James Reuel Smith.

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

. (page 13 of 46)
Online LibraryJames Reuel SmithSprings and wells in Greek and Roman literature, their legends and locations → online text (page 13 of 46)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

pute that arose over the right of way, killed him; and
then in this Spring, as the modern version is, essayed to
purge himself of his patricidal sin ; or, as Pausanias more
bluntly puts it, he washed off in it the blood of his
father's murder.


From this circumstance the Spring was known there-
after among the ancients as the Well of CEdipus. But
after the introduction of Christianity it was rechristened
with the name of one of the Saints, and is today still
called the fountain of St. Theodore, perhaps after that
one, of the 28 Theodores who became Saints, whom the
Greeks honor on the first Saturday in Lent, and who
belonged to a Roman cohort and was martyred in 306,
February 17th. His head is still preserved in Gaeta,
though his body was sent to Brindisi.

Pausanias; IX. 18.



Aulis was the daughter of Ogygus, that autochthonal
King of the territory of Thebes, who reigned long before
Cadmus came into the country with his letters, those
teeth by which men devour learning and which, sown in
the field of argument, produce such angry disputations
and bitter wars of words. Hence, possibly, there is no
record of the very ancient and perhaps absorbing incident
from which this Spring derived the name of the primitive

It was by this fountain's sacred brink, where a plane
tree shed its shade around, that the fate of Troy was
confirmed and its destruction foreshadowed.

The Grecian hosts gathered at Aulis and, at first, eager
to sail to the siege of the distant city, had been there
becalmed and weather bound for so long a time that they
had nearly lost their relish for making a lengthy sea trip
and engaging in a war of whose success there seemed,
with each day of delay, to be less and less assurance.


They were on the verge of abandoning the adventure
when the miracle of the mysterious disappearance of
Iphigenia, about to be sacrificed to appease the wrath
of a goddess quite innocently deprived of a pet animal,
and the no less astonishing substitution of a doe in her
place, had just put them in a proper receptive mood ; so
that when, at this moment, they saw a mighty dragon
rear its sanguinary spires to a nest, in the top of the plane
tree, and devour its occupants, eight fledglings and their
mother, they readily accepted the interpretation of the
Seer Calchas that the dragon typified the Grecian host,
and the destruction of the birds guaranteed the fall of
Troy in the next nine years. Immediately a favoring
wind sprang up; the many ships, so carefully catalogued
by Homer, were filled with the reencouraged heroes, and
in due course the portent seen in the branches of the
plane tree was amply verified.

Fifteen hundred years later this wonderful tree was
still standing and its vigorous rootlets continued to drink
of the nourishing waters of the fountain of Aulis, which
can, however, hardly be credited with any part in the
even more remarkable preservation of the tent of Aga-
memnon that was, in the same period, pointed out on the
slope of a nearby hill.

Pausanias; IX. 19.


Among the ruins of Potniae, which were ten stadia from
Thebes and on the other side of the Asopus River, the
Well of Potniae was pointed out as a noxious object, for
any horse that drank from it straightway went mad.


One can imagine, too, that the water was not without
effect on the people themselves, and that their town might
still have been inhabited if they had done away with the
Well and sought for another and more wholesome supply.
- They had been noted for their peculiar ways and
strange actions, and it is difficult to stifle the suspicion
that it was not horses only that were made flighty by the
Well of Potniae.

They admitted sucking pigs into their Halls and made
pets of them which was not considered any better form
by Pausanias in the Year One than it is in 192 1.

And once in their worship of Dionysus they had killed
the Priest — it was customary in those days to water the
wine — an insane act that brought upon them a pestilence.
To have the pestilence removed, they were obliged to
sacrifice a grown boy for several years annually. The
penalty was, however, commuted at last and they were
permitted to substitute a goat, a substitution that the old
religious powers frequently permitted, and that is still in
effect in certain societies of Neologists. Glaucus, the
father of Bellerophon the owner of the flying horse Pega-
sus, was very fond of horses and of chariot racing, and
he was eaten up by a pair of his racers who drank from
this Well. The incident formed the principal decorative
feature of one of the most sensational shields of antiquity ;
it was owned by Polinices who helped to slay the dragon
at the Spring of Adrastea, and represented Glaucus'
maddened steeds in a furious gallop, actually in lifelike
motion on the shield. The figures of the frantic horses
were attached to a revolving spindle set vertically in the
buckler, and the effect was that of an endless troupe of
wild stallions issuing from the targe at frantic speed and
pawing furiously with their menacing hoofs at any enemy
upon whom Glaucus might be rushing. Possibly more


may be learned regarding this peculiar Spring if iEschy-
lus' lost tragedy entitled "Glaucus of Potniae" is ever
found. The Site of Potniae is in the neighborhood of the
village of Taki.

