James Reuel Smith.

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

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sea god whom the Romans called Neptune.

The tale of her deceit seems to furnish a reason for the
appellation Hippius that was often given to Poseidon
which is more likely than any of the explanations usually
offered ; it was, as Rhea told it, that Cronus' latest son
was a foal, and he, as she had expected, immediately de-
voured the colt that she led up to him to prove her story.

This royal example might have made horseflesh more
popular had Cronus not weakened his authority as an
epicure by devouring with equal avidity the stone that
Rhea at another time made him believe was the form
in which his son Zeus had been born.

The fountain of Arne was about twelve stadia from
what two thousand years ago was called "the modern"
town of Mantineia, on the Ophis, the Dragon, River; the
inhabitants of the ancient town of that name, founded
by Mantineus the son of Lycaon, having been guided
to the new site by a Dragon. Other old Mantineans were
said to have gone still farther away, and to have been the
original settlers of Bithynia in Asia Minor — a contention
quite in accord with the Arcadian propensity to make
sweeping claims, such as that their Evander settled by
the Roman Tiber before the Trojan War; that their
Italus gave his name to Italy ; that Zeus was born in Arca-
dia; that the Arcadians were the oldest people in Greece;
and that they lived there before the Moon was created.
Paleopoli now represents the ancient Mantineia and
Arne would doubtless be found almost due south of it,
and a mile and a half distant, were it not that the courses
of the surrounding streams, and even the channel of the
river, which is still called the Ophis, have been changed
many times in attempts to prevent the flooding of the


plain, watery incursions in which one might fancy ghostly
revisitations of the sea god to the site of his lambs' wool

Pausanias; VIII. 8.

Three Wells

Hermes was born in the mountains called Tricrena at a
place where there were Three Wells in which the Nymphs
of the mountains gave him his first bath, thereby mak-
ing the springs sacred to that god, the Mercury of the
Romans. He was brought up on a hill by the town of
Acacesium near Mt. Cyllene, the highest altitude in all
Arcadia, and the home of all-white black birds.

There would seem to have been a tacit understanding
that the Olympian home of the gods must be reserved
entirely for grown-ups, as there is no account of any
accouchement that occurred in the heaven of the heathen.

The stork of the goddesses usually selected some local-
ity near a convenient spring on a faraway mountain,
where no infant cries could disturb the councils or the
conversation of the adult divinities in Olympus.

The cup bearer Ganymede, and Cupid, appear to have
been the only small people allowed in the paradise of
Mythology ; and Cupid, always represented in diminutive
form at all stages of his existence, was in effect not a
youngster, but a mature and mischievous dwarf divinity.

The springs are possibly still somewhere in the hills
south of the village of Fonia and west of the mountain
called Skipezi, the Pheneus and the Geronteum of

Pausanias; VIII. 16.



(Enoe's Well was fifteen stadia from Pheneus, and near
the tomb of Chalcodon.

The Nymph CEnoe was the nurse of Pan, and probably-
acted at some time in the same capacity for Zeus as there
was in the temple at Tegea a carving representing her in
charge of that god while he was still a babe.

Pan the son of Hermes was born perfectly developed
and neither grew nor changed in appearance afterwards.
His mother fled in fright when she saw his hairy body
with full size horns, tail and goat's feet ; but the gods were
particularly pleased with his unusual shape, and had him
carefully cared for by Nymphs of whom CEnoe was his
special and private nurse.

As Pan's principal seats of worship were in Arcadia, it
may be assumed that he was born in that district, and
perhaps at this Well; it being apparently a nurse's per-
quisite to have her name bestowed on the natal Spring,
as in the cases of the nurses Neda, Hagno, and others.

This Spring was northeast of and about two miles
from where the village of Fonia is now located.

Pausanias; VIII. 26.


Zeus having been born in Arcadia, and his brother
Poseidon, and his son Hermes, he was inevitably drawn
to that district when the most wonderful of all known
births was about to take place — the birth of Athena from
the head of Zeus, more sensational even than the so-
called birth of Bacchus from the Thunderer's thigh would


have been if Semele had not, before that, presented the
world with her fully formed infant.

The marvel occurred at the fountain of Tritonis where
afterwards was founded the town of Aliphera, named in
honor of Alipherus, one of Lycaon's sons.

