James Reuel Smith.

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

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time of Homer, his hero Ulysses wrote instructions to
his business managers, in letters that were preserved for
generations thereafter (Pausanias; VIII. 14). Five
hundred years before those instructions were written,
Moses received the Ten Commandments in writing ; five
centuries before the time of Moses, Cadmus introduced
writing into Greece — and no one knows for how many
centuries before Cadmus' day his countrymen, the



Phoenicians, made use of the alphabet, nor, how many-
ages still earlier the Egyptians began to write their
records in the characters that anyone may still, not only
see but, readily learn to read on the obelisks that today
adorn thoroughfares in European capitals and in New

It may, therefore, be justifiably supposed that in
Homer's time there were other authors, and that in earlier
ages among the Greeks there were writers whose works,
like numbers of those that are known to have been pro-
duced centuries later, were destroyed by fire and decay,
or dropped out of sight in places where it is to be hoped
they may still some day be found.

With the advantage of the long time allowance their
earlier beginnings gave them, the continental Greeks had
located in their own territories nearly all the events of
mythology evolved by them, or in Egypt, Assyria, or
elsewhere, before the dawn of refined writing in Italy
had begun to illuminate its literature; so that, when the
Romans entered the race of writers, there were few re-
markable incidents left to attach to Italian vSprings, save
such as were connected with local affairs. Therefore,
while something of religious and world-wide interest
occurred at many of the Grecian Springs, the history of
most of the Italian Springs beyond the boundaries of
Rome, might be condensed in the general statement that
they also bubbled and ran — though, but for Roman and
other armies, the Greek writers would no doubt in a few
ages have filled every Italian fountain as full of legends
and interest as were those of Greece across the Adriatic
Sea; for Italy itself was Greek in name and ownership
before it was Italian.

Owing to the catchword " The Boot, " the outline of the
map of Italy is probably visualized more readily than


that of any other country in the atlas. The toe of the
boot, by which so many barbarous tribes were kicked
into civilized shape, forms a rough outline of a shoe, and
the shoe part was called Italy when still Grecian and'
before any other portion of the peninsula received the
name, which was derived, according to one deduction,
from Italus who went there about 1710 B.C. with his
brothers CEnotrus and Iapyx, three sons of the Arcadian
Greek Lycaon whose descendants gave names to so many
places in Greece itself, the three sons being the first of all
colonizers to leave the motherland.

The toe of the boot was at first called CEnotria, then
Italia, then Bruttii, and finally, Calabria. The heel was
at first called Iapygia, after Iapyx, then Massapia, then
Calabria, and, finally, Terra D'Otranto.

Others from Greece, swarming over the Brobdingnagian
boot, covered it with settlements, so that in time the
lower part of the peninsula, for a third of its length, came
to be called Magna Grascia.

Several of the cities of Magna Grascia are said to have
been founded at the close of the Trojan war, and in proof
that Epeius founded Metapontum the people of that city
exhibited in the temple of Minerva the tools with which
he made the wooden horse.

Nothing, however, is known of the careers of these
cities before 720 B.C. when the history of Sybaris begins;
still, it is quite possible that people from Troy, and else-
where, were stranded on the peninsula and appropriated
settlements of the dwellers they found there, just as the
CEnotrians did in 1710, for there is no account of any
discoverer of anything but desert islands who ever landed
where someone else had not preceded him.

The CEnotrians found the Siculi in possession, and
allowed them to cross over to the neighboring island and


substitute Sicily for Thrinakia, or whatever the Sicani,
their predecessors, had called it when the still earlier
Elymi or Laestrygones bestowed it on them, no doubt
with all that innate and charming courtesy that has in-
variably prompted primitive tribes to relinquish their
estates to the last arrivals and seek accommodations at a
distance if the new discoverers were unwilling to accept
their offers of servitude.

Charming concession has, however, not always been
one-sided in these early meetings, for there are many
instances of the courtesy of the discoverers themselves;
the Greek arrivals of the Vlllth century cheerfully
accepted the servitude of the (Enotrians; and, though
there are no evidences of the extravagances of Columbus,
or of what vast sum, in the aggregate, was paid to the
Indians of North and South America, the lavishness of
the Quakers in Pennsylvania, and of the Dutch in New
York, is an open secret, the latter having without a
quibble accepted Manhattan real estate at a figure that
no one would think of asking for it today.

