James Reuel Smith.

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

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in which the divine information was communicated was
probably the most tantalizing mystery of the whole

There were oak trees, one of them the second oldest
tree in the world, and doves and brazen appliances, and
the murmuring Spring with its miraculous pyrotechnical
properties; and the priests were no doubt quite content
that each suppliant's imagination should have free play
in trying to decide whether oak, dove, brass or spring
made the sound that revealed the god's responses to the
attendant translators.

Possibly the most popular theory was that which
makes the "Talking Oaks" a familiar expression even
today. According to this surmise, the two old women
who interpreted the oracles were supposed to divine the
will of the god by the sounds the wind made in rustling
the leaves on the branches of the trees, whose prophetic
powers continued even after they were felled and fash-
ioned by the carpenter for useful purposes. Thus, the
mast of the ship Argo, of the Argonauts, which was cut


from the grove by this Spring, delivered oracles to Jason
in times of necessity during his voyage in search of the
Golden Fleece of the ram upon which Phrixus escaped
from his angry father, Athamas. ^Eschylus calls the oak
of Dodona "that wonder of the world, the language gifted
oak." And Sophocles, in his play, "The Trachinian
Maidens, " makes Hercules speak of the oracles that were
delivered to him in Dodona "by the mystic tongues
innumerous of my father's sacred tree."

In another passage in the same play, however, it is
stated that the proclamation was made by the an-
cient oak tree "through the sacred doves," whence,
perhaps, arose the assertion that the Priestesses, who
succeeded the original Priests, the Selli, were called
Doves. According to others, the original nymphs of
Dodona were the nurses of Bacchus whom Jupiter placed
in the sky where they are now seen as the Hyades, to
preserve them from Juno's anger against Semele and
her assistants.

Lucan, on the other hand, speaks of "The brass of
Jove" ; and Stephanus Byzantinus specifically states that
in that part of the forest where the oracle stood there
were two pillars erected at a small distance from each
other ; on one there was placed a brazen vessel about the
size of an ordinary cauldron, and on the other a little boy,
probably a piece of mechanism, who held a brazen whip
with several thongs which hung loose and were easily
moved. When the wind blew, the lashes struck against
the vessel and occasioned a noise while the wind con-
tinued. Byzantinus even says that it was from these
that the forest took the name of Dodona; "dodo,"
in the ancient language of the vicinity, signifying a

Others say that brass vessels were suspended to the


branches of the trees, which, being set in motion by
the wind, came in contact with each other and made
the sounds that revealed the will of the divinity.

Servius, however, relates, more naturally, that at the
foot of the sacred oak, the oldest tree but one in all Hellas,
the willow of the temple of Hera in Samos being the old-
est, there was a fountain the sound of whose waters was
prophetic and was interpreted by the Priestesses, and it
would seem surprising that the waters of this ever mur-
muring fountain were not generally accepted as the real
media through which the oracles were transmitted, at
least when the winds and the birds were silent, if not on
all other occasions.

Unfortunately it has so far been difficult to locate the
Spring of Athamanis, for Theopompus says there were a
hundred fountains at the foot of Alt. Tomarus where
Dodona is supposed to have stood, and it is rather re-
markable that its site is the only place of great celebrity
in Greece of which the situation is not exactly known in
modern times. Leake supposes that the ruins on the hill
of Kastritza, at the southern end of the lake of Ioannina,
are those of the ancient city, but this inference has been
challenged by others.

Doubtless after 900 B.C. there was a Dodona in this
neighborhood, brought down when the Muses and all of
their surroundings were moved from the northeast, but
before that migration it was in Thessaly, as Homer dis-
tinctly states.

The poet Lucan who was born 38 a. d., refers, as before
mentioned, to the oracle, though it had been long extinct
before his time, for in the year B.C. 219 the temple was
destroyed by the ^Etolians, and the sacred oaks were cut
down. Hadrian, however, is supposed to have rebuilt it
between 117 and 133 a.d.


This fire-kindling fountain was so far from being hot
itself that it was ice-cold.

At noon it became dry; at midnight it was full; and
from this ebb and flow which alternated constantly, day
by day, it was sometimes called Anapauomenon. It is
also referred to as the fountain of Jupiter.

