James Reuel Smith.

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

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having caused the writing to vanish; and the other, when,
in similar peril, he himself vanished, appearing within
the same hour at Puteoli 160 miles distant.

In the temple of Diana at Castabala, to the northeast,
the priestesses walked barefooted but unhurt over beds
of burning coals, a feat that was, maybe, more of a marvel
to foreigners than to the natives, as the country of
Cappadocia contained many underground fires which
sometimes burst through the surface to the injury of
cattle and incautious strangers; and to one of such hidden
furnaces the Spring no doubt owed its mysterious heat.

A long search for the ruins of Tyana was concluded
when the Asmabaean Well was found two miles north of
what is now called Kis Hissar where it continues to
bubble up, like a boiling cauldron, in a pool of cold water.

Philostratus; Vit. Apoll. I. 4.
Strabo; XII. 2. §7.



The Springs of Cnidus, in Caria, were in a grove which
surrounded a giant oak that towered above and over-
spread the other trees, as they overtopped and shadowed
the grass beneath them.

The enclosing wood was so dense that an arrow could
scarcely have penetrated it, and within were pine and elm
and pear and sweet apple trees, whose roots were nour-
ished by the water of these copious Springs that burst
from the ground like as amber, and were as dear to Ceres
as those of Eleusis, Triopas or Enna.

How very highly she prized them and the surround-
ing beauties, is shown by the terrible punishment she
inflicted upon Erysichthon, the great-grandfather of
Ulysses, whose trials appear trifles in comparison with
the tortures his ancestor suffered through having at-
tempted to violate the grove of these Springs.

Erysichthon was a man with large means at his com-
mand, and he planned a mansion in keeping with his
ample wealth and his station.

For such a structure no timber, he thought, could be
more appropriate than that the trees of the sacred grove
could furnish, and, at the head of a large band of wood-
cutters, he himself attacked the most magnificent speci-
men, the giant oak, the girth of whose trunk gave a span
of nearly sixty feet.

At the sound of the axe's first blow, the indignant
goddess voiced her protest, very gently, indeed, and in



such manner as none but a churl would have disregarded;
Erysichthon, however, not only turned upon her, but
even threatened her with his horrid axe, and bawled, and
loudly boasted that he would hew her trees and build of
them a house, in which he would enjoy himself and hold
many pleasant banquets to his heart's content.

Wretched boast! For Ceres too well knew how to
make the fulfillment of his wicked wish the punishment
of his shamelessness and sacrilege. Meeting his menace,
then, with such majesty of anger that his stout, hearty
woodcutters immediately fled in terror from the scene,
she pronounced his sentence, which was that he should
spend his time in eating to more than his heart's content,
but never to his belly's.

Thereupon she sent to the wastes of Mt. Caucasus, for
famishing Hunger, and directed her to breathe into his
veins, and scatter through his being, a constant and un-
quenchable desire for food.

This done, his ravening became a prodigy; as the ocean
receives rivers from the whole earth and is never satiated;
as the flame rages more fiercely the more fuel it feeds
upon, so Erysichthon more famished grew the more he fed.

The continuous preparation of his meals required a
relay of cooks to the number of twenty; and his thirst,
which grew and kept pace with his hunger, necessitated a
Bacchanalian brigade of twelve butlers rushing in endless
round from the cellar to the table; while ten handmaidens
were continually busied in washing dishes and serving at
the groaning board.

Such ceaseless gormandizing precluded any attendance
at public banquets, or even at private parties of his
friends, and his family reached the utmost limits of social
lying in devising excuses that should conceal the actual
state of affairs from all their acquaintances.


Not any of the vast quantities of nutriment, however,
with which he continuously gorged himself was assimi-
lated or served to nourish his frame, and it kept wasting
away like a wax doll in the sunshine, until his once
powerful body was little more than bone and fiber.

Great as was his wealth and the number of his flocks
and herds, these eventually became exhausted, and even
the chefs, tired out, refused to continue the ceaseless
round of roasting when it became necessary to kill and
cook the mules and horses. These, in turn, however,
were devoured, and then, when nothing remained un-
eaten save the family cat, and when that, too, had been
dispatched in the ineffectual fight to stay the doomed
man's craving, all the family's belongings were sold for
marketing money, and finally, when there remained
nothing of all the property, and when even his daughter,
Metra, had been sold, he was forced to sit at the cross-
roads, begging for morsels and cast -away refuse, while,
ever and anon, he gnawed and mangled the parts of his
person he could reach with his mouth, and miserably fed
his own body by diminishing it.

