James Reuel Smith.

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

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Amphion and Zethus had thrown Dirce's body into that
Well, or, because Dionysus had transformed her into it
after the punishment by which the sons of Antiope de-


prived Dirce of life, as stated in the account of the
fountain of Dirce. (No. 130.)

Hyginus; Fable 7.
Apollodorus; III. 5- § 5-


Fountain of Cith^ron

Athenseus mentions a fountain of Cithaeron, near which
there was a temple of Jupiter, as an instance of waters which
change their natures by reason of falling thunderbolts.

Apparently this fountain's change was from bitter to

Athenasus; II. 15.


There was a Spring, Pausanias says, on the right hand
of the way from Megara towards Platsea; and, a little
farther on, a rock called The Bed of Acteon because he
used to sleep on it when tired with hunting : and it was
in that Spring, Pausanias adds, that Actaeon saw Artemis

This is a somewhat sketchy description, if it refers to
the Spring in the valley of Gargaphia, of what, fortu-
nately, there is another more enlightening account as
may be read in No. 145.

Pausanias; IX. 2.


Fountain of Gargaphia

This Spring was near the city of Platsea, in the western
part of Boeotia, about six and a half miles from Thebes,


and some ruins of it are still visible near the village of

It was in the beautiful valley of Gargaphie, or Gar-
gaphia, "thick set and shaded with pitch trees, and the
sharp pointed cypress.

"In the extreme recess of this valley, which was sacred
to Diana, there was a grotto in a grove where nature had
formed an arch in the native pumice and the light sand-
stone ; from this a limpid fountain ran murmuring through
a spreading channel edged with a border of grass.

"Here, in the grotto, it was the delight of Diana, the
Goddess of the woods, to bathe in the clear water, and
rest herself when wearied with the efforts of the chase;"
and as she was so engaged one day Actaeon, the grandson
of Cadmus, wandering through the valley, found his way
by chance into the cave, and surprised the goddess in her
bath. Indignant at what she thought his curiosity, she
threw a double handful of water over him and cried;
11 Now thou mayst tell, if tell thou canst, how that I was
seen by thee without my garments," and at once he
became a lively stag and dashed from the springside
through the valley, pursued by his own hunting pack of
fifty dogs who, overtaking him, unknowingly tore him to
pieces and then died of grief for their missing master,
while his sorrowing and disconsolate mother wandered
mournfully through the glades, gathering in her bosom
the gnawed and crunched bones of her son's dismembered

Juno is said to have stated that Diana resorted to this
extreme measure in order to silence a witness of a con-
cealed deformity.

Unfortunately, Juno did not account for the numerous
other deaths Diana caused or attempted — through snakes
introduced into Admetus' bed ; and through the boars that


killed Adonis and the Calydonian people; and directly,
by slaying Niobe's children; and Cenchrias, and many
others before she was finally, and not inappropriately,
changed into a cat.

Of the fifty hounds in Action's pack, not only was the
name of each dog preserved, but some special piece of
information was given regarding many of them indi-
vidually, and thirty-six of these little canine biogra-
phies are still extant.

The grief of the dogs when the tragedy was over, makes
quite plausible and pleasing the statement that they were
afflicted with sudden and temporary madness.

And yet the minute and substantiating particulars with
which the sorrowful story of Actaeon is told have not
deterred the incredulous from trying to pull the narra-
tion to pieces and give the impression that it is only an
involved method of relating the victim's ruin, through
the expense of keeping up a large hunting establishment.

The fountain of Gargaphia, many years afterwards,
came again into public notice through another instance
of bad temper and revenge, when Mardonius and the
Persian cavalry fouled its waters because the Greek army
they were fighting drank from it.

The effects in the latter case, however, were but tem-
porary, for the Plataeans were able to make the waters
pure again.

Of all the Boeotian leaders who went to the Trojan
war, only one returned; his name was Leitus, and his
tomb was near this fountain.

The Plataeans had pleasant as well as painful memories,
and annually celebrated a festival of fun to keep their
recollections fresh. They had in the town a statue of
Hera which was carved in Pentelican marble by Praxit-
eles, and was made as the outcome of a charming comedy


arranged by Cithaeron, a ruler of Plataea, whose reputa-
tion for ingenuity was so great that once when Hera in
a matrimonial huff had separated from Zeus, the latter
called Cithaeron in consultation and at his suggestion
made a wooden image of a woman, and, dressing it up in
bridal finery, placed it in a wagon drawn by gaily deco-
rated oxen.