That Magna Graecia, from 720 down, cultivated the
arts, no less intensively than the mother country, may be
judged from the remarkable beauty of the designs on
their coinage; and their literary productions were doubt-
less of an equally high order, though they did not survive
the maelstroms of misfortune that the coins passed
through unscathed.

The material prosperity of the country was prodigious,
and led to a luxury of living that is still the standard for
valuing a voluptuary — a standard set by one of its cities,

The wealth of Magna Graecia became coveted by many
outsiders for whom its most effeminate cities were an
alluring and easy prey, as they were, too, even for the


hardier of their own neighbors. Foreign leaders, from
King Alexander of Epirus in 332, to Hannibal in 207, who
came to the country ostensibly as friends and to aid it
against enemies, quickly found pretexts for pillage and
destruction, from which the impoverished victims never

With the defeat of Pyrrhus in 275 B.C., the southern
end of the peninsula came under Roman dominion, and
shortly before the Christian Era the cities of Magna Grae-
cia were Greek only in name — and, generally, the name
was all that was left of them; such as had not crumbled to
broken bricks and stones, or dust, in the weakness of age,
had shriveled to villages, or even to a single building; and
under successive plagues of Norman, Saracen, and
malaria, these had disappeared so thoroughly 1300 years
ago that the locations now assigned to them are in many
cases admittedly merely conjectures that such and such
waste tracts were once covered with the grandeurs that
were Magna Grascia.

Strabo;VI. 1. §4.
Pausanias; VIII. 3.


The Fountain of Blood

(In Sybaris)

The three sons of Lycaon who migrated in 1710 B.C.
and settled in what is now the lowest part of the Italian
peninsula, apparently incorporated with the people they
found there, and forgot Greece and even its language.
And these, in turn, some 500 years later probably ab-
sorbed a number of stranded soldiers and refugees from
Troy; so that 500 years still later, in B.C. 720, when the
colonists of less primeval Greece reached the district,


they regarded the older population as Barbarians, and
in the course of time enslaved them.

The first of these later day Grecians, to whose presence
the name of Magna Graecia is due, were from Achaia; and
the first city they founded, or occupied, was Sybaris.

Probably they came from the Achaian town of Bura,
the home of the unfortunate fountain of Sybaris, as that
name was given both to the new town and to one of the
two rivers between which it was located, at a distance of
some three miles from the Tarentine Gulf.

The city was no less unfortunate than the fountain —
their ends, like their names, were exactly the same; they
were both drowned ; the city, by a river ; and the fountain,
by the sea. The water of the Sybaris river turned sheep
and cattle black; caused horses to shy; and made men
swarthy, hardy, and curly haired. The other river, the
Crathis, caused whiteness in the animals, and made men
fair and effeminate, with straight hair of a peculiar gold-
red tinge; it had, however, the property of curing some
kinds of disorders, and the Croton people may have shown
a grim conception of fitness in selecting it as the instru-
ment in their treatment of Sybaris.

Anciently these rivers followed separate routes to the
sea, but now they join three miles before they reach the
Gulf, a union that seems to confirm the statement that
the Crotoniats changed the course of the Crathis to inun-
date the Sybarites.

Nearly a century later, the waters of the Crathis were
again disturbed when one of its feeders, now called Bu-
sento, near the city of Consentia, had its course tempo-
rarily changed while the body of Alaric was buried in its
bed. When the interment was completed, the waters
were restored to their former course, and all of the
grave diggers were killed, as a double assurance that


the last resting place of the Visigoth would never be

The Sybaris, now called the Cosile, rose in the Apen-
nine mountains quite twenty miles away, and the city
itself had no local Spring until a short while before its
complete destruction by the neighboring town of Cro-
tona, when a miraculous Fountain of Blood gushed up
through the floor of the temple of Juno.

The people of Sybaris had then become unbearably
immoral and arrogant, through generations of luxury
and indolence fostered by a delicious climate, and made
possible by great wealth that a hiatus in history regret-
tably leaves unaccounted for.

