James Reuel Smith.

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

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The Spring was in Lycia near the sea where there was a
sacred grove and an oracle of Apollo, of which the foun-
tain was a necessary feature.


The oracle was consulted in an unusual and unique
manner. Inquirers were obliged to have two wooden
spits, each containing ten pieces of roast meat, which
they threw into the Spring. The priests then sat around
in solemn silence, and the inquirer looked on to see what
would happen; and if he was unacquainted with the
character of the proceedings he was usually considerably
terrified ; for the water would suddenly become salt ; and
then an incredible number of fish of all sorts would surge
up in the fountain, some of them of such vast size, and
so near at hand, as to frighten even stout-hearted ob-

From this churning chaos of fish, in some way that
was probably known to the priests alone, conclusions were
drawn and answers were given to the inquirer in regard
to the matter concerning which he sought information.

Athenaeus; VIII. 8.


The fountain of Limyra was a traveling Spring that not
infrequently made its way through neighboring localities ;
and it was remarked as a singular matter that the fish
that lived in the Spring always accompanied the waters
in their migrations.

Those fish were highly venerated in the district through
which they attended the moving Spring, and were con-
sulted as oracles by the inhabitants, who offered them
food and then drew their own conclusions according to
the actions of the finny prophets.

If the fish seized the food with avidity, that was con-
sidered tantamount to a propitious answer; but if they


rejected it and flipped it away with their tails, then the
reply was assumed to be unfavorable.

The ruins of Limyra are found above Cape Fineka.

Pliny; XXXI. iS.



At Myra the fish in the fountain of Apollo known as
Surium, appeared and gave oracular presages when
summoned three times by the sound of a flute.

The presages were determined exactly as they were
in the case of the future-reading fish of the fountain of

Myra, which was the capital of Lycia, was on the River
Andracus, and was visited by the Apostle Paul, when
being taken as a prisoner to Rome, as related in the 27th
chapter of The Acts.

It continues as a town under its old name and the ruins
of its antiquity are among the handsomest in the country.

Pliny; XXXII. 8.


The Well of Cyanese was the most important part of
the oracle of Apollo Thyrxis in Lycia. There was such
truth in its water that it showed anyone looking into it
whatever he wanted to know.

It was said to be similar to the Well of Patrae in Achaia ;
but the latter Well, although the process of consulting it
was very elaborate, seems to have been able to do no
more than tell whether a sick person would succumb or


would recover — probably by showing the reflection either
of a corpse or a person in good health.

Cyanese is supposed to be one of the three sites that
have been discovered near the port of Tristomo.

Pausanias; VII. 21.


Plane Tree Fountain

In close proximity to a Lycian fountain of most re-
freshing coolness, there was a famous plane tree that
presented the foliage of a grove, and whose branches
equaled ordinary trees in size.

There was a cavity in the tree wherein was placed a
circle of stone seats covered with moss, and the consul
Lucinius Mucianus gave a banquet in the tree to eighteen
persons who were so greatly pleased with the entertain-
ment that a raging rain failed to interfere with their

Pliny; XII. 5.




Twenty stadia to the northward of the promontory
Corycus, there was what was called the Corycian Cave. It
was in reality a large valley of a circular form, complete-
ly surrounded by a ridge of rock of considerable height.

The bottom was irregular in form and was rocky, but
interspersed with spots that produced saffron.

The valley contained a cave in which rose the Pikron
Hydor, a Spring of pure and translucent water which
immediately buried itself in the ground, and continued
a subterranean course until it discharged into the sea.

The saffron that grew in the neighborhood of this
Spring was more highly esteemed than that produced
anywhere else, and it was used in large quantities for
perfuming the Roman theaters. For that use the flowers
were reduced to powder and incorporated with water
which was then sprayed into the auditorium through a
gigantic overhead atomizer that was formed of many
pipes of the tiniest diameter.

This Spring was in the home of, and nourished one of
the monsters of antiquity that stalks through the modern
world and still retains the traits anciently ascribed to it ;
its various voices, ranging from the roar of a bull to the
hiss of a serpent ; its exceeding swiftness; its fondness for
tossing the ocean about and scattering ships, and for
raising great clouds of dust on land— all of these traits



are as familiar to moderns as is its name, Typhon, some-
times spelled Typhoon or even Hurricane.

