James Reuel Smith.

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

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at the eastern end of the Black Sea on his long-distance
flight through the air with two little passengers, the chil-
dren of Queen Nephele and Sisyphus' brother Athamas
who afterwards forsook Nephele for Cadmus' daughter
Ino. To save her children from the stepmother's perse-
cutions, Nephele set them on the soaring ram that let
one of his charges, the little girl Helle, slip off into the
water of the Hellespont whose first syllables commemor-


rated the fall as the Dardanelles' last does, in a measure,

This ram, whose name and pedigree are stated in con-
nection with the Spring of Glauce, could talk, and was of
so kindly and generous a disposition that on arriving at
the journey's destination, Colchis, he took off his golden
fleece and presented it to Phrixus, Helle's brother, as a
token of friendship and as a memento of their aerial trip ;
and, having finished his earthly mission, he leaped to the
stars where as a constellation he still shines as brightly as
when he wore his gleaming wool.

The Golden Fleece was hung in a grove under the
guardianship of an insomnious dragon, and it was the
coveted wealth that led to the expedition of Jason and
the other Argonauts, though the worth of gold that it
may have represented, and that they after many adven-
tures secured in the fleece, was offset time and again by
the trail of misery subsequently traced by Medea who
was brought back with the fleece.

Libethrium is believed to be that mountain in the
Heliconian range now called Mt. Zagara, and its ancient
name was perhaps applied to it by Thracians from
Libethra, a town on Mt. Olympus in Macedonia, or in
memory of the Thracian Mt. Libethras.

Thrace also had a town named Petra; and Thessaly had
one called Coroneia.

Pausanias; IX. 34.



On the left of the Mt. Helicon road from Ascra to the
Grove of the Muses was the fountain of Aganippe which


took its name from the daughter of Temessus, a river
that flowed around Helicon.

Farther along, and just before reaching the Grove,
there was an image of the Muses' nurse, Eupheme,
carved in stone; and next to that a statue of Linus famed
for his musical skill, and, like poor Marsyas, killed by
Apollo on account of it. Then followed statues of the
Muses, and of poets, and of noted musicians, Thamyris,
Arion, Sacadas, Hesiod, and Orpheus the son of the
Muse Calliope. Festivals were held in the Grove, and
the games of the Muses were celebrated there; and around
it there were the residences of many people.

The statues were taken to Constantinople where they
remained until 404 a.d. when they were destroyed by fire.
The mountain range of Helicon was in the south-
western part of Bceotia, and was in effect a continuation
of the Parnassus range. The greatest of its heights was
slightly under 5000 feet although the ancients considered
it the equal of Parnassus which was 3000 feet higher.

Of all the mountains in Greece, Helicon was the most
fertile and the best shaded, and its eastern slopes
abounded in Springs which gave the appellation of
"Many fountained Helicon."

At the base of this eastern side stood the village of
Ascra, the birthplace, about the Vlllth century, B.C.,
of Hesiod the founder of the Pierian school of Poetry
and, next to Homer, the earliest of the Greek poets
whose works have been preserved.

The Spring is sometimes called the Hyantian Aganippe,
because the Hyantes were the original inhabitants of
Bceotia; and from the fountain itself the Muses were
called the Aganippides. In fact Aganippe has every
credential to prove it the "Pierian Spring" and the one
to which Pope's directions for taking the waters may


be applied, although centuries ago Castalia came to be
accepted as the fountain of the Muses and the inspira-
tional Spring of Poesy in place of Aganippe, the original
and real Spring of the Muses that existed even long before
its younger sister Spring of Hippocrene on Mt, Helicon
was produced by the pawing protest of Pegasus.

Castalia's great but fallacious fame appears to have
been built up on a foundation of errors laid by distant
Italian poets, who possibly mistook Cassotis for Castalia.
The latter was outside of the temple grounds and was
used to sprinkle, and even as a bath to purify, the pil-
grims before they entered the sacred enclosure; while
Cassotis adjoined the temple into which its waters ran
to disappear in the original goatherd's cleft of inspiring
vapors. Further, without any ancient warrant, the in-
spirational properties were transferred from the cleft to
the water whose effects were assumed to be seen in the
poetical form of the oracular announcements, when in
fact the announcements were the work of poets employed
by the temple to express the substance of the Pythia's
trance utterances made in the old-time jargon of the

None of the fountain heads of authority about Grecian
mythology has a word that warrants according to Cas-
talia its unmerited reputation; and there is no ancient
evidence that that fountain ever inspired anyone; or even
that its somewhat distant neighbor-Spring Cassotis gave
poetical inspiration.