Pausanias; IX. 8.



The twin sources of the river Hercyna bubbled up close
together in a cave in the Grove of Trophonius near


These Springs were accidentally uncovered by Proser-
pine who when playing with her friend Hercyna chased a
goose into the cave, and, lifting a stone in her search,
made an outlet for the fountains.

The oracle of Trophonius was on the side of Mt. Heli-
con above the grove.

Conducted under the name of a robber and murderer,
and with torturing ceremonies, this oracle which was
unknown one day became a short time thereafter the
second most noted of some three hundred semi-private
oracles that Greece is said to have supported.

Trophonius and his brother Agamedes were builders
and constructed a treasury for Hyrieus, one of the richest
men of the vicinity. In the walls they wickedly left a
cunningly fitted loose stone that gave them secret access
to the treasures, and their depredations were so great that
the diminution of the vast hoard was finally noticed;
then a trap was set and Agamedes was caught, and held
so securely that he could only get his head through the

Finding it impossible to pull him through, Trophonius,


to prevent identification and to save himself from sus-
picion, cut off his brother's head and was then swal-
lowed up by the earth in the grove of Lebadea, and
the cavity was marked with a pillar and called after

A similar story, softened, however, with a love passage,
was told by the Egyptians in connection with a treasury
that was constructed for King Rhampsinitus some 1200
years B.C.

Occurrences in the cave of the Witch of Endor must
have been quite enjoyable in comparison with what those
who consulted the oracle of Trophonius had to endure.
It was said that no visitor ever laughed mirthfully after
one session in the oracle's hole of horrors.

One might imagine that the proceedings, in part at
least, were suggested by the terrors of Agamedes while the
trap was lacerating his legs and Trophonius' sword was
hacking his head off.

A person contemplating a consultation had to take up
temporary residence in a near-by temple and follow pre-
scribed sacrifices and invocations. He practically went
into training, bathing regularly in the cold river, and
eating plenty of animal food until the night appointed for
his descent into the cave, when he was anointed with oil
by two thirteen-year-old boys, and offered a final invoca-
tion to Agamedes.

After drinking, first the water of forgetfulness, and
then the water of memory, possibly that furnished by the
twin Springs, he proceeded up the mountain to a stepless
cavity into which he descended by a small ladder until he
reached a narrow opening to another cavity. Having
thrust his legs to the knees into this second opening,
his well-oiled body was sucked, as a swimmer is sucked
through a whirlpool, into an underground chamber where


the future was made known to him, sometimes through
the eyes, and sometimes through the ears.

He was then ejected, feet first, and, while still in a state
of terror, and hardly knowing where he was, the priests
required him to rehearse his uncanny adventures and
describe all that he had seen or heard.

Afterwards he was required to recall his ordeal again
and to write down an account of all that had happened to

It is said that only one man failed to come out at least
alive, and that when it was all over the victims laughed;
but one can fancy that a conception of that laugh might
only be gained by watching the mirth of a maniac.

Lebadea, its name slightly changed to Livadhia, is still
a considerable town, and some copious Springs at the
eastern side of a hill near the southern end of the town are
taken to be the ancient twin sources.

They do not issue from the old cavern near-by, but from
openings outside having, perhaps, been again blocked up
in the cave as they were before Proserpine first uncovered
them. They now rise at the sides of the river; those on
the right, warm and unfit to drink, are called Chilia and
may have caused the stupor of f orgetfulness ; those on the
left, cold and clear, are called Krya.

Pausamas; IX. 39.


The fountain of Tilphusa was at the foot of Mt. Til-
phusium about fifty stadia from Haliartus ; the mountain
is now called Petra; and the town, Mazi.

