
the days of the letter carrier Cadmus who is credited with
the introduction of the germs of the alphabet into Greece.

Cadmus had been sent out by his father Agenor, a
Phoenician King, and commanded to search for and not
to return without his sister Europa, who had been lured
away by a beautiful snow-white bull into which Jupiter
had metamorphosed himself as an incognito under which
to pursue another of his numerous gallantries without
attracting undue attention.


Being in a strange country, and unable to trace the
whereabouts of the bull, Cadmus applied to the Delphic
Oracle for assistance in his search, much as Saul in his
search for the asses turned to the Prophet for help.

The Oracle, adapting to the needs of Cadmus the idea
in Dumas' more elegant and celebrated phrase of " Cher-
chez la femme, " advised him to find and follow a cow, and
also to found a city wherever she might lie down.

If one cares to place credence in the Sidonian account
of Cadmus, a hidden sarcasm may be found in thus
setting a king's son a cowherd's task; and the more
readily if a ruminating reader finds it strange that a
father who had lost a daughter should run the additional
risk of losing a son by forbidding him the house until he
found her; and that the son should so soon have relin-
quished the search for his sister; for according to the
holy history of the Sidonians Cadmus was a cook in a
king's kitchen, and his heavenly ancestored wife Har-
monia was, in the same palace, a music girl slave with
whom he ran away.

Shortly after receiving the Oracle's order, Cadmus
espied a cow in the land of Phocis, and followed her until
she finally came to rest in Bceotia; and there he began
without delay the necessary preliminaries to establishing
a city. Thus, although many towns seem to like to ac-
count for the crookedness of their streets by explaining
that they were laid out by the cows, Grecian Thebes can
claim the first recorded instance of the site of a city itself
having been selected by one of its cattle.

Seeking water from a running Spring for the first pre-
liminary of the required ceremonies, his retinue found it
in a near-by fountain which issued from a cavern that lay
in an ancient grove of virgin forest.

The Spring, surrounded with twigs and osiers , and pro-


tected with an arch formed by the junction of the rocks,
was sacred to Mars, and was guarded by a dragon,
adorned with crests, of now a golden, and, again, an azure
color ; his eyes sparkled with fire ; all his body was puffed
out with poison, and he had three tongues which he
brandished about from between a triple row of teeth.

The splashing of the water urn in the Spring aroused
the savage dragon, which, after killing all the party save
Cadmus, was finally slain by the latter.

The dragon's teeth sown in the ground at once pro-
duced a marvelous crop of armed men who fought furi-
ously among themselves until only five remained. With
these five conquerors, Cadmus laid out and began the
building of the city which, out of courtesy to the leader,
was quite naturally at first called Cadmea.

The figure of a lance appeared on the shoulders of the
five heroes and was transmitted as a birthmark to their
descendants down to the time of Plutarch.

The anger of Ares at the destruction of his dragon and
the capture of his Spring was fortunately so far appeased
that he afterwards gave Harmonia, his and Aphrodite's
daughter, to Cadmus as wife.

It remained, however, for Amphion two generations
later to construct the walls of the town, which he did
with no more effort than was required to play upon his
lyre, at the sounds of which the enchanted stones grouped
themselves together in their proper positions.

Zethus, the brother of this musical mason, having
married the daughter of Asopus, Thebe, the walled town
was then named in her honor. It has been known, too,
by still another name, Dipotamos, because of its position
between two streams, the Ismenus, and the Dirce now
called the Platziotissa.

Many centuries after the founding of Thebes, the


country around it became what has been named "The
dancing ground of Ares," and the town frequently felt
itself called upon to engage in wars and battles, down to
the time of Alexander who reduced it to ruins and sold
its inhabitants ; and in all of these emergencies the leaders
from Pentheus down found no surer way to rouse the
courage of the Thebans and stimulate their martial
energy, than by referring to the valiancy of their ancestor
dragon and entreating them to emulate the valor he
showed in defending his immemorial fountain; a valor
that inspired the same feeling that made the early
Roman soldier believe himself more fierce than fighters
who had had no wolf at the root of their racial tree. The
gleaming shield of Alcmseon was resplendent with a
many-colored dragon, and it seems natural that a similar
device should have adorned the banners of the army
which, under the command of Epaminondas, became the
best body of fighting men in all of Greece.

In the days when Thebes was described as the city
where mortal women became mothers of gods, the Spring
of Ares was called Ismenus after a son of Apollo by Melia,
and sometimes, also, Melia; but before that time it was
called Ladon, a name associated with dragons, as in the
case of the guardian of the gardens of the Kesperides.

In the 2d century a. d., the Spring was still referred to
as sacred to Ares, and was described as to the right of the
gate that guarded the road that led from Platsea, and
somewhat higher than a temple of Apollo that stood on a

Today, as the Turkish town Thiva, with less than five
thousand people, Thebes can point to practically no
remains of all its ancient architectural glories — its armies
and walls of enchantment proved futile to preserve it
from the ravages of its numerous enemies ; but the Spring


of Ares, though quite defenseless, deprived of its watchful
dragon and bereft of the drago-human protectors who
succeeded it, has calmly survived the vicissitudes of forty
centuries that have elapsed since the days of Cadmus and
his guiding cow.