None of the oldest writers mentions meeting with a
Muse on Mt. Parnassus; and indeed it was not an attrac-
tive mountain for ladies of Muse-like temperament.

It was, of all places, the least likely one to attract a
Muse; its gloomy caverns; and its long-drawn-out dragon
and other wild beasts; and the noises of the crazy and


crapulous crowds that celebrated the wild revels of Bac-
chus on that mountain, were more than enough to keep
the mild Muses far away from its dangers and disorders.

Helicon was their birthplace and its Spring of Aganippe
was their own cherished fountain, there they were reared ;
there they frolicked in infancy tenderly cared for by their
loved and loving nurse, Eupheme, whose statue occupied
a prominent place before their grove on Helicon, and
whose son, the archer Crotus, at the earnest request of
the Muses, was made even more prominent by Zeus who
placed him in the sky where everyone may view him as
the constellation Sagittarius.

Even if, on prying into the fairly irreproachable past
of the Muses, one is inclined to fancy that Bceotia was
not the home of their earliest days, and is tempted by the
number of places in ancient Thrace whose names are the
same as those of Boeotian places which are connected
with the Muses, to think that they came from the north,
one will readily find the name Helicon there, but will
search in vain for Parnassus.

The facts, evident to everyone, clearly show that Par-
nassus' atmosphere was not productive of poetry; and
that Helicon, in its home of Bceotia, was conducive to
poetry of the highest order, and was the native heath of

If Parnassus produced any poets their lights are hidden
in measures that are no better known than the where-
abouts of the one that was employed in harvesting the
crop of pickled peppers that was used for twisting the
tongues of bewildered youth of a generation now nearing
the century mark ; so far, there is nothing to indicate that
Parnassus and its district of Phocis ever produced any
notable poets — while Helicon and its district did so


One glance around Mt. Helicon shows the atmosphere
fairly dancing in heated waves of the Divine Afflatus
that rise from all about its immediate neighborhood —
from the homes of such immortal singers as ; — Corinna of
Tanagra; and Myrtis, another famous poetess of Bceotia
— for the air inspired the ladies as well ; and the children
too, as Pindar composed in his cradle; — and Hesiod of
Ascra, founder of the Pierian school, and born at the base
of Helicon itself ; and Pindar the Lyric Laureate of Greece
who sang in his cradle 522 years before the Christian era.

Aganippe has been sadly defrauded, and it is time she
came into her own and be accorded recognition as the
Inspiring Fount of the Muses and their songful subjects,
the poets.

Pyrgaki has been identified .as Ascra; and Aganippe is
seen in the fountain that issues from the left bank of a
torrent between Pyrgaki and the Grove of the Muses
which latter has been located by the church and convent
of St. Nicholas, at the foot of Mt. Marandali the eastern
summit of Helicon, through remains found there of the
stones of habitations, and an inscription relating to the
games of the Muses.

Pausanias; IX. 29.
Strabo;IX.3- §5-

The Fountain of Hippocrene

The fountain of Hippocrene was between two and
three miles above the Grove of the Muses. A brook, the
Olmeius, that ran from it joined the Permessus, a brook
from the fountain of Aganippe, and together they flowed
past the east side of Haliartus into Lake Copais as one
stream, now the Kafalari.


This fountain, so called from the Greek "Hippos," a
horse, and "Krene, " a fountain, was said to have been
produced by a stroke from the hoof of the winged horse
Pegasus, for the reason related below.

It is also called the Gorgon Fountain because Pegasus
sprang from the blood of the Gorgon Medusa.

To see this wondrous prodigy, Minerva made a special
trip to Mt. Helicon.

The Muses, assuring her that the Spring had been
produced in the manner reported, gladly conducted her
to it, and she stood for a long time admiring the waters
surrounded by groves of ancient wood, and caves, and
grass studded with flowers innumerable.

Then the goddess seated herself under the pleasant
shade of the grove, and the Muses told her the particulars.