In this monster's early life it was the father of a number
of other monsters ; of the dogs Cerberus and Orthus, the
Hydra, the Chimaera, and of the Sphinx; as also of the
bad, but not of the good winds.

The meaning of the Spring's name, Pikron Hydor, was
Bitter Water ; and in the promontory's name can be seen
the garden name of the saffron flower, the crocus.

The Cape is now called Korghoz, but the home of the
Spring behind the rocky ridge some two miles inland has
not yet been examined.

Strabo; XIV. 5. §5-

Hesiod; Theogony; line 845-907.



The Pyramus River had its source in the middle of the
plain of Cilicia near the town of Arabissus. After falling
into a large underground channel, it sprang out of the
earth again with such force that an arrow could scarcely
be pushed into the water.

It flowed through a narrow chasm that a hare could
leap across, a mere split in the rock, the projections of
one side coinciding exactly with the hollows on the other,
through which the powerful stream rushed with roarings
that resembled the reverberations of thunder.

According to an oracle, the matter the river forced
into the sea would one day connect the mainland with the
island of Cyprus.

The river, once named the Leucosyrus, is now called
Seihun, and Jechun.

Strabo; XII. 2. §4.



The sources of the Cydnus were near the town of Tar-
sus on the southern side of the Taurus range of moun-
tains; the river flowed through the center of the city
while its waters were still spring-cold, and on that account
they were recommended for use in the treatment of vari-
ous ailments of men and animals — gout, and swellings of
the sinews, among others. Nevertheless, the river made
Alexander the Great violently ill after bathing in it when
he was overheated, and the resulting fever detained him
in the town for several weeks.

The cause of the coldness of the water was the snow
that formed the river's sources.

Tarsus was the capital of Cilicia and was said to have
been founded by Triptolemus while he was searching for
Io. It was the birthplace of St. Paul, and was of such
note as a center of learning that its philosophers were
held to surpass those of even Athens and Alexandria,
from which circumstance may have arisen the belief that
the intellect was sharpened by the waters of the Cydnus,
if that was the river referred to under the name of Nus.

The stream near its mouth formerly expanded into a
lake, but this was gradually filled with sediment and
eventually became, as it is now, a plain.

It was the Cydnus that Cleopatra selected to bear the
gorgeous pageant in which she presented herself to An-
tony unarrayed, to represent Aphrodite.

The stream, which was often spoken of as The River of
Tarsus, is now called the Tersoos Tchy.

Strabo; XIV. 5. 10.


The Fountains of Hephaestus

The Argonauts, having defeated Amycus at his Spring,
appropriated a quantity of booty and resumed their
voyage, to Colchis, during which they made a landing to
relieve Phineus from the persecutions of the "hounds of
Zeus, " as the Harpies were called.

They sailed past the land of the Tibareni whose pecu-
liar custom might have been traced to Edmond About
if his "Cas de M. Guerin" had been written some three
thousand and odd years earlier.

Further on, at the Isle of Ares, they were assailed by
the birds that Hercules drove from the Stymphalian
Marsh, and they put them to flight by the same noisy
means that hero employed, although not before the birds,
that had become able to flip their sharp-pointed feathers
from their wings with the accuracy of arrows, had rained
on the crew a shower of shafts that wounded one of their

Passing the Caucasus Mountains, they heard the
agonized screams of Prometheus, chained to the rock for
having shown man how to make fire; and actually saw
with their own eyes the savage eagle engaged in eating
out his liver while the Argo rocked under the thrusts of
its powerful wings as it poised itself at the feast.

This marrow-freezing sight was within a day's row of
their destination, Colchis, which they reached that night.



The next day Jason called on ^Eetes to prefer his re-
quest for the Golden Fleece, which he secured after
performing some miraculous feats by means of the en-
chantments of ^Eetes' daughter Medea, who had fallen
in love with the young man at first sight.

It was at that visit that Jason saw for the first time the
fountains of Hephaestus, the fatherless son that Hera
produced several thousand years before the Christian Era,
when she was in a pique with Zeus for producing his
motherless daughter Athena.