Its latest name, Ai Ianni, is taken from the church of
St. John the shadow of whose spire, suggestive of a
dragon's tail, is thrown protectively across the waters
that are still as clear and copious as when Cadmus first
saw them issuing from their cavern in the ancient grove
of virgin forest and their purity appealed to him for use
in his ceremonial rites.

Ovid; Meta. III. Fable i.
Athena5us; XIV. 77-



The Spring of Strophie, which was the source of the
middle one of the three rivers that ran through Thebes,
is named by Callimachus, but he makes no allusion to
its story or to the origin of the name; neither do other
writers throw any direct light upon the subject.

Strophius was the father of Pylades who lived in the
neighboring district of Phocis, and possibly a daughter
of his gave name to the Spring, but no account of the
circumstance seems to have been preserved.

Callimachus; Hymn to Delos; line 74.



Eleutherae was a town situated where an edge of the
Rharian Plain began to slope upwards to the towering


heights of Mt. Cithaeron which rises to an altitude of
4600 feet above the level of the sea.

In the Plain, a short distance from the town, there
was a charming little temple to Dionysus with so pret-
ty a statue of the god that the art-admiring Athen-
ians afterwards carried it off to adorn their own city
in Attica.

By the temple there was a no less charming grotto that
looked upon a Spring of cold and sparkling water; and
on a soundless summer's day when the cozy retreat of
that grotto was soft carpeted with ferns and velvet moss,
its rocky entrance framed a pleasing picture of the grace-
ful god, the tree-leaf shaded Spring, and distant hills
whose gentle undulations, far across the Plain and thinly
veiled in softening azure haze, lay in charming curves
along the sky like a band of lazy clouds, loitering in their
course to take a noontime rest.

There in the grotto, on such a day, Antiope once
stopped while on her way to Thebes, and giving birth to
twins she left them to their fate, which the inquisitive
midgets did what was best to make a pleasant one, by
crawling into the open towards the Spring where they
were fortunately discovered by a shepherd who gave
them their first bath in it, and, taking them to his moun-
tain home, reared them both to lusty manhood.

The shepherd kept them in ignorance of the secret of
their birth and of the fact that they were the children of
a Queen, one of the most famous beauties of her time and,
like Helen, the cause of a war.

It was waged by Nycteus, her father, a grandson of
Neptune, against Epopeus, the King of Sicyon, because
the latter had abducted Antiope and married her against
the paternal protests. This war was won by Epopeus but
after his death the Sicyonians surrendered Antiope to


her Uncle Lycus who became her husband as well as her
guardian. Mention is made of her subsequent sore trials
under the Spring of Dirce, No. 130.

One may easily guess why these two little boys, the
sons of Jupiter, were left to the chance that some tender-
hearted passer-by would find them ; and it was fortunate
for the music loving world, and especially for the wall-
less town of Thebes, that a kindly disposed person came
upon them in the daylight as they sprawled about in
dangerous proximity to the chilly and unguarded waters
of the Spring, for they were the Amphion and Zethus
who as stalwart youths discovered their parentage in
opportune time to save their mother's life, and after-
wards played no paltry part in the making of Thebes,
and in its history, as mentioned in the account of the
Spring of Dirce.

From a fragment of a temple column, a modern archaeo-
logist may describe the structure it belonged to with the
same uncanny certainty that Cuvier showed in remodel-
ing fossils of bygone ages from a single bone of their
skeletons; for, owing to the accuracy with which the
ancient architects adhered to the rules of proportion for
the several orders, the size of a structure can be fairly
surmised if enough of a column is found to allow of
measuring a chord of its fluting; and skilful modern
travelers have therefore accomplished wonders in iden-
tifying sites by the ruins of buildings of which old descrip-
tions have been preserved.

In the case of Eleutherae, however, the ancient writers
themselves did not agree on its location ; it had been on
the borders of Attica and Bceotia, and some placed it in
the former while others put it in the latter country, the
present result of which is three different locations for its
site, viz., east of Myupoli; west of Skirta; and, near


Kundara, each traveler being guided by a different
icient author in n

Pausanias: I. 38. II. 6.

ancient author in making his selection

The Well of CEdipus

Leaving Thebes by the gate of Proetis, a highway
stretched onwards to Chalcis.

In front of the gate was a race-course, and then on the
right hand side a hippodrome in which, .very appro-
priately, reposed the remains of the poet Pindar whose
honeyed lips were devoted to the praises of its patrons
and the victors in the contests that took place in its
precincts. His passion for poetry and the sweetness of
his song were said to be due to the fact that when he went
to sleep in his youth the bees selected his lips on which to
deposit their honey.

A short distance further on, after passing a number of
tombs, the most prominent of which were those of the
children of CEdipus; that of, or, rather, the cenotaph of
Tiresias ; and the tomb of Hector the son of King Priam
of Troy, one came to the Well of (Edipus.

It having been prophesied to King Laius that he would
be slain by his son, the King undertook to make this
decree of Fate abortive by having his son killed in in-
fancy. CEdipus, however, having been raised to manhood
by the pitying agent entrusted with the execution, one
day met his unknown father on this road, and, in a dis-

Online LibraryJames Reuel SmithSprings and wells in Greek and Roman literature, their legends and locations → online text (page 12 of 46)