Pliny; II. 106. IV. 1. Iliad; II. line 941.



The town of Lyncus in Epirus possessed a Spring that
should have made wine selling in that neighborhood a
precarious and unprofitable business.

The river Lyncestis was the stream of the town and
its source was reputed to give such people as drank of it
immoderately all the symptoms of a prolonged session
with the bottle; thickened speech, the hiccoughs and a
staggering gait, all lurked in that wine-like fountain.

Dr. Brown has identified this Spring with one of
mineral, acidulous water which he found near Banitza
on the road from Filiarina.

Pliny; II. 106.


The Royal Waters

The Spring known as The Royal Waters issued forth
in the Acroceraunian mountains under the fortress of

These mountains were in the northern part of Epirus,
and received their name from the frequency of thunder
storms in their vicinity. They are now called Chimasra


after an ancient fortress which is itself represented by
the modern settlement called Khimera. This was diagon-
ally opposite the northern end of Corcyra island.

Pliny; IV. I.

1 86

Pausanias says that there was fresh water coming up
out of the sea at a place called Chimerium in Thesprotia,
and that it was similar to the sweet water Spring of Dine
in the sea off the coast of Argolis.

Chimerium was the name of a promontory and of a
harbor between the rivers Acheron and Thyamis; the
place was diagonally opposite the southern end of the
island of Corcyra.

Pausanias; VIII. 7.



There was a fountain in Illyricum which set garments
on fire if they were spread over it. This was probably the
fountain, near Apollonia, that the same author says, in
another place, was near the Nymphasum, and was always
burning, and which threw out bitumen that mixed with
the water of the fountain. The Nymph aeum is described
by Strabo as being a rock that emitted fire, and he says
that the Springs below it flowed with hot water and with
asphaltus, a combination that explains why the garments
were set on fire.

The town of Apollonia was near Dyrrachium and was
the western end of the great military road, the Via Egna-
tia, made about 168 B.C., which ran eastward through
Illyria, Macedonia and Thrace, for a distance of nearly
550 miles, to Cypsela, every mile of the way being marked
by a pillar.

There are practically no remains of Apollonia now, and
there is no modern mention of any fire-containing rocks
in the neighborhood, although underlying beds of mineral
pitch still abound in Albania and Dalmatia, the modern
designations of Illyricum.

Pliny; II. 106.



1 88

Thessaly was the cradle of Greece; there the infant
nation was deposited although the parents were foreign
born ; the Greeks themselves could not agree as to their
origin, and modern discussion has failed to bring har-
mony out of the age-old discord.

But by reading the records of the rocks during the
XlXth century information was gradually acquired re-
garding the Great Ice Age which seems to throw a new
light upon the subject, and to simplify any discussion
about Greek and Roman origin, by eliminating the west
of Europe, above the 40th parallel of latitude, which was
reached by the enormous ice-sheet that probably anni-
hilated mankind, north of that line, as suddenly as the
mammoths were overwhelmed in the snow and ice-banks
that for thousands of years preserved their flesh as fresh
as it was at the time of the catastrophe.

Owing to mountains and isothermal causes the south-
ern edge of the ice-cap did not form a straight line along
the 40th parallel, as is shown by the curving mark
that it left between the 40th degree and several lower
down; but even looking along the 40th parallel it is
apparent that when the ice-cap retreated there was
practically no place from which a new population could
have come except Asia and the south ; and it was said
of old that those from the south, from Phoenicia and



Egypt, did not go north until in times comparatively

The Scandinavian account of the Ice Well Hvergelmeer
whose waters froze, layer upon layer, and of the beginning
of life in the north when beings, a man and a cow, emerged
from the mists that rose above the layers when at last
they started to melt, is a thumb-nail and graphic descrip-
tion of what no doubt occurred in and after the last Ice
Age, and it pictures the southward progress of the great
glacier and its subsequent melting, and what would have
seemed to be, had any old inhabitant been left to note it,
the advent of new life, as the first pioneer of the migration
drove someone's cow through the vapor and into the
lands recently vacated by the ice king ; for it seems plaus-
ible to suppose that a congestion of population, resulting
from long confinement within narrow limits by the lofty
ice barrier, was followed by a natural migration north-
ward, when such became practicable after the icy mass
had dissolved and drained into the inland seas of Europe,
and the great lakes of America that cleared morasses
such as in a previous ice age overwhelmed the prehistoric
animals that formed the present zoos in stone of Arizona
and Alberta.