The fountains were the most wonderful of a number
of gifts that Hephaestus had fashioned or produced for
^Eetes, in gratitude for a kindness once done him by the
latter's father. Besides decorations for his house and
grounds, there were such marvelous specimens of live
stock as bulls with brazen feet, and brazen mouths
from which they blew fearful blasts of fire ; and there was
a plow fashioned from a single diamond or piece of
adamant, with which Jason had to furrow a field after
subduing the bulls and harnessing them to that agricul-
tural gem.

One sees intuitively the natural suggestion that created
these fire-breathing bulls and their protective metal
hoofs ; for in this country of ^Eetes whose physical features
have undergone little change, and whose River Phasis is
still the River Faz, an observer, looking for the first time
at a Georgian landscape, and seeing a plowing ox pass
between his eye and one of the burning fountains of
naphtha that still abound in the country to the Caspian
Sea, would instinctively fancy that the flame came from
the ox's mouth, and that brazen hoofs were better
adapted than horn ones for plowing in such fiery fields.

The fountains were four eternal Springs that occupied
the place of the usual jet and basin set in the atrium of


ancient mansions. They were bowered with blossoming
vines and tender green foliage, and would seem to have
originated in Calanus' metaphorical fountains of India.
One of them gushed with milk; from another flowed
wine; and the third vied with the surrounding blossoms
in making the air fragrant with the scented unguents
that bubbled in its basin. The fourth spouted from a
hollow rock in a constant stream of water that alternated
twice a day in temperature, being tepid when the Pleiades
set, and gelid when that starry cluster rose again.

Apollonius Rhodius III. line 222.
Apollonius Rhodius II. line 1034.
Pausanias; VIII. 18.




The fountain of Arethusa is first mentioned by Homer
on the occasion of Ulysses' return to his own island of
Ithaca, which he does not recognize after his twenty
years' absence.

A youthful swain, with a javelin and wearing painted
sandals, who then opportunely appears, being asked
what island it is, gives its name and requests to know
something about the inquiring stranger. In reply,
Ulysses with his usual readiness elaborates an entirely
fictitious story that so charms the guileful swain that he
at once appears in propria persona as the goddess Pallas
in all the brightness of her divinity, and she instructs
Ulysses in the course that he is to pursue to rid the earth
of his wife's unwelcome suitors — the greedy horde that
has, for years, been living in his palace and dissipating
his possessions.

To prevent any intimation of the coming vengeance
before the plan is ripe, the goddess spreads a bark of
wrinkles over his face, turns his red hair to white, changes
his clothing into a dirty and disreputable deerskin, and,
having metamorphosed him into an aged and unsightly
beggar that even Penelope would never recognize, she



tells him to go to his master of the herds, Eumaeus, and
adds ; —

"At the Coracian rock he now resides,
Where Arethusa's sable water glides;
The sable water and the copious mast
Swell the fat herd; luxuriant, large repast!
With him rest peaceful in the rural cell,
And all you ask his faithful tongue shall tell."

This, as before said, is the first existing mention of a
fountain of Arethusa. The Spring is less than fifty miles
from the mouth of the River Alpheus, as against nearly
three hundred from the river to the island of Sicily, and
anyone who wishes to is at liberty to believe that the
nymph Arethusa, after being chased over a large part of
Greece, was still fresh enough to run an additional three
hundred miles under the sea to Sicily in preference to
taking the short cut to Ithaca ; and to contend that the
Sicilians have not been deceiving the classical world for a
couple of thousand years.

This fountain, as if seeking escape from a hasty pursuer,
still gushes out forcefully at the base of a cliff that
faces the sea on the southeast end of Ithaca, which
is west of the coast of Acarnania on the mainland of

The cliff is still called Korax, Homer's Coracian rock;
and the foundations of the so-called Castle of Ulysses
whose walls rang daily with the riotous revels of the selfish
suitors, are still traceable, though naturally nothing
remains to mark the site of the humble herder's rustic
dwelling that stood near Arethusa's sable water. (See
No. 410).

Odyssey; XIII. 470, 447 and 496.


Penelope's Spring

In the temple at Ephesus there was a work, by the
statuary Thraso, called Penelope's Spring. It included a
figure of Eurycleia, the nurse of Ulysses, and may have
commemorated the fountain with whose water she was
enabled to penetrate the disguise of a beggar's rags and
dust that he adopted to conceal his identity, on his return
to Ithaca after the Trojan campaign.