The Tilphusa of the fountain was a river nymph, and


not the notorious Tilphusa the mother of Ares' serpent-
son, the dragon that Cadmus killed.

Pindar described the water as ambrosial, and declared
that its taste was as sweet as fresh honey.

This Spring caused the death, and marks the site of the
grave of Tiresias, one of the most famous of the old Gre-
cian Seers, who lived some 1200 years before the Christian
era. He was a Theban, a direct descendant of Udaeus,
one of the men who sprang from the serpent's teeth
sown by Cadmus.

Like Caeneus, the daughter of Elatus, he was born a
girl ; but at the age of seven was changed by Apollo into
a boy ; thereafter, he was several times changed from one
sex to the other, his final sex being feminine ; and was once
transformed into a mouse, which, perhaps, led naturally
to his formulation of the doctrine that even the stars had
souls and were of different sexes.

Having had the experiences of both sexes, he was called
upon to proclaim whether the male or the female obtained
the more enjoyment from the pleasures of the affections,
and, having answered with mathematical precision, that
of their ten phases all of them were enjoyed by women,
and nine of them were unknown to men, he was stricken
with blindness by Juno for his garrulity.

It has been explained that, as the medicine men of
some tribes of Indians as far apart as Patagonia and the
Alaskan islands, dress like women, Tiresias, perhaps, at
times, appeared in female apparel, which gave rise to the
belief that he had changed his sex — but no one has yet
offered any theory to account for his transformation into
a mouse, though the power of foretelling disaster that
members of the Mouse family have long possessed is thus
easily accounted for, as being inherited from the strain
of Tiresias' blood that came into the breed at the time in


question; during which no doubt he deserted any ship
that was about to founder on its next voyage, and moved
from any building that was shortly to be consumed by

The power, at any rate, was transferred and persisted
in his own human family, for not only was his daughter,
Manto or Daphne, gifted with prophetic powers equal
to his own, but even his grandson, Mopsus, inherited the
gift, and had such a reputation that Calchas died of
vexation on finding that Mopsus was a better soothsayer
than himself.

There was a Tiresias oracle at Orchomenus twenty
generations after his unhappy demise, and, for all that is
said to the contrary, it may have been in charge of some
descendant in whose veins the strain of prophecy still

At the capture of Thebes by the sons of Polynices and
the Argives, Tiresias fell into the hands of the victors, and
while being taken, with the spoil, to the temple at Delphi,
he stopped on the way at this Spring to quench his thirst,
and took a hearty drink. Being a very old man who had,
according to some accounts, outlived seven or more
generations, the coldness of the water, in his heated condi-
tion, proved more than his lowered vitality could bear,
and he was at once buried near the Spring.

Homer says that Tiresias was the only inhabitant of
the realm of the dead whom Proserpine permitted to
retain intelligence, but, judging from his powers, as evi-
denced in his lack of foresight of his personal misfortunes,
this boon possibly raised him very slightly above the
condition of his fellow phantoms.

He predicted the fate of Narcissus which overtook him
after drinking of the water of the Fountain of Donacon,
and some may regard his own end as a judgment upon


him for that death ; but he, himself, was taken prisoner
at Thebes, and became blind at one Spring (Hippocrene) ,
and died at another, at least two of which misfortunes
any but the most oblivious of Seers might have been
expected to be able to guard himself against. It is true
he admitted he was subject to lapses into forgetfulness,
and it was doubtless owing to reflective persons not tak-
ing such lapses into consideration that there gradually
grew up a loss of faith in Prophets among the ancients,
although as long as wishes have the progeny commonly
attributed to them there will be people who, wanting to
know about their future, will believe there is some one
who can supply the information, and will accept, as a
Seer, whosoever may present himself with the proper

Strabo; IX. 2. § 27. Pausanias; IX. 33.



(Fountain and Well)

The experiences of Amphiaraus and Tiresias were simi-
lar in several respects; they were both Seers of renown,
and they lived, in different ages, at Thebes, and both of
them came to their deaths while leaving Theban battle-

Tiresias died at the Spring of Tilphusa ; and Amphiar-
aus became a god by the fountain where his temple was
built, twelve stadia from Oropus.