The nine daughters of Pierus of Macedonia challenged
them to a test of skill in singing to the accompaniment of
the lyre. The nymphs of the rivers were chosen as um-
pires and they sat around on seats made of the natural

The challengers lost not only the contest but their
tempers as well, and proceeding from abuse to menacing
gestures, they were changed into chattering magpies.

During the contest everything was motionless to hear
the songs, save Helicon which rose higher and higher in
its delight until Pegasus, to put a stop to this, gave a
kick with one of his hoofs from the print of which arose
this fountain.

The wonderful birth of the Spring was beautifully
portrayed on the handsomest conduit at Corinth which
was adorned with a figure of Pegasus, so arranged that
the water gushed from under the hoof exactly as it did in
that thrilling instant when Helicon's intense excitement
was rebuked by Bellerophon's flying horse.


Whether or not the ambitious forecast of Pierus, King
of Thessaly, in naming his nine daughters as Muses, bred
in them an overweening ambition and a magnified es-
timate of their abilities which led to their melancholy
fate, it seems probable that Pierus' course gave rise to a
question that the most learned of the ancients later on
were unable to settle with unanimity, that is whether
there were originally nine Muses or only three.

In addition to giving his own name to the mountain in
Macedonia, some said that he ordered that nine Muses
should be worshiped instead of three, while others held
that there were nine Muses and that he only called his
daughters after them.

At any rate, the Springs of Aganippe and Hippocrene
were considered sacred to them and one may well
connect, preferably the former, with Pope's adjura-
tion to ; —

"Drink deep or taste not the Pierian Spring"

on the ground that ; —

"A little learning is a dangerous thing. "

At this visit that Minerva made to the Spring she,
seemingly, became infatuated with its beauties, so that
she loved to return to it, and enjoyed bathing in its
pleasant waters ; and it was owing to one of her return
visits that this Spring, which was supposed to be the
making of poets, led to the making of a prophet, the un-
fortunate Seer Teiresias.

His mother, the nymph Chariclo, was one of the special
favorites of Minerva, and "once on a time as they twain
were bathing in fair flowing Heliconian Hippocrene, and


noontide calm was holding the mountain, and much still-
ness was pervading the spot, Teiresias, alone with his
dogs, was roaming; and, thirsting unspeakably, he came
to a stream of the fountain and beheld what was not
lawful for him to see. Then wroth Athena addressed
him and said ; ' Thou shalt never more bear hence thine
eyesight on an evil journey.' And night fell upon the
eyes of the youth.

"But the nymph shrieked out ; ' What, awful Goddess,
hast thou done to my Son? Are ye Goddesses Friends
such as this? O accursed child, thou sawest the bosom
and limbs of Athena ; but never again wilt thou behold the
sun; ah, wretched me.' And clasping her dear son round
with both arms, the Mother, deeply weeping, set up the
fate of plaintive nightingales."

Greatly grieved by the transports of the sorrowing
mother, the goddess explained to her the decree of Cronus,
— That whoso shall have beheld any of the Immortals,
when the Divinity himself shall not choose, this same
should behold with a heavy penalty.

And then she promised to make Teiresias a prophet to
be sung of by posterity, and, as a partial offset to the loss
of his sight, she added to his hearing the faculty of under-
standing the speech of the birds, and to his existence she
added many years, giving him a far distant end of his

At the place now called Makariotissa there is a fine
Spring of water known as Kryopegadi, the Cold Spring,
which is said to be none other than the Hippocrene made
by Pegasus on Mt. Helicon; for he produced another
fountain, with his hoof, in Trcezen.

Ovid. Meta. V. Fable 2.
Callimachus; Bath of Pallas.
Pausanias; IX. 31.


Other Springs of Mt. Helicon

The mountain of the Muses was called Fountful Heli-
con because of its many Springs, but Aganippe and Hippo-
crene absorbed so much of the world's attention that the
others were unnoted, unnamed and unsung.

Many of its nameless fountains no doubt rose in caves
and were similar to other cavern Springs in the range of
mountains of which Helicon formed a part; caves that
are described as being, not gloomy recesses among the
rocks of the mountain, but, a series of grottoes through
which one could ramble without the aid of torches ; cool
spacious chambers with a subdued light of their own.