The town had a temple of Athena, and a statue of her
in bronze, of large size and of artistic merit, for they
accorded her the most worship inasmuch as she was born
and reared in that locality. They also celebrated a public
festival for the goddess.

That Athena, armed cap-a-pie, sprang from the head
of Jove is common knowledge imbibed so early that few
pause to wonder how she got into the god's head or to
inquire about the details of the birth.

As to the first query, it was through the family fond-
ness for eating people.

Jove, inheriting the cannibalistic proclivities of his
father, devoured his first wife Metis, and at the momen-
tous time he solicited the good offices of Hephaestus, who,
well known as a blacksmith under his more frequently
used name of Vulcan, merely exchanged his sledge for an
axe, and deftly made an opening in Zeus' skull through
which Athena immediately leapt with a hearty yell that
indicates that Zeus was not the only one to feel the force
of the axe's impact.

In the Temple of Diana Alpheionia there was a picture
by the Corinthian painter Cleanthes depicting the birth
of Athena, the Minerva of the Romans, and the subject
was still more grandly portrayed by Phidias in the
sculptured front of the Parthenon on the Acropolis at

It was disputed whether Tritonis refers to the date of
the birth, the third of the month which was August ; or to
an old word " trito " meaning head; and there was hardly


any place having a Spring, or any body of water, called
Tritonis, that did not claim to be Athena's birthplace.
Ruins found on a hill called Nerovitza are said to be
those of Aliphera.

Pausanias; VIII. 26.


The Spring of Linus, or Lechnus, was regarded with
great favor by prospective mothers who believed that its
waters might be employed to insure the well-being of
children in the early stage of their development.

Linus was, according to one account, a son of Hermes
and the Arcadians may possibly have claimed that his
birth took place at this Spring.

He ranked with Orpheus and Musasus as musician and
composer, and that Apollo killed him after a musical
contest, as he killed Marsyas, might be considered good
evidence of his ability.

No clue seems to be extant as to the precise location of
this Spring.

Pliny; XXXI. 7.


Mt. Elaion

The town of Phigalia was surrounded by mountains;
on the left was Cotilius, and on the right Elaion, which
was thirty stadia from the town. On the second moun-
tain a warm Spring bubbled up in a grove of oak trees
that concealed a cavern called the Cave of Black Demeter
because the goddess, when she was grieving over the pony


Arion that belonged to Poseidon, went into mourning,
appareled herself in black, and retired for a period to the
cave behind the Spring.

The effect of Rhea's deceit in describing Poseidon to
Cronus as a foal would almost seem to have had an in-
fluence upon the god's very existence, and to have con-
nected him with horses in several ways that are quite
foreign to the conception of him as the ruling divinity of
the sea.

If such was really the case, it was but natural that
when he desired to disguise himself he should have as-
sumed the shape of a handsome horse, as he did before
the birth of Arion, which colt according to one account
was the pony that appeared out of the shaft of the salt
Well that Poseidon opened at Athens in his contest with
Athena for the title to that valuable piece of real estate.

At the village of Tragoi near the ruins of Phigalia,
French explorers found remains of baths whose masonry
clearly showed the action of warm waters, but their
sources, it was reported, had become dry in some distant

Demeter, a sister of Zeus, was the Ceres of the Romans.

Pausanias; VIII. 42.


In very ancient times, before the Trojan war, there
was at Tegea a venerable temple to Athena Alea, and
north of it there was a Spring near which Hercules in his
rather rough way wooed the daughter of Aleus, Auge who
became the mother of Telephus.

Her father Aleus, not flattered by the rose covered
alliance, enclosed the mother and son in a chest which


he threw into the sea. The Ocean, however, opposing
the plans of the heartless parent, safely floated the human
cargo to the shores of Asia Minor where Teuthras the
king of the Mysians married the mother and brought up
the son who in due time succeeded his adootive father as
ruler of the kingdom.

Telephus was wounded by Achilles at Troy and his
cure is perhaps the first instance on record of the applica-
tion of the Similia Similibus Curantur system of healing,
for he recovered from the hurt on being treated with the
rust of the spear that spitted him.

The old structure at Tegea having been consumed by
fire was superseded by a new and magnificent temple that
excelled all other temples in the Peloponnesus for beauty
and size. It combined Doric, Corinthian and Ionic archi-
tecture, and was designed by Scopas, the Parian.