One may judge, from the rivers that gush from the
glaciers of today, what oceans of water poured from the
glacial age glacier, and what a continuous flood ensued
during the centuries that were required to totally melt its
length of thousands of miles and its depth of hundreds of

A glance at the map shows that Thrace offered the
easiest passage upward from Asia into Europe and thence
across the continent to the Atlantic coast, and the view
that that passage was used is confirmed by finding in
the adjoining district of Thessaly the earliest people of


Greece who were not aborigines, that is, the descendants
of Hellen who gave Greece its classical name, for Graecia
is only a name that the Romans, for some unknown
reason, gave to that country.

Homer spoke of Greece, in part, as Hellas, the land of
the descendants of Hellen, very suggestively called the
first man born after the flood, and in part, as the land of 1
the Argives, who were Aborigines, and of the Danai,
who were Egyptians.

Hellas was at first only a small district in Thessaly,
which began on the fateful 40th parallel, but from there
the Hellenes slowly spread over all Greece with the ex-
ception of the Peloponnesus, and perhaps Epirus.

Looking at the map of Asia Minor, it is seen that Phry-
gia, with its tip grazing the 40th parallel, was its most
northerly ice-free country, and consequently the logical
exit for an exodus, and, in effect, the only place from
which the Hellenes could have come ; and it is interesting
in this connection to find that the legendary Pelops, after
whom the Peloponnesus was named, is distinctly said to
have come from Phrygia. 2

Moreover, Phrygian words appeared in the language
of early Greece, and names of places were common to
both countries.

Doubtless it will never be possible to trace the Grecians
farther back than this, for, as to the origin of the Phry-
gians themselves it would be hazardous to give even a
guess. They stretch back into the utter darkness of
antiquity. The Egyptians with a chronology of more
than 25,000 years admitted that Phrygia was older than
Egypt; they even said that the Phrygian was the first
language spoken, as was attested by the fact that the
first word infants utter, if they have not heard human 3
speech, is the Phrygian word for bread, a proof that


any doubting parent may still very easily put to the

Grecian tradition carried the starting-point of the early
migration no farther south than Phrygia; but the pent-up
masses below the icy line no doubt surged up and out in
many waves of bands that spread in numerous directions,
some forced or attracted to the west, and the north, and
the east, and others to the south where they formed the
first of the occupants of upper Greece and Italy of legen-
dary times, and repeopled those countries of whose pre-
glacial inhabitants not even legend has ever breathed a
whisper, unless indeed their descendants were the in-
habitants the Greeks called Autochthons (aborigines)
who were found near the 38th parallel and who may have
survived the ice age (as possibly those did who were
south of the tip of the devouring ice tongue in Italy) in
the very small fragment of the Peloponnesus that lies
under the 40th degree.

The Autochthons above the 38th parallel were the
people of Ogygus, the Autochthon of Bceotia, who died
off with some pestilence, and whose lands were repeopled
by the Hyantes and others who were in possession when
Cadmus arrived.

Pelasgus, the Autochthon of Argos and Arcadia, lived
below the 38th parallel— he was the father of Lycaon—
but from its being said that he was the first to "settle"
in Arcadia and that he showed how to construct huts as
protection against the weather, and how to make gar-
ments, and raised the standard of eating from roots and
grass to acorns, in addition to his being mentioned also as
in Thessaly, it would seem that he was not indigenous
but possibly one of the Phrygian migrators who came to
Arcadia and found others already there, and improved
their living conditions.


These Autochthons were designated Pelasgi (storks)
and are said to have been so called because they flitted
from place to place, though perhaps those birds are more
suggestive of waders which the Autochthons probably
were, by reason of the marshy land the melting ice made
in their neighborhood around the 38th parallel.

It would be to little purpose to speculate how many
thousands of years ago that migration of the uncouth
began, or how long it had continued before a higher order
of people followed, such as Pelops from Phrygia with
ideas even above the improved acorn food of Pelasgus;
and such as Orpheus also from Phrygia, with ideas of
melody and of rhythmic motion, and of composition,
though then perhaps only vocal.