The life rule of typical ' ' Sybarites ' ' seems to have been
"Eat, drink, love and waste away with pleasure." They
looked upon any kind of work, not only as disgraceful,
but as so irksome that as one of them expressed it, even
to see a person working made his bones sore ; to which an
auditor languidly rejoined that just to hear work spoken
of gave him a pain in the side.

Some of them may even have eaten from an atten-
dant's mouth, to avoid the labor of chewing, as did Sagus
the King of the Mariandyni.

Indeed, according to one of the local poets of those
days, not even the chewer's labor was required, for, as
Metagenes wrote, the Crathis and the Sybaris rivers,
acting as butlers, bore down to the Sybarites self-cooked
foods in regular courses which he describes, in full from
hors d'oeuvres to pastry, as swimming around every-
where and rushing into the mouths of the languid volup-

Prizes were given for the invention of delicious dishes,
and the profits secured by a year's patent on such built
up a large body of Edisons of the kitchen who amassed


wealth in creating new delicacies, and flavors so subtile
that the mouth was covered and the hands were gloved
while the artist compounded them to the accompaniment
of inspirational music.

Cooks who served the most exquisite dainties were
crowned, and Smindy rides gave a fair field to rivalry in
his own household by employing a catering and kitchen
staff of a thousand slaves. That was in the heyday of
the city's prosperity, which perhaps reached its height
about 580 B.C.

In the care and adornment of their persons effeminacy
was carried to extremes; after a vapor bath, and when
their faces had been smoothed with pumice stone and
made whiter than milk, they were washed in perfumes
from golden ewers, and anointed with costly and sweet
smelling oils.

They wore embroidered robes and cloaks of purple and
scarlet and gold, of apple green, of blue, and of fiery red;
and one of the garments of Alcisthenes was sold for the
equivalent of $120,000.

Rewards were given for the invention of new pleasures,
and there was no extravagance that they did not think
nothing of.

At the evening meal there were entertainments by
dwarfs and conjurors, athletes and dancers, tragedians,
comic actors and rhapsodists. Music was a matter of
routine; the harp, or the lyre, or the flute, were no less
equipment of the culinary department than pots and pans.

The slaves were flogged to the melody of the flute, and
the horses were trained to dance to the strains of the same
instrument — an accomplishment that in the end brought
disaster to the Sybarites' cavalry, whose formation was
destroyed when the wily Crotoniats fluted familiar airs
that set it to prancing on the battlefield.


The rooms of the dwellings were scented with burning
incense, and the floors, when not strewn with flowers or
fragrant herbs, were sprinkled with exquisite perfumes;
while, in the matter of decoration, the houses excelled in
magnificence the temples of the gods.

To make riding easy, more clothes were put on their
horses than on their beds; and three days were consumed
in going an ordinary day's journey. Such as walked,
were followed by slaves carrying folding chairs for fre-
quent rests in the awning covered streets.

There were attendants skilled in lulling to sleep, not-
withstanding the absence of all noise, for no brazier,
carpenter or smith, or anyone employed in a trade that
might disturb slumber, was allowed to live in Sybaris,
from which even the rooster was excluded, until his
crowing had been stopped.

After generations of such luxury and indolence, a
Crotonian army of 100,000 easily conquered 300,000
Sybarites, and, turning the Crathis river into the city
drowned it out of existence; a catastrophe that might
have been foreseen in the Fountain of Blood that flooded
the temple while the statue of Juno turned away its head
in token of anger at the wickedness of the inhabitants —
indeed one account even intimates that the flooding of
the city was the work of the miraculous fountain, which
the inhabitants strove to stifle with heavy slabs of brass
that they piled upon the temple floor in frantic but all
vain attempts to stop the resistless flow, whose effects,
whatever the cause, are still to be seen in a desolate
swamp, pestilential to all but the vast herds of buffaloes
that flounder through it today — a swamp that covers the
tract on which the unfortunate city flourished during
a short but merry life of only 200 years, for nothing
is known of its existence between 700 and 11 84 B.C.


when according to one account it was settled by soldiers
from Troy.

Athenasus; XII. 21. XII. 14.
Strabo; VI. 1. § 12 and § 13.