Such was the horrible fate that Ceres apportioned to
the man who had no respect for her grove and the Springs
of Cnidus.

Cnidus was on the point of the peninsula terminating
in the present Cape Krio.

Ovid, Meta. VIII. Fable 7.


Petrifying Spring

At Cnidus there was a Spring of fresh water which
had the property of causing earth to petrify within the
space of eight months.


Great numbers of people were attracted to Cnidus, not
to watch this slow-working Spring curiosity but to view
the statue of the Cnidian Venus, the finest work of Prax-
iteles. It was exhibited in a temple open on all sides, and
was esteemed as the finest piece of sculpture ever pro-
duced, a judgment that modern critics have had no oppor-
tunity of reviewing, as the statue has not yet been
discovered. Many bids were made for the work, but
nothing could induce the islanders to part with it, not even
the offer of King Nicomedes to pay a sum that would
have extinguished their municipal debt.

Pliny; XXXV. 47.



The sanctuary of Zeus Stratios at Labranda contained
a fountain in which there were eels that eat from the
hand, and that were adorned with earrings and golden

Two modern travelers believe the remains of a temple
at Iakli are those of the sanctuary that contained the eel
Spring; but others think it has not yet been found.

Pliny; XXXII. 7.



At Phausia there was a Spring that had a remarkable
upheaval every nine years and then discharged its accu-
mulated impurities.

This fountain was perhaps in the vast grotto, men-
tioned as at the same place, in which dripping water


hardened into columns that were tinted in various colors.
Phausia was a town in Caria opposite the Island of

Pliny; XXXI. 30. and 20.


Fountain of Salmacis

This alluring fountain was near the city of Halicarnas-
sus. Its waters were clear to the very ground at the
bottom. About it there were no fenny reeds, no barren
sedge, no rushes with their sharp points. The water was
translucent and the edges were enclosed with green turf
and ever verdant grass.

So alluring were the attractions of this fountain and its
surroundings that the naiad Salmacis could rarely be
persuaded to leave it and join in the amusements of other
nymphs. She spent much time bathing in her Spring,
afterwards straightening her hair with a comb of Citorian
boxwood and devising new ways of doing it up, learning
from the mirror surface of the Spring which effects were
to be preferred, and continually striving to heighten them.

At other times she would gather flowers and combine
the colors so as to reproduce the pleasures of a painting
or a varied sunset.

When not thus or otherwise engaged, she would repose
on scented leaves scattered over the soft grass, leaning on
an elbow and contemplating her decorations in the
Spring with the keenest enjoyment.

Hither one day came the youth Hermaphroditus who,
though but fifteen years of age, had begun to rove with
the desire to see unknown beauties of nature. Charmed
with the temperature of the Spring's pleasant waters, he


plunged into it and was presently transformed into a
being possessing the attributes of both men and women.

Not perfectly pleased with the strange result, he
prayed that the waters might affect all others in the same
way, and, in answer to his request, the deities tainted the
fountain with drugs of ambiguous qualities.

Various matter-of-fact explanations have been ad-
vanced to account for the peculiar effect thus attributed
to the waters of this Spring. One theory is that the foun-
tain was instrumental in civilizing certain barbarians
who lived in the neighborhood when an Argive colony
began to establish itself there; these men being obliged
to repair to the Spring for water and meeting the Greek
colonists, their intercourse not only had a polishing effect,
but, in the course of time, corrupted them by the intro-
duction of luxurious manners ; hence the fountain had the
reputation of changing men into women.

Another suggestion is that possibly the waters pos-
sessed some peculiar chemical quality that relaxed or
softened and made the drinker effeminate, as waters are
occasionally to be found with extraordinary qualities.

Lylius Gyraldus fancied that several disgraceful ad-
ventures happened near this fountain, which was enclosed
with walls, that in the course of time gave it a bad name.

Ovid attempts no explanation; he says tersely; it
enervates with its ineffable waters and softens the limbs
bathed in it; the cause is unknown, but the properties
of the fountain are very well known.