Homer mentions the Spring as one of the purest, and
it may have been one of Penelope's favorites to which
she sent the nurse for water for bathing her disguised

Having placed the stranger in a seat by the crackling
fire, Eurycleia tempered the cold Spring water in a bath-
ing basin and began her work with the king's grimy feet
and legs, on one of which she soon uncovered a scar below
the royal knee which marked the wound made by the
tusk of a boar, in a boyhood hunt on Mt. Parnassus.

The loving old nurse, in the excitement of recognizing
the narrow white scar revealed by the water and lit up
by the firelight, upset the basin and flooded the palace
floor, and in another instant would have shouted aloud
in her joy at the discovery had not the wily king clapped
a royal hand over the opening lips, and whispered a
caution not to reveal his identity and frighten away the
suitors before he could carry out his plans to dispatch
them for their persecutions of Penelope.

To finish her pleasant task, Eurycleia had to go again
to the Spring, and her mood as expressed in her features
while she drew the second supply was well calculated to
add interest to a representation of an old woman at a


Among Homer's Springs, mention is made of other
fountains in the island of Ithaca which has retained its
name throughout the ages. (See No. 410.)

Strabo;XIV. 1. §23.

Odyssey; XIX. 403. 450, 544. 548. 587.

Odyssey; XXIII. 5.




The fountain of Psamathe was in the territory of Ar-
golis. Psamathe appears to have been credited with
evincing more versatility than the average Greek virgin
of fountains, as it is affirmed by some that she also as-
sumed the form of a fish and that of a seal in evading
her lover ^Eacus whose perseverance, however, succeeded
and resulted in their becoming the parents of Phocus.

Psamathe was the sister of Lycomedes the King of
Cyros, and was one of the Nereides, the nymphs of the
Mediterranean, the fifty daughters of Nereus and Doris,
and she naturally inherited the power of changing that
was possessed by her father. The Nereides are to be
carefully distinguished from the Oceanides, the three
thousand children of Oceanus and Tethys, who were the
nymphs of the great ocean beyond the inland sea; as
well as from the even more numerous Naiades who were
the nymphs of fresh water Springs and Wells and brooks.

The history of Psamathe and of her connections
abounds with remarkable changes, and the name itself
seems to be associated with transformation. Later on,
Psamathe was the wife of Proteus whose power of
assuming different forms was absolutely unlimited, and
whose memory is perpetuated by an English adjective in
daily use.

Thetis, one of Psamathe's forty-nine sisters, had



changed into a bird, a tree, a tiger, and even into water,
before becoming the bride of Phocus' half brother Peleus
and the mother of the hero Achilles. Thetis and Peleus
were the pair who planted the seed of the Trojan war
that was afterwards harvested by Helen. Their wedding
was attended by all of the gods and goddesses save only
Discord who had been overlooked; she, however, appeared
for an instant at the festivities and threw in the midst
of the throng a present, a golden apple to which was
attached the inscription, "For the Fairest."

There was no difference of opinion as to who were the
fairest three, but the narrowing down of the choice to
one was left to Paris whose decision gave the apple to
Venus; Helen to Paris; and destruction to Troy.
- ^acus himself, the ruler of one of the most celebrated
Greek islands, ^Egina, the birthplace of silver coinage,
when he lost his subjects by a virulent plague, prayed
that the ants that swarmed in one of his trees, grown from
an acorn of the Talking Oak of Dodona, might be changed
into men to replace them, and, being the most pious of
all the Greeks, his prayer was answered and the ants,
transformed as desired, gave ^Eacus nearly half a million
subjects. Of those transfigured insects, the Myrmidons,
the ant-sprung warriors, were the troops that accom-
panied ^Eacus' grandson Achilles to the Trojan war, the
war in which Phocus' grandson Epeus secured with his
wooden horse that which Achilles with his ant-men had
been unable to accomplish.

In the end, ^acus became the custodian of the keys of

Psamathe's powers were not confined to changing her
own form but were also exertible over others, and she
thus became the creator of what was one of the most life-
like statues that ever appeared in the realm of Art.

.EGINA 389

Peletis, with a quoit that became an historical exhibit,
having killed his half brother Phocus, the son of Psa-
mathe, she in revenge sent a monster wolf to ravage
Peleus' herds; and not until the wolf had nearly exter-
minated his live stock was she induced, by her sister
Thetis, to stop the carnage, which she did in an instant
by changing the brute in its minutest details into a marble
statue that could only be distinguished from the original
by its color.