Like another prophet, Amphiaraus departed from life
in a chariot — the Grecian Seer's conveyance, however,
went down and not up, and disappeared in the earth with
him and his driver, Bato, it is said, at some distance from


this fountain, between Thebes and Chalcis at a place
called Harma, meaning chariot.

The exact spot where the chariot dropped out of sight
was afterwards surrounded with pillars and enclosed, and
the place had an awesome atmosphere that even deterred
birds from profaning the pillars by perching on them, and
kept the cows from cropping the sacred grass that grew
around them.

The fountain by the temple was reserved for a peculiar
purpose; no sacrifices were made at it, and its water was
not used, either for lustrations or for the washing of
hands; it was, in effect, made use of only as a collection

The oracle in the temple was of a semi-private charac-
ter, like that of Trophonius, neither of which ranked as
high as those that were presided over by the gods by
birth, and the consultants usually furnished their own
replies, which, if necessary, the oracle would interpret in
hexameters, and such as came true were preserved as

Amphiaraus' reputation as a Seer during his life was
made in divinations by dreams, and his system was con-
tinued in the temple, where it was customary for the con-
sultant to sacrifice to Amphiaraus, and then to a number
of the gods whose names were rostered on the altar.
Then he killed a ram and skinned it, and, wrapping him-
self in the warm pelt, went to sleep and dreamed the
answer to his own inquiry.

Under such conditions oracular liability was reduced
to its lowest terms, and no dreamer could in fairness
blame anyone but himself if the outcome of his affair
was not to his satisfaction.

The temple oracle also conducted a department of
health, and it was in this branch of the ceremonies that


the fountain was made use of, for all patients who were
cured were expected to throw into the Spring some gold
or silver coin according to their wealth or their grateful-

The practice of making collections at Oropus was still
in vogue late in the latter half of the last century, and an
international complication arose because, for the ancient
and satisfactory method of employing the Spring, a more
strenuous one was substituted on April n, 1870, when
Lord and Lady Muncaster and a party of English trav-
elers were seized at Oropus by brigands who attempted
to collect a ransom of £25,000, and, failing, killed five
of the party.

The boundary of the territory of Oropus caused fre-
quent contentions between Attica and Bceotia, and
brought out Carneades' famous oration on Justice in
which he contended it was purely an artificial idea for
purposes of expediency, based on either sensation or
reasoning which are rarely alike in any aggregation of

Pausanias ays; — "I have seen also the Well of Am-
phiaraus, and the Alcyonian marsh," which latter he
describes as a sort of quicksand a third of a stade in ex-
tent and so deep that Nero's engineers were unable to
plumb its depth. He adds that he was not permitted to
describe the nightly rites that took place near it annually,
and, though, no more is said about the Well than if the
prohibition had extended to that also, it has been as-
sumed that the location of the Well was near the Spring
of Amymone.

The modern village of Oropo is within two miles of the
sea and on the river Vourieni, the Asopus of Amphiaraus'

Pausanias; I. 34. II. 37.



Near Mt. Cithasron the highroad between Eleutherae
and Plataea passed on its right side the ruins of the former
city of Hysise.

The ruins told one of those tales in which the life of a
city appears, in all but its longer span, much the same as
the life of a man. They told of blasted hopes, of plans
and preparations for the future that the city never lived
to carry out; for among the remains there were seen
not only half -ruined buildings, but buildings only half-

This similarity between the existence of towns and
their tenants is strikingly shown in the history of many
modern places that, instead of passing away in dry rot
where they first appeared, actually migrate when their
surroundings become uncongenial, and continue exist-
ence in new localities where better opportunities are
presented for a healthy and active life.

Nowadays a number of such migrations occur every
year in the western part of the United States, and in 'the
most up-to-date manner; for, an ambitious town, rather
than become extinct when its mines or oil wells cease to
be productive, bravely shakes the dust from its founda-
tions, and all the stores and houses, mounting as many
motor tractors as each may require, travel quickly and
safely to the new site chosen, which is sometimes as many
as twenty-five miles away.

Before the first half of the year 191 7 was completed,
such journeys had been performed by the American
towns of; — Bottsford, Cornish, Healdton, Hewitt, Staun-
ton and Walters.