As to the remarkable youth Hermaphroditus, Ovid is,
however, pleasantly enlightening and explains the origin
of his name, which is a compound of the name of his
father and that of his mother, both of whom he strikingly
resembled, facially. He was born on Mt. Ida, and his
parents were Hermes and Aphrodite.


There was a widespread belief that Herodotus was
born near the Spring of Salmacis, and not by the fountain
of Thuria, and the city of Halicarnassus might have relied
upon that belief for a place in men's memories; or, upon
having produced the first woman Admiral, Artemesia,
who gained historical praise for the management of her
squadron in Xerxes' fleet. But its fame was further
assured by the city's possession of a world wonder, one
of the seven, the mausoleum that another Artemesia had
erected, in 350 B.C., as a tomb for her brother and hus-
band, Mausolus.

The word still lives in more than one language, but
most of the building was converted into lime or used for
making walls for other structures, and there remain only
a few fragments of it, which are now among the treasures
of the British Museum.

Unfortunately, the tomb itself, to which explorers
had penetrated too late one evening to permit of ex-
amination, was found the next morning opened and
despoiled by pirates; doubtless they secured a valua-
ble collection of vases and vestments and other pre-
cious material; but there could have been few or no
remains of the king, as Artemesia is said to have
mixed Mausolus' ashes in her daily drink, during the
two years that she survived him while gradually dying
of grief.

The city, built on the Ceraunian Gulf, was the most
strongly fortified place in Caria ; and its strongest fortress,
which, alone, Alexander was unable to reduce, took its
name from the Spring that flowed, as it does to-day, near
the temple of Aphrodite, at the foot of a rock that was
crowned by the fortress.

Strabo; XIV. 2. § 16.

Ovid; Meta. IV. Fable 5.


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The fountain of Byblis was possibly not in Caria,
although she herself was of that district. The story of her
love is one of the saddest instances of perverted affection ;
she was the daughter of Miletus, the founder of the
celebrated city of that name, and she fell riotously in
love with Caunus.

After waiting a long while, in vain, for some overture
on the part of the object of her misplaced affections, she
proposed to him herself, in a lengthy and painfully com-
posed letter, which he threw aside as soon as received;
she, however, persisted in her efforts, saying to herself,
"He was not born of a tigress, nor does he carry in
his breast hard flints, or solid iron, or adamant; nor
yet did he suck the milk of a lioness — he will yet
be won."

Her persistence, however, far from awakening any
return, at last drove Caunus from the country.

Then Byblis, becoming frantic, wandered wailing over
the wild fields in search of him.

"At length she falls down, and laying her tresses upon
the hard ground, she presses the damp leaves with her
face, tearing the herbs with her fingers, and watering the
grass with the stream of her tears.

1 ' They say that the Naiads placed a channel beneath
these tears that could never become dry, and immediately,
as drops from the cut bark of the peach tree, or as the
viscid bitumen distills from the impregnated earth, or as
water, that has frozen, at the approach of gently blowing
Favonius, the Zephyr of Spring, melts away in the sun,
so is Byblis the descendant of Phcebus, dissolving in her
tears, changed into a fountain which even now in those


valleys bears the name of its mistress and flows beneath
a gloomy oak."

Pausanias, critical again, as he was with the legend of
Narcissus, says that, as Byblis often went to weep by a
fountain which was outside of the town, those who related
the adventure magnified it by stating she was changed
into the fountain which after her death bore her name.
It may be noted, as a possible case of heredity, that the
nymph Cyane (the name borne by Byblis' mother) who
dissolved into a fountain in Sicily, may be supposed from
Homer's statement to have come from Caria.

The end of Byblis was the subject of one of Arist ides'
paintings called "The Anapauomene."

Owing to the distracted girl's wild wanderings in search
of her twin brother, there is small chance of locating the
indefinite valley in which the fountain of Byblis was

Ovid; Meta. IX. Fable 5.


Spring of the Branchim:

The Branchidae were a body of priests in charge of the
oracle of the temple of Didyma, which stood on a rocky
elevation above the harbor of Panormus, 2Y2 miles from
the sea, and about 22 miles from the city of Miletus.