One who is fond of following the intricacies of mental
problems may like to attempt to trace the cause of the
similarity between this and two other incidents closely
connected with it, by the name Psamathe in one case,
and by Psamathe's son Phocus in the other. Thus, some
years before, Cephalus told Phocus that Themis, angry
because the Sphinx's occupation had ceased when CEdi-
pus had solved its riddle, sent a pestiferous fox to take its
place. Thereupon Cephalus hunted the fox with his dog
Laelaps (Tempest) made by Vulcan, and warranted to
outrun any wild beast ; a guarantee that in this test was
not made good, as neither could gain on the other and
there was a tie in the running. Then, as with faltering
confidence Cephalus was about to put to proof another
guarantee by throwing a javelin warranted never to miss,
some god, desiring that both animals might remain un-
conquered, changed them in a twinkling into statues of
solid marble that remained upon the plain, one showing
the fox fleeing, and the other, the dog at his flank barking
in pursuit.

The other incident is that another, a second Psamathe,
the daughter of Crotopus, King of Argos, having aban-
doned her infant, of whom Apollo was the father, it was
killed by the sheep-dogs belonging to Crotopus.

Thereupon Apollo to avenge his progeny's death sent


a monster called "Punishment," which took Argive
children away from their mothers, until one Corcebus
killed it.

This story also terminates in a statue, a statue of Corce-
bus killing "Punishment," which was placed on Corce-
bus' tomb at Megara, together with some regrettably
unquoted elegiac verses relating to Psamathe.

This statue Pausanias says was one of the oldest he
ever saw; and the very great antiquity of the fountain of
Psamathe may be inferred from Cephalus' contempo-
raneity with the Sphinx, and from the story of the Cor-
inthian Spring of Pirene which, in a way, owed its
existence to JEgina, who gave her name to ^Eacus' island
and was the mother of its owner and the grandmother
of Peleus who murdered his half brother Phocus.

Unfortunately, there is no clue to the particular part
of Argolis in which this fountain appeared, though it is a
fair inference that it was in what was at one time the
Argolian island JEgina, for it will be observed that each
and all of the three Psamathes lived in the vicinity of the
Saronic Gulf. That Gulf was so called because it was
encircled with oaks, but the fame that JEgina now enjoys
is due to her almond trees, whose fruit is the best of the
kind produced in Greece.

The Gulf today is called after the island which has
made no change in its name except that of dropping its
old initial letter.

In the history of the Spring of Eridanus in Attica it is
seen that, on another occasion, the unerring javelin was
launched by Cephalus with tragic consequences that over-
whelmed him with misery.

Pliny; IV. 9.

Ovid; Meta. XI. Fables 5 and 6. VII. Fable 6.

Pausanias; II. 29.




The island of Euboea bears about the same relation to
the mainland of Greece at the west of it, that Long Island
does to its own mainland on the north; and the two
islands are similar in size, as the Grecian one, though but
105 miles long, is in some places 30 miles across.

It is the largest island in the JEgean Sea, to which one
of its towns, JEgse, gave the name. It was where brass was
first discovered. One of its rivers turned sheep black, and
another one made them white, from which it might be
inferred that sheep were originally of some other color.

The royal residence of Poseidon was in the deep part
of the sea near JEgse, and connected with it were the
apartments containing his precious horses, with golden
manes and brazen hoofs, which received the personal
attention of himself or his wife Amphitrite.

Euboea was supposed to have been separated from the
mainland by an earthquake, but neither memory nor
mythology ever went back to the time when it was not an
island. It was one in Deucalion's day when he and his
wife Pyrrha lived in Cynus on the opposite continental
shore; and so it was, ages before, when Zeus loved Io
and gave her the form of a white cow to conceal from his
wife, Hera, the real object of his affections. Then wily
Hera, concealing her hate for Io with pretended fondness
for the heifer, secured it as a gift and had it tied to an



olive tree at Mycenae, appointing, as cowherd, Argus,
with whose hundred eyes she beautified the tail of her

Online LibraryJames Reuel SmithSprings and wells in Greek and Roman literature, their legends and locations → online text (page 25 of 46)