The temple contained at one time much that was of
unusual interest, but one conqueror after another, follow-
ing along-used custom, carried off the best that the pred-
ecessor had left. Augustus took away the ancient statue
of the goddess for whom the temple was erected, to
beautify his forum at Rome. He also abstracted the
tusks of the Calydonian boar, one of which was suspended
in Caesar's gardens, in the temple of Dionysus, and was
two and a half feet in length. The hide of the boar was
also preserved in the temple and was allowed to remain
only because it had rotted with the lapse of time and was
nearly devoid of hair.

The despoilers left the bed of Athena, and also the
armor of the widow Marpessa who led a company of
women and won a battle against the Lacedaemonians
under King Cherillus.

Few Romans of leisure or patriotism, however, could
have been found without affection for Arcadia, or a


perhaps pardonable desire to have a souvenir of the dis-
trict which cradled one ancestor of Rome and coffined
the other, Evander and Anchises.

Evander the son of Hercules and a Nymph, the daugh-
ter of Lado, lived at Pallantium a short distance from
Tegea. Sixty years before the Trojan war he went from
his home with a force of fellow villagers and founded
another Pallantium in Italy, on the River Tiber where
Rome is now. Time and tongues changed the name to
Palatium, and then to Palatine which one of the seven
hills still bears.

Pallantium raised a temple to Evander, and the elder
Antonine paid the place the homage of an Empire by
raising it from a village to a town, and exempting it from

Tegea was some three miles southeast of the present
town Tripolitza.

Pausanias; VIII. 47.


Leucone was the aunt of Auge whose romance with
Hercules, and subsequent vicissitudes, have been men-
tioned. There was a Well near Tegea called, after her,

Leucone's father Aphidas ruled over Tegea and the
territory in its neighborhood; he was a grandson of Cal-
listo, and was the father of Auge's father Aleus who was
Leucone's brother.

No author extant seems to have made mention of the
incident that led to connecting the name of the princess
with the Well.

Pausanias; VIII. 44.


The Blacksmith's Well

Many interesting and some valuable discoveries have
been made in the digging of wells.

Lycurgus, while acting as guardian for his nephew
Leobotas, king of Sparta, having given the Lacedaemon-
ians new laws and changed their customs, they prospered
rapidly and in time became eager to show their superior-
ity by conquests.

They questioned the oracle as to where they should
begin their campaign; and the reply they received was
that the oracle would give them Tegea to measure out by
the rod.

They therefore sent an army against the Tegeans and,
in perfect confidence as to the result, the army was
supplied with fetters enough to secure and enslave all of
the vanquished they might capture.

The Spartans, however, on that occasion were worsted,
and the Tegeans after fastening them with their own
fetters set them to work measuring fields with rods, as
the oracle had predicted. The fetters that were then
used were preserved and were still to be seen in the temple
at Tegea many centuries later.

The Lacedaemonians, on consulting the oracle again,
were told that it would be necessary for them to find the
bones of Orestes before they could conquer the Tegeans.

Orestes, the one who had murdered his mother Cly-
temnestra, and whose friendship with Pylades is paral-
leled only by that of Damon with Pythias, had been a
king of the Lacedaemonians. He was killed by the bite
of an Arcadian snake in the century of the Trojan war,
and, as during the intervening four hundred years all
trace of his sepulchre had been lost, it became necessary


to make another application to Delphi, and that brought
the answer that they were to be found where two winds
by hard compulsion blow; and stroke answers stroke, and
woe lies on woe.

Search was made everywhere, but unavailingly until
one day a Spartan named Lichas, who was watching in
palpable wonder the effects a blacksmith was producing
at his forge, attracted the attention of the worker who
said to him that he could show him something even more
wonderful than the transformation he was watching,
something he had found while he was digging his Well.
This proved to be a coffin nearly eleven feet long which
contained a skeleton of proportionate size; and Lichas,
piecing together the different facts, concluded that the
winds of the bellows, the anvil and the hammer, and the
iron (as a weapon) a woe to mankind, all agreed with the
oracle's description — and he surmised that the huge coffin
contained the very bones that all Sparta was in search of.