Evidently there were good people in the city of Hysias,


for one of the buildings in process of construction when
the city's life came to an end, was a temple of Apollo;
and among the crumbling stones and sagging columns was
a holy well which though still flowing had in its old age
lost some of the power of its youth and could no longer,
as formerly, cause whoever drank of it to prophesy.

Between the highroad and the town stood the tomb of
Mardonius who tried to spoil the Spring of Gargaphia
that Diana made famous.

That tomb, for a foreign invader, was another evidence
of the magnanimity of the Greeks at a certain period,
when, with a fine sympathy for the feelings of vanquished
foes, they refrained from erecting monuments to com-
memorate their own victories in battle.

Near where the road between Thebes and Athens now
skirts the mountain, there are some ruins of walls and a
partly filled Well which are supposed to be the identical
stones, and perhaps the holy Well that were noted by

Pausanias; IX. 2.


The Maenads' Springs

The remarkable Springs that the Maenads made in
Bceotia as the agents of Bacchus were in the foothill
forests of Mt. Cithaeron and are described in The Bac-

That tragedy is one of the most gruesome and un-
pleasant of Euripides' plays. Set in the time of the old
age of Cadmus, the founder of Thebes, when he had re-
signed the rulership to Pentheus, the son of his daughter
Agave, the drama opens with Bacchus' return from his


trip made to India to introduce the vine and exploit the
pleasures of wine drinking. The god is incensed on dis-
covering that with the exception of Cadmus and Tire-
sias everyone has lost faith in his divine origin and that
no one in the town believes in his descent from Zeus.
To punish the people for thus disavowing his deityhood,
he inflicts all the women with a madness that impels
them to leave their homes and take to the woods of Mt.
Cithseron where they wander wildly about with Bacchic
insignia and in Bacchanal costume, hides of dappled
fawn skins girdled with snakes, petting and suckling the
whelps of wolves less savage than themselves.

When one of these Maenads needed nourishment, she
struck her thyrsus into the earth, and forth there gushed
a limpid Spring of water, or, if she craved a stronger drink
the god sent up a stream of wine in place of water. Such
of the women as wished for a draught of milk had but to
scratch the soil with their finger-tips, and there they had
milk in abundance.

The frenzied Maenads spent the days in orgies of crimi-
nal acts ; carrying off the children of the country people
and chasing and wounding their parents; and in killing
the cattle which the fury and strength of insanity enabled
them to tear to pieces with their hands alone.

After such a strenuous and gory day's work they ran
back to the marvelous Springs, and at the water fountains
they bathed away their covering of blood, assisted by
the tongues of their serpent girdles which dissolved the
hardened gore and cleaned away the gouts and licked
them dry.

Pentheus, insanified by Bacchus, dressed himself in
the Bacchanal costume and climbed a tree to observe
the wicked doings of the women, who, in their delirium,
took him for a lion, and, led by Agave his own mother,


they surrounded the tree and with a thousand hands tore
it out of the ground and then, with foaming mouths and
wildly rolling eyes, they planted their feet upon his body
and pulled off his legs and arms; and ripping the flesh
from the bones with their rending nails they scattered it
about in little pieces, of which Cadmus afterwards col-
lected as many as could be seen.

Transfixing the head on the point of a thyrsus, they
carried it in a riotous procession to Thebes where Bacchus,
his vengeance being satisfied, restored them to their
proper senses and led them to a mournful appreciation
of the punishments the gods can inflict upon mortals
who ignore and disown them.

Unlike the Spring at Cyparissias in Messenia which
Bacchus produced with his thyrsus, and which still re-
mains to testify to the miracle, none of the Milk and Wine
fountains of the Maenads is now to be found in Bceotia,
and it is therefore left to individual fancy to decide
whether the Springs dried up when the occasion for their
use had passed, or whether they were as imaginary as the
lion the women thought they saw in Pentheus.

Euripides; "Bacchantes," line 690.


Well of Dirce

In Mt. Cithaeron, on the borders of Attica, there was a
Well called The Well of Dirce by those who, elaborating
the Boeotian account of the end of that jealous woman,
professed to believe that it was so named either because

Online LibraryJames Reuel SmithSprings and wells in Greek and Roman literature, their legends and locations → online text (page 13 of 46)