About 443 years before Christ, the Athenians sent out
a colonizing party that included the historian Herodotus,
and these, under the direction of an oracle, founded a
settlement a short distance from the ruins of Sybaris,
where there was a fountain known as Thuria, from which
the city derived its name, Thurii, and Herodotus his, of

The town was laid out, by Hippodamus an Athenian
architect, with streets crossing at right angles, a new
arrangement devised by him and used for the first time
but one in Thurii. An amusing account of the estab-
lishing of a new city is given in Aristophanes' comedy
"The Birds," wherein the founder's secretary describes
himself as from Thria, so evidently Thurii that it is in-
teresting to think of this town as having probably pro-
duced more shouts of laughter than any other city in the
world, for even a place, that has contributed to the gaiety
of nations, is not lightly to be forgotten.

"The Birds" meant were no doubt the feathered
descendants of the transformed companions of Diomed,
they bred in southern Italy until the Christian Era, and
showed their human origin in their choice of food and
their approachability.

The novelty of Hippodamus' block system in streets
perhaps had such a counterpart in his political life as
that which extended the reputation of a modern senator,


for it is said that Theano, a lady of Thurii, wrote to him
at considerable length on the subject of virtue.

The Thurians made a wine of repute, and enjoyed a
long period of prosperity, but the city became almost
depopulated through the oppressions of its neighbors;
the Romans repeopled it, and changed its name to Copiae,
but even that promising appellation failed to stabilize
its fortunes.

Maybe a clue to its oppressors and their oppressions is
to be found in the meaning of the nameBruttii (runaways) ,
that the district in which Thurii was situated — the an-
cient land of Lycaon's youngest son (Enotrus — received
about 390 B.C., at which time, the many slaves, who for
years had sought asylum in the tract, having become
numerous enough to gain domination, the designation
for runaway slaves was appropriately applied to it.

History repeated itself 300 years later when Spartacus,
the oratorical gladiator of the "Readers, " who was also
a runaway slave, after hiding for some time in Vesuvius
issued from its crater in an eruption that did more damage
to Italy than any that the volcano itself has ever pro-
duced. Proclaiming the freedom of the slaves, he at-
tracted a following that at one time numbered 100,000
and, between 73 and 71 B.C., devastated the country
from the Alps to the sea at its southern extremity, where,
in Thurii, he located his headquarters. He was conquered
and killed at the river Silaurus, and, as a warning to any
bandits still left, the Appian Way from Rome to Capua
was columned with the corpses of 6000 of his followers.

While at Thurii, Spartacus held great fairs to which
the countryside flocked to buy the booty of his raids and
robberies, and perhaps this was not the first time that the
honest traders of Thurii had suffered the oppression of
being forced out of business by merchandising marauders,


who dealt in wares that cost them no more than did a
draught at the city's Spring.

Nothing more definite can yet be said of Thurii's site
than that it was somewhere in the vicinity of Sybaris,
on the Tarentine Gulf.

Strabo;VI. i. §13.



The city of Medma within sight of the Lipari, Homer's
islands of ^Eolus, appears in strange contrast with that of
Locri, for, although it was settled by people from that
wide-awake town, it furnished but very few lines for the
pages of history.

It, however, endured long after many of its more
famous neighbors, and still existed in the Vlth century
a.d., after which time it was destroyed, probably by the

Medma took its name from a fountain of which even
less is recorded than is told about the town; it is described
only as a copious fountain, but the quality as well as the
quantity of its waters seems to be vouched for by the
length of the life of the settlement.

Its ruins are found on the right bank of the present
River Mesima below the town of Nicotera.

Strabo; VI. 1. § 5.


The first settlement of the Locrians in Magna Graecia
was made at the fountain of Locria, about 710 B.C.; but


some three or four years later another site was selected,
and the story of the abandoned fountain is lost.

If the tale should ever come to light, it is to be hoped
that it will furnish more savory reading than the record
of a Spring of the Locrians in Greece, which is notorious
for the stench it sent forth, and still emits, and which
was supposed to be due to the poisoned body of the Cen-
taur Nessus who was buried at the foot of Mt. Taphiassus
from which the Spring, which formerly contained clots
of blood, continues to issue. (See No. 178.)