After many subterfuges, the Spartans having osten-
tatiously banished Lichas in order that he might seem to
have an excuse for taking up his residence in Tegea, he
managed to rob the blacksmith of the bones and carry
them to Sparta. The result was an immediate change
in the luck and fortunes of the Lacedaemonians who not
only became superior to the Tegeans but were able to
subdue the greater part of Peloponnesus.

The search for the bones was a long one, but it was
continued with true Spartan pertinacity as more than
two tedious centuries elapsed between the fettering of
the Spartans and their defeat of the Tegeans in 560 B.C.
when the bones found in the Well had become their

Tegea was one of the oldest towns of Arcadia, and re-
ceived its name from Tegeates a son of Lycaon; but there


are now hardly any remains of it visible, and neither the
Well of the Blacksmith nor the long-cherished fetters are
among them.

Herodotus; I. 67.


A Well at Phigalia

Hercules and Lepreus had a friendly contest to see
which could draw the most water from a Well before be-
coming exhausted.

This trial resulted in the death of Lepreus, and, as he
was buried at Phigalia, in the southwestern part of
Arcadia, it is probable that the Well was in that town; a
location that is also indicated by another feature which
was introduced into the contest to determine which one
could outeat the other, for the Phigalians were notorious
for their excesses at table and, among themselves, rated a
man's valiancy according to the amount of food he could

Admirers of Hercules claimed that he showed more
wonderful power in what he did for pleasure at the court
of King Thestius, and in eating whenever opportunity
offered, than he exhibited in any of his twelve compulsory
labors; but, although the cormorant had been assigned
to him as a symbol of his voracity, Hercules was not able
to eat an ox any sooner than Lepreus did. He, however,
easily won the contest at the Well, as also that with the
discus and in a drinking bout, and, at the end, in a per-
sonal combat, in the course of which Lepreus lost his life.
This Well has no doubt been filled in by the ruins of
Phigalia of which only some traces of walls are left near
the village of Pavlitza on the banks of the Neda.

Athenaeus; X. 2.
Pausanias; V. 5.


The Jay's Well

Thirty stadia from the town of Methydrium there was
a Spring on the side of Mt. Ostracina, and not far from it
a cave where Alcimedon used to dwell.

He had a daughter Phialo who unknown to her father
contracted an alliance with Hercules and who was driven
from the cave with her son iEchmagoras as soon as the
child was born. She was bound to a tree on the mountain
in sight of the Spring, and the sudden transfer from the
warmth of the cave caused the baby to wail in discomfort
for several hours. An imitative Jay learning the iterated
wail repeated it so naturally as he flitted about that
Hercules, searching the forest for Phialo, took the bird's
voice for the child's, and following the sound was led
to the Spring and freed the mother from her bonds
with [little time to spare to save the life of the boy.
And from that occurrence the Well was called after the

They who attributed the infant's rescue to the mimick-
ing of a Magpie called the Well Cissa.

Methydrium is supposed to have been somewhere
within ten miles of the village of Nimnitza in a south-
easterly direction.

Pausanias; VIII. 12.


Lymax River

The opportunity that Arcadia offered streams to fall
into the ground at one place only to be forced up again
at another gave rise to differences of opinion about the
real source of the River Lymax. It was said by one


writer to come from a Spring on Mt. Cotilius forty stadia
from Phigalia.

Another authority, however, disputed that statement
because the water from that Spring flowed only a short
distance and then dropped out of sight. But unfor-
tunately he neither advanced any view of his own as to
where the Lymax rose, nor made any inquiry about the
matter in the neighborhood where the question might
have been settled, for after running only twelve stadia
from Phigalia the Lymax definitively came to an end by
drowning itself in the river Neda, not far from where
there were some hot baths.

The Lymax was so called because Rhea threw the
lymata into it after the birth of Zeus at the Spring of Neda.

The Spring of the short stream has been located in a
wild and desolate glen on the mountain a half mile south-
west of a temple of Apollo, one of the best preserved
fanes of Greece, the frieze of which is now in the British

Pausanias; VIII. 41.



The Springs of Melangeia were on the western side of
Mt. Alesium, by the road called Climax which ran from
Argos to Mantineia along the banks of the River Inachus.

The waters of the Springs were carried to Mantineia
by an aqueduct some portions of which have survived
to the present time.