The oracle was established in very ancient times by
Branchus, whose great beauty as a youth attracted the
attention of Apollo who gave him prophetic power, and
made him a man of brief, terse speech.

The sacred Spring of the temple rose on the forest-cov-
ered mountain of Mycale above the city of Priene where
Bias, one of the Seven Wise Men of Greece, was born.


It is thus seen that this wonderful Spring rose some
thirty miles from the seat of the oracle; but it imme-
diately dove into the earth again, and crossed under the
river Maeander, and under a bay of the sea, and came up
by the temple to perform its religious offices. And this
was not the only journey that the Spring is said to have

The temple was a magnificent structure of white and
bluish marble, with 112 columns 63 feet high and 6J^ feet
in diameter. The approach to the building was called
The Sacred Way, and was bordered on each side with a
long row of figures, sitting with feet close together and
hands on knees, done in the Egyptian manner and
carved, each one and its chair, out of a single stone.

The oracle was the fourth in importance in all the
Grecian territory, and was among a number that Croesus
put to a test before deciding which one he would ask what
would be the outcome of a campaign against the Persians
under Cyrus. Through messengers, he asked each one of
the oracles under test what he was doing at that moment,
and the oracles of Delphi and Amphiaraus gave the
correct reply. The Delphic oracle's answer was given in
verse, and, as the messenger uttered the last word of his
question, the priestess without a pause replied; — "I
understand the dumb, and hear him that does not speak;
the savor of the hard-shelled tortoise boiled in brass with
the flesh of lamb strikes on my senses; brass is laid be-
neath it, and brass is put over it." As Croesus was cook-
ing a tortoise and lamb in a cauldron of brass with a
brazen lid, he was convinced of the power of these two
oracles to read the future, and, having put the question
about the campaign, he was told that if he marched
against the Persians he would overthrow a great empire.

Thereupon he went to war — and his own kingdom was


overthrown; but that, as the oracles afterwards declared,
was the empire they meant.

It has been claimed that there was something uncanny
in this test case; but, whether or not it was Eurybatus,
the Privy Councillor of Croesus, who divulged the king's
war plans to Cyrus, the story carries the moral that a
seer's knowledge of the future cannot be fathomed with
a line that, like Croesus', does not reach beyond the

Xerxes, more successful than in his attempt on the
temple at Delphi, burned the Branchidse's building and
secured all of its treasures, receiving them, according to
some of his supporters, as presents from the generous
priests, who immediately decamped with the commander
and were settled by him at Sogdiana, where Alexander,
some 150 years later, slew all their descendants in

Perhaps the priests did not go empty handed to Sog-
diana, which became Afghanistan with the capital city
at Bokara, whose Ameer was called the richest man in
the world before the collapse of the Russian empire.

It was at this time, when Xerxes was packing up his
presents, or his plunder, that the Spring made another
journey and disappeared from its basin by the temple.

Later, the town of Miletus rebuilt the burned temple
on a very magnificent scale, and conducted the seer's
department as a municipal enterprise under the name of
the oracle of Apollo Didymaeus, which was also author-
ized to act as a mint and issue money.

Alexander paid a visit to the oracle under its new
management, and the absent Spring reappeared on that
occasion and resumed its former functions.

This oracle, like all others, suffered great loss of patron-
age when heathenism was undermined by skepticism,


about the beginning of the Christian Era; but it after-
wards shared in the revival of oracle-consultation that
occurred during the third and fourth centuries a.d.
After the death of Julian, however, it began to go to
decay, and today but two of its temple's columns stand
to testify to the accuracy of those who described it and
its Spring in the time of its prime.

Strabo;XVII. 1. §43-


Achillean Fountain

The Achillean fountain was in Miletus, and it was con-
sidered notable because, while its water was sweet, the
sediment that it deposited was brackish ; notwithstanding
which the Milesians regarded it with great consideration
as Achilles had bathed in it to purify himself, when he
discovered that Trambelus, a king of the Leleges whom
he had slain, was a relative of his friend Telamon.

The city of Miletus has been announced by some
explorers as represented by ruins found at Myus; but
others assume it to have been where a pestilential swamp
of mud and water, formed by the river Maeander, has
destroyed all traces of the city and its fountain.

Athenaeus; II. 19.