They offered pleasant retreats to which the Muses
might retire from the heat and glare of summer middays,
and, in the dim but still sufficient light, criticize with
frankness the efforts of each other's protegees among the

In the cool quietude of these petrical parlors, ceiled
and adorned with glistening stalactites, the reposeful
melody of the many-toned murmurs of the fountain
streams floated softly and faintly to the ear in notes
that set the key for novel songs, and gave suggestions
for new rhythms and untried melodies in meter,

Often those notes from the Springs in the Heliconian
caves, conveyed by the caressing touch with which some
not impartial Muse would gently brush the ear of her
favorite poet in a dream, may have waked in his soul the
harmonies that made his song and fame immortal.

Pausanias; IX. 29. X. 32.



A succession of contracting centers narrowed to a
point in the little province of Phocis, the sides of which, if
it were square, would each be only 28 miles long.

It was a focal point to which the eyes of the world were
for centuries directed to see the shadows of coming events
mirrored for the benefit of inquisitive mankind.

In Phocis, the bulk of its mountain range of Parnassus
with three snow-capped peaks, one of them over eight
thousand feet in height, left room for only twenty-two

The highest peak of Parnassus was the scene of the
orgies in the worship of Dionysus, while all the rest of the
mountain was sacred to Apollo and the Muses.

The immortal town of Phocis, Delphi (now called
Castri), contained the renowned oracle and temple of
Apollo; it lay on the upper slope of the valley of the
Pleistus River, and on the south side of Parnassus, two
spurs of which semicircled it east and west, while the
Corinthian Gulf flowed eight miles south of it. Greece
was the center of the world and Phocis was the center of
Greece. And Delphi was the center of Phocis, as had
been accurately established by the very simple method
of loosing two doves at opposite ends of the country and
noting that they came together on Mt. Parnassus at



Then came the center of Delphi which was marked by
a white stone, none other than the stone that Rhea gave
to her husband Cronus, instead of Zeus. It was oiled
and polished every day, and he who is able to imagine
anyone being near the North Pole without having an
uncanny impulse to step on the tip of it may believe that
it was not often necessary to renew the Delphic monu-

Phocis owes its fame to the oracle and the temple; and
the stone lay by the temple ; to that, everyone gravitated
naturally all the way from the edges of the earth; the
pious, the generous, the wise, the healthy, the brave,
the honest; all these and their opposites were drawn to
the temple by many motives; some to consult the oracle,
and fill the temple with votive offerings, and its treasury
with wealth — and others, to abstract those presents.

The temple was plundered from the beginning; robbers
went to it singly, and by battalions. At times whole
armies pillaged it, or tried to; and at others, petty thieves,
from emperors to common sneaks, made away with what-
ever they could carry — even the birds were said to peck
off pieces of gold from the offerings.

Among the Greeks themselves, the Phocians committed
the greatest depredations; but the Spartans rivaled them,
and the Phlegyasians and the Medonians were not far
behind. Some of the individual thieves were ; — Hercules ;
Pyrrhus, son of Achilles; the son of King Ciius of Eubcea;
Phalaecus; Philomelus; and an unknown man who was
captured, and eaten, by a wolf that was reproduced in a
statue which was added to the temple's collection.

Of foreigners, the army of Xerxes attacked it in 480
B.C. ; and afterwards Brennus' freebooters from Asia Minor
who, though 40,000 strong, were apparently repulsed.

Nero carried off 500 statues; and Sulla, and the


Emperors Constantine and Gaius took whatever they

So numerous were the thefts from the temple that
Theopompus wrote a book enumerating the treasures of
which the shrine was plundered.

The oracle was the oldest in the woild; Earth, the first
of all the divinities, established it, and Poseidon became
a partner, with Daphnis, a mountain nymph, as priestess.
Earth retired in favor of Themis (Justice) who passed
her interest to Apollo ; and he secured sole control by
giving Poseidon the oracle of Calauria in exchange; and
it continued under Apollo's auspices until it was closed.

If Apollo's title was quite regular, no one has yet ex-
plained why he had to kill the dragon, Pytho, that Earth
had provided for the oracle's protection, and then purge
himself of murder; but, after that dragon, the priestess
was designated Pythia, and the town was once called

There was no question too momentous, none too paltry
for the oracle to answer — from how a king could conquer
a country, or save his own, to how a fisher could increase
his catch. The oracle acted at need in any capacity;
as prophet, advisor, physician; and it was practically a
Court of last Appeal, with none of the tedious forms and
delays of the Mundane Law, but with all the latter's
power over life. If it directed the sacrifice of a beast or
of a human being, there was no evading the order, al-
though many of its doomings were apparently unjust and
cruel; for, to cure a pestilence, it might order the sacrifice
of a goat, or it might require the death of the handsomest
maiden and lad in the town — sometimes as an annual
affair. To obtain water in a time of scarcity, one man
was told to go out and kill the first person he met. (See
No. 148.)