Hera, hearing that her spouse was about to take
another wife, hastened to the scene and, proceeding in
jealous rage to shred the garments of her supposed rival,
was so delighted with the trick she discovered that an
immediate reconciliation followed.

It was this comedy that was acted over again every
year in a procession reproducing the story in its minutest
particulars ; and it was followed by general merry-making
that no doubt led to a better understanding in many
mortal households of Plataea.

Ovid; Meta. III. Fable 3-



The principal source of the Asopus flowed from several
Springs near Plataea at a place now called Kriakuki where
beside the Springs there are two trees and a Well.

The Plataeans were the original inhabitants of the land
and got their name from a daughter of the river god

This Spring was made memorable by the battle of
B.C. 479, which was fought on the banks of its stream and
which freed the Grecians of the last of the horde of more
than five million Persians and allies that Xerxes had
brought against them.


Of 300,000 Persians commanded by Mardonius in this
battle, 257,000 were killed; while but 159 of 110,000 of
the Greeks lost their lives under the skillful leadership
of Pausanias the uncle of Thermopylae's hero Leonidas.

The valor and determination of the Greeks on this
occasion is indicated in the conduct of the Athenian
Sophanes who carried an anchor chained to his girdle
and moored himself from time to time so that he might
stand against the onrushing forces as immovably as a
ship outriding a gale-driven sea.

Smith's Die. of Gk. and Ro. Geo. "Asopus. - ;


One would not be disappointed if expecting some un-
usual characteristic in the Spring near which Bacchus
was born and at which he received his initial bath.

The statement that he first saw the light at Nysa led
later to some confusion about the location of his birth-
place, for Nysa was a name found in other parts of Greece,
in neighboring islands, and also in India and in Africa.

The Boeotians, however, calmly ignored all places
except their own Nysa, a village on Mt. Helicon.

The traditions about his birth might be condensed in
a statement as startling as Shakespeare's assertion that
cowards die many times. The relation that he was born
prematurely and sewed up in Zeus' thigh until nine
months had elapsed was supplemented by an even more
astonishing account of a third and earlier birth, as son of
Zeus and Proserpine, under which parentage he was also
called Iacchus. During that existence, he was captured
by the Titans who, after separating his members, pro-


ceeded to make a stew with the pieces; the cookery's
odor, however, attracted the attention of Zeus who on
investigation readily recognized the parts of his son's
form that were simmering in the Titans' pot, and he in-
continently annihilated the cooks with lightning, rescued
the pieces, and had them interred on the slopes of Mt.
Parnassus — that is, all except the heart which was re-
duced to powder and eaten by Semele, whose son born a
few months afterwards was therefore said to be really
the reincarnation of the original and partly stewed

The earliest attendants of this Boeotian born Bacchus
were the ill-fated Ino and Athamas and they bathed the
infant god at the Spring of Cissusa, the water of which
was appropriately and prophetically of a bright wine
color, clear and most pleasant to drink.

A Cretan plant, the storax, grew by the Spring, and
near it was the monument of Alcmena, Bacchus' grand-
mother, and the sepulcher of Rhadamanthus whom she
married after the demise of the god's grandfather Am-

Zeus' wife Hera in jealous and unreasoning anger
inflicted innocent Ino and Athamas with madness, during
which Ino, who had perhaps pondered and brooded over
the occupation of the Titans which Zeus had interrupted,
treated her own son Melicertes in a cauldron of boiling
water, and then clasping the bones to her breast threw
herself into the sea.

Athamas after wandering from place to place finally
settled down in the territory, between Epirus and Thes-
saly, which, known as Athamania, perpetuated both his
name and his madness.

The tender infant, Bacchus, was then transferred to
the care of the nymphs of Mt. Nysa in Asia where they


brought him up as a girl, and their maidenly ministrations
were rewarded by Zeus with a permanent and prominent
position in the sky where they are still nightly in evidence
as the star cluster called the Hyades.