The Salt Spring of Mylasa was regarded as a more
remarkable fountain than that in the Erechtheium at
Athens, because it was four times as far from the sea, the
ocean being eighty stadia distant.


Like the salty Spring at Athens, it was also in a
temple, that of the god the Carians called in their
dialect Osogo.

The information given about Osogo, in connection
with this Spring, suggests that a number of the three
hundred Jupiters, who were reckoned to have been
mentioned by ancient writers, may be accounted for by
the Grecian practice of prefixing Zeus to the name of the
principal deity of all peoples with whose divinities they
became acquainted; for the Carians claimed to be ab-
originals, with national gods, and they are distinctly
stated, in a very ancient instance of the ceremony of
drumming out of camp, to have gathered together, men,
women and children, and with loud noises to have driven
out of the country all gods but their own national deities.
When, therefore, writers designated this aboriginal god
of the Carians as Zeus Osogo, it is clear that it was only
an intimation to Greek readers that he was the principal
Carian god, and not an assertion that the Carians called
him Zeus.

The temple, over which the Spring was built, was the
most magnificent of the white marble shrines of the city,
of which it possessed so many that the wit Stratonicus,
having remarked that there seemed to be more of them
than there were citizens, began a public address with
the words, "Hear me, O ye Temples!"

Moore was indebted to another wit, Hybreas, one of
the citizens, who, like King Oxylus, was a muleteer but
became the greatest orator of his time, and the fore-
most citizen of Mylasa, and who in a speech about
Euthymus, the city's tyrant, said that he was a neces-
sary evil, for the state could live neither with him nor
without him.

The temple over the Spring may have been demolished


by time, or by the Turks, who destroyed ancient edifices
to obtain material for constructing their mosques, for it
has not been identified among the ruins over which is
built the modern town of Melosso.

Pausanias; VIII. 10.
Athenasus; VIII. 41.
Strabo;XIV. 2. §24.



The legend of the Spring of Mela has a two-fold in-
terest, first, as giving another illustration of the shortness
of Latona's temper, which, as seen in the incident of
Diana's metamorphosing Actaeon, was transmitted to
her daughter; and next, in showing the origin of those
natural attendants and zealous guardians of all good
Springs, the little frogs.

The garrulity of guides, even back to time immemorial,
is also pleasingly indicated by attributing the best
account of the Spring's origin to a Lycian guide who, as
he was conducting a traveler through that country in
Asia Minor, stopped at this Spring, and, by much mys-
tery and whispered muttering, secured an extra gratuity
to tell the legend.

Latona, fleeing from the wrath of Juno, with her babies,
Apollo and Diana, came to the Spring of fine water called
Mela, which was in the bottom of a valley, among bushy
osiers and bulrushes and the sedges, natural to fenny
spots, that some countrymen under the direction of
Neocles, a shepherd, were gathering.

When Latona stooped to take up some of the cool
water for the twins, the surly rustics forbade her using it ;
she explained that she had no intention of bathing in it,
and wished only to assuage the thirst of herself and the
infants. The miserable country bumpkins, however, per-



sisted in not letting her taste the water; moreover, they
added threats and abusive language, and even went
further, riling the water with their feet and hands, and
stirring up the soft mud of the bottom by spitefully
jumping to and fro.

The resentment of the goddess was so great that she
forgot her thirst, and, raising her hands to heaven, she
cried out, "For ever may you live in that Spring."

At once; "the backs of these wretches united with
their heads; their necks seemed as if cut off, their back-
bones became green; their bellies, the greatest part of
their bodies, became white, and, as new-made frogs, they
leaped about in the muddy water and seemed to say,
'Sub aqua, sub aqua,'" as their descendants have con-
tinued to do, even down to the latest times, and, irre-
spective of the language of the country whose Springs they
may be frequenting.

It is not possible to place this Spring concisely, but it
may have been in the grove of Latona, seven and a half
miles from Calynda on the present Gulf of Makri; the
Spring connected with the birth of the twins has, however,
been readily located in the island of Delos.

Ovid; Meta. VI. Fable 3.


The Spring of Dinus was a fountain of naturally sweet
water that, at the proper time, changed suddenly to sea-

Online LibraryJames Reuel SmithSprings and wells in Greek and Roman literature, their legends and locations → online text (page 24 of 46)