Legend places the era of Pelasgus in the nineteenth
generation before the Trojan war, and Orpheus was
perhaps not far distant from him, in introducing the
gentle arts into Thrace and forming a peaceful and pros-
perous civilization, whose peoples' cows and other prop-
erty doubtless in the end attracted the descendants of
the ruder pioneers, the first people who went up out of
Asia, vagabond classes who, seeking release from the
confinement and privations that had pressed most heavily
upon them in the south, were not likely to have turned
south again when passing through Thrace at the outset,
people who originated the barbarous tribes of the north
who were always a source of mystery and fear, and who,
occupied in seeking food and in defending their lives, had
neither leisure, inclination nor ability to leave their
progeny the story of their origin and travels; these, de-
scending from the north, drove the peaceful and prosper-
ous Thracians farther to the south where, in Bceotia, they
reestablished themselves and gave the Boeotian moun-
tains and streams and other natural features the names


of those from which they had been driven, and continued
to associate them as closely as in Thrace with their re-
ligious rites, and their histories of the gods.

The route from the starting-point, in Phrygia, may no
doubt still be traced by many names and monuments
that providentially have been preserved, monuments the
most mighty and prominent of which are the numerous
peaks called after the Phrygian Mt. Olympus, the last
and most westerly one being that in the territory of
Grecian Elis.

These names cannot be marks made on the return
route of the Phrygians, their so-called migration into Asia,
for not only was that a flight, but it occurred after the
Trojan war or within the century before that war. 4

The Phoenicians, and the Egyptians who came across
to Greece by water, added to the number of the Grecians'
divinities, and gave a broader base to their education by
introducing the material gifts of writing; the sciences of
mathematics and astronomy; and art; all of which, in
combination with the minor gods, among whom were
Aphrodite who was first worshiped by the Assyrians and
then by the Phoenicians, and the lighter spiritual presents
of music, romance and poetry brought from the east by
Orpheus and others, were mingled, and cemented a
foundation for the civilization that was raised to its
greatest height shortly before the Christian era — a civili-
zation that was perfected within about the same number
of centuries that covered the growth of Britain from
painted savagery to Queen Victoria.

Long before the retreat of the Ice Cap afforded a
northern outlet, a southern exit was doubtless sought by
the pent-up peoples in Asia; and it may be noted as
testimony from another source regarding the starting-
point of the migration of a part of the people, that an


Arab tradition, in connection with the Koran, pointed to
the fecund 40th parallel nearly one and a half thousand
years before the wavering line of discursive text, written
in icy characters on the rocks and in the gravels, had been
connectedly deciphered; a tradition that designated the
resting place in Armenia of Noah's Ark, the Biblical
cradle of the new and present human race, in which the
parti-colored brothers were saved from the flood, which
the melting ice alone might have caused; and the particu-
lar mountain that supported the cradle, whether it is set
down as Ararat or under some other name, is found within
a few miles of where the 41st meridian crosses the 40th

1 Apollodorus; I. 7. §2.

2 Strabo; VII. 7. § 1.

3 Herodotus; II. 2.

4 Strabo; XIV. 5. 29.



Around the pellucid and celebrated fountain of Hy-
pereia Jason's uncle Pheres built the town of Pherae.

That founder became the father of King Admetus who
enjoyed the unique distinction of numbering a god among
his slaves, during the twelve months that Jupiter sen-
tenced Apollo to servitude, for slaying the Cyclops who
forged the bolt that killed ^Esculapius.

This Spring is the one referred to by Hector in the Iliad
when, in his painful parting with Andromache, he ex-
presses a number of pessimistic fears about the future and
says, rather inconsiderately, that he foresees her a weep-
ing captive forced to fetch weights of water from Messeis
or Hypereia, both of which were near the tomb of Hellen
the son of Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha who repeopled


the earth, after the deluge, with stones that when thrown
behind them became human beings.