What effect, if any, the wine- hue d water of the fountain
of Cissusa had upon Bacchus' career may be left to in-
dividual conjecture, but the chief occupation of his
after life was to show mankind how to cultivate the
grape and make use of its juices, which were called
The Fruit of Bacchus; and his relaxations were spent
in revelries that owed all of their hilarity to the effects
of wine.

His festivals, the Dionysia, became general holidays,
and the one that occurred when the grapes had been
gathered and the must had been fermented, not only
coincided closely in date, December 19th to the 226.,
with the November Thanksgiving Day of America, but
also partook of its partly solemn and partly grotesque
features. It had a religious phase of thanksgiving, for the
vintage, but it made its principal appeal as a day of feast-
ing, song and dancing; of rollicking parades and proces-
sions; and of mummeries for which the participants
dressed in odd and fantastic costumes, and in which the
children all took a prominent part.

Even Plato conceded that during these festivals the
bounds of sobriety might allowably be overstepped. But
with the growth and spread of the celebrations debauch-
ery and even crime were added to what may at first have
been merely convivial tipplings that Plato could coun-
tenance, and it became necessary to enact numerous
repressive measures, from time to time, and finally to
suppress the festivals completely.

This Spring is mentioned as a halting place of the
Theban soldiers in 395 B.C. when on their way to bar


Lysander in an assault on Haliartus, near whose gate he
lost his life. Described as being at the rear of the enemy,
it is assumed to have been a short distance north of the
city's walls where a row of Springs a few miles apart
makes it difficult to give each one its proper ancient
designation; indeed, even in Plutarch's time writers
differed in naming them.

Apollodorus; III. 4. §3.
Plutarch; "Lysander."



The river Lophis flowed through the district of Hali-

There is a tradition that the ground was dry there
originally and had no water in it, and that one of the
rulers went to Delphi to inquire of the god how they
might obtain water in the district ; the Pythian priestess
enjoined him to slay the first person he should meet on
his return. By a lamentable chance that person happened
to be his son Lophis through whose body he immediately
ran his sword.

Dizzied by the mortal wound, the dying youth
staggered around in a circular course, and wherever his
freely flowing blood touched the ground water gushed up
in the form of a clear, dancing fount that was thereafter
called Lophis.

Haliartus was midway of the thirty miles between
Thebes and Lebadea, and its remains were discovered
about a mile from the village of Mazi. The Lophis ran
along its western side and was sometimes called the

Pausanias; IX. 33.




Venus was called Acidalia from a fountain of the same
name at Orchomenus, in Bceotia, which was sacred to
her, and in which she and the Graces, her handmaids,
were wont to bathe.

Servius thus explained why Virgil called Venus "^En-
eas' Acidalian mother."

A temple of the Charites, the Graces, is supposed to
have stood near the monastery of Skripu, the settlement
now near Orchomenus' site, where a tripod pedestal with
an inscription to the Charites was found ; and a nearby
Spring, which the women of the present settlement make
use of as a laundry, is said to be the fountain that, as a
bathing place of Venus, must have had some renown be-
fore the times of Troy.

Virgil; JEneid; I. line 720.



The Well from which the people of Orchomenus ob-
tained their water was placed at the head of the list of the
place's attractions, although among them was a marvel
inferior to nothing in Greece; that was the treasury of
Minyas, an ancient safe deposit vault that was forty-
one feet in diameter ; there is but one of its stones now left
but that is more than three feet thick, and 16 by 8 feet in

There was also a tomb containing the bones of Hesiod,
the whereabouts of which were unknown until revealed,
rather gruesomely, by a crow.

The town possessed, also, a temple of the Graces, to


whom the Boeotians were the first of all Grecians to offer

At this Orchomenus, which was 70 miles away from the
town of the same name in Arcadia, they annually offered
funeral rites to Actseon ; and the people had put up a brass
statue of a Specter and fastened it with iron to a stone.

This work of art, and the stone, had a peculiar and
creepy history to the effect that once upon a time the
Specter itself frequented the neighborhood and devoted
its energies to injuring the land, perhaps by scratching
up the crops, as the crow scratched up the corpse, and its
resting periods to sitting upon that stone.

The townspeople having applied to the oracle at Delphi
to know what they could do to stop the depredations of
the Specter, were told to bury in the ground whatever
remains of Actseon they could find, and to execute a
statue of the offending Specter and fasten it on the stone.