If it levied a fine, payment was made without any ado.

And yet, with such extensive power, and at a time when
the golden key was in general use to obtain ends ques-
tionably, it was said that there was only one known
instance of the oracle's having pronounced at the instiga-
tion of an outsider. That one outsider was Cleomenes, a
ruler of the Lacedaemonians, and he bribed the oracle to
say in reply to his subjects' queries whatever he desired.

He ended his own life horribly in a fit of madness.

Nero, before 68 a.d., being displeased with one of the
oracles, sacrificed an ass to the god, and, having thus
shown his estimate of the prophecy, ordered the temple
to be closed; but events of the future were still revealed
as late as 360 a.d., in the time of the Emperor Julian.

It was probably closed definitively soon after 379 a.d.,
which year marked the beginning of the reign of Theodo-
sius who abolished all religious places and practices of
paganism; though he himself continued to pry into the
future through his own prophet the Egyptian anchorite
John of Lycopolis, a Christian seer who, among other
correct revelations, predicted the year in which the
Emperor's career would come to an end.


The sacred, classic and famous fountain of Castalia
was on the right of the road leading from the gymnasium
to the temple of Apollo within the sacred precincts in the
upper part of the town of Delphi.

This fountain rose in the angle where the spreading
bases of two peaks of Mt. Parnassus came together, and,
though obviously fed by the perpetual snows of the


mountain tops above it, its water was said to come from
the subterranean Styx, and to have a connection with the
Cephissus, as offerings thrown in the stream of the latter
had been found in Castalia's brook.

Its water was sweet to the taste, and, according to
Roman writers, a draught of it caused poetic inspiration;
even Byron's party "drank deep" of Castalia (unmind-
ful that that direction was given by Pope for taking the
water of the Pierian Spring of Mt. Helicon), instead of
snuffing the vapor in the temple as was done by the

Castalia furnished the holy water of the Delphic
temple, and all who consulted the oracle were wont to
sprinkle their hair with it, while those seeking purifica-
tion for murder bathed their whole bodies.

Though the oracle was coeval with the first era of
creation, when it could have been in use only for the in-
formation and guidance of the early divinities, and
though it was probably put at the disposal of men as soon
as they could pay the price, its first recorded predictions
related to the Trojan war and its cause, and were perhaps
made in the generation preceding that event.

Its introduction for the use of men was made through
the humble medium of an observing goatherd who, while
pasturing flocks on the slopes of Parnassus, noticed that
his charges were thrown into convulsions whenever they
approached a certain deep cleft in the mountain. On
investigation he found that there arose from the fissure
a peculiar vapor which caused a temporary bewilderment
during which his utterances became unintelligible.

It was a short and natural step from that discovery to
utilizing the place for oracular purposes by placing over
the cleft a temple, which was constructed of tree branches
to resemble a hut. A tripod or three-legged stool that


was covered with the skin of the Python killed by Apollo,
was then set at the edge of the goatherd's cleft, and the
Pythia, a young woman, prepared for her part by ablu-
tion in the water of the Castalian fount, sat down and
inhaling the hallowed vapor discoursed under its in-
fluence. Afterwards her utterances were translated by
the attending priests and made public in poetical form.
The priestess after bathing in the water of Castalia
crowned herself with laurel and masticated some of its
leaves before uttering the oracular responses.

The hut temple was destroyed by Deucalion's deluge
in 1503 B.C., and was replaced with a structure made of
wax and the wings of bees. This must have presented a
very handsome appearance before it acquired a coating
of dust and felt its first summer's sun, and it was
quite logically sent as a present to the Hyperboreans
whose climate was better adapted for meltable building

A third temple, of brass, was destroyed by a landslide.
The fourth was built of stone, by Trophonius and Aga-

Online LibraryJames Reuel SmithSprings and wells in Greek and Roman literature, their legends and locations → online text (page 15 of 46)