Their site is marked by the modern village of Pikerni,
an Albanian word that is translated as "Abounding in

Pausanias; VIII. 6.


Mt. Alesium

Mt. Alesium rose above the town of Mantineia, and at
the extreme end of the mountain a temple of Poseidon
had been erected in early times by Trophonius, of oracle
fame, and his brother. (See No. 137.)

One of the numerous marvels of Arcadia was a sea
water Spring in this temple on a mountain in the center
of a country that had not a single inch of sea coast.

The salt beds of Silesia or Syracuse, and their cause,
were unknown in those days, and a salt water Spring
then could only be a flow from the ocean; and this Spring
was therefore looked upon as supernatural.

The temple, as usual, was in ruins, but the Emperor
Adrian regarded them and the Spring with so much ven-
eration that he had a new temple built around the old
one, with strict orders that no portion of the old ruins
should be disturbed.

In view of the awesome Spring and the commands of
the Emperor, it was thought sufficient to stretch a string
about the new construction work to keep intruders out.

But one spectator, ^Epytus, impelled by bravado,
boldly broke the string and passed the forbidden bound-
ary, only to be stricken blind by the outraged god who
caused the salt water to spurt into the eyes of the impious

Pausanias; VIII. 10.


Well of Alalcomenea

Near and northerly from the ruins of the old town of
Mantineia was the Well of Alalcomenea.


In its neighborhood reposed the dust of two of the
ancient world's prominent characters, in the tomb of
Penelope ; and in the sepulchre of Anchises, the father of
JEneas, who, after his famous escape pickaback from the
Trojan conflagration, separated for some reason from
JEneas and going to Arcadia died there and was buried
at the foot of the mountain thereafter called Anchisia.

With Penelope's resting place there was connected a
little-known story of that patient lady's last days; to the
effect that Odysseus after his return from Troy accused
her of having encouraged the host of notorious suitors
that nearly eat him out of house and home, and, not-
withstanding her tearful denials, drove her away, un-
mindful of Circe, Calypso, and Enippe the mother of
more than a dozen of his children. After wandering dis-
tractedly from place to place she migrated to Mantineia
where she died and was buried.

Pausanias; VIII. 12.


Well of Orchomenus

Beyond the tomb of Anchises and on the top of a hill
was the old town of Orchomenus, below which the newer
town was built.

Among its notable sights were this Well from which
they got their water, and the temples of Poseidon and of
Aphrodite; and a wooden statue of Artemis set in a large
cedar tree !

The village of Kalpaki now occupies the site of the old
lower town, and just below it is a copious fountain that
is still a notable sight.

Pausanias; VIII. 13.


The Wells Called Tene^e

The Wells called Teneae were beyond Orchomenus and
the tombs of Anchises and King Aristocrates ; the king
was stoned to death in 640 B.C. by his subjects, the Or-
chomenians; the cause of the demise of Anchises in Ar-
cadia is not given, but his death in Asia Minor was
attributed to lightning.

Some distance beyond the Wells, the road passed a
bubbling Fountain in a ravine at the end of which was
the town of Caryae, the site of which is still in dispute
though there are perhaps few cities in the world that do
not possess several statues of the ancient town's inhabit-
ants which are seen wherever columns are carved in the
form of females ; such caryatides represent the women of
Caryae who were all doomed to slavery and the support
of others, in punishment for the adherence of the people
to the Persians after the battle of Thermopylae. All of
the men of the town were killed by the loyal Greeks of the

The various sites that have been assigned to Caryae are
in the neighborhood of Arakhova.

Pausanias; VIII. 13.


Nonacris, Water of the Styx

On the road northeast from Pheneus lay the ruins of
Nonacris, a small place that took name from the wife of
Lycaon; but even in the dawn of the Christian Era it
was difficult to trace any portion of the ruins.

Beyond some vestiges of them, however, a very high


cliff overhung the river Crathis, and from that cliff a
Spring of poisonous water dripped drop by drop upon a
natural shelf of stone below it, and oozing through the
shelf fell at intervals into the river that ran beneath.

Those drops the Greeks called the Water of the Styx;
they were deadly both to man and beast, so that to have
"taken a draught of the Styx" became one of the many

Online LibraryJames Reuel SmithSprings and wells in Greek and Roman literature, their legends and locations → online text (page 2 of 46)