This having been done the Specter, not being able to
dislodge the statue and occupy his usual seat, presumably
went somewhere else and ceased to interfere with the
crops of the Orchomenians.

The village of Skripu occupies ground adjacent to the
site of the ancient city, which was on the banks of Lake

Pausanias; IX. 38.


Arethusa. Epicrane
(Edipodia. Psamathe

According to Pliny, the fountains of Arethusa, Epi-
crane, (Edipodia and Psamathe were in Bceotia.
(Edipodia is doubtless the Well of (Edipus.
Arethusa and Psamathe are mentioned by others,


though not as in Boeotia; but, seemingly, there is no clue
to the whereabouts of the fountain of Epicrane.

Pliny; IV. 12.



The source of the river Melas was within a mile of the
town of Orchomenus, where two bountiful Springs called
Phenix and Elaea, gushed from the foot of some precipi-
tous rocks ; one of them made the Melas which emptied
into Lake Cephissis and contributed to the production of
the fine eels for which the lake was famed; the other
formed a stream that spread out and lost itself in the
marshes that produced reeds with centers hollow from
end to end. Growing, as these reeds did, into all but
finished flutes, they became the preferred stock for the
making of those instruments, and are considered to have
been one of the most important factors in the develop-
ment of Grecian music.

The name Melas, meaning black, was given to the river
because of the dark color of its waters which was sup-
posed to be transmitted to the fleeces of the sheep that
drank of them. It was the only river in Greece that was
navigable at its source; it is now named Mavropotami,
and its twin Springs, gushing out at the base of some steep
rocks on the north side of the town's site, still produce a
stream that is navigable for hand-propelled craft.

Pausanias; IX. 38.



The small town of Cyrtones was about twenty stadia
from Hyettus.


It was built on a high hill and had a little grove that was
sacred to the nymphs and that contained a Spring of cold
water flowing out from a rock, and nourishing the soil to
such richness that all kinds of trees that were planted
there grew luxuriantly.

At Hyettus there was a temple of Hercules where such
as were sick could obtain healing.

Cyrtones also had a temple and a statue of Apollo,
standing, of which no criticism is made ; but of the Her-
cules at Hyettus it was said that it was not artistic and
was made of rude stone as in old times.

One who endeavors to place those times that were old
twenty centuries ago gets a sense of how rapidly the per-
spective of the years becomes foreshortened; each time
the record of them is revised on the slate of History, the
scale must be reduced and the dates set down more close
together. Twenty thousand years from now, New York
and its art may seem to have been almost coeval with the
neighbors of Cyrtones and their stone- work.

It is thought that Cyrtones is represented by the
present village of Paula, and that an outgrowth of the
Festival of Apollo and Artemis may be seen in a yearly
festival that is conducted there in springtime.

Hyettus is placed where the village of Struviki is
planted, west of Lake Copais.

Pausanias: IX. 24.


The Fountain of Donacon

"Near the village of Donacon, in the country of the
Thespians, in Boeotia, there was a clear Spring, like silver
in appearance, whose unsullied waters neither shepherds,


nor the goats feeding on the mountains, nor any other
cattle had touched; which neither wild bird nor wild
beast had disturbed, nor bough from a falling tree.

"There was grass around it which the neighboring
water nourished, and a wood that suffered the stream to
become warm with no rays of the sun.

' ' To this gem-like mirror there came one day the youth
Narcissus, warm and fatigued with the labor of hunting."

Charmed with the beauties of the spot and the Spring,
he stood admiringly beside it, all unconscious of the
danger for him alone that lurked in its glassy surface and
silvery bowl, for Narcissus having despised the love of the
nymph Echo, who had become enamored of him, Nemesis,
the Goddess of Retribution, decreed that he should never
be loved by the one he loved himself.

Therefore "as he stooped to quench his thirst, a new
thirst grew upon him; when he raised his head, after
drinking, he was attracted by the reflection of his own
form seen in the water, and he fell in love with a thing
that has no substance.

"He gave vain kisses to the deceitful Spring, and he
clutched at his own shadow.

"Extending his arms to the surrounding woods, he
cried; ' Did ever anyone thus pine away as do I?' And
Echo answered 'I,' and continued to respond, 'Alas,'
and 'Ah me, ' in her appropriate way, at each pause he
made at these words in his lamentations.