The colonial Locri was the first Grecian city to put its
laws in writing, and to set in them fixed penalties and
punishments instead of leaving such to the discretion of
the judges. Zaleucus devised the system, but others,
attempting to extend it to cover all possible offenses,
brought it into disrepute, as it was contended that with
many laws more lawsuits were fostered, just as sickness
increased with the number of physicians.

Zaleucus is said to have once been a slave shepherd.
He suffered the loss of an eye to save an eye of his son
who had incurred a penalty that required the loss of two ;
and he killed himself because he had violated one of his
own laws.

The Locrians were celebrated for their devotion to the
Muses, and for their lyric poetess, Theano of the Vth
century B.C.

In music they competed successfully with the greatest
performers in Greece, and, in one instance, under a
handicap that only the assistance of the Muses themselves
could have overcome, as was strikingly portrayed in a
statue of one of their musicians, Eunomus, with his harp
and a grasshopper on it, which immortalized an incident
in one of his contests at the Pythian games when, a string
of his harp having broken, a grasshopper alighted on the


instrument and, supplying the sound of the severed string,
enabled him to win the prize.

They were noted, also, for their athletes, of whom
Euthymus, who laid the Temesa ghost, was one. And
their valor in war was shown when 10,000 of their soldiers
defeated 130,000 Crotoniats on the banks of the Sagras
River, and made "A victory of the Sagras " equivalent to
"incredible." That defeat is all the more astonishing
because, only a generation before, the army of Sybaris
was whipped by that of Crotona when outnumbered three
to one. But even more remarkable is the statement that
the noise of this battle was heard in Greece, at Olympia,
during the celebration of the games that were being held
there at that time. The victors then, however, were led
by their strong man Milo, who, made up to represent
Hercules, was an army in himself and performed exploits
as remarkable as his feat of eating an ox which he had
carried around the stadium of Olympia after killing it
with one blow of his fist. At another time he reversed
the feat of Samson and, with his arms as pillars, held up
a falling assembly building long enough to enable the
company to make their escape uninjured.

Nothing is now left of Locri but the basement of a
Doric temple, to Proserpine, that houses a farmer's family :
it is near the sea coast and some five miles from the
modern town of Gerace by the River S. Ilario.

Strabo; VI. i. §7-


The Well Lyca


The Well Lyca was in the very ancient town of
Temesa, or Tempsa, somewhat south of the present


Lao River, a stream that marked the northern limits of

Homer mentions its copper mines and the lucrative
commerce they gave it with over-ocean countries.

Even earlier still it was known, to its sorrow, by Ulysses
as it was in later times by Spartacus ; and there seems to
be no record of any period when the climate of southern
Italy, and its adjunct Sicily, was not congenial for some
description of pirate or bandit.

The Well apparently received its name from the ghost
Lycas, and was connected with the river Calabrus, from
which Laus and the present Lao perhaps come by lazy

Pausanias saw the Well represented in a painting which
was a copy of a still older work of art. The picture, in
addition to the Well and the river, and the town of
Temesa, portrayed the Ghost, dreadfully swarthy and
most formidable in appearance, and dressed in a wolf-

The legend was, as expressed in the painting, that
Odysseus, when on his adventureful voyage home from
Troy, touched at Temesa where one of his sailors became
intoxicated and offered violence to a maiden in the town,
with the result that the people stoned him to death.

Odysseus probably considered it a case of tit-for-tat
and a closed incident, and he sailed away. But the ghost
of the sailor, with a heart as wolfish as his skin, was not so
easily satisfied; it returned and persecuted the town so
relentlessly, killing indiscriminately the young and the
old, that the inhabitants decided to abandon the place
and to sail away from Magna Graecia.

The Pythian Priestess, however, bade them stay, and
commanded them to build a temple to the Ghost, and to
give it yearly, as wife, the handsomest girl in the town;


all of which being done, the persecutions of the specter

Afterwards, in 476 B.C., the athlete and boxer Euthy-
mus, returning victorious from the contests in the 76th
Olympiad, landed at Temesa on his way home to Locri
on the other side of the Peninsula, and, seeing the latest
wife of the Ghost sitting in the temple, in a thick grove

Online LibraryJames Reuel SmithSprings and wells in Greek and Roman literature, their legends and locations → online text (page 20 of 46)