Such remains of the city of Pheras as may still be traced
are found about the village of Velestino where Hypereia
continues to flow, the waters gushing out from several
openings in a rock on the southern side of a mountain that
overhangs the village, and immediately mingling to form
a considerable stream which has been described as ex-
panding into a shallow lake of crystal purity one hundred
yards in diameter, which is crossed by means of stepping

Strabo; IX. 5. § 18.
Iliad; Bk. VI.



The fountain of Messeis, mentioned by Hector as one
of the Springs from which his wife might be forced as
a slave to carry quantities of water for his conquerors,
is supposed to have been in the town of Pherae in the
neighborhood of the more renowned fountain of Hypereia.

Strabo; IX. 5. §6.


Cerona. Neleus

The Springs of Cerona and Neleus might have given
rise to the expression "dyed in the wool, " as their prin-
cipal features of interest were the effects that their waters
produced in the color of the sheep that drank them.

The fleeces of such as used the first fountain were
turned black; and those of the animals that drank the
waters of the Neleus were made white.


It followed, naturally, that those impartial sheep who
drank of both Springs acquired mottled fleeces.

The Cereus and the Neleus in Eubcea, and the Crathis
and the Sybaris in Magna Graecia, produced the same
effects, except for the mottling. But streams with these
peculiar properties became increasingly common and have
ceased to be noteworthy now that they are found in
all countries, so that sheep raised anywhere in the world,
whatever their original color may have been, become as a
rule either white or black.

Strabo;X. I. § 14.



The Peneus rose in Mt. Pindus near Gomphi in the
western part of Thessaly and ran to the east some sixty
miles to reach the sea.

It passed between Mts. Olympus and Ossa and during
five miles of its journey it loitered in a charming vale that
was once a lake, the vale of Tempe, where, its surface,
silvered with the light reflected from its bed of bright
pebbles, mirrored the brilliant tints of the enclosing
mountains, and the many shades of the verdant herbage
bordering its banks. While the eye delighted in this
constant play of harmonious colors, the ear was no less
ravished by the music of melodious birds that. made their
home in the beautiful valley.

The pleasantly environed Peneus received many tribu-
taries in its passage to the sea; but when the dreadful
waters of the Titaresius attempted to join the happy
throng the Peneus refused to receive them or to permit
them to mingle with its merry current, and it held them


aloof so that they seemed to be borne up by its silvery
surface, like oil, and after a short distance it rejected them
entirely, as waters devoted to penal sufferings and en-
gendered for the Furies.



The ostensible source of the Titaresius was in Mt.
Titarus in the northern part of Thessaly, where its
Spring was surrounded with carobs, the ill-omened trees
on one of which Judas Iscariot hanged himself, but it was
believed to be tainted with the hidden waters of the Styx
which made it repugnant not only to men but even to the
Peneus, as shown in its refusing to blend with them.

So much, however, do impressions depend upon a
point of view that there were some people who offered a
very different reason for the fact that the waters kept
apart while traversing the same channel. To them it
seemed as if the Titaresius disdained to touch the waters
of the Peneus and passed over them as though gliding
through dry fields; and they averred that, conscious
and proud of its relationship with the deities of the lower
world, it desired to preserve veneration for itself, and was
unable to endure contact with an ignoble stream such as
it considered the Peneus which could claim only an earth-
born origin. They even went further, and threw mud at
the Peneus; or, at any rate, they said it was a muddy
stream and not a shining river as it was described to be
by its admirers who affirmed that it was superior to all
others in celebrity.

The Peneus, as now known under the name of Salam-
bria, includes what seems to have formerly been a


tributary rising considerably north of Gomphi. The
Titaresius is now the Xerghi ; of old it was called indif-
ferently Europas, Eurotas, Horcus and Orcus.

Strabo;IX. 5. §20. Frag. id. (Peneus.)
Strabo; Fragment 14. (Titaresius.)



The waters of Dyras rose in mistaking kindness to
extinguish the flames in which Hercules was about to
immolate himself to escape the terrible pains of his last
mortal hours.

His flirtation with Iole, the daughter of Eurytus of
(Echalia, reminded the hero's wife Dejaneira of the love
philter furnished by Nessus near the Spring of Mt.
Taphiassus, and she made use of it to steep in the fluid

Online LibraryJames Reuel SmithSprings and wells in Greek and Roman literature, their legends and locations → online text (page 18 of 46)