1 ' When he disturbed the water of the Spring with his
tears and the form disappeared in the moving of the
stream, he cried, 'Farewell,' and Echo too cried out
'Farewell.' When he struck his arms with his hands in
his despair, Echo returned the like sound of a blow.

"Then he laid his head upon the grass at the brink of
the Spring, and when night closed about him he was seen


no more — instead of his body his friends found a yellow
flower with white leaves encompassing it in the middle."

That Narcissus should have been unconscious of the
fate in store for him seems to be rather remarkable, for it
was known to others through the prediction of the sooth-
sayer Teiresias. And it is equally remarkable that
Teiresias himself died after drinking the water of another
Spring — that of Tilphusa.

Pausanias, a stickler for botanical accuracy, regards
the flower change as a pure fiction, merely because
Pamphos says that Proserpine when carried away, long
before the time of Narcissus, gathered that flower in the
fields of Enna, or Henna. As Enna, which itself means
"Agreeable fountain," was where Ceres, the mother of
Proserpine, resided, and was lauded even by Cicero, for
its Springs of overflowing water, Pausanias might have
reconciled the flower fact to so pleasing a story by two
very simple suppositions.

Leake places the site of Donacon near a hamlet called
Tateza, at a spot where there is a copious fountain sur-
rounded by a modern enclosure of which the materials
are ancient squared blocks.

There are many remains of former habitations in the
cornfields above the fountain, which, it may be assumed
in the present light of investigation, is the same that
caused the undoing of Narcissus.

The name of Narcissus' mother was Lily, Liriope.

Ovid. Meta. III. Fable 7-



The waters of the Spring of Thespiae were believed to
have amatorian tendencies.


Eros was the first deity worshiped in the town; and
fifty-two of Hercules' sons were born there on the same

Phryne, was born there also, the frail caper gatherer
whose form inspired the most famous works of Apelles
and Praxiteles, and swayed juries more effectively than
the eloquence of her lawyers; and who became wealthy
enough to rebuild the walls of Thebes after Alexander had
destroyed them.

Thespias lay at the foot of Mt. Helicon, eight miles from
Hesiod's town of Ascra. In its early days it was terror-
ized by a dragon that every year devoured a youth who
was selected by lot for the monster's meal, until one of its
victims, Cleostratus, made the meal he furnished bring
about the dragon's death, by wearing a cunningly made
breastplate that was covered with concealed hooks that
tore the beast to pieces internally in his violent writhings
to eject what the curved points prevented his dislodging.

The remains of Thespiae are found around a deserted
village called Lefka, and the stream from the ancient
Spring is now known as the Kanavari River.

Athenaeus; II. 15. XIII. 60.


Libethrias and Petra were two fountains of Mt. Libe-
thrium 40 stadia from Coronea.

Springs have been poetically and appropriately called
the Breasts of Nature, from which men draw sustenance
as in their younger years they fed at the fountains of
their human foster mothers. And perhaps if the phrase
could be followed far enough back the mountain Libe-


thrium might be found to be one of the original artists
who pictured the pretty thought in its formation of these
twin fountains.

The rocks and the mountains are the most popular
artists of inanimate nature, for the works of the stars
with their fondness for sketchy and Cubist constellation
forms, appeal to few besides the astronomers and their
imaginative disciples; and the clouds, the greatest and
the most prolific masters of them all, nervously destroy-
ing their artistic creations the moment they make them,
and permitting but a fleeting view of the wealth of color
and infinity of form in their painting and sculpture, have
a very inadequate number of admirers.

The statue of Niobe by Mt. Sipylus was little more
famous than the work of Mt. Libethrium which, besides
having man-made statues of the Muses, produced these
two fountains, one called Libethrias, and the other Petra,
that not only resembled the breasts of woman but
actually poured forth streams that had the appearance
of milk.

These milky streams were but a couple of miles distant
from a place closely connected with two famous animals
of antiquity; a place where there was one of the many
holes through which Hercules dragged up Cerberus, the
watchdog of Hades ; and a place where was the spot from
which the ram with the golden fleece set out for Colchis

Online LibraryJames Reuel SmithSprings and wells in Greek and Roman literature, their legends and locations → online text (